Tonight is the first reporting deadline for presidential candidates — a barometer the punditry calls the “Invisible Primary.” Candidates are downplaying their fundraising potential, mostly to decrease expectations so they can exceed those expectations later.
This first reporting date has been important in the past for winnowing the field of candidates, but in this election cycle the Invisible Primary might be more important than ever. With as many as 20 states now considering a Feb. 5, 2008, primary, that date could turn into a virtual national primary. The gradual thinning of the field most of us remember might be a thing of the past.
Alabama, perhaps, deserves credit for originating the early primary idea, moving the primary up from the political no-man’s land of June. However, with so many states frontloading the election cycle, Alabama might find itself politically irrelevant again.
To make matters worse, Florida is poised to move its primary to Jan. 29. Such a move would break rules set by both parties, restricting all states except Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to no earlier than Feb. 5. Both parties have said they would take away half the delegates from states that break ahead of Feb. 5, and Democratic candidates who campaign in those states would lose all the delegates they win there. However, it would be difficult to for either party to rebuff Florida, which has more than 200 delegates in both national political conventions. No one knows what might happen if Florida takes the parties’ dare, except that all hell will break loose.
When the Legislature voted last year to move the primary, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, said that the greater political attention here would benefit Alabama’s economy, as the campaigns would spend more money locally.
However, with so many larger states moving forward, that financial boost might now be rendered moot.
One possible scenario is that the candidates might fight the virtual national primary to a tie. In that case, a later date in February might be the new ideal time for an Alabama primary, making the state a sudden-death round for presidential hopefuls.
If so, then the Alabama Legislature has not taken notice, nor has the Legislature moved to remedy the major problem of a Feb. 5 Alabama primary — the election would overlap with Fat Tuesday, and Mardi Gras in Mobile would make voting there a logistical nightmare.
“We’re probably stuck,” Guin told the Weekly last month. “I’m not for moving it [the primary] back and I don’t think anyone else is.”
Last month, the Weekly argued that early voting could solve the Mardi Gras problem in Mobile, but the Legislature remains oblivious to the relatively easy solution. At the very least, voting on Mardi Gras might have its advantages.
— Kyle Whitmire