Governors Respond to Questions About State Primary Dates
Below is the transcript of the governors’ responses to the questions: Did your state get what it wanted by setting the primary dates when it did this year, and how should the primary schedule be set in 2012?
Stateline.org’s interviews took place during the National Governors Association winter meeting Feb. 23-25.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D)
Yes. We were Super Tuesday (Feb. 5). We had a primary. We had, on the Democratic side, 40 percent more voters this time than last time. Lots of interest.
Obviously, McCain is a favorite son on the Republican side, so that was a little different on them. But on the Democratic side, we were clearly in play. Ended up divided; Hillary ended up with five more delegates than Obama. But he was catching up fast, so we kind of mirrored a national trend. It was great.
I think moving to some sort of regional primary system – maybe carving out a role for Iowa and New Hampshire just out of deference to them. But everybody else, on a kind of rotating regional.
For the candidates themselves, just physically, amongst other things, it makes a lot of sense. It ought to be looked at.
It’s one of those things where, during the time it’s going on everybody says ‘We gotta do this differently,’ and then once the election’s held, they move on to other projects. So we’ll see.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D)
I’m delighted about the date (Feb. 5). I’m not so delighted about the process.
I was somebody in Kansas who actually supported having a primary this year, instead of a caucus. We’ve traditionally had caucuses.
I think we had extraordinary turnout even though we had terrible weather the night of the caucus. But it illustrated to me how eager people were to have their voices heard.
I’m thrilled that we moved up. We were part of the Super Tuesday (Feb. 5) states. That was great. Lots and lots of Kansans got an opportunity. But I think if we had in fact kept the money in the budget and actually had a primary, far more of our citizens would have had a chance to participate.
I think that this year really teased up, at least for the Democrats, the idea that we probably need to go back and overhaul…
There was an attempt to take the existing process and kind of micromanage (it).
We now have issues with Florida and Michigan . We have issues with other states feeling that they’re too late or too early. So my guess is we are going to immediately look at what can happen four years from now.
I kind of like the idea of regional primaries, with no real certainty about which area of the country would go first until you get late in the season, which sort of forces the candidates to participate in every place in the country.
Super Tuesday did that in many ways because there were so many states, from coast to coast, that there was really more of a national flavor than I’ve ever seen, at least, in a nominating process.
I think that’s healthy. I think it got a lot of people paying attention. It got the candidates to focus on a number of states simultaneously, and I think that’s good news.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D)
Well, you know, Kentucky ‘s primary is late. It’s in May (20), and usually things are over by that time. But it looks like things may not be over by then.
By having our primary when it is, it’s no extra cost to us, like it would be if we set a special date. So I think the people in the state right now are pretty satisfied with where it is, and it looks like we may play a role.
I would like to see a simplified system in some way. It makes it so much more costly when it’s done the way it’s done now, I think. And I don’t know the answers. I’m willing to sit down and work with the other states and come up with some kind of sensible system.
Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D)
Well, let me just say what I found interesting is that we got criticized early on in the process, because we didn’t move our (Feb. 10) caucus up earlier and everybody else was sort of frontloading everything, and people said, ‘Well, Maine won’t be important, Maine won’t be important.’
The way things worked out, we ended up having both presidential candidates campaign in Maine , and it was very exciting. It really rejuvenated (and) invigorated our democracy, which was already probably going on all cylinders, but even more so.
We had more people showing up at the caucuses than we have ever had before.
Barack Obama, when he spoke at the Bangor Auditorium, they had not had a crowd like that in the history of the Bangor Auditorium. And Senator Clinton had standing-room only at the University of Maine , and they had to house the people.
It was just so encouraging, because people were willing to brave the cold and participate and everything else, and we thought Maine ‘s caucuses weren’t going to mean very much. Turnout was…it would have been even more unbelievable.
There’s a huge amount of excitement out there, and I kind of feel like it’s all been pent up these last eight years, and we’re just ready to explode with all the opportunities that we have as a country.
So we didn’t suffer by that. Actually, we ended up becoming much more of a place to go, so we were very much encouraged about it. I think our people feel that Maine is important. It was really neat all the way around. So, no, I have to say that initially we were being criticized, but the tide came back in and we were sitting OK.
And New Hampshire had to watch us as we had our caucus.
I think that we’re going to revisit the caucus issues. We had a lot of people who couldn’t vote. They actually closed the doors in Portland , which is not something you want to do, because they had too many people inside so people weren’t able to get in. It was very awkward. It sent people out with how they were going to vote, so it was done very awkwardly.
I think we’d like to maintain the level of enthusiasm and participation and maybe look at statewide primaries, so that everybody gets the opportunity to participate. You don’t want to lose the participation – caucuses give us an organization – but we may move to get rid of the super-delegates (and) go to the statewide primary.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D)
It was a success (Feb. 12) in that we were relevant to the selection process. It would have been nice if we had had another week, so we might have been able to focus a little better on things unique to the whole region, like the health of the Chesapeake Bay .
You know, the campaigns came flying through here. We got a lot of attention, to the extent the calendar allowed for attention during a five-day window.
But, with another week, I think we might have been able to possibly have had a debate wherein the candidates might have focused on the federal role through whether it’s the farm bill or EPA or other things that would affect the health of the Chesapeake Bay, or mass transit, or Amtrak, which kind of unites the whole region and those sorts of things. We didn’t quite get to that level, but I thought overall it was a success.
Certainly, the turnout numbers – record turnout. In Maryland , a lot of excitement, a lot of new voters, more visits from presidential candidates than we’d ever had in any prior cycle since ’76, probably.
We try to change them every time, don’t we? We try to make it better. I suppose if one had a magic wand. I do think there’s some merit in starting with small states that any campaign can afford to speak to, and Iowa and New Hampshire are pretty well-established and (have) a long tradition of that. But one wonders if maybe a smaller Southeast state and a Western state might be good. I guess they sort of did that with Nevada .
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D)
The reason that we moved the primary (to Jan. 15) was to change the way presidents are selected in the primary process overall. We made that decision over a year ago, to be saying that if somebody broke the system, then Michigan would, too. When New Hampshire said that it was not going to abide by the calendar, and it was going to jump, we said we would jump, too. However, we would have abided by the calendar if everyone else had.
The DNC penalized us; they didn’t penalize New Hampshire . They didn’t do it in the way, for example, the Republicans did, by taking half the delegates away.
Bottom line is, I do believe that because of the movement of these early primary states, that there will be a different way that primaries are decided going forward, and that was the main purpose of our movement.
I would do a regional rotating primary system.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R)
Yes, although in Minnesota , we don’t have a binding caucus system, so it’s more of a nonbinding straw ballot. So that takes a little bit of the significance out of our results.
But in terms of the timing of it, I think it worked well for our state, because it came at kind of the crescendo point for the presidential race (Feb. 5).
It seems like the system we have – where a few of the traditional states get to go first – is a good one. And then you have what amounts to a nearly national primary on (Feb. 5). It wasn’t perfect, but I’m not sure any system’s going to be perfect.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R)
I’m happy with where our state is (March 11). I’m not very happy with the 40 states that have already had a primary.
When have to choose between attending the Iowa caucus and taking down your Christmas tree, there’s a little something wrong with the system.
Primaries ought to be starting about now, rather than ending about now, so that the American people have a little bit more of a chance to get information. I know the news media’s had a ball, and there’s been a lot of participation. But this all should happen between the end of February and the beginning of June.
Not only would (we) have participation, but people would have more time to learn more about the candidates. Fortunately for our party, we came out with a good candidate.
I think both political conventions should consider not allowing any primaries or caucuses before the last part of February (and) spacing them out.
Frontloading is not just an issue. Compression is an issue.
When they go off like a string of firecrackers, if a voter’s preferred candidate drops out, that voter is forced to make a decision for second choice in about three days. It ought to be more like three weeks to give people a chance to assess what’s going on and learn more.
Start later, space the primaries out more.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D)
We might be in the cat-bird seat, huh? Come the first week in June (June 3), we may have the whole world waiting to see what we decide in Montana .
Look, you walk into a casino and you can put your buck on any one of those numbers. Iowa , their number’s been coming in for a long time – New Hampshire ‘s, South Carolina .
As we move our way forward, depending on what happens next week, it’s very likely that both of these Democratic candidates are going to get to know the distance between Bozeman and Billings, how long it takes from Billings to Great Falls, where exactly the Rocky Mountains lie through the middle of Montana, where the Missouri River starts, where the Madison and the Jefferson come together to form the Missouri.
They’ll get to know Montana . I think they’ll probably like it.
Maybe four years from now, when we find that Montana does such a great job of choosing the next president, the other 49 states will just agree (and say), ‘Montana, why don’t you just pick?’
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D)
I think it turned out well for New York to be there on Super Tuesday (Feb. 5) and have a significant impact in where we are right now.
Like all of these things, there will be some look-back to figure out whether this is a sequence that makes sense for the party, but couldn’t have been happier about where the state was in terms of timing.
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven (R)
I think it worked pretty well for us. We had a caucus – a presidential preferential caucus (Feb. 5).
I’d like to go to a primary, just because I think it generates broader participation. But I think overall, people were pleased with it. That’s not to say we won’t re-evaluate – and each time works out a little differently – but overall, we had good caucuses, good participation and, I think, a high level of excitement in our state.
We’ll reevaluate; I think other states will too.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D)
It remains to be seen. I urged our Legislature to move us up and they chose not to for their own reasons. They didn’t want to go out and solicit signatures over the holidays, for example. So we thought that April 22, that there was no way we would be relevant in the process.
Now it’s still possible that we won’t be relevant in the process, if Senator Obama were to win Ohio and Texas, I think that would pretty much end the fight, but if Senator Clinton wins Ohio and Texas – and those are distinct possibilities – I think Pennsylvania could wind up being the most important state in the entire process.
It remains to be seen, but I will tell you that this caucus, primary, super-delegate system is just woeful and it needs to be changed and it should be five, 10-state regional primaries where the one who gets the most votes is the nominee. Get rid of all the super-delegates, but also get rid of the caucus states.
I don’t know if you noticed, but on Tuesday, people didn’t cover the Washington primary very much because it didn’t elect any delegates, but in the Washington caucus Senator Obama got about 70 percent of the vote and 70 percent of the delegates. In the primary, purely a beauty contest, it split 50-50.
So the caucuses, I believe, are just as undemocratic as the super-delegates, because if you’re older, you can’t vote by absentee. If you work the night shift, you can’t get in to vote. If you don’t have a car, you might not be able to get into the caucus locations. So I think if we’re really looking for a truly democratic way to elect nominees, let’s go to five regional primaries, rotate each presidential election, 10 states at a time, and whoever gets the most votes becomes the nominee. Simple as that.
I think the current process is nuts, absolutely nuts. If Senator Obama had won in New Hampshire , he would have been the nominee after two small states had voted. It’s crazy.
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R)
We don’t know yet because, actually, it depends on whether or not there’s still a race.
If it comes down to the fact that there are actually still competitive races, Republican or Democrat, then for that party they may very well say, ‘See, we were smart in doing so (on June 3).’ But I think the fact that right now we’re considering regional primaries will be a better deal long-term.
South Dakota , I think, will have a real interest in a regional primary when we get that group of states together.
I also think (that) these competitive races, starting earlier than what they ever have in the past, is something that I think the American public has got to (decide) if they either want it that way, or they don’t. Right now it appears they want these races to be decided early on…
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see a regional primary put together for a presidential primary, and I think South Dakota will probably look very seriously at joining a regional primary in the future.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D)
I have always had a problem with the huge national primary on Feb. 5, just from the standpoint that I think it too much captures any flash picture of where the campaign is at that point, and there’s still a lot of opportunities for things to develop.
Seeing in how many ways the campaign changed and evolved from the early primaries, one or two at a time, just kind of led me to the feeling that this maybe thing isn’t baked yet, and we shouldn’t just put it the oven on the fifth of February and have the result come out of that.
So I would prefer, as a party member, that we had more of a string that gave more people an opportunity and gave, frankly, the public a longer time, in a lot of ways, to look at the development of these candidates. That’d be my preference as a Democrat.
I think we kind of ended up, because there were these very large states that were very much in play going on, we kind of ended up with not much time and attention from either of the national candidates, which I don’t criticize…
So from that standpoint, it was not a particularly good idea. ( Tennessee had its primary Feb. 5)
I do think that the idea of a primary schedule in which it is laid out a little more over a period of time and it gives chance for…Again, as I say, just look at what happened between Iowa and Feb. 5 – stop back and forth, different people came in, and Mike Huckabee became a factor, and all kinds of things.
I just think that allowing that process some time to play opens up the process a little more, I think makes it more friendly to candidates who do not have a huge war chest from the previous July.
We might be seeing an example of that, and conceivably in a Bill Richardson you’re seeing an example of that. But I don’t, as a Democrat, think that’s the best way to do it.
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R)
Well, we have it on March 4 because it’s town elections that day and it’s the most convenient time for it…we never seriously considered changing the historic date.
This year for us it looks like it might benefit us because we’re a very small state and along with those other three on that day. I think on the Democratic side, it might make a difference, and maybe on the Republican side, he’ll get the 1191 or whatever he needs to get to secure the nomination. I would think so.
It’s such a traditional day. But who knows what the whole scene will look like next time. There’s a lot of concern about frontloading, and I think many Americans are not happy with the length of the political season, because in November and December, when we should be seeing the Christmas specials on TV, we saw political ads. I think a lot of Americans feel that it takes too long.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D)
Oh yes, we played a role. We thought we were out. And lo and behold, everybody arrived, came to Washington state – where we thought no one would come – and they came, and we played a significant role in what was happening. So yes. In the end. ( Washington held its caucuses Feb. 9).
But let me just tell you, leading up to it, we thought it would be over by Super Tuesday and we wouldn’t have a role, and there was a lot of frustration.
I probably wouldn’t have us have the campaign starting as early as it was.
Like other countries, we manage to put the candidates through terror for far too long and tear them up and spit them out, and I just don’t think that’s healthy for the country, to be perfectly honest with you. So I’d love to have them all moved back and not have this fever pitch of who can beat who to get first on the agenda.
I just don’t think it’s healthy for the candidates, and I don’t think it’s healthy for the country.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D)
I guess so.
We had a lot of people who early on were really pushing to move us up or to be part of Super Tuesday, and I think – and everybody thought – it would be over by then (Feb. 19). But obviously, as it worked out, we had the week all to ourselves.
The candidates were in the state. Barack Obama was in the state pretty much the whole week – all but one day of the week. We had all the national focus on us for a week. So I think the people of Wisconsin feel that they really had an opportunity to have a very major say in who the next president will be. So, yeah, the schedule worked out really well for us.
One thing we learned is you’re sort of better off being pretty much by yourself. I mean, it could have worked out that by Super Tuesday it was all over, and we wouldn’t have had any say. So there is a certain risk to this, but I think on balance, we’re better off working for a schedule where we have a week to ourselves.
It happened four years ago as well. We had a very exciting primary four years ago. It was John Edwards’ last stand with John Kerry, and he almost beat John Kerry. Kerry won it and that was sort of the end four years ago. So we had a similar thing four years ago. We had a week to ourselves, and the candidates were in the state the whole time. So it’s worked out pretty well for Wisconsin .
Now, historically, before all these other states had (primaries), we were the first state in the country to have a primary. And then for many years, it was New Hampshire went first and Wisconsin went second, and they were the only two primaries, and then the bosses made all the decisions.
So we always think we’ve got this great historic right to really have a say. But, like I say, this year, it really worked out for us. I think, on balance, you’re probably better off having your own week and hoping that the timing of it makes it so that you’re really important, and we were.
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