Arizona’s Democrats and Republicans will make their presidential picks the first Tuesday in February — the same day as voters in about 20 other states.
Gov. Janet Napolitano on Tuesday used the authority given to her by the Legislature to move the date from the end of the month to the beginning. Gubernatorial press aide Jeanine L’Ecuyer said the change makes sense.
“The governor wants to do the thing that ensures that Arizona has the loudest voice possible nationally as we go through this process,” she said. “By moving it up to this date, Arizona becomes a part of Super-Duper Tuesday and a part of what will be happening nationally. A lot of decisions will be made on that day.”
L’Ecuyer acknowledged there is some risk to that Feb. 5 date because several other states, including large ones such as California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, already have set their primaries for that day. That raises the possibility candidates, in the hunt to bag the most delegates Feb. 5, will spend more time campaigning and more money for advertising elsewhere.
Leaving the primary where it is — the last Tuesday in February — could put Arizona in the national spotlight if a clear front runner in either party has not yet emerged. But L’Ecuyer said that’s too big a gamble.
“At the end of the month we run a very high risk of being an afterthought simply because all of the other primaries will have occurred,” she said. “We may very well have a nominee by that point.”
The final list of states going to the polls Feb. 5 is not yet set, as officials are jockeying for position.
Technically, Napolitano has the ability to set the primary even earlier, beating out those other big states.
But the governor already had ruled that out amid objections from officials of both major parties. That is because both parties have rules to punish states that hold primary elections prior to the first Tuesday in February. States that do so risk losing delegates at the national convention.
Party rules always have exempted Iowa, which has party caucuses now set for Jan. 14, and New Hampshire which boasts the first primary in the nation, now planned for Jan. 22.
But several other states have decided to flout the party rules and the risk of delegate sanctions.
The Florida Legislature voted to move its primary to Jan. 29. Then, in response, Republicans in South Carolina opted for a Jan. 19 primary; Democrats there have decided on staying with Jan. 29.
And leaders of both parties in Michigan may announce as early as today to have their primaries on Jan. 15.
All that may result in officials in Iowa and New Hampshire moving up their own events, with the Iowa caucuses as early as Jan. 2.
One candidate who might get a boost from a Feb. 5 primary could be John McCain, Arizona’s senior senator, who is hoping to revive his flagging campaign.
"The senator doesn't take Arizona for granted by any means,” said Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the campaign. “He's going to spend a lot of time in Arizona.”