(Erin McPike) – Just when presidential political operatives were beginning to rejoice over the February start of the 2012 GOP presidential primary contests, Arizona is getting ready to throw a wrench in that plan.
The Arizona Republican Party is preparing to pass a resolution Saturday that would bump its primary date to February, when traditional early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and now, Nevada, will hold their nominating contests. The move could touch off a scramble for the early states to go even earlier.
The Republican National Committee passed a new set of rules at its summer meeting in August that set up a tiered system for the primary process and would punish states that try to buck it. States other than the first four would suffer a penalty by holding contests before March 1, 2012.
But the Arizona GOP is willing to suffer the consequences.
At the state party’s most recent meeting of the executive committee, the 80 voting members passed a resolution calling for a February presidential preference primary. And the party’s executive director, Brett Mecum, said he expects the resolution to pass in full when presented to the more than 1,400 members who will cast their votes on Saturday. There’s a strong chance it will pass unanimously.
“We should go early because we’re a good bellwether of the country,” Mecum said. “We’re willing to break the rules to go early.”
The resolution’s language reflects that belief and suggests that Arizona’s diverse population “deserves to play a meaningful role in the selection of the Republican Party’s nominee in 2012.” It goes on to note that the state’s Republican voters “have a distinguished history of representing the best of Republican values” and calls on GOP Gov. Jan Brewer “to proclaim that Arizona’s next presidential preference election shall occur on the first Tuesday in February of 2012.”
Mecum explained that the penalties, which range from losing delegates at the nominating convention over the summer to awarding votes proportionally, likely will not matter. Delegates likely would be restored by the time the convention took place, but an early win for a candidate could help provide momentum and decide the nominee, so the state party believes there are greater benefits to breaking the rules and getting more attention in the process.
A second resolution is also likely to pass that would close Arizona’s GOP primaries to registered Republican voters only, which would require some action by the state legislature. Other measures may be considered that would set in motion a change from a primary to a caucus system.
The first resolution on the date of the presidential primary could have national ramifications:CNN reported when the RNC rules were first passed that the South Carolina Republican Party said it would consider bumping up its primary if other states tried to skirt the process.
And Tim Albrecht, a veteran Iowa Republican operative and the communications director to Gov. Terry Branstad suggested to RCP that an earlier Arizona primary would trigger Iowa to move up its date, too, “if it comes too close to ours.”
“Happens every time,” he said.
(Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org)