The way things are going, the first votes in the 2008 Presidential election may yet be cast in 2007, more than 10 months before the national elections next November. This is not an improvement.
...this process is both too long and too constricted. It is too long in the sense that it starts the Presidential race more than two years before the actual vote. This shrinks the time for actual "governing," to the extent this still happens in Washington, with Senators like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden having to calibrate every utterance for its impact on their nomination chances. This has only made it harder this year for the parties to find any bipartisan common ground on Iraq, for example. Then once the nominees are all but picked next year on February 5, we will have another long 10 months of campaigning before November. No wonder the political pros call this "the permanent campaign."
But the process is also too constricted, because once the primary voting starts, it will be over in a flash. This makes it harder for a dark horse candidate to break through; even with an early victory, it might be too late to raise enough money to compete in the fast-following giant states.
It also gives Americans less chance to scrutinize the nominees once the actual balloting begins. Sure, voters may know the names of most of those who are running, but average, rational citizens lack the time or interest to focus until an election is nigh. A nominating primary gantlet of three to four weeks is the political equivalent of a blur. This means that crucial facts about a candidate's experience and character may not be discovered until he has already wrapped up the nomination.