Like rival siblings fighting for the biggest piece of cake, states are elbowing past each other to grab the first spots on the 2008 presidential nominating calendar. Not South Dakota.
The home of Mount Rushmore is content even if it will be dead-last with its presidential primary on June 3, 2008.
“The saying goes, ‘You either want to be first – or last,’ so we’d be one of those,” said Max Wetz, executive director of the South Dakota Republican Party. “The worst-case scenario would be they (candidates) would ignore us like any other year.”
The head of South Dakota’s Democratic Party, Rich Hauffe, calls it a “non-starter for us” with a mere three electoral votes to try to compete with vote-rich states such as California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas that are stampeding toward an early primary date of Feb. 5.
So far, eight states are confirmed voting for presidential candidates or holding nominating caucuses on Feb. 5, 2008. In all, at least 23 states are angling for that date in what is becoming known as “Super-Duper Tuesday,” far outpacing the 1984 “Super Tuesday” that involved 14 states. Coincidentally, Feb. 5 in 2008 also will be the final day of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, adding a different dimension to the party atmosphere of the day.
In what is shaping up as the earliest start to a presidential election in history, as many as 29 states may weigh in with Democratic and Republican presidential picks between Jan. 14’s Iowa caucuses and Feb. 5. By comparison, nine states had weighed in by the first Tuesday in February 2004, sending President Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts on to their party’s nominations.
While some of the proposed calendar changes could fall by the wayside, this will be remembered as the election when sibling states got fed up with all the attention paid to Iowa’s early caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
The first leak in the floodgates came last year when the Democratic National Committee agreed to squeeze a Nevada Democratic caucus between the Iowa and New Hampshire contests in 2008. The idea was to address complaints that the two states had disproportionate influence on the presidential field but failed to reflect the diversity of the rest of the country.
Instead, the Nevada power play set off a major rewrite of the 2008 primary calendar.
With its 55 electoral votes, the most in the country, California moved up its March 2 primary to Feb. 5 in a bid to give the country’s most populated state more political clout. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed the measure March 15. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) just signed a bill leapfrogging New Jersey from its last-in-line primary on June 8, 2004, to the newly popular Feb. 5.
Florida, with its pivotal place in presidential elections, now is raising the ante. No longer content with voting in March, it is mulling moving up its date to Jan. 29 – to become one of the first six states to get a crack at choosing the successor to the White House.
Favorite sons and daughters play a role in the rush to choose a presidential nominee on Feb. 5.
New York has both U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuiliani, a Republican, in the hunt. New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson (D), is running. A Feb. 5 date could help Connecticut’s U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat; Illinois’ U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat; Kansas’ U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican; and North Carolina’s former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat.
The envy of other states has New Hampshire on edge, too. Its secretary of state is primed to protect the state’s first-in-the-nation primary status, perhaps even moving it from Jan. 22 to before the Iowa and Nevada caucuses. New Hampshire law requires its presidential primary to fall on a Tuesday a week or more before any “similar election.”
Former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who heads Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, holds out some hope for states that miss the boat sailing by Feb. 5. “Super Tuesday” 1984 showed that candidates don’t always lock up the nomination in a front-loaded primary, she said. In 1984, U.S. Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) won several of the early primaries, and Vice President Walter Mondale, the Democratic Party’s choice, had to fight back and win later primaries to secure the nomination. “Those states with later primaries in May had a great deal of influence,” she said.
The frenzy of states to rush the gates for the 2008 nomination has the nation’s secretaries of states frustrated and calling for reform. “I am deeply troubled by a process that is getting shorter and more dominated by the candidates with the biggest bank account,” Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz said in March 27 statement supporting Connecticut’s move up to Feb. 5.
The National Association of Secretaries of State is pushing its proposal to divide states into regions – the East, South, Midwest and West – and hold four primaries, each a month apart, between March and June. All states in a region would schedule their primaries on the same day. The order of the contests would rotate every presidential election year.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said he wants Congress to put an end to states’ “mad dash to the front of the line.” Levin’s legislation would divide the country into six regions and allow one state from each region to hold its primary or caucus on one of six possible dates, from March through June. A lottery would decide which states hold their caucuses and/or primaries on which date, and then the order would rotate.
With Montana moving forward with plans to abandon its June presidential primary, South Dakota is poised to be alone facing what is probably a slate of has-been contenders on June 3. A proposal to change the date died when the Legislature adjourned for the year on March 26. Legislators balked at spending the $500,000 to change the date.
Ironically, South Dakota isn’t wedded to June. In 1988, it switched its primary to one week after Hampshire but switched back in 2000.