For decades there have been political activists who have called for either a national primary to select the nominees for president, or a series of regional “mega-primaries.”

The argument is that too much attention is given to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Too much influence for such small states that do not represent the country -- that’s what we hear.

I have always felt that a primary season that lasts several months, requires candidates to travel the country and make their case to diverse voters, results in stronger, more battletested candidates. Starting in Iowa and New Hampshire, where people can see candidates up close and personal, not just on TV, sure makes sense to me.

This year we may see either a powerful national primary on Feb. 5, which results in the nominees being chosen earlier than ever, or one candidate winning in Iowa and New Hampshire (and South Carolina or Nevada) and making the current stampede of states to move their primaries up to the 5th an empty gesture. No one will care because the candidate will win early and leave all the other candidates in the dust.

Either way, this calendar is a big mistake. It doesn’t give voters a chance to assess the candidates during the election season; it requires candidates to have amassed huge war chests in order to compete in states like California, Florida and New Jersey all in one day, and it doesn’t allow voters to take a breath and assess the candidates.

What this all means is that 2007 may be as important as 2008 in choosing the candidates for president. Voters may be forced to engage in this “campaign on steroids” now, because they will have little time next year to judge the candidates.

And imagine a general-election campaign that starts before the snow melts!