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|2012 Electoral College Map , Reflecting Census-Driven Changes to the House of Representatives (Wikipedia)|
Such an early ending should not occur again next year – so long as the states follow the new rules, that is. No state is allowed to vote in January. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will be permitted to vote in February. The rest of the country will be allowed to hold their primary or caucus beginning the first Tuesday in March (March 6, 2012), which will be the new “Super Tuesday.”
In addition, new GOP rules forbid any contests held before April 1 to award all of a state’s delegates to the statewide winner. That could be a major concern to Republican leaders in many early-voting states, who used winner-take-all in the past to attract the interest of candidates and enhance their state’s influence. If their state votes before April 1 next year, it will be required to provide for the division of delegates proportionately among candidates to reflect their share of the vote.
Proportional representation has been a staple of Democratic rules for a generation and was one reason why the 2008 contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was so long running. But for Republicans, this is new ground. And it is not completely clear yet how the proportional representation requirement for pre-April states will be implemented.
As inviting as Republican rules changes may be, an even greater factor that could alleviate “front-loading” next year is the strain faced by state budgets. No longer are many states in position to fund both a free-standing presidential primary as well as a state primary later in the spring or summer to fill out the rest of the ticket.
In California and New Jersey, there are already moves under way to push back the states’ February presidential primaries and consolidate them with June state primaries. (If they stay where they are, they too would be in violation of the rules of both parties.) In Tennessee, there is a bill that would lump the presidential primary with local elections on the first Thursday in May. And in Washington, there is an effort to do away with the primary altogether and elect all the delegates through a caucus process, which supporters say could save the state $10 million.
The last time there was a significant movement from primaries to caucuses was in 1984, when economic and political conditions were largely similar to today. The nation had been wracked by recession and only the Democrats were having a contested nominating fight. (President Ronald Reagan ran virtually unopposed for renomination.)
As a consequence, the number of presidential primaries in 1984 dropped by a half dozen, from 36 to 30. It turned out to be only a temporary downturn, though, as the number of primaries since then has regularly approached and exceeded 40.
Over the years, the relatively low-turnout caucuses have been particularly receptive to candidates with a passionate base of support. Two decidedly ideological candidates, Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democrat George McGovern in 1972, both used strong showings in the caucuses to nail down their party’s presidential nomination. And in 2008, Obama’s dominance of the caucuses proved critical to his narrow victory over Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Of more than a dozen states where Democrats held caucuses last time, Obama lost only two – Nevada and New Mexico.
On the Republican side in 2008, no candidate elicited the same voter intensity. Mike Huckabee scored a high-profile caucus victory in Iowa. Mitt Romney won most of the caucus votes that followed. The eventual nominee, John McCain, carried only the caucus action in Washington state. But that was before the emergence of the Tea Party as the most energized part of the Republican Party. A caucus setting may be perfectly suited in 2012 for a cadre of Tea Party activists and the candidate that they support.