I long ago went on record as a critic of the early election contests in Iowa and particularly New Hampshire, which produce all kinds of distortions in our national politics (take, for instance, the persistence of ethanol subsidies). But there's one I forgot to mention: the inordinate influence given to politicians who would otherwise be regarded as nutballs, simply because they happen to come from an early state.
Case in point: an article in today's Politico, "Steve King Not Ready to Crown a 2012er," about how King, an Iowa congressman, has yet to make his much sought-after endorsement. You may not know King, but he is without question one of Congress' most ridiculous characters. He's the kind of guy who goes into an auditorium of schoolchildren and asks them where they stand on abortion. The kind of guy who, after a deranged terrorist flew a plane into an IRS building, killing a US government employee, responded by saying the incident was "sad," but the guy basically was right to hate the IRS. King thinks Joe McCarthy was "a hero for America." He said that President Obama "wasn't raised as an American." He thinks things worked better when only white male property owners could vote.
In short, he's an extremist of the first order, and kind of a jackass to boot. But all the Republican candidates are required to suck up to him.
After Iowa and New Hampshire, of course, we'll move on to South Carolina, where the candidates will proceed to genuflect before Sen. Jim DeMint, possibly the most conservative member of the Senate. It's obviously true that everyone running for president has to court all kinds of local politicians, some of whom are going to be knaves or fools. But the outsized importance of the early states only magnifies the problem.