Friday, September 2, 2011

Will Arizona Trigger a February "Dead Zone" on the 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar?

The folks at First Read raise an interesting (second) point:
As soon as today, we could know what Arizona plans to do with the GOP primary. If it holds its primary on Jan. 31 -- as expected -- that would force Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other early states to move up from February to January. That would have two possible reactions: One, you’ll probably have six significant early contests in January -- IA, NH, NV, SC, AZ, and FL. And two, with those February contests moving to January, that means there’s the possibility that February becomes a dead zone. So you’ll have these flurry of early contests in January, but then a relatively empty February before the Super Tuesday races in March.
Now, that isn't to suggest that the first point isn't worthy of comment. It's just less variable than the second point. Sure, if Arizona moves to January 31,1 then that is absolutely true that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Florida and Arizona will dot the January landscape. There is no doubt there. [That makes this South Carolina/Florida reaction kind of, well, duh.]

However, I apt to push back against the second point to some degree. Again, this is a possibility. February may be a dead zone, but I don't think it will be necessarily.2 We don't know that with any level of certainty because the situation is still so fluid. First of all, if you are Brian Kemp in Georgia, you look at all that real estate in February and dream of all the possibilities for the race in the Peach state. Georgia is a free agent after all. The gamble for Georgia -- and it won't really be a gamble because Kemp can wait until December 1 to make a decision -- is that it has to figure out what the other, limited number of states that can still move will do.

Then there is Colorado. The chair of the Republican Party in the Centennial state has already gone on record as saying that the party may opt for the earlier date allowed by state law. Chairman Call has also said that the party is "much more inclined" to leave the Republican caucuses right where they are while still leaving the door open for a move. The Colorado caucuses are currently scheduled to occur on Super Tuesday, March 6. But if February is wide open, Call and the Colorado Republican Party may be tempted to shift up into that February 7 slot allowed by state law. The "much more inclined" caveat was predicated on the idea that the race would still be competitive on March 6. Yet, if Colorado Republicans are to act rationally (with the goal of maximizing their attention in the presidential nomination process), it would be greatly more advantageous for the party to move to a stand-alone February 7 date rather than sharing the spotlight with around ten other states on March 6. In other words, the incentive is there -- despite the penalties3 -- to move up.

And what about Wisconsin? Here is another situation where a state, in this case because its state legislature has a year-round session, has yet to determine a date for its primary. Now, there is Republican-sponsored legislation to move the Badger state primary to April 3, but the legislature has yet to finish consideration of those bills. Again, if February is wide open, the Republican majorities in the Wisconsin legislature may reconsider the effort to shift away from that February 21 date the primary there currently occupies.

FHQ wants to be extremely careful here. These states are not on the verge of moving to or staying in February, but the relevant primary date-setting actors within each would be very tempted, FHQ would think, to at the very least allow the possibility of February enter into their decision-making calculus. If anything, it is this secondary jockeying (or possible jockeying) that may "force" Arizona to select a January 31 primary date.

Maybe it is expected.

NOTE: You can read more about the Arizona-triggered February possibilities here and here.

1 Given the consistent language used by the governor's spokesperson, it appears expected, but I strongly question whether January 31 will be the ultimate landing spot for Arizona. There is just enough room for doubt there given this debate bargaining chip and some of the more recent comments from the governor's office. Then again, I am not privy to the sources the folks at NBC News are.

2 And I want to make clear that I'm not coming down on the folks at First Read here. That was a quick hit burst of information. My point is to parse that out a bit more. FHQ has been known to do.

3 Colorado, like Iowa, does not directly allocate any delegates in the first step of its caucus/convention process. As such, the state would not be open to the RNC penalties. Minnesota Republicans are in the same situation.

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