With the Presidential primary season well under way, we are now being treated to candidates going from state to state almost every week in an effort or convince voters that they are the right person to lead the country. If you are wondering when the candidate train stops in New Jersey, well I have some bad news. Last September, the Lieutenant Governor signed a bill approved by the Legislature, which moved the New Jersey 2012 Presidential Primary from February (when it had been held in 2008 on Feb. 5, aka “Super Tuesday” ) to June 5.
In 2005, the Legislature had voted to move the 2008 primary, which had normally been held in June, to February in an effort to try to give New Jersey voters more influence in picking their party’s presidential candidates. In 2008, despite the fact that New Jersey’s primary was held on the same day as those in over 20 other states, several candidates did campaign in New Jersey despite it not getting as much of a national focus as had been hoped for. Over 1.1 million residents voted in the 2008 New Jersey Democratic Primary, which was won by Hilary Clinton over Barack Obama. In the Republican contest, over 500,000 people went to the polls in an election that saw the party’s eventual nominee John McCain almost doubling the amount of votes received by the second-place finisher Mitt Romney. It was estimated that the cost of moving the primary from June to February was $12 million.
What makes the participation numbers interesting is when you weigh them against the number of voters taking part in the first two caucuses or primaries this year. Roughly 122,000 people voted in the Iowa Republican caucuses with approximately 250,000 people voting in the New Hampshire GOP Primary. Although there was a Democratic caucus in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire, they were not competitive races with President Obama virtually unopposed for his party’s nomination. With several Republicans dropping out of their party's contest just before, during or right after these races, the amount of influence these states have in choosing a party's nominee is hugely out of proportion to the numbers of voters who take part. Contrast these participation numbers with those of the 2008 general election where close to 130 million voters went to the polls.
So the questions that beg for answers are:
- How can New Jersey residents become more influential in the process of picking their party’s candidate (besides moving to Iowa or New Hampshire for a few months every four years)?
- What can be done to make the choice of each party’s nominee less dependent on voters in one or two states where they clearly have to much power and contain voters whose views are not always representative of the majority of voters in other states. (Note that major issues in Iowa where farm subsidies, ethanol, religion/faith and social issues. One thing is for sure, none of those three would be the top issues for the majority of New Jersey voters.)
There are no easy answers to question #1. The major party’s threatened loss of convention delegates to states which were going to hold their primaries too early in the 2012 process. One idea for 2016 would be for the state to revert to the 2008 model and possibly schedule its primary in mid/late February or early March of 2016 (this also depends on party scheduling rules that can change.) As mentioned above, this change does come with additional cost ($12 million) and there is no guarantee that the nomination for one or both parties would not have been secured by that date.
The other idea, which has been debated for several years, is holding a series (4-6) of regional primaries in the early March to early June time-frame. The order of these would rotate every four years. This would give more states greater influence in picking the eventual nominees. Even if Iowa and New Hampshire kept their traditional places at the starting gate, they would not have the same importance or as great a focus on by candidates.
Since 1976, only three of the 18 nominating contests were so close that almost every delegate mattered to the eventual nominee. A couple of interesting historical facts about New Jersey Presidential Primaries are:
- In 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm won the state's Democratic Primary. Rep. Chisholm was the first woman to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination and the first major party African American Presidential candidate.
- In 1976, in an unsuccessful effort to stop Jimmy Carter from obtaining the Democratic nomination, a slate of uncommitted delegates backing Sen. Hubert Humphrey and than (and current) California Gov. Jerry Brown, defeated Carter by a wide margin. Carter’s primary win in Ohio the same day however, cinched the nomination for him. I attended a campaign rally for Governor Brown the day before the election at Airport Plaza in Hazlet on June 7, 1976. The story was the lead in the next days Red Bank Register and can be viewed here: