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Friday, March 4, 2011

Parties, the Calendar, and Federalism

As we explain in our chapter on political parties, federalism helps shape the party system. A case in point is the primary calendar, which is the product both of national party rules and state laws. National Journal reports:

New party rules aimed at prolonging what has become a Twitter-speed primary season urge the earliest four states to push back votes from January to February; states that award delegates proportionately to vote in March; and winner-take-all states to vote in April. Relegating the states with the biggest bounties to the back of the line would prevent a candidate from quickly racking up delegates and squeezing competitors out of the race, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did in 2008 by early February.

“The timetable is very different than it was four years ago, when you had a very early primary season and everything was very front-loaded,’’ said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who started campaigning in late January last cycle but is not rushing to announce his plans for 2012. “The people who go out early, I’m convinced, are going to have a hard time going the distance. It will be like a marathon runner who runs 10 miles before the race starts, and then he’s got to start running the 26.2.’’

It’s unclear whether states will go along with the national party’s plan. Nineteen states currently have GOP primaries that clash with the party’s stretched-out timetable, according to Josh Putnam, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Davidson College, who writes a blog called Frontloading HQ. Only 10 of those states have bills pending to move their primaries in line with the party calendar.


“There’s not really a precedent for this cycle,” Putnam said. “The trend has been toward front-loading the calendar and candidates throwing their hat into the ring quickly. It’s weird to see a cycle like this one in which candidates are so hesitant to jump in.’’