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2507Senate Panel Considers Proposal for Regional Presidential Primaries

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  • Greg Cannon
    Sep 19, 2007

      Senate Panel Considers Proposal for Regional
      Presidential Primaries

      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 wouldn’t 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 it’s
      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
      long-term plans.

      “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
      of State.

      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 it’s 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
      population centers.

      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
      disproportionate influence.

      “It is clear this is a hot topic for debate,”
      Feinstein said.

      This story originally appeared in CQ Today.