blank.gif (51 bytes) Democracy
Goodbye Super Tuesday,
Hello Western Primary

by Judy Cresanta

hen presidential candidates glance at the Western states, they see first and foremost the state of California for the political gold mine that it is. The reasons: The Golden State has an impressively large population; both political parties send numerous California delegates to their national nominating conventions; and the state’s 54 electoral votes are akin to the Olympic gold medal for presidential hopefuls. The rest of the West is largely ignored. Although the land comprising the Western states is massive, their population densities are low, thus minimizing their political importance. The conundrum runs deeper. The federal government owns almost 70 percent of the West (89 percent of Nevada) which decreases its useable property tax base, limits its populace to urban centers and keeps its ratio of congressional representation very low compared to other regions. How can the Mountain States ascend to political significance?

Enter the Super Primary

he West’s "sunbelt" is America’s fastest growing region, measured by population gains and economic activity. This, according to a growing number of Western states’ political leaders, provides a unique opportunity to insert the region into national importance by creating a Western Regional Presidential Primary. The states to be included are: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Such a coalition would create a block of delegates to political party nominating conventions bigger than California’s and even rival Super Tuesday in its importance.

A Western Primary would take advantage of the unique and arcane rules of the game of presidential politics, including the electoral college and dominance of television advertising markets. With a simple decision, the West can pool its resources and have as much clout as California. The dominant ideological influence could also shift.

In 1996, California sent 163 delegates to the Republican Convention, compared to 242 delegates from the rest of the West. For the Democratic Convention, California sent 423 delegates while the other Western states sent 413. With conservative ideology dominant in the Mountain States regardless of party affiliation, the potential for a political shift is impressive.

According to the Center for the New West, the most popular plan for a Western Primary is for the states to hold their primaries on the same day as Arizona’s, which was held in 1996 on February 27th—after New Hampshire and Iowa, but before Super Tuesday. For example, Nevada would move its primary—held on September 3rd in 1996—back six months to match Arizona. Each of the other states would follow this lead, creating the Western Primary. If the Western mountain states were to adhere to Arizona’s primary date, instead of other states’ primary dates, two additional states will join the list: North and South Dakota, adding more delegates to the pool.

Campaign Advertising Cost

he economic advantages of a Super Primary are so pronounced they could have been conjured directly from the mind of Ludwig Von Mises. To reach 80 percent of the voters in California, candidates would have to do media buys in four markets: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego. To reach 80 percent of the voters in the Mountain States a candidate would have to advertise in nine media markets—Seattle, Phoenix, Denver, Portland, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Spokane and Tucson. California advertising costs are four times the cost of Mountain State advertising costs, so it is actually cheaper to reach the mountain media markets.

According to the Nielsen Guide, and assuming the cost of 100 prime time spots with a rating of 34 points each (the same rating as the award-winning show ER), an advertising cost per delegate can be calculated. In California the cost is over $40,000 and in the Mountain States the cost is almost $17,000—a difference of more than $23,000 per delegate. Overall, for a Democrat candidate to run 100 television ads that reach 80 percent of California voters that will send 423 delegates to the convention, it would cost $6.5 million. But to run 100 spots in a Western Primary that will send 413 delegates to the convention, it would cost only $4 million. The Republicans would spend $2.5 million less in a Western Primary for 120 more delegates.

To move the idea of a Western Primary forward, some Western governors want to create a joint, bipartisan task force. This would be composed of two Republicans and two Democrats from each house of each Western legislature along with one Republican and one Democrat governor. Its purpose: To recommend back to the various state legislatures the date for a regional primary based on what they view as the best way to position the region. The legislatures could then choose that date for their state if they wished to participate in the Western Primary. Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have already agreed to join the task force and more states are expected to join by the end of the year.

If held between the New Hampshire primary and Super Tuesday, a Western Primary could serve as a platform for a Western politician—or a candidate who would run well in the West—to emerge as a front runner. NJ

Judy Cresanta is president of Nevada Policy Research Institute.


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