FHQ has felt like some legislation out of Wisconsin was inevitable, but this was not really what was expected. The Republican-controlled legislature moved the Wisconsin primary from the third Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in April in 2011. That move was made to bring Wisconsin into compliance with the 2012 national party delegate selection rules, but also to allow the Wisconsin Republican Party to maintain its traditional winner-take-all method of allocation. Under the slightly tweaked 2016 rules, a state can hold a primary or caucuses with winner-take-all rules as early as the third Tuesday in March (March 15 during the 2016 cycle). March 15 also happens to be a date that Michigan is eyeing and on which Illinois and Missouri are already scheduled. In other words, March 15 would be an attractive landing spot for Wisconsin (Republicans) because of the winner-take-all element and the fact that some regional neighbors may end up there as well.
But that is not what Sen. Carpenter is proposing in his to-be-introduced legislation. Basically, Carpenter's bill would reverse the change made to the primary date in 2011. It would move the presidential primary from the "spring election" date on the first Tuesday in April to the "spring primary" date on the third Tuesday in February.2 Such a shift, however, would put Wisconsin out of compliance with the national party rules and cost both parties a significant portion of their national convention delegations.
The penalties aspect of this potential move was not mentioned in the press release from the senator's office. That would very likely affect candidate/campaign behavior toward Wisconsin, negatively affecting the ability of the contest to influence the process. Also not discussed was the fact that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is quite likely to seek the Republican nomination and that former Secretary Hillary Clinton is unlikely to see more than token opposition for the Democratic nomination. A favorite son running for the Republican nomination is likely to tamp down on the amount of attention the other candidates would pay the state as would an uncompetitive Democratic race. And lest we forget, former Wisconsin Republican Party chair and current Republican National Committee chair, Reince Priebus, is not likely going to be supportive of such a move. The Republican-controlled legislature may alter the date of the Wisconsin presidential primary, but it is not likely to push a bill from a Democratic state legislator that would only draw the ire, if not pressure, from the Republican National Committee.
1 Here is the press release from Sen. Carpenter's office:
“Moving up the primary election date will give our state greater influence in selecting our presidential nominees.”Madison – Today State Senator Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) announced that he will be introducing a bill to move up the date of Wisconsin’s presidential primary election to the third Tuesday of February.
“In the last presidential election, Wisconsin’s increasing influence in the general election as a ‘swing state’ was evidenced by the many visits to our state by the candidates and national figures. I believe that our state should also have proportionate influence in the primary nominating process,” said Carpenter.2 Wisconsin election law refers to both a spring primary and a spring election and defines them as taking place on the dates described above.
The current presidential primary date is the first Tuesday in April, by which time it is likely that the presidential nominees may have already been decided.
“The earlier the primary is held, the more influence it has on nominating the candidate. As there is not an incumbent president running in 2016, I believe that now is the time to implement this change in this election date,” said Carpenter.
The election date under this bill in 2016 would be Tuesday, February 16, 2016. This is after the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, but before South Carolina’s primary on February 27, 2016.
Wisconsin has previously held its presidential primary elections in February in both 2004 and 2008.
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