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Why It Matters That Texas and California Moved Their Primaries To Super Tuesday


While people in North Carolina are still trying to sort out the results of the last election, Democratic presidential hopefuls are already looking toward the next one. Would-be candidates, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, are spending time in the first-in-the-nation states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But candidates may need to start booking flights to Texas and California. Those states are moving up their 2020 primary contests to Super Tuesday, which is March 3.

Here to talk more about the impact of those moves, we're joined by Joshua Putnam. He's a lecturer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He runs a blog about the primary process there. Welcome to the program.

JOSHUA PUTNAM: Thanks for having me, Audie.

CORNISH: Every few years, we hear about a state that tries to cut the line, or we hear a lot of moaning about the influence of Iowa or New Hampshire. What is the deal with primary position? Why does that matter?

PUTNAM: Well, states, for many years now, have bemoaned the fact that Iowa, New Hampshire and, over the past few cycles, Nevada and South Carolina get this privileged position.

So in the so-called post-reform era from 1972 onward, we've seen a movement among the states to move up in order to have a bigger influence on the process, on who ends up as the nominees for one or both parties. And that's what's precipitated some of the movement we've even seen already for 2020.

CORNISH: California and Texas are big and influential states. Why would they want to move into the cluster of Super Tuesday? What's the thinking there?

PUTNAM: Well, it's nothing new for either state. Texas was there four years ago. California has played this game before. Last year, one of the legislation that was passed in California was that, hey, we've got this big, diverse state that reflects kind of the primary electorate of the Democratic Party, and we should have a say earlier in the process than, say, a, quote, unquote, "unrepresentative" state or states like Iowa or New Hampshire.

CORNISH: Is that valid? You hear that criticism pretty consistently - that Iowa and New Hampshire - their voters represent certain constituencies but are not diverse enough to help call candidates early in the process?

PUTNAM: That has certainly been a part of the discussion over the years, right? I mean, again, both states are over 90 percent white, for instance, and we're talking about a Democratic primary electorate that's much more diverse than that, obviously.

This is what prompted the Democratic Party to add Nevada and South Carolina for the 2008 cycle to the group of early states, in an attempt to diversify it, yet to keep it among a smaller group of states to allow all candidates a chance at kind of building up an organization, at building up momentum heading into bigger states like, say, California or Texas.

CORNISH: Is this all kind of inside-baseball stuff for the parties? Like, why should the average voter care which state goes when?

PUTNAM: Well, average voters look at this from the perspective of fairness and legitimacy of the process, right? Fairness in terms of which states go first - it's certainly inside-baseball in terms of the rules that the national parties put together that dictate that Iowa and New Hampshire go first, other states follow, and so on and so forth.

But when folks vote matters in the end. That bit of information matters to them because if the nomination race gets settled in March, states that follow in April and May and June, they're still voting in presidential nomination contests, but their vote is certainly not decisive in the process. And we tend to see turnout decline in those states after a nomination race has been wrapped up.

CORNISH: Interesting. It goes right to the heart of the matter, right? The question everyone has is, does my vote matter?

PUTNAM: Right. So take a look back four years to the importance of the cluster of Southern states, the so-called SEC primary that occurred on Super Tuesday. That was instrumental in terms of giving voice to a valuable constituency within the Democratic Party - right? - African-American voters. And that ended up serving pretty decisively in Clinton's favor and was mainly the difference between her and Sanders in the end of that race.

CORNISH: That's Joshua Putnam of the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His blog, Frontloading HQ, tracks the presidential primary process. Joshua, thank you.

PUTNAM: Thank you, Audie.

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