I wouldn't favor a long, drawn out election for the president, no. But giving lesser known contenders a chance to show that they can be effective vote getters and to gather attention they would not get if they run better than expected gives the electorate a chance to choose among a greater variety of contenders.
Consider this scenario: Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he is definitely (at this moment) a lesser-known contender. Unfortunately for him, the Connecticut primary is scheduled for March 4, which would be late in the season even if other states weren't racing to hold their primaries on Feb. 5. There's only a slight chance, therefore, that Dodd will do well enough in the early races to make it to March 4, when he could at least expect to do well in his home state. Most likely, he would drop out well before then.
In contrast, suppose that all of the primaries were held on the same day. In that situation, Dodd could do well in the Connecticut primary, and maybe pick up a few delegates elsewhere. If no candidate got a majority of the delegates, then Dodd and the rest of the candidates would, in effect, start a "second campaign" between the primary and the nominating convention. The bargaining and deal-making during this second campaign would allow minor candidates like Dodd more influence, and might even make him an acceptable compromise candidate if there is a deadlock among the frontrunners.
Now, tell me: which scenario is a better one for lesser-known candidates like Dodd?
The way we're going, Joe is going to get his national primary. Only it will be held on Election Day of the preceding year. Everyone will vote for their party's presidential selection for November of 2008 at the same time they vote for their mayors, selectmen and school board members on November 6, 2007.
The only thing that is surprising about all of the states rushing to hold their elections at the very start of the primary season is that it took so long for them to do it. In any situation where there is a limited resource that is available on a first-come-first-served basis, it is to be expected that there will be a race to be the first in line, even though the competition to be first yields a worse result for everybody involved. That's true whether it's a run on a bank or a scramble for festival seating at a Who concert. In this situation, every state has an incentive to move up its primary, even though each state can only gain the maximal benefit from that move if every other state doesn't
move up its primary. And every state will have an incentive to move up its primary even further, in fear that it will be left behind by the other states moving their
primaries up. Without any kind of national regulation, there's every reason to suspect that the states (led by New Hampshire, which is required by state statute to hold the first primary) will continue to move the primaries further and further up the calendar. That may not be an optimal result, but, as long as the decision is left up to each state, it is entirely predictable.