Wisconsin’s presidential primary was early on the calendar and crucial for candidates running for President for more than 100 years. Wisconsin often was the history-making difference between winning a party nomination for President and losing it. However, so many states have moved their primaries ahead of Wisconsin on the 2008 calendar that Wisconsin’s primary has faded to nearly irrelevant in picking the next President. Wisconsin should move up its date calendar to be more important in 2012.
Wisconsin voters deserve it. The Wisconsin primary was created in 1903 while Fighting Bob LaFollette was Wisconsin Governor, the nation’s second. The Wisconsin primary was famously the end of the road for presidential candidate Wendell Willkie in 1944. John Kennedy beat Hubert Humphrey in the landmark 1960 primary. Morris Udall narrowly lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Wisconsin’s presidential primary did not move from its current date of the third Tuesday in February, yet many presidential candidates skip Wisconsin now except to raise money and identify volunteers until the general election. Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, says Wisconsin’s primary may not matter to picking party nominees for President in 2008. How did this happen?
Presidential primaries and caucuses in 28 states in addition have now jumped ahead of Wisconsin on the 2008 calendar. Twenty-three of them will have primaries and caucuses on Super Tuesday, including states with really large numbers of convention delegates like Illinois, California and New York. This year the date of Super Tuesday is February 5, 2008. Wisconsin’s primary is February 19, 2008.
The 19 states which moved ahead of Wisconsin after 2004 said that their early position would make them more important and that their heavier minority populations make them a better indication of presidential viability than smaller states with small populations of minorities such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Eighteen of the states which jumped ahead of Wisconsin originally had their presidential primaries so late, they had ironically become unimportant in picking a nominee for President.
Leaders in the states of Florida, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina moved their primaries and caucuses to January. This resulted in Iowa and New Hampshire vaulting to early January to remain first in the nation. The result is that enough party delegates are up for grabs that now presidential candidates can build insurmountable leads to become party nominees even before Wisconsin votes.
It is possible that with so many candidates for President from both major parties in the race, no clear front-runner might emerge on Super Tuesday, which would make Wisconsin’s primary pivotal again. Franklin says it is unlikely but it is possible that two candidates in each party might still be in the race by Wisconsin.
If Wisconsin moved its primary date ahead of Super Tuesday, major party rules would work against Wisconsin. Democratic Party rules say that the presidential primaries in Florida and Michigan, held before Super Tuesday, will not count for picking any convention delegates. Republican Party rules say that they can pick only half their convention delegates at their early primaries. The winners of Florida and Michigan could end up losers in closed deliberations by party insiders.
Special party rules are in effect for Nevada and South Carolina in January to provide regional and ethic balance, however. Wisconsin could join with one of those states to restore the historic importance of the Wisconsin primary. No such special approval would be needed to move the Wisconsin primary to Super Tuesday.
If the past is any guide to the future, more states will move to Super Tuesday before the 2012 election for President. If Wisconsin’s primary does not move forward on the calendar, Wisconsin’s primary will matter less with every future election for President.