Political leaders in Alabama and other Southern states have grown frustrated with their states’ lack of influence in the presidential primaries and have hatched a plan that could have profound implications for the 2016 elections — especially for Republicans.
Officials in five Southern states — Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas — are coordinating to hold their primary on March 1, 2016. Texas and Florida are considering also holding a primary the same day but may wait until later in the month. Either way, March 1 would be a Southern Super Tuesday, voting en masse on the heels of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
The joint primary, which appears increasingly likely to happen, would present a crucial early test for Republican White House hopefuls among the party’s most conservative voters.
The plan, which would set up what has been dubbed the “SEC Primary,” has garnered early support from top Republicans across the region, including here in Alabama.
“If it’s limited to six or eight states, I think it would bring candidates to the Southern part of the United States,” said Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett.
This is not the first time Republicans have tried to maneuver Alabama into a place of relevance in the nominating process.
In most presidential election years through the 2004 cycle, Alabama held its presidential primaries in June, often long after voters in other states had essentially decided the outcome of the races. So lawmakers passed a bill that moved Alabama’s presidential primaries up to the first Tuesday in February.
But in an effort to condense the primary campaign calendar, both national party committees passed a rule cutting in half the number of delegates a state could send to the party convention if they held their primary before the first Tuesday in March.
So in 2011, the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature passed a bill moving the presidential-year primaries to the second Tuesday in March alongside Mississippi. As a result, several candidates visited the state and the ALGOP was able to host a presidential forum featuring Rick Santorum — who eventually won the Alabama primary — and Newt Gingrich. However, the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, only dropped into the state to hold a high-dollar fundraiser and didn’t actively campaign, ceding Alabama to more conservative candidates without much concern because of its limited importance.
The SEC Primary plan would likely make Alabama and other Southern states much more influential in picking the party’s nominee.
That is being viewed as good news for conservatives, who believe the GOP needs to stop nominating candidates they view as being too moderate, but is concerning for some in the more establishment wing of the Party who fear that a Southern Super Tuesday could pull the eventual nominee to the right and damage them in the general election.
Another concern is that other states may also want to move their primaries to that Tuesday, ruining the entire purpose of the plan, which is to compel candidates to actually campaign in the South.
“The problem with the old Super Tuesday is … that it really didn’t accomplish the goal of bringing candidates before our voters,” Bennet told POLITICO by way of example. “It was too spread out.”
But for now, Southern state leaders are expressing optimism that the plan will come together.
“We think it’s important that the next president of the United States — he or she, Democrat or Republican — come through our states and speak with our citizens about our issues,” said Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. “My gut feeling is this will happen, and you’ll see candidates start to spend a lot more time in the South in the next six months.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal recently visited Alabama to speak at the annual Alabama Policy Institute dinner. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is scheduled to be in the state in February for the Republican Party’s winter dinner. More potential 2016 candidates are expected to soon announce plans to visit, as well.
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) December 3, 2014