Michael Cook: Moving Arkansas Primaries A Monumentally Bad Idea

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 249 views 

What if Arkansas moved up our Presidential primary to early March and no candidates for the highest office in the land bothered to show up to campaign? What if we moved the primary in order to help Mike Huckabee’s Presidential prospects even though history proves it won’t help him one bit?

Both of the above scenarios will come true if our primary is moved to early March, and that’s not an opinion, it’s exactly what happened the last time we moved the date of the primary. Moving the date of Arkansas’s primary is to be considered in next week’s special legislative session.

Arkansas has a recent history of tinkering with the Presidential primary date to encourage candidates to come to our state and campaign. The Presidential Primary was moved to early February in 2008, with regular primaries held in May of that year.

Back in late 2004 and early 2005, during my time as the executive director for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, party officials worked with state legislators to have just the Presidential Primary moved to early February in order to encourage candidates to campaign in our state. If I recall correctly, then-Governor Mike Huckabee signed the bill.

It was exciting at the time to consider the possibility of Arkansas being a major player in the Republican and Democratic primaries since it was an open contest with no Presidential or Vice-Presidential incumbent running.

Remember back during the 2008 primary when John McCain held a massive rally in Little Rock? Or when Barack Obama barnstormed our state looking for votes?

You know why you don’t remember those events? Because they didn’t happen.

There were two things none of us saw coming in 2005 when we last moved the date of the Presidential Primary: Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton.

Both candidates obviously had strong Arkansas ties and were a lock to win our state’s primaries, which meant no credible Presidential candidates campaigned in Arkansas during the primary. Huckabee received 61% and Clinton 70% of the vote in their respective primaries.

Moreover, the fact Huckabee and Clinton won their home state in the primary did not help them one iota in 2008. A credible candidate is supposed to win their own state’s primary and it does not benefit a candidate’s overall momentum. A Presidential candidate winning their home state primary is sorta like having a candidate’s own mamma vote for them. It’s a foregone conclusion in both instances. The exception of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush both running in Florida notwithstanding.

Flash forward to present day and lo and behold who is running for President in 2016? Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton.

Feel free to call your bookie, if you have one, and place large bets on Huckabee and Clinton winning their respective party’s primary in Arkansas. Also place another sizable bet that no credible Presidential candidate campaigns extensively, if at all, in Arkansas in 2016.

It would be a foolish waste of time for any Presidential candidate to campaign here given the fact Huckabee and Clinton have track records of trouncing opponents in the Arkansas primary.

Some legislators tout the fact that if Arkansas’s primary is moved up we could be a part of the so-called SEC Presidential Primary. Frankly, that’s just silly.

A March Arkansas primary would be like the Hogs playing the Hogs in a game of scrimmage since no other team would bother to show up to play them. No Presidential candidate, except Huckabee and Clinton, are going to do any campaigning in Arkansas so we’ll be irrelevant in a SEC Primary.

There are some Republicans who believe moving the primary up will benefit Mike Huckabee. It absolutely will not. Huckabee won Arkansas big in 2008 and look where that got him.

If we move the Arkansas primary up to March in 2016, Mike Huckabee will again win it handily, making it just a tiny news footnote in the presidential race: “The sun rose in the east today, somewhere in America a dog bit a man, and a Presidential candidate won his home state’s primary.”

The larger problem is the legislature is considering moving up the primary for all candidates, which harms everyone: Republicans and Democrats, challengers and incumbents.

Consider how the moving the primary date will effect campaigns. For example, when running for the State Legislature candidates typically start knocking on doors and intensively campaigning roughly 4-5 months before the election.

If the primary is moved to early March it means candidates, and their volunteers, must begin campaigning smack in the middle of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Talk about a “War on Christmas”.

No matter the candidate, it’s always tough to recruit volunteers to knock on doors. Now imagine a candidate getting volunteers to do it when it’s 30 degrees outside, or during Christmastime. Good luck with that.

The beauty of our current primary schedule is primary candidates don’t have to interfere with the holidays and they usually start canvassing in earnest in the early Arkansas spring when the weather begins to warm up.

To sum it all up: Moving the primary up to March means no credible Presidential candidate campaigns here in 2016, it gives an insignificant benefit to Mike Huckabee and Hillary Clinton, and Arkansas candidates, and their volunteers, will be forced to campaign during Christmas and in the dead of winter. To say nothing of confusing voters who are used to voting in May.

Other than that, moving the primaries up to March sounds like a brilliant idea.