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Back in June the Utah Republican Party made the decision to allocate delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa using a primary in lieu of caucus meetings. The only problem at the time was that legally there was no place for the presidential primary on the June 26 primary ballot that typically only has contests for state and local offices. That changed over the past couple of weeks when the state legislature proposed and passed legislation in special session adding the presidential vote to the June primary. The bill -- SB 30041 -- was signed by Governor Gary Herbert on Thursday. That option will now be available to both parties in the future when funding is not appropriated by the legislature for the (still, by statute, scheduled in February) Western States Presidential Primary.
This seems like a ho-hum sort of move. It is.
The move brings Utah in line with a great many other states that hold presidential primaries concurrently with primaries for state and local offices. What will make Utah different from those states in the future is that the state parties will have the ability -- should the legislature put it in the budget -- to opt into an earlier primary already codified into law. Assuming the economic ship has been righted to some extent by 2015 and that the national parties have done little to change the rules behind the formation of the presidential primary calendar, Utah could challenge the calendar by opting into the February primary. Now, for that scenario to work, you would probably have to assume that President Obama is reelected next year. Otherwise, Republican-controlled Utah is not going to be motivated to appropriate funds for what those in power view as an unnecessary contest. The tricky party, at least from the Utah perspective, is that Utah Democrats would have no options. The presidential line being included on the June primary ballot is contingent upon funds not being allocated for the separate February primary. Utah Democrats would have to choose between a more than likely non-compliant primary and holding caucuses as they are doing in 2012.
The states probably don't need any more help in the process of the presidential primary calendar date setting. They are doing just fine, thanks. But this either/or strategy is an interesting one that other states may consider in the future. The contingency factor layered into the Utah law would have to be removed, but a law that allows parties to opt into a primary that is early/non-compliant in the process and a fallback option that piggybacked on a preexisting primary for state and local offices could be a workable plan in some states. I say some states because states with primaries for state and local office that fall after the second week in June would conflict with national party rules on the backend of the calendar. Those states with late August and early September primaries would have less flexibility than other states on this.
A tip of the cap to Tony Roza at The Green Papers for the news.
1 Text of SB 3004 can be found here.