Wednesday, April 6, 2011

National Democrats Urging States to Move Primaries Back?

Frank Phillips at the Boston Globe has an interesting story up this morning about the reaction of Massachusetts leaders to DNC suggestions to move the Bay state's presidential primary back to April or later. This isn't a new idea. Budgetary constraints and the effect that may have on the ability of the state to hold a presidential primary in 2012 have already been raised and a bill to move the presidential primary to June to coincide with primaries for state offices has been proposed as well. No, the new twist to all of this is that national Democrats are thinking of this primary movement strategically -- in terms of the outcome of the Republican nomination race. Hypothetically, if more Democratic states hold later contests, that increases the likelihood of the emergence of a more conservative nominee; one against whom the president would fare better.

The expectation is that Democrats would make these efforts in states that are safely blue in a general election and where Democrats hold unified control of the state government (state legislature and governor). Those are the conditions under which national Democrats would have the most success in making a change. Beyond that, the expectation from the DNC's perspective is that Republicans in those states are far more moderate than in other more moderate or conservative states.

First of all, the places where there have been serious efforts to move presidential primaries back further than the earliest allowed March 6 date have primarily been in unified Democratic-contolled states. [Have a look at the second map in this post FHQ wrote on the implications of the 2010 midterm elections.] California's legislature is seeking to move back to June, Hawaii Democrats have proposed an April caucus date, Maryland is on the verge of moving back to April and DC and Delaware may follow suit, and the talk in this Globe article is of a regional primary with Massachusetts and Connecticut involved. Though they were not mentioned there, Vermont is under unified Democratic control and Maine Democrats could also see some pressure from the party to hold later caucuses (Of course, Maine Democrats have just posted a delegate selection plan that calls for a March 11, 2011 caucus. But that could be changed.). Yes, Alabama has a proposal to move to June, but that has since seen a counter proposal for a March date. Missouri, too, has proposed moving back to June, but that bill has taken a back seat to the February and March proposals that have passed at least one chamber of the legislature thus far. We do see this happening in more moderate to Republican states, but the proposals have typically been on the backburner or have received a lukewarm reception among state legislators.

The bigger question is if this national move would even have the desired effect. Let's not forget that Obama did quite well in a series of states (Republican caucus states in particular) the Clinton campaign was quick to point out in 2008 that Democrats would not win in the general election. That was true yet Obama emerged anyway. Just because a state is reliably blue does not mean that its Republican electorate is moderate. The Obama example seems to point to a more "extreme"/less establishment primary or caucus electorate in those states. If this is something the DNC is actually pushing, it seems to indicate that the Obama campaign does not think Mike Huckabee, someone who would potentially do well in the states that would be left early and who polls well head-to-head with Obama, is running for the Republican nomination. It also seems to indicate that they perceive some threat from the possibility of a more moderate Republican nominee (no surprise). But it looks like, at least initially, that they are getting some push back from some states due to local elections norms and procedures.

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