Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Arkansas Senate Slated to Vote on 2012 Presidential Primary Today

Nearly two weeks after the Arkansas House voted unanimously to repeal the state's February presidential primary, the Senate has a vote (on HB 1021) scheduled for this afternoon. The bill has passed the Senate's State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee with a "Do Pass" designation. Thus far, the only amendment tacked on to the legislation has been one to add a Senate co-sponsor to the bill. In other words, this one seems like a done deal. And as FHQ mentioned recently, Governor Bebee has indicated that he would sign the bill should it wind up on his desk.

The only complicating factor is a bill recently read and referred to committee in the Senate. In its original form, SB 253 would have repealed the February presidential primary -- making that election concurrent with the primaries for state and local offices -- and shifted everything back to the third week in August. [What if the a major party's convention is before that point?!?] In its amended form (the one currently in committee), the bill would hold the presidential primary three weeks prior to that third week in August. In 2008, Michigan and Florida both defied party rules to hold their primaries ahead of the front end of the window in which the parties allowed non-exempt states to go. However, it is rare that a state would challenge the back end of that window. In fact, since the Democrats established the "window rule" prior to the 1980 presidential campaign, no state has held a delegate selection event later than the second Tuesday in June. Sure, as we saw during 2008, many of the caucus states wrapped up their delegate selection with late June and early July state conventions, but the first step in that process -- the one that counts in terms of media coverage and thus momentum -- came much earlier.

To say this is unusual, then, isn't a stretch. It would be a first. Of course, the new governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, has expressed an interest in a September primary for the 2010 election (H/t to Ballot Access News for that link.). It isn't clear whether that extends to 2012 and the presidential primary, but Illinois is one of those states which has traditionally held its presidential primary together with its primaries for state and local offices.

In years when there is a massive frontloading shift, we typically see some backtracking (ie: the 1988 to 1992 transition following the Southern Super Tuesday), but if Arkansas and Illinois (and this one has not made it as far as being proposed as legislation yet) were to follow through with these moves it would represent an entirely new path for presidential primary movement. The other caveat is that the parties have incentivized primary scheduling since 2000. States going later in the process get bonus delegates. How many bonus delegates would a state get for holding its primary in August or September.

But let's think about this for a moment. [Allow me to jump off the deep end here.] Holding such a late primary is basically giving up. Oh, let's put that more diplomatically. How about opting out of the primary system? But as a result, the voters of the state don't have a say in influencing the decision of either party's nominee. On top of that, these contests would come after at least one of the major parties' conventions.

What effect, then, would such a contest have on the general election? This is somewhat similar to the conversation we had going last summer about Guam and the general election straw poll the island wanted to hold in September before the election. Now, if your state is already holding a primary or caucus after the point at which the nomination has been unofficially claimed, what does it matter where you go. Why not attempt to have some real influence? In essence, a state in such a situation would miss influencing the first step of the process, but could have a significant impact on the second, post-winnowing step.

Granted, this scenario would mean less if a state had a closed primary. Democrats vote for the one Democrat on the ballot (the party's nominee) and Republicans vote for the one Republican on the ballot. There isn't much to that. It isn't telling us too much. However, in an open primary state, we'd have a better chance of adding up both ballots and extrapolating something from that. Think about having a primary in between the conventions and the debates. Candidates would show up to a state like that and the coverage would be off the charts whether it was a gimme state or a competitive one (more so in the case of the latter).

But this isn't even the intent in either Arkansas or Illinois. It is fun to think about, though.

Recent Posts:
1976 Presidential Primary Calendar

Chairman Steele and the 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar

Presidential Primary and Caucus Dates Over Time

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