Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why States Push and Shove to Host First '96 Primary

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why States Push and Shove to Host First '96 Primary

Article excerpt

EVERY four years, states play a game of leap-frog, hoping to jump ahead of New Hampshire to host the nation's first presidential primary.

This year, Arizona Gov. Fife Symington (R) gave the Granite State what may have been its strongest competition yet. He sent out a flurry of faxes, phone calls, and chest-beating memos - mainly to the New Hampshire governor's office - promising that Arizona was going to be first on the calendar this time around.

Last week, however, Mr. Symington conceded defeat and agreed to hold his state's primary a week after New Hampshire's, which is set for Feb. 20, 1996. Now he faces a fight from other states just to retain second place.

Why all the fuss? Part of the reason is that candidacies are increasingly made, like Bill Clinton's in 1992, or crushed, like Bob Dole's in 1988, in the first few primaries. And small or less-populated states look with envy at the attention, influence, and money that comes with hosting an early primary.

"Since the early 1970s, there's been a process of front-loading," says University of Arizona political scientist Lyn Ragsdale.

Symington officials say the burgeoning West needs a greater voice.

"The Northeast has New Hampshire, the Midwest has Iowa, and the South has Super Tuesday," says Symington aide Doug Cole. "Now that the population is moving West, the West needs to have a bigger say in the political process."

WHEN the Arizona Legislature passed a law two years ago authorizing a primary on the same day as New Hampshire's, no one anticipated the fight the Granite State would wage to keep its status.

But Arizona's hopes were dimmed when House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia and potential presidential contenders threw their support behind Gov. Steve Merrill (R) of New Hampshire. The dispute was finally resolved Friday before the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, with presidential candidate Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas acting as mediator. Symington agreed to schedule his state's primary for Feb. 27.

But with other states also moving their primary dates up, the Democratic National Committee passed a rule forbidding primaries before March 5. …

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