Premature campaigning obscures real issues, favors wealthy candidates

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of talk in the media about key states, straw polls and campaign swings, all conceivably in regards to the upcoming 1999 presidential and congressional elections. Yes, with the election coming up in just two months, it is no doubt time for our candidates to raise money for illuminating campaign spots, deny past cocaine use and go on listening tours of states they’re not from but hope to represent in the Senate.

Unfortunately, for some reason, I can’t seem to find my voter registration packet and when I ask where I can vote at Williams this November, people are puzzled. I don’t know why, since all I keep hearing about is the election. There has to be one this year, right?

Well, as it turns out, the election doesn’t occur for another 14 months, in November of 2000.

Of course, I knew this from the beginning, but looking at the news over the past few months, it would not seem unlikely for me to have been deluded into thinking the election was happening this year and not next year. In this pre-election year, we’ve already seen George W. Bush break all sorts of fundraising records, go into and out of the whole cocaine scandal and, basically, win the Republican nomination after being anointed the frontrunner by the Republican establishment and donors (weren’t we voters supposed to have some say in this?).

After being saturated with media coverage on W. this summer, I can pretty much tell you everything you might need to know about him, from his childhood in Midland to his wild days at Yale to his desire to fly for the National Guard to his ultimately failed oil business to the night a drunken George W. challenged his father George to a fight to the weekend in Colorado he decided to stop drinking and all the way up to his “wanting to do something for Texas,” which resulted in his buying the Texas Rangers.

But George W. Bush hasn’t been the only candidate in the news. This year, we’ve already seen candidates enter and drop out of the presidential race, most notably Lamar Alexander, who dropped out of the running for the Republican presidential nomination after he couldn’t pay enough people to show up for him at the Ames, IA straw poll.

Of course, it hasn’t just been the presidential election that’s been in the news. By now, everyone knows about the New York Senate race, which has seen Hillary Clinton go around the state of New York “listening” and make concerted, though almost laughable, attempts to capture the state’s Jewish and Hispanic vote. Her opponent, Rudy Giuliani, has responded to all of this by campaigning for a New York state seat in Arkansas and then tried to win New York’s key Arkansas vote by flying the Arkansas state flag on the top of New York’s City Hall.

“Out of control” are the best words that can be used to describe this election season. Is there really any reason for candidates to campaign right now for an election 14 months away (more if you consider that most of them started campaigning during the early part of this year)? No. Shouldn’t prospective candidates start thinking about what they will do in Iowa and New Hampshire instead of dropping out of the race?

Besides the fact that voters will get sick of the election and that candidates for major office could better use their time doing things like, for example, governing the nation’s second most populated state, this absurdly early election season poses problems that dig deeply into the way this country elects its leaders.

Throughout this decade, voters have been railing against the big-money political establishment in which elections boil down to fundraising contests. Well, money’s role surely will not diminish if candidates are to campaign a year and half before the actual election is to take place. Even noted campaign finance reformer John McCain has had to resort to hosting lavish fundraising events so he can compete for the nomination.

This partly explains how the Republican nomination has seemingly already been won by Bush, who has raised far more money than any other presidential candidate in history. Those without money, like Alexander, who gave Bob Dole a stiff challenge in the 1996 election, must give up. Essentially, the only candidates who can actually compete during this early election season are the ones donors have already deemed to be their choice (Bush), those with brand-name recognition (which explains why we have another Bush-Dole fight for the Republican nomination) or gazillionaires (Steve Forbes). With candidates needing to make incessant campaign stops and run TV ads more than a year before the election, there really is no place for an unknown candidate to come through and win the nomination because of the message he communicates to voters.

That is one of the most ironic things about this election. For all I have heard on all these candidates and their histories, I know little about their actual positions. Thanks to the Washington Post’s seven-part series on George W. Bush, I know that George W. Bush was heavily involved with intramural sports at Yale but has disbanded all contact with the university. Unfortunately, that series never once told me about what George W. Bush did as Governor of Texas nor did it tell me of his positions on gun control, campaign finance reform or abortion. I know that Al Gore and Bill Bradley are boring speakers, but I don’t about how they are different when it comes to real issues. Rudy Giuliani is sure to take swipes at Hillary Clinton in the Senate election, but on what issues other than the “carpetbagger” one?

How will all this madness stop? Well, it sort of won’t. Once one candidate starts early, every other candidate campaigning has to follow in line. It seems as though we’ll just have to get used to it and ignore all this mess until candidates start paying attention.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that will happen in the near future. The latest news shows candidates have descended on Iowa and New Hampshire in the hopes of getting an upper hand on their party’s nomination for the 2004 election, just five years away. Remember, an early start is key to election success.

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