Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hints of an April 24 Regional Primary from CT Secretary of State

Here's the press release from Connecticut Secretary of State, Denise Merrill:
Secretary Merrill: 2012 Presidential Primary Likely to Move to April 24th in House Vote

House Passage of HB 6532 Puts Connecticut on Path to Have Unified Presidential Primary with Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island

Hartford: Secretary of the State Denise Merrill today noted that unanimous House passage of House Bill No. 6532, “An Act Concerning the Presidential Preference Primary,” sets Connecticut on a path to move the date of the 2012 Presidential Primary to back to Tuesday April 24, 2012. Current state law pegs the Connecticut Presidential Preference Primary to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in February, and the last such primary took place on February 5, 2008. Since then, both the Democratic and Republican national committees have provided state parties with incentives to move their primaries to later dates to avoid the front-loading of the Presidential selection process. Both state Democratic and Republican party leadership have agreed on the date of April 24, 2012 as an acceptable date for Connecticut’s next Presidential Preference Primary, a date which may result in a regional primary with the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, New York, and Rhode Island.

“I am happy to see both parties have agreed on the April 24th date for our Presidential Preference Primary, and I call on the State Senate to approve this measure quickly so we can begin to plan for this important election,” said Secretary Merrill, Connecticut’s chief elections officer. “Pushing the primary date back a little will allow Connecticut to have more regional clout, especially if our neighboring states also move their primaries to that day. This helps both state parties and the voters, who are already paying close attention to the critical process of choosing our President.”

House Bill No. 6532 had originally named a date of March 6, 2012 to hold the next Presidential Primary in Connecticut, a date shared by the state of Massachusetts. The date was moved further back to April 24th due to further incentives from the national parties and in order to avoid coinciding with the Connecticut Mastery Tests taking place in schools, which could have created logistical problems as many polling places are public schools in Connecticut.


This is an interesting follow up to FHQ's discussion of the amendments added to the Connecticut bill that would move the presidential primary to April 24. It is even more interesting in the face of the impending bill in Delaware (This would force the Delaware primary even further back into the shadows in the eyes of the presidential contenders.). Let's look at this regional conglomeration a little more closely. Pennsylvania will not have to do anything. The Keystone state is already scheduled for April 24. Connecticut and Delaware are both already eying that date in actual or future legislation.

But moves in New York and Rhode Island are news to FHQ. Given the fact that New York law schedules the Empire state's presidential primary for the first Tuesday in February, it is still among the states that, under national party rules, has to change the date of its contest in order to comply with those rules. In other words, New York is a state FHQ has been observing rather closely since the first of the year. No legislation has been proposed in either chamber in the New York legislature. And it should be noted that while Democrats control the governor's mansion and the state House, Republicans hold a narrow majority in the state Senate. On the surface, then, there would be a potential partisan roadblock to a move to April. That said, mention of that roadblock should be tempered by the fact that New York Republicans -- like their counterparts in Delaware, Georgia, Ohio and Texas and add Connecticut to that list -- have traditionally allocated delegates on a winner-take-all basis. If the Republican Party of New York desires the status quo on that front, members may be more amenable to a move to late April (a month in which New York scheduled its primary for all but one cycle between 1976 and 1992).

In Rhode Island, the story is slightly different. First of all, Democrats control both chambers of the Rhode Island legislature and Republican-turned-Independent Lincoln Chafee occupies the governor's mansion. The latter would not necessarily have a clear reason to sign or veto a bill to move the presidential primary in the Ocean state. Secondly, Rhode Island Republicans do not have the motivation that the above list of states does. The party has traditionally allocated national convention delegates proportionally. The states currently first Tuesday in March position is not a problem for the party then. The state already has proportional allocation and would not have to make a change to stay in compliance with RNC rules. Finally, Rhode Island, while not on FHQ's watch list, has not seen any legislation proposed to change the presidential primary date. There are two bills -- HB 5653 and SB 399 -- that "would make changes relating to the primaries for election of delegates to national conventions and for presidential preference". But neither bill addresses the Rhode Island statute (17-12.1-1) that sets the presidential primary date. Instead, both bills make minor changes to candidate filing deadlines and other smaller details. The original Senate version has already passed and moved to the House. Both bills, then, are in committee in virtually the same form in the House and neither includes any provision to move the presidential primary. Unlike New York and its year-round legislative session, the Rhode Island legislature adjourns late next month.

Obviously, this is something that bears attention over the next few weeks. This would be a fairly significant regional primary and the attendant delegate boost on the Democratic side due to "clustering" would be rather large for already delegate-rich states like Pennsylvania and New York. It would also have the effect on the Republican side -- where all the action is going to be anyway -- of stripping out from the beginning, February/March part of the calendar a grouping of comparatively more moderate states. But FHQ will save the discussion of that impact for another, future post. Stay tuned...

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