For years, many Southern states felt they got short shrift from the presidential primary process. Candidates made fleeting visits and paid superficial attention to local concerns.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp changed all that. He was the architect behind what he gamely labeled the SEC primary. The idea was for several states to move up their primary dates and turn out voters on the same day.
Kemp’s two years of work led to a Super Tuesday coalition that included Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The result on March 1 was record numbers of votes cast, and the satisfying result that candidates came earlier, stayed longer and returned.
For the first time ever, Alabama reported seeing all the candidates in the race.
The new process takes its informal name from the Southeastern Conference. A big brand in college football. Off the gridiron, the attention fades in presidential years.
Kemp helped sell the regional primary to reluctant state legislatures by emphasizing that it was not only important for voters to know the candidates, but also vital for the candidates to learn about them.
Primaries held too late run the risk of being irrelevant. The SEC regional primary was a chance to participate when it mattered, and that was exactly the feeling left by the last week’s regional vote, Kemp said.
Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman wants to duplicate Kemp’s achievement, even invoking the spirit of a Pac-12 primary. She tried last year to move up the state’s primary date, but Democrats balked for their own internal interests.
Wyman wants Washington to join with Oregon and California, Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and perhaps Nevada and Utah, to help put regional issues before presidential candidates. That is a strong, compelling argument, and the political dynamic does not require that full list of states.
The National Association of Secretaries of State supports another wrinkle: rotating regional primaries. Change the order of the presidential primaries every four years so each region has a turn being first.
Wyman’s interest in a regional primary to help educate candidates to local issues makes pragmatic sense. Her argument is bolstered by the political yardage gained by the SEC.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).
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