On Wednesday, a bill (S150) to move North Carolina's presidential primary from May to February in 2012 was filed in the state Senate. Under normal circumstances, I might get excited about this. For starters, it isn't typically until after the midterm elections that the full flurry of frontloading activity takes place in state legislatures across the country. [Well, that's not true. There is usually activity, but it usually isn't "successful" activity resulting in an actual move.] Arkansas, for instance, is close to moving its presidential primary back in 2012 and there has been a bill introduced in Illinois with essentially the same goal for the primaries in the Land of Lincoln. North Carolina, though, becomes the first state to have a bill introduced that proposes a move forward on the 2012 presidential primary calendar.
A couple of questions come out of this:
1) Why aren't you excited?
2) What's with the lack of activity?
Let's deal with number one first. This bill isn't groundbreaking legislation in the North Carolina Senate. Actually, it is deja vu all over again. The same bill was introduced by the same group of Republican senators two years ago. [Well, the group of nine senate co-sponsors in 2007 has now swelled to ten; adding Austin Allran to the list in 2009.] That bill (S168) was referred to the Judiciary (I) committee, where it got bottled up and eventually faded away. Judiciary (I) is still chaired by Democratic State Senator Martin L. Nesbitt, who was new to the post at the outset of the 2007 session. Needless to say, the conditions are the very same in 2009 as they were in 2007 (within the legislature at least), and the outcome isn't likely to be any different. Removed from the equation, though, is fact that both parties' nominations won't be at stake in 2012 (making successful passage of this bill even less likely still). And that brings us to the second question.
Why isn't there any more activity on the frontloading front? [After all, it seemed like a big deal when all these states were moving prior to the 2008 primary season.] Well, part of it is political. Unless Obama fails miserably in the next couple of years, the president won't be challenged in the Democratic primaries in 2012. All eyes are on the GOP then. Either the national party will devise a different nomination system (either completely different or slightly modified) or Republican-dominated states (whether state legislatures or state parties) will look to move to more influential positions on the primary calendar in 2012.
States where the Democratic Party is the majority party or where there is more competition between the parties are less likely to throw their hats in the frontloading ring. In the Democratic-controlled states there is no perceived need to get involved in the GOP nomination race; especially if the state's primary or caucus is closed to Democrats or independents. [Why move up for the Republicans?] If the primary is open to cross-over/independent voters, they could have a moderating effect on the Republican nomination race. But why would a Democratic state be motivated to have a moderating effect on the outcome of the GOP nomination? A more extreme candidate, is a more beatable candidate for an incumbent Democratic candidate.
In the more competitive/divided government states (in terms of party competition), Democrats, again, would be motivated to obstruct Republican efforts to move a presidential primary forward. Such a state is likely to be a battleground state in the general election and Democrats within the state would not be motivated to allow for an earlier contest and in turn earlier party and candidate organization in the state. It just is not strategically wise.
To make a short story long, then, there isn't any frontloading activity because...
1) it is early.
2) only one party will likely have a contested nomination race, and
3) This is related to the the first point -- I would suspect some states are still waiting to see if the Republican Party or both parties working together in some way attempt to fundamentally alter the presidential nomination system. But that's a subject for another post.
H/t: Ballot Access News for bringing this to our attention today.
1988 Presidential Primary Calendar
1984 Presidential Primary Calendar
More on the Potential August Arkansas Primary