Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Out of Arkansas, An Apparent Challenge to the New Hampshire Primary

This morning new legislation was introduced in the Arkansas state legislature to move the May consolidated primary -- including the presidential primary -- into February.

SB 276, filed by state Senator Trent Garner (R-27th, El Dorado), would push the general primary from the third Tuesday in June to the first Tuesday in March. But here is the catch: the language of the nomination process in the Natural state is unconventional. The general primary refers to a runoff election, but that is the election described/scheduled in the current elections statute. The scheduling of the preferential primary -- the first round of the nomination process -- follows from that general primary date. Currently, that occurs four weeks prior to the general primary on the third Tuesday in May.

But while Garner's bill would move the general primary to a date compliant with the national party rules, again, it is a runoff. Under the legislation, the preferential primary -- the one that matters here -- would occur three weeks prior to the first Tuesday in March.

That falls on the second Tuesday in February.

...the same day as the date on which the New Hampshire presidential primary currently and tentatively scheduled.

Is this a true challenge to the New Hampshire primary?

Not really. First, Arkansas had a difficult enough time moving into March for the 2016 cycle to join the SEC primary. That entailed a last minute deal being cut in the state Senate during a 2015 special session to get a temporary primary date change approved. And that was after a similar measure failed during the regular session that same year. Then, efforts two years ago to move the primary back to March for 2020 again fell flat.

These bills have always found resistance in the state Senate and over moving the primary into winter which elongates the general election campaign. It is not a financial cost, then, that state senators have balked at in the past, but rather a change in the regular rhythms of Arkansas elections for offices up and down the ballot. And it has not helped that the past moves -- 1988, 2008 and 2016 -- have not delivered the sort of attention decision makers in the state have promised and/or desired.

Now, add to that an additional layer: encroaching on New Hampshire's turf if this bill becomes law and violating the national party rules on scheduling in the process. The penalties -- losing half of the Democratic delegation and around two-thirds of the Republican delegation -- do not make the move attractive.

To add insult to injury, Garner's bill is not aggressive enough. It would shift the Arkansas primary into the tentative position reserved for the presidential primary in Granite state, but it certainly would not keep the New Hampshire secretary of state moving the primary there to an earlier date after the Arkansas legislature has adjourned and is powerless to respond. It is that ability that has helped keep New Hampshire at the front of the presidential primary queue.

This may be another "flamethrower" but it is likely to meet the same fate as those in the past.

2/11/19: Arkansas Lawmaker Signals a Scaling Back of Presidential Primary Legislation

2/16/19: Amendment to Arkansas Bill Eyes March for Presidential Primary Move

3/1/19: New March Presidential Primary Bill Flies Through Arkansas Senate Committee

3/9/19: Arkansas Senate Makes Quick Work of March Presidential Primary Bill

3/13/19: Arkansas House Committee Advances March Presidential Primary Bill

3/19/19: On to the Governor: Super Tuesday Bill Passes Arkansas House

3/25/19: Arkansas Presidential Primary to Super Tuesday

The Arkansas bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

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