Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Vermont Bill Would Move Presidential Primary to Same Date as New Hampshire's

Legislation was introduced in the Vermont state Senate on Tuesday, February 10 to move the Green Mountain state presidential primary in line with the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire.

State Senator Anthony Pollina (PD-28th, North Middlesex)1 introduced S 76 to not only schedule the Vermont presidential primary for the same date as the New Hampshire primary, but to also leave that date setting power to the Vermont secretary of state. This would not only tether the Vermont primary to its counterpart in neighboring New Hampshire, but it also mimics the New Hampshire presidential primary law to some degree by ceding the date-setting power to the secretary of state.

Now, FHQ says to some degree. The New Hampshire law sets the Granite state primary for the second Tuesday in March. If, however, other states opt to go earlier than that point on the calendar -- an outcome that is a given in the post-reform era -- the New Hampshire secretary of state has the ability/requirement to move the presidential primary to a spot on the calendar seven days before any other similar election. The Vermont bill does not really provide its secretary of state with such power. The bill calls for the primary date to be the same as New Hampshire's and would require the secretary of state to set that date once New Hampshire's date is settled.

That is not the same as the New Hampshire law. But that is not the key point here. The important thing is that we have witnessed all of this before. New Hampshire and Secretary of State Bill Gardner in particular has been adept at playing this waiting game; not setting a date for New Hampshire until the dust has either completely settled or has all but reached that state (see 2011 for examples here, here and here). Adept is an apt description, but seasoned would be accurate as well. Gardner and New Hampshire have been through this before. His office has the ability to wait other states out and in turn the state's election administration apparatus has to be able to respond quickly and hold an essentially snap election just weeks later (a less than two month turnaround in 2008 and 2012).

But this potential Vermont challenge is slightly different than the normal threat to New Hampshire's first in the nation status. This is similar to the North Carolina threat to South Carolina. This is not a situation where a state has drawn a specific line in the sand (see Texas) that only requires New Hampshire to jump to an earlier date. Rather, Vermont -- like North Carolina -- has tethered the date of its contest to that of another state. In other words, there is no escaping the challenging state.

Nevertheless, this tethering is not unusual territory for New Hampshire and Secretary Gardner. Delaware coupled its primary to New Hampshire's in 1996 and 2000; the Saturday after New Hampshire. Wyoming Republicans in 2007 initially scheduled their caucuses for the same date as New Hampshire for 2008 before opting to go before the Granite state. In both instances, New Hampshire escaped. In the Delaware case, the candidates were basically blackballed by the parties in New Hampshire if they campaigned in Delaware. That rendered the contest in the First state virtually meaningless. The candidates and press were in New Hampshire. Wyoming is a tough draw for the candidates and media in the best of times, but in January neither group was likely to provide caucuses with much attention. [See also Nevada in 2011]

If the party rules do not dissuade Vermont, then look for the parties in New Hampshire to put pressure on the candidates to steer clear of the Green Mountain state. That is how it has worked in New Hampshire in the post-reform era.

UPDATE: Is this bill meant to help Senator Bernie Sanders?
UPDATE (2/18/15): Identical legislation introduced in state House

1 Senator Pollina is a member of the Progressive Party in Vermont.

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