The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The 2016 GOP Primary Plan, Version 2.0


The coming week will probably see the “Why the heck does Iowa get to go first?” buzz reaching a fever pitch, and I see on Twitter there’s been some more discussion of my smallest-states-go-first-in-regional-groups plan.

After further review, the plan, for the 2016 Republican primary process would look something like this:

February 9: New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine.

February 16: Delaware, District of Columbia.

February 23: South Carolina.

March 1: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming.

March 8: Iowa, Minnesota.

March 15: Nevada, Utah.

March 22: Oregon, Idaho, Washington.

March 29: Connecticut, Rhode Island. (These states were moved back two weeks to prevent 5 of the first 13 states being in New England; also note that because of the cost of the New York and Boston media markets, these would be the earliest expensive primaries. Washington, D.C. and Delaware are also technically expensive television markets, but there are so few Republicans in these two places that a cash-poor candidate could, at least in theory, make up for it with intensive retail campaigning. This year Delaware has 17 delegates, the District 19.)

April 5: Arizona, New Mexico.

April 12: Michigan, Indiana.

April 19: West Virginia, Kentucky.

April 26: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas.

May 3: Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama.

May 10: Maryland, Virginia.

May 17: Massachusetts, New Jersey.

May 24: Wisconsin, Illinois.

May 31: Hawaii, Alaska. (These states were moved back several weeks to align their farther afield locations with Memorial Day weekend; some candidates may choose to skip these contests entirely.)

June 7: Florida.

June 14: Missouri, Oklahoma.

June 21: North Carolina, Tennessee.

June 28: Ohio, Pennsylvania.

July 5: Georgia. (I’m a little unsure about having a primary so close to Fourth of July weekend.)

July 12: New York.

July 19: Texas.

July 26: California.

Everyone gets August off; the convention is held at the end of the summer, and the general election lasts a bit longer than two months.

Under this system, every state gets a week in the spotlight, shared with no more than three other states, and the states are (often) reasonably contiguous and similar in demographics, economies, resonating issues, cultures, etc. Candidates should find bus tours fairly easy and cost-effective ways to cover a lot of territory, and media markets near the contiguous state lines would offer the most bang for the buck.

No more holiday seasons ruined by an early-January caucus. New Hampshire still gets to kick things off but shares its debut with two nearby states; South Carolina still plays a key role as first-in-the-South. Iowa slips down the list, but it’s still fairly early in the fifth week of competition (out of 25!), and this can be considered penance for its oversized influence since 1972.

A candidate with limited cash for television advertising but good retail skills could presumably “live off the land” for the first eight weeks or so, with 17 contests to prove their ability before they needed to kick into a higher gear for more expensive states. Put another way, if you can’t run a cost-effective campaign in the smallest and least expensive states, you don’t have much chance of doing so in the larger states.

As chairman, I would encourage every state to have a closed primary and eliminate caucuses. Caucuses tend to have low turnout, violate the principle of the secret ballot, and effectively disfranchise the sick, those who are immobilized, those who work nights, and those who cannot get a sitter. I prefer closed primaries because if you want to have a say in who a party nominates, you should be a member of that party.

Tags: Primaries


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