The state’s top elections official wants to make Georgia among the first states in the nation to vote in the 2016 presidential primaries, a move that would thrust voters here squarely into the national spotlight.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp said Wednesday that his plan would involve a March 1 primary for Georgia, and that he’s reached out to other Southeastern states to form a new Super Tuesday bloc for the same date. The move would give the South a broader say in choosing the parties’ nominees, particularly if there are a number of candidates.
Kemp’s plan comes after the Republican National Committee voted to condense the primary calendar for candidates seeking the 2016 presidential election. The move ensured that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will keep their early spots. Now Kemp wants to put Georgia in play, too.
In a nod to what many consider the most powerful college football conference in the country, he called the regional proposal an SEC primary. It’s not a done deal, however, and could face competition from other regions in the nation. Some experts said it could also hurt the Republican Party, which dominates the South, by giving an edge to a candidate who would not appeal to other parts of the country.
“This gives us an opportunity to set a date where we can get out front and maneuver around” what other states do, said Kemp, who has found interest in the plan from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. “If we can put the coalition together, this is going to be the place to be.”
Georgia is the first state to publicly express interest in a March 1, 2016, primary. While Democrats have not started crafting a 2016 schedule, the RNC established a newly compressed primary schedule last month that will set up a series of regional primaries or miniature national primaries in March, April and May.
The traditional four early states will be allowed to vote before March 1. The Republican National Convention has been moved from a traditional late-summer slot to June. That leaves 52 states and territories to hold primaries and caucuses over a stretch of about seven weeks.
“I think it’s just now starting to sink in that the net effect of the rules changes we adopted is to necessarily create a series of regional primaries,” said Randy Evans, a national GOP committeeman from Georgia.
Evans said there has been talk behind the scenes of a cluster of Midwestern states holding primaries at the same time, but Kemp has been trying to rally his neighbors around a Southern primary. One disadvantage of the date is that states voting before March 15 under the new RNC rules must award their delegates on a proportional basis, rather than winner-take-all, which would reduce the contests’ impact.
“What we’ve learned from the past two cycles is that while coming out of those carve-out states we have some indication of the outcome, the nomination is rarely decided then,” Evans said. “And the question is who would have the most influence. And so March 1 would give a Southern regional primary a greater impact, but in terms of delegate count it would not be the same.”