On Friday, Governor Bill Ritter signed HB 1376, which allows Colorado’s political parties to move the date of their precinct caucuses from the third Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February. Colorado will be joined by at least 15 other states holding their presidential delegate selection events that date.
The schedule preferred by the Democratic and Republican national parties is as follows:
January 14 – Iowa caucuses
January 19 – Nevada caucuses
January 22 – New Hampshire primary
January 29 – South Carolina primary
February 5 – Any state can hold a primary or caucus on or after this date for either party
The final schedule for the Presidential primary and caucus system remains uncertain, however, as Florida recently moved the date of its primary to January 29. This move violates the rules of the Democratic and Republican parties for selecting delegates to the national conventions.Florida Democrats generally opposed the move, and have been discussing with representatives of the Democratic National Committee other options. One possible solution under consideration is for the Florida Democratic primary to be considered non-binding, and hold a separate party caucus to decide how the state’s delegates will be awarded.
On the Republican side, things are even more mixed up. The South Carolina Republican Party has not yet scheduled its primary, as it is considering moving its date earlier, to preempt the Florida Republican primary. This could prompt New Hampshire to move earlier, to ensure the Granite State’s status as the first primary. Such a move could lead to Iowa and Nevada moving even earlier, possibly into 2007, to preserve their early status as well.
Florida’s move comes with at a cost to the state. For both parties, Florida’s delegate count would be cut in half as punishment for jumping the line. Further, on the Democratic side, any candidate who campaigns in the primary would be denied any delegates at all from Florida. All of Florida’s Democratic “super delegates” would also be denied their votes at the convention. Super delegates are generally high ranking party leaders and current and past elected officials, such as members of Congress.
The Presidential campaign is not the only race impacted by this rush to be first. In Colorado, candidates for other state and federal offices can get on the ballot through the party caucus system. By moving the date of the caucuses earlier, then, campaigns for state legislature and other races in Colorado will also need to start sooner at getting their supporters lined up to ensure sufficient support at the party assemblies in the following months.
The shift in caucus date could also put additional strain on the county parties, who are responsible for running their respective caucuses. Parties are responsible for paying for locations to hold the caucuses, if a free location or private residence is not available. By holding Colorado’s caucuses on such a popular date, turnout at the caucuses is expected to surge from previous years. Each county and state party must also put in place plans for deciding how to divy up the delegate slots to the various assemblies, as well as the national conventions.
Between the potentially changing schedule and the concentration of primaries and caucuses on February 5, the 2008 primary and caucus season is unparalleled in its uncertainty.