Senate Panel Considers Proposal for Regional
By CQ Staff Wed Sep 19, 1:20 PM ET
By Bart Jansen, CQ Staff
Legislation to create regional presidential primaries
won praise at a Senate Rules and Administration
Committee hearing for aiming to fix an arms race of
states striving to be first.
But critics argued that regions wouldnt do any better
job than the current free-for-all, and warned a
constitutional amendment might be necessary.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Lamar Alexander,
R-Tenn.; and Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn.; sponsored
the bill (S 1905) to create four regions taking turns
with primaries in early March, April, May and June in
2012. The order would be determined by lottery and
then rotated in future cycles.
The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary would
remain separate as the first of the country.
Our presidential primary system is broken and its
time to stop the primary arms race, Klobuchar said.
The concern that sparked the legislation grew when 26
states scheduled primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5.
Florida moved its primary to Jan. 29 and Michigan
passed legislation to move to Jan. 15.
The fear is that as New Hampshire edges up from a
tentative date of Jan. 22, Iowa could move into 2007
in a chaotic scenario that hurts campaigns from making
It is clear that these issues that create so much
uncertainty need to be corrected prior to the next
presidential cycle by the parties or by the Congress,
said Michael Mauro, the Iowa secretary of state and
co-chairman of the National Association of Secretaries
Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in
Los Angeles, argued that the bill was unlikely to
violate the First Amendment rights of the parties
because the bill is directed at the states.
But William G. Mayer, associate professor of political
science at Northeastern University, said the bill
might be unconstitutional because its unclear whether
the federal government can tell states what to do, or
whether any government can control activities of the
Mayer also argued that regional contests might not
solve the problem because candidates who are strong in
a particular region would enjoy significant
The Democratic and Republican national committees
opposed the legislation in testimony submitted to the
panel. The DNC argued that the parties establish rules
for delegates to their nominating conventions and that
Congress lacks the authority to impose a particular
Even in committee reaction was mixed.
Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., co-sponsored the
legislation to avoid the scramble that the race has
become. But the ranking Republican, Sen. Robert F.
Bennett of Utah, suggested a constitutional amendment
might be needed.
Another committee member, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska,
opposed any regional scheme. He argued regional
systems would still be dominated by populous states,
so he said the schedule should be divided by
Lieberman, who campaigned for president and as the
Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000,
disagreed a bit with his own bill. He suggested that
Iowa and New Hampshire should be scheduled in their
regions, rather than given special status at the head
of the line, because the current system gives them
It is clear this is a hot topic for debate,
This story originally appeared in CQ Today.