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U.S. presidential primary

The U.S. presidential primaries are but one step in the process of electing a President of the United States. The primary elections evolved out of the necessity for U.S. political parties to nominate and unite behind one candidate for the Presidency.

Table of contents
1 Primary elections
2 List of primaries
3 Related articles

Primary elections

The long process of choosing the President of the United States begins with a series of individual state primary elections, in which voters in particular parties express their preference among a series of candidates. While typically voting for a particular candidate, voters actually choose a slate of delegates for each party to represent that state at the party's political convention. The delegates gather at each party's nominating convention held several months prior to the general election. There, the delegates formally submit their votes for the nominees, and the person with the most votes becomes the party's Presidential candidate for the general election.

The primary elections begin as early as January of the election year and take place through the spring, culminating in the mid-summer national convention of each political party. Campaigning for the primaries often begins 6-12 months before the first primary, almost two years before the general election. Incumbent presidents seeking re-election have nearly always won their party's nomination (Franklin Pierce, Grover Cleveland, and arguably Lyndon Johnson are exceptions).

The best-known of the American presidential primaries is the one in New Hampshire, because it is the first in each quadrennial cycle. Although established in 1914, this primary drew little attention until 1952, when a change in proceedings allowed more candidates to be listed on the ballot. That created a contest that drew notice from then-new television coverage, and its importance was cemented when Jimmy Carter took a surprise win in 1976 and rode it to the presidency.

In the late 1970s, the New Hampshire Legislature passed laws designed to guarantee that their primary would always come first — a status it has successfully defended from other states who envy the attention. The main competition comes from Iowa, which holds a less-binding caucus vote a week or two before the New Hampshire primary. In recent years, many observers have noted a trend towards "front-loading" state primaries--moving their dates forward as much as possible, so that more primaries are bunched together earlier in the campaign season. In the 2004 Democratic primary, for instance, many people expect to know the nominee by the middle of March; in the past, the nominee was often not known until June, when the last of the primaries were held, or even until the convention. A number of states do not have primaries, citing the costs of the election and the irrelevance of primaries late in the nominating cycle.

Both major parties have toyed with attempts to streamline and shorten the primary season but so far without success. Some people claim that the current primary system is unfair, because it places undue emphasis on New Hampshire and Iowa, which they claim are not representative of the nation as a whole. Some reformers have even called for a single nationwide primary to be held on one day; however, there is little change expected.

List of primaries

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