Trail To The Chief: Primer On The Way Too Early To Tell Primaries Edition

The Primer On The Way Too Early To Tell Primaries

Here in this period of time when everyone who might be running for president is being all "Question Mark and the Mysterians" about their ultimate plans (except for Ted Cruz, who announced today, 596 days from election day), those of us who observe the pre-primary susurrations are always hunting for signs that might reveal these people's true intentions. And there's nothing that turns us into augurs quite so quickly as a candidate-to-be making a trip to one of the early primary states. We're talking, of course, about Iowa (first caucus in the nation!), New Hampshire (first primary in the nation!), South Carolina (first in the South!), Nevada (first in the West!) and Florida (first in another part of the South, with retired people and alligators!).

"There is, after all, no accidental reason for a politician to be in Iowa -- ever," wrote ABC News' Abby D. Phillip, referring to a trip that Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) took to Iowa in August 2013. The implication being: Amy Klobuchar is a 2016 presidential candidate, definitely maybe or maybe definitely.

This is the very real power of the early primary states -- a power that persists despite constant skepticism about whether it's actually a great idea to allow these five states to dictate how the primary race unfolds. There are a significant number of primary-having states that don't get to send voters to the polls until long after the primary is over, and every year, some ambitious state tries to crash the early-contest party, which inevitably leads to threats of a calendar war to push the first primaries and caucuses into the Christmas season.

These five states have essentially become, on a quadrennial basis, the most pandered-to populations in America. And that was never more apparent than this week, when Republican consultant Liz Mair -- whom Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) had hired to do communications work for his PAC -- was put to the blade for the sin of criticizing the Iowa GOP on Twitter. Hawkeye State kingmakers, having dipped their umbrage in the deep-fried butter for which the state is known, bayed for Walker to fire Mair -- somehow turning Mair, an avowed fan of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, into this cycle's Bruce Braley.

It was a hard lesson to learn, and a dumb way to learn it, but like it or not, these states are still tops. But which early primary state has won the most affection from candidates? This week, we break it down for you.

1 IOWAThe undisputed champ of getting candidates to visit. Some end up practically living there. But l'affaire Mair proves the old Reaganish maxim that the over-coddled quickly develop the thinnest skin.
2 SOUTH CAROLINANo early primary state has a more delicious local cuisine than the Palmetto State, but that doesn't entirely account for its rise in importance. Credit the fact that for GOP candidates, the South has entirely supplanted the Northeast as a power center.
3 NEW HAMPSHIREThe Granite State's electoral traditions are probably America's most hallowed, and new libertarian blood in the Republican Party draws our front-runners closer to the state's "Live Free Or Die" types.
4 FLORIDAWith two presidential contenders (former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio) having represented the state, and a third (Ben Carson) calling it home, Florida is poised to have a moment. They know it, too: Having previously made bids to supplant Iowa and New Hampshire on the calendar, this year the Sunshine State is playing nice.
5 NEVADADems compete for Western votes, GOPers compete for Sheldon Adelson's ducats. Just the right amount of wrong.

Candidate photos: Getty, Associated Press.