Some States Consider Scheduling Earlier Primaries

The line-jumping states are back again in the 2012 presidential cycle, eager to move their primaries into the limelight of January. That could mean Iowa and New Hampshire also move — into 2011. NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins Melissa Block to discuss the primary calendar.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: The 2012 presidential nominating contest has been underway for months. But most Americans might still be shocked to learn that the first actual voting in that process could begin in 2011. Right now, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are slated to open the season in early February. But Arizona and Florida may hold their primaries in January. If they do, Iowa and New Hampshire are expected to jump all the way into the preceding month, which means December of this year.

Joining us to sort out the emerging controversy is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Hey, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: I remember hearing about this four years ago. The question was, would there be a New Hampshire primary in Thanksgiving? And now we're back to the future. What happened? This was all supposed to be sorted out, no?

ELVING: Well, it was. The parties did not care for - really, nobody cared for that early January vote voting. It ate the holidays for 2007. So the parties agreed they would rather push the first four voting states - that's Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina - into February, push Super Tuesday back into March and set some deadlines for the other states. But, of course, the states don't like to cooperate - not all of them, at any rate.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELVING: And Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, announced that she wanted to move the Arizona primary date up to January 31st. That would put it about a week before the Iowa caucuses, two weeks before New Hampshire. And if that happens, that's going to start the dominoes falling. She has until this Saturday to decide and announce what she's going to do. That's when the deadline expires for making that change under Arizona law.

BLOCK: Would start the dominoes falling because Iowa and New Hampshire insist on going first.

ELVING: That is right. They will not stand for being eclipsed. Iowa has made that clear. They will have their caucuses before any others. And New Hampshire will have its first-in-the-nation primary no matter when they have to have it.

BLOCK: Explain the role of Arizona here. It's a new player in this early voting business. Ron, why are they pushing to move up in the calendar?

ELVING: Governor Brewer has said that Arizona deserves more say in this process because of its front-line role in the illegal immigration controversy and other border issues, as well as its role in the challenge to the health care law. And Arizona is also a state that has been a real hotbed for the conservative activism of recent years, including the Tea Party.

BLOCK: Other states besides Arizona who want to take on the primary schedule?

ELVING: Many of the states are unhappy with their dates. But Florida is the other place really to look. In Florida, they have already tentatively set January 31st as their primary date, subject to a review between now and October. Michigan is also looking at February 28th. And some other states are looking for dates before March.

BLOCK: At Michigan and Florida, Ron, they have been around this track before.

ELVING: Yes. In 2008, they moved up and they had half of their delegates taken away from them by the Democratic National Committee. And that ultimately hurt Hillary Clinton, who had campaigned in both states when other Democrats stayed away. Had those two states stayed in line, they might've been able to deliver more delegates to Hillary and helped her a great deal more.

BLOCK: Ron, let's walk through the calendar here. If Arizona or Florida does move their primary to January, what happens?

ELVING: Iowa is going to move up to perhaps - this is the date that is being discussed - December 5th. And that would mean that we have less time to go before the first votes than has already passed since the first debate in May. New Hampshire would then follow with its primary on December 13th.

BLOCK: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Melissa.

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