Rick Perry has already been declared the front-runner to gain the GOP nomination less than a month after launching his campaign. He's posted a significant lead in recent polls over previous front-runner Mitt Romney. The only problem is that national polls mean nothing at this point in the election cycle -- it's all about how the candidates will perform in the early primary states. The current crowded field will get narrowed down to a handful of candidates by the time most of the states hold their primaries. Exceeding or failing expectations in the first few states determines which Republican gets the positive media coverage that boosts fundraising and polling across the country.
It isn't possible to game out any of those sceneries yet since, as Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard reports, the nomination calendar is still in flux:
GOP officials have yet to issue a final decision on which states will be first in 2012, and it's not clear when they will.
While the RNC dawdles, several states are taking action. Arizona and Florida are considering jumping ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to claim the first-in-the-nation title for themselves. If they do so, they could throw the entire primary calendar—and candidates' plans—into chaos.
Arizona will make its decision by Friday, but Florida won't finalize their primary date until October 1. Ignoring how these will affect the outcome of this year's election, Iowa and New Hampshire need to be knocked off their privileged positions in selecting presidents. The demographics in those two states are horribly skewed, with significantly higher percentages of non-Hispanic whites than the country as a whole. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, whites make up around 72 percent of the national population; in Iowa that group is 91.3 percent and in New Hampshire it is a staggering 93.9 percent.
Florida, on the other hand, is much more in tune with the rest of the nation; whites are a little shy of 75 percent of the population, while 18 percent of the state’s residents are African American (national average of 13 percent) and Hispanics are 22.5 percent of Florida (national average just over 18 percent). Compare that to New Hampshire, where African Americans make up only 1.1 percent of the population, with Hispanics only slightly higher at 2.8 percent.
Florida does share one major downside with Iowa: an overly aging population. Florida earns its reputation as a retirement community, as the state sits slightly above the national average for residents over the age of 65. That group -- which tends to vote more conservatively -- represents 17 percent of Florida’s population, compared to 13 percent nationally, according to 2009 Census estimates. On the other hand, that is not significantly greater than Iowa’s rate of 15 percent.
Democrats selected Iowa to go first when the nomination calendar was reformed in 1972 with the hope that it was more likely to nominate an anti-Vietnam candidate, but there is next to no reason for the current schedule any longer except a bias toward the status quo.
It's unlikely that the RNC will become overly concerned with equal representation, but if it allows Florida or Arizona to jump the line, they'll set a new standard when the next round of presidential nominations come up for both parties.