Thursday, February 11, 2021

Arizona Bill Would End Presidential Primary

Earlier this month, legislation was introduced in the Arizona Senate to eliminate the presidential preference election -- the presidential primary in the Grand Canyon state -- and replace it with caucuses run by the state parties. 

SB 1668, introduced by state Sen. Martin Quezada (D-29th, Phoenix), would not only shift the state's delegate allocation method from a primary to caucuses, but it would also cede some state authority over that process with one exception. The resulting caucuses would under the new law also have to be opened to independent and unaffiliated voters. 

Now, this legislation is interesting for a few reasons. First, Quezada is not only a Democrat but among the Democratic leadership in the state Senate. That is not unusual in and of itself, but as has been noted in this space over the last four or five years, the wind is not necessarily at Quezada's back on this issue within the broader Democratic Party coalition. Sure, allowing independents and unaffiliateds into the caucus process conforms to some of what the national party has advocated for (increased participation), but shifting away from a state-run presidential primary election does not. That that message has not made it into the thinking of the legislative leadership in Arizona is noteworthy, but not surprising in view of past legislative actions regarding presidential primaries. 

Moreover, the primary to caucus shift is atypical among Democrats. It does happen. And it tends to in Democratic-controlled states with presidential primaries in cycles in which a Democratic incumbent president is seeking renomination. The upcoming 2024 cycle may meet those conditions to some degree. But that does not change the fact that this has been a maneuver seen and/or attempted more on the Republican side for a variety of reasons. Yes, there were the cancelled primaries and caucuses for the 2020 cycle when it was Trump up for renomination, but it goes beyond that. Efforts like those in Oklahoma in 2009 or Missouri's currently have been Republican driven over the last decade or more.

And at least part of the reason why is budgetary in nature. A state can pass the expenditure for a delegate selection event on to the state parties by eliminating a presidential primary. In fact, that is the main explanation for why states nix primaries in years in which an incumbent presidential is running unopposed for renomination. Why unnecessarily shell out millions of dollars for a presidential primary when the money is going to a contest with no competition? That is what Washington Democrats did in 2012, for example.

Yet, there is a new spin on this financial bottom line angle. In response to the Missouri bill attempting to eliminate the presidential primary in the Show-Me state, FHQ received an email from a reader there. At least part of the impetus behind the Missouri legislation was the fact that Republicans in the state still had caucuses in 2020 to select delegates to the national convention. If that process is going to exist, then why not allocate delegates through that process and remove that presidential primary line from the state budget? It has the effect of shrinking the pool of participants in the process. 

Now, FHQ will not go so far as to say that cost savings are the motivating factor behind this Arizona bill, but it would be a byproduct of the move if that legislation becomes law. But as we said with the Missouri bill, primary bills are not often successful in years immediately after presidential election years. Moves to cancel primaries in that window are even more rare. 

A link to this legislation has been added to the 2024 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

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