Arkansas, then, was one of the first states to move in anticipation of 2008 and may again be quick to react with 2012 on the distant horizon. Well, why would Arkansas want to do this; to go against the frontloading trend? Here are a couple of points I made back in May about the reasoning behind such a move when this story came up the first time:
1) Financial concerns: If the return on investment is viewed as sub-par, then the decision may be made to move back and save the money. Having an influence over who the nominee is before the decision is made, though, may outweigh that. Which brings up...Well, if the state is making their decision on 2012 now -- in this economic climate -- then that first point will likely play a major role in the legislature's thinking on this particular piece of legislation. "Return on investment? Who needs that? Let's just save some money!" And the second point could be rendered moot by the first. "We didn't have an impact in February and we never really had an impact when the presidential primary was in May. So what does it matter when we do this? Let's just save some money!"
2) Will 2012 more closely resemble 2004 or 2008? If it is the former, Arkansas may value that influence even if it means scant attention from the candidates among a crowded field of contests. If 2012 looks like 2008, Arkansas could move back and get more attention.
Now, it could be viewed as rash for the Arkansas General Assembly to act now, but the Natural state isn't likely to prove decisive anyway. [Sorry Arkansans.] The thinking in the past has been "if you can't be decisive at least be a part of the decision." In other words, make sure to hold your primary before the nomination has been decided. That rationale has spurred an awful lot of frontloading in the past. However, that could change if states continue to pinch pennies.
The implication here isn't really the backloading but the potential for coincidental primaries as a budgetary measure. Could we see, for instance, some of the northeastern states (ie: Connecticut, New York, Vermont) with late summer/early fall primaries for state and local offices move those up to coincide with their presidential primaries as a cost-saving mechanism? Instead of backloading the presidential primary, then, we witness the frontloading of state and local primaries.
I don't suspect we'll have an answer to this in any substantial way until after the 2010 midterms, the point after which most state begin mulling their plans for the next presidential election year. Regardless, it will be worth keeping an eye on.
UPDATE: Kate Bodenhamer over at CapSearch adds that the separate presidential primary cost the state $1.7 million in 2008. Adjusted for inflation, that could be a pretty good chunk of change in 2012.
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