There’s a gathering of politicians, activists, and thinkers in Salt Lake City today, headlined by Utah Gov. John Huntsman and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, that will discuss the idea of promoting a regional, multi-state primary for president in 2008. The Western States Primary Symposium will consider strategies for establishing a Western vote sometime in February – not trying to leapfrog the traditional early states but instead to offer the tantalizing prospect of a subsequent, immediate contest with lots of states and delegates in play that would strengthen the influence of the region’s voters, whom their leaders argue bring distinctive views and sensibilities to political issues.
There are scheduling issues. One of the eight states involved in this effort, Nevada, has already had its Democratic caucuses moved forward to come between Iowa and New Hampshire. Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona are currently scheduled to have nomination contests in early February.
There are also partisan considerations. Democrats believe that the Rocky Mountain and Southwest states are key opportunities for growth, based on their breakout experience in Colorado in 2004 as well as promising gains in Montana and other states. Some mountain-state Republicans, on the other hand, see their potential influence as pulling the GOP back to the right on fiscal issues while downplaying social issues more popular in the Southern end of the party.
Finally, there are candidate considerations. Richardson would like to see things happen that strengthen his credibility as a competitive candidate for the Democratic nomination. And there is a certain Republican presidential candidate who is likely to have a following in Utah and surrounding states, though I hesitate to mention his name.