Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Signs Point Toward a March 6 Presidential Primary in Georgia

The AP's Errin Haines is reporting that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp will set the Peach state presidential primary for March 6 at a press conference on Thursday. FHQ has driven a lot of the Georgia as a rogue state discussion since the legislation to hand the presidential primary date setting authority over to the secretary of state was first introduced in the Georgia General Assembly back in March. But the simple truth of the matter is that there was always just as much evidence for or against that notion all along. Early on, the Georgia Republican Party seemed wary of a non-compliant primary's impact on the delegate allocation. At the same time, Kemp made mention of coupling the Georgia primary with Florida's, of jumping the March 6 barrier if Florida did, and of settling on a date after Iowa and New Hampshire. Each time, however, the secretary always stopped short of endorsing a move to any date earlier than March 6.

The desire may have been there. The ability was certainly there. Yet, the willingness to jump into January or February was and apparently is lacking. Why, then, should the General Assembly have granted the secretary of state the flexibility to move the primary when all he did was move it back by a month relative to 2008? It was after all pretty clear by March -- when the legislation was introduced -- that most of the twenty states that entered 2011 with non-compliant primaries or caucuses were making some effort to move back and not forward. If early was preferred, the legislature could have left well enough alone and kept the primary on the first Tuesday in February or legislators could have moved the primary back to the first Tuesday in March -- the earliest date allowed by the national parties and the date on which the Georgia primary was held from 1992-2004.

The answer, of course, is that just because the flexibility afforded the secretary of state -- the same type of flexibility New Hampshire's Secretary of State Bill Gardner has used so adeptly since 1976 -- may not have been useful in 2012 but may be in future cycles. It was a long term change that was left idle in its maiden voyage.

If Secretary Kemp does in fact opt for a March 6 date tomorrow, what does that mean? Well, it means very little for the state of the overall calendar. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida will have one less threat to their early positions. The move is curious in one regard: Kemp is selecting a date that is the most crowded date on the calendar; a move even more at odds with the added flexibility behind the date selection. That said, Georgia, even on a date with eleven other Republican contests would be the biggest delegate prize on March 6 outside of Texas. And the Lone Star state may see limited competition with both Rick Perry and Ron Paul in the race. Ohio is the only other state on March 6 that may rival Georgia in its ability to grab attention. The Buckeye state has fewer delegates but is a more likely general election target; one on which the Romney campaign may focus almost exclusively completely after chalking up wins in Massachusetts and Vermont. [Romney also did very well in the caucus states in 2008. There are several western caucus states on March 6 that could potentially be fertile ground for the former Massachusetts governor if the focus is on the southern contests on March 6. That, however, is an open question at this point.]

Georgia, then, can stand out from the pack on March 6 based on delegates, but, depending on the dynamics of the race at that point in the race, could end up being hurt if, say, Romney is pulling ahead after the Florida, Arizona, Michigan stretch in the calendar and isn't focused on the South as much as on the general election and in organizing in battleground states like Ohio with early primaries. Yes, that is a fairly specific scenario a little more than five months out, but it is worth noting.

One way or another, we will have a definitive answer on the date of the Georgia primary Thursday morning.

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