The GOP calendar of primary caucuses is almost set -- you all know to follow Josh Putnam for the details and excellent analysis -- and I'm picking up plenty of wailing and lamentations about the apparent failure of the GOP to push the opening events back to February. Instead, it looks as if we're going to basically follow the 2004 schedule for those early events. Yup, that means Iowa sometime in the first couple of weeks of January, perhaps on the 2nd.
What puzzles me is why anyone cares. I do think that the parties have a major stake in the sequence of events; in my view, it's generally a good thing that they've managed to break up the mega-super-awesome-Tuesday that seemed to be gaining momentum over the last few cycles, with the threat of an eventual de facto national primary after a handful of early events. This year's version, scheduled for March 6, will have just 12 GOP contests. I think that's a good thing; others may disagree.
But whether Iowa is in early January or February or even March or December? Who cares? Either way, it's a four-year campaign. Either way, the voter portion of it is going to feel as if it's going on forever in the unlikely even that the nomination remains contested until the final primaries. Either way, in the more likely event that it's settled relatively rapidly, the nomination will be secured months before the conventions. I understand that reporters don't want to spend Christmas and New Year's in Iowa, and fair enough, but for the rest of us (including campaign staff that will be in Iowa for those holidays regardless of when the caucuses are held), it's just hard to see why one date is any different than the others.
Remember, it is most certainly not the case that the process "starts" in Iowa on whatever date is eventually selected. It started minute the networks called the 2008 election for Barack Obama -- or, perhaps, as soon as Obama moved out into a solid lead in the polls a few weeks earlier than that. By the time we get to Iowa, several candidates will have already abandoned their campaigns, and others will be done for all practical purposes. If timeliness is a problem (and I can understand arguments that it is, although remember that in most nations the party leaders are formally chosen well in advance of election time), it's a problem about early decisions during the invisible primary, not the dates of the primaries and caucuses.