Primary Relevance: Repositioning Louisiana’s Presidential Contest

The concept behind the original Super Tuesday was to give southern moderate Democratic candidates a cluster of simultaneous primary victories and large delegate haul as a counter-balance to the disproportionately influential Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Tennessee US Senator Al Gore was supposed to be the beneficiary of a day when 12 southern states voted in 1988.

The concept when initially put into practice had mixed results with Gore winning only five primaries while Jesse Jackson won just as many due to the black vote consolidating heavily behind his candidacy.

However in 1992, with no major black candidate in the race, southern Super Tuesday worked as planned as DLC leader and Arkansas governor Bill Clinton swept the six southern states that held primaries on that day.

By 1996 other states decided to challenge the southern Super Tuesday’s catbird seat. Eleven other states leapfrogged the now six state southern bloc, which was anchored by delegate rich Texas and Florida.

In 2000, southern Super Tuesday wasn’t so super anymore. Thirteen states, including California (the largest) and New York (the second largest), held their contests on the first Tuesday of March, which was when the nomination was decided. All told, 32 states held caucuses or primaries before the southern bloc went to the polls. Southern Super Tuesday had slid from deciding the nomination to ratifying a previously determined decision.

The same was true in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary as well.

Later in 2004, I initiated a push to move Louisiana’s presidential primary to an earlier date motivated by the longstanding irrelevancy of the state’s delegate contest. Though moving Louisiana’s presidential primary to an earlier date was important, so was the “company we kept” since it wouldn’t matter how early our primary was scheduled if we voted on the same day as either Texas or Florida.

Because Louisiana has its state and local elections on a Saturday, we had the flexibility to juxtapose our presidential primary on a non-traditional date.

Though 29 states were ahead of Louisiana’s primary, including the 20 states that held contests a few days before on the date the national parties mandated to be the first contest allowed, the Pelican State only had to compete with Kansas’ caucus on that day. And with both party nominations still up for grabs, Louisiana voters participated in a record turnout.

Southern Super Tuesday was no more. Texas moved their primary up a week with Mississippi being the last southern state to still hold their primary on the second Tuesday in March.

In an effort to once again reform the manner in which presidential nominees are selected and to avoid the legal games that played out in the Obama v. Clinton procedural drama, both national parties issued new rules for 2012.

Under the new plan, jointly adopted by the DNC and RNC, any state that holds its primary or caucus to select delegates to the national conventions prior to the first Tuesday of March will lose half their delegates.

For Louisiana, that’s not an option since a 50% reduction in delegates would make the contest not worth an investment by most candidates no matter how early it’s held.

Since serving as a delegate to a national convention is a greatly coveted perquisite by contributors and activists, this policy is intended to bring a degree of order to the current chaos, though in actuality the DNC and RNC have merely reassigned the front-loading to a slightly later date.

In perhaps the most meaningful reform enacted by the national parties, states that hold their contests between the first Tuesday in March and March 31st have to allocate their delegates on a proportional basis. Those states holding their delegate selection on April 1st or later can have a winner take all system.

It should be noted that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada received protected status under the new rules as those states are the only ones free to hold their contests in February without penalty.

Under the new rules, it’s likely that states will pile on the first Tuesday in March and April 1st. And as April 1st falls on a Sunday in 2012, the likely big election day will be Tuesday, April 3rd.

In fact it’s almost certain that both parties’ nominations will be decided by the latter date as large states will try to leverage their delegate strength under a winner take all system.

Unfortunately for Louisiana, which will be losing its second congressional seat in three censuses, neither state party has enough delegates to matter much in a winner take all system. In fact, an April date would result in our primary once again returning to the role of ratifying decisions made by other states.

However, by moving to the first Saturday allowed by the national parties in March, Louisiana would be holding its primary before the nominations have been wrapped up.

Most importantly, candidates will have an interest in campaigning here since the major contenders will be assured of leaving the state with something (unlike the controversial system in 2008 where Mike Huckabee received a plurality of the vote but not a single delegate).

With the Louisiana primary held only a few days after the front-loaded first Tuesday in March primary date, the nomination will still be undecided, thus candidates will have to spend time here and educate themselves about federal issues that affect our state, specifically energy production and coastal erosion.

The difference between having the Louisiana presidential primary on the first Saturday following the first Tuesday in March versus any date in April is whether we want our state to matter enough for presidential candidates to visit and make commitments on the federal issues that affect our state versus reverting to our previous role as an irrelevant amen corner.

Crossposted at



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