Monday, February 21, 2011

Companion Senate Bill to Move Tennessee Presidential Primary to May Introduced

Last week, Tennessee House Democrats proposed a bill (HB 760) that would shift the state's presidential primary back from the first Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in May. The Democratic leadership on the state Senate side has now followed suit. Minority Leader Jim Kyle (D-28th, Memphis) introduced SB 1875 last Thursday (February 17) which would have the impact of scheduling the presidential primary concurrently with municipal elections held in May.

The intention of Democrats in a time where budget deficits are a real concern on the state level is likely to prioritize elections outlays. However, it is much easier for the minority party Democrats to do this in a cycle where the party's standard bearer is likely to receive no concerted opposition in the primaries next year. Majority party Republicans, with a contested nomination to come in 2012 are more likely to balk at this as a result. Tennessee has moved its primary the last two cycles -- from the second Tuesday in March to the second Tuesday in February in 2004 and from the second Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in February in 2008. Legislators in the Volunteer state, then, have had a recent history of moving the state's presidential primary around to maximize the state's influence.

The reality is that legislators there have merely moved the state into a period of time before or simultaneous with a decision on the nomination having been determined. Tennessee has not proven decisive, but it has been a part of the decision. And while Tennessee Democrats may have the thought of the bonus delegates that are awarded to later primary states, they are unlikely to see those with Republicans in control of the state government and a contested nomination race on the horizon.

If one was to place bets on which set of primary bills will emerge, one would have to wager on the primary moving to March and not May based on partisanship and partisan control alone. However, this is yet further evidence of 2012 primary laws being crafted with budgetary concerns at least secondarily in mind.

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