Every campaign junkie in this state watched intently as the Alabama Legislature voted to move the state’s 2016 primary date. Alabama’s political parties have traditionally chosen their nominees in June but, recently, the primary date has been inching its way backward and now Alabama voters will join almost every other SEC football state in heading to the polls on the first Tuesday in March to cast ballots for the Presidential primary.
Proponents of the move would have us believe that presidential candidates will be setting up legitimate campaign offices in the Yellowhammer state. Some would argue that moving the primary date will increase Alabama’s relevance on the national stage to the point that frontrunners for the White House will make Alabama a “go to” destination as they battle for the requisite number of delegates to secure their party’s nomination. Candidates will be begging to leave Iowa and New Hampshire to campaign in the Great State of Alabama because our primary is now so early. Candidates are going to make great efforts to listen to and respond to the concerns of Alabamians because now, with a calendar change, they need your vote.
I only have one word for these arguments: Ridiculous!
A few more legitimate candidates may make a few more brief stop-overs in Alabama on their way from Austin to Atlanta. But, with more potential candidates than the graduating seniors of a rural Alabama high school, we will probably have visits from more than our fair share of secondary candidates who are likely to get fewer presidential votes than Nick Saban. So, if you are waiting to meet the next leader of the free world on a campaign visit to a cotton field in the wiregrass, you are going to be really disappointed.
The truth is that the road to the White House is a math problem. You have to secure enough delegates to win your party’s nomination and then enough electoral votes to secure the presidency. Both delegates and electoral votes are based on population and we still don’t have enough of either to make any effect at all on the outcome of any national election. Even when compared with the other states participating in the SEC primary, Alabama is a non-player. Any real front runner is going to devote their precious campaign days to the people of Texas and expend their left-over resources on Georgia.
This move has produced some big winners though.
The checkbooks of the both major parties will benefit greatly. With a June primary, most of the never-had-a-chance candidates have dropped out and taken their rightful place back in obscurity. That means they don’t pay a qualifying fee to the state party to appear on the Alabama ballot. In early March, some of these candidates have not yet realized that they are destined to become an obscure answer to a Final Jeopardy question in the 2052 Tournament of Champions, so they will enthusiastically send their qualifying fee to the state party. At about $10,000 per candidate, those fees add up fast.
Media buyers are also big winners. Presidential candidates won’t be spending a great deal of time singing Sweet Home Alabama but their commercials will become a mainstay on our television sets. By Valentine’s Day, you will gladly take your spouse out to a nice romantic restaurant just so you can escape the constant bombardment of the Crest-white smiles of candidates telling you that they approved this message for the 1 millionth time.
So, regardless of what you hear, please rest assured that Alabama is still safely a fly-over state and those commercials will be off of your television before you know it.
Angi Stalnaker is Alabama native and political consultant who has worked on numerous statewide, legislative and constitutional amendment races for conservative causes and candidates. She is the founder of Virtus Solutions, a full service government relations and communications firm.