For decades, the Iowa caucus has been the first event in which
presidential hopefuls can secure convention delegates, followed
closely by a vote in New Hampshire, which has held the nation's
first full primary election since 1920.
"Utah is roughly the same size as Iowa and roughly twice the size of
New Hampshire, and yet our influence in the presidential primaries
process is minimal if it all," bill sponsor Representative Jon Cox,
a Republican, said during a House debate of the bill on Monday.
"It's time to change that."
"We've created a system that is blatantly discriminatory, that
creates second-class states," he said.
The Utah House passed the proposal 58-14 on Monday. It now heads to
the state Senate for consideration, although it was not immediately
clear if senators would act on the proposal before the legislative
session ends at midnight on Thursday.
The bill does not set a specific date for the primary but stipulates
that it would be "held before any other caucus, primary, or other
event for selecting a nominee in the nation."
The measure would also facilitate creation of an online voting
system to be designed by the office of the lieutenant governor over
the next year. Online voting would allow the state more flexibility
in setting a primary date, Cox said. Money for the primary would
have to be appropriated in 2015.
Utah held its primary elections in the 2012 presidential race in
June of that year, and current state law would allow the next
presidential primary to be held in June alongside primaries for
statewide office or in February along with other western states.
CHANGE COULD COME AT COST
Utah is not the first state to push for greater influence by seeking
an earlier primary. In 2012, Republicans and Democrats in the swing
state of Florida moved the state's primary to January to boost its
clout in the nomination process.
That triggered a flurry of changes in other states, where party
leaders also wanted to gain or maintain their influence. A similar
shuffle occurred in 2008, when Nevada scheduled its caucuses for
January, causing several other states to move up their own primary
[to top of second column]
Moving Utah to the front of the line could come at a political cost.
A Republican National Committee spokeswoman said Utah could be
stripped of most of its delegates — down to as few as nine from 40 — if it holds the first primary.
The Democratic National Committee had not weighed in on the matter
as of Monday, Cox said. Officials from the committee did not
immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Cox and other lawmakers may see the loss as an acceptable tradeoff
if Utah gains more attention from national political candidates and
raises its profile in the political conversation, said Matthew
Burbank, an associate professor of political science at the
University of Utah.
"The tradeoff is that you get a lot of attention," Burbank said.
"The big risk is that candidates see this as not something they want
to participate in and they ignore your state anyway."
He added that the argument that Utah's population size should
guarantee it a higher slot on the primary calendar doesn't hold up.
"Of course if you use that logic, then California, New York and
Texas should always go first," he said. "But we all want to be first
and the most important."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)
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