Utah governor says broken primary process is discarding the best White House candidates

By Caitlin Oprysko

Utah’s Republican governor on Friday argued for scrapping the current presidential primary schedule, suggesting that it could be prematurely killing the candidacies of the best White House contenders.

“Unfortunately, because we don’t have a good election process, we’re probably not nominating the best people to be the leader of our respective parties to hold the highest office in the land,” Gov. Gary Herbert said at POLITICO’s 10th annual State Solutions conference. “I just think there's a better way to do things.”

The outgoing governor’s complaint that the current nominating process is “chaos” comes days after the Iowa Democratic Party bungled its caucus on Monday night. The national party chairman is now calling for a recanvass, the state party chairman is calling for an autopsy, and multiple candidates are claiming victory while media outlets have refused to declare a winner.

But criticism of the first two early voting states — Iowa and New Hampshire — had already reached a fever pitch even before the Iowa debacle had pundits predicting the end of the state's privileged status.

Critics have said Iowa and New Hampshire don’t reflect the diversity of the rest of the country enough to deserve the outsize influence they hold over the nominating process. And in the days since Monday’s caucuses, politicians have scrambled to offer up their home states as the perfect replacement to vote first in the nation.

Herbert offered an entirely different proposal on Friday, suggesting a system of rotating regional primaries that he contended would give more voters a stake in nominating the leader of their party.

“You oughta cut the country up into quarters, 25 percent based mostly on population, some geography maybe,” he explained. Under his plan, the regions could each pick a designated month of the calendar and hold a Super Tuesday-like cluster of primaries at the end of their designated month.

“You’d have the ability for people to concentrate on certain regions of the country, it’d be less expensive, everybody would be able to get their message out,” he argued.

“People will be focused laser-like on the elections over a four- or five-month period of time,” he added, and though different candidates might discover different regional strengths and weaknesses, “every state would have an opportunity over that four-month period of time to weigh in and have their votes really count.”

But the governor pointed to the already-shifting calendar, with California moving its primary up several months as of this year “because they’re tired of being left out.” Similar frustration, he argued, could lead to a slippery slope of states continuously pushing their elections up in the calendar.

“Everybody fights to be first,” he complained, contending that by the time the first four states have voted, “the elections are pretty well all decided — we know who the frontrunners are and everybody else falls by the wayside — and most of the states haven't even have a chance to weigh in on them.”

He conceded that his offer may not be perfect, “but it’d certainly be better than what we have now which is just chaos.”