With her customary verve, Governor Jan Brewer announced in September of last year that Arizona would defy Republican National Committee rules by holding its primary on February 28th. Brewer reasoned it had “always been a priority” of hers “to ensure that Arizona and its voters play an influential role in the nomination process, and that Southwestern issues are addressed by the candidates in a meaningful fashion.” Brewer went on to insist she was “confident both goals will be realized.”
They weren’t. Arizona’s gimmick failed and should now serve as a cautionary tale – a paradigm of what not to do – for all those states eager to jump to the front of the primary election line.
Let’s face it, every state is jealous of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. And occasionally that jealousy gets the best of them.
Arizona is this year’s prime example. Rather than vote on Super Tuesday as they did in 2008, Arizona decided to circumvent RNC rules and move their primary up one whole week (written with a hint of sarcasm) in an attempt to play a larger role as Brewer hoped. In doing so, she sacrificed half of Arizona’s allotted delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August, thereby actually diluting any real numerical influence the state would have in choosing the nominee at convention.
But there was a silver lining to all this, they believed. The candidates, campaigns and Super PACs would shower networks with untold millions worth of advertising at the same time media from around the country and world would descended on Arizona to be part of the action, just like they did on election night 2008 when John McCain was the Republican nominee.
What did Arizona really get out of the deal?
By willingly vitiating their own perceived importance, Brewer’s ill-conceived decision of impatience forced Arizona to become Michigan’s also-ran.
Nearly $7 million in television advertising alone hit the airwaves of Michigan on behalf of the candidates – namely Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Arizona, on the other hand, saw just a fraction of that in their two main markets – Phoenix and Tucson.
For their part, the ubiquitous Super PACs, a major catalyst of economic and grassroots activity in other early states, “largely ignored Arizona,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
The paper reported that only 15 percent of money spent by outside groups landed in the desert. The other tranche of cash went straight to Michigan.
There are plenty of reasons for that. One is the foregone conclusion Mitt Romney would dominate the vote in Arizona and leave the other candidates lying in his wake. But that only mattered because Arizona broke another RNC rule by having a winner-take-all primary. This meant that rather than entice candidates to the state by splitting the vote proportionally, they would head to Michigan where there was actual chance of notching a delegate or two by winning a Congressional district. So on paper Arizona had more to offer, but the ratio of risk to reward made little sense for three of the four candidates.
So it was Michigan that reaped the real benefits of Arizona’s decision with 53 candidate visits, 23 of which were from native son Romney and 19 from his chief competitor, Santorum.
In contrast, Arizona received a whopping (again, with a touch of sarcasm) 15 total candidate visits this cycle. For a few of those candidates – Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – they might have never visited the Grand Canyon State had it not been for the CNN debate held on February 22nd. The only other candidates to appear in Arizona outside the confines of the debate schedule were Romney and former contenders Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain before they both dropped out.
And what about the media? Well, some of them showed up, but only long enough to take note of Arizona’s status as “an orphan in the desert,” unable to earn that 16th minute of fame they had hoped would come.
By the time primary day rolled around, it wasn’t just the candidates who had moved on, literally, but also the state’s largest paper, the Arizona Republic. If you blinked, you would have easily missed the scant mention of a primary taking place on the front page of Tuesday’s edition.
Had Arizona played by the rules and joined the ten other states on Super Tuesday would it have mattered more? Who knows. But consider this: Indiana has played host to six total candidate visits so far and our primary isn’t until May 8th. So why the rush?
Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have played their tradition role in the process by whittling down the field. It’s the later states which will have actual determinative power in who the nominee will be this year.
After all, no one dropped out after Arizona’s primary. No one is getting a sudden boost of momentum from their final tally there (although Romney’s narrow Michigan win was buoyed by his receiving all 29 delegates in Arizona).
Even so, Governor Brewer called this all “grand timing.”
I’d have to agree, though for a completely out of context reason. While she’s still convinced the gamble paid off, I think her timing helped vindicate, in many respects, the RNC’s edict stipulating anyone cutting in line would be penalized, and largely marginalized, as a result.
Perhaps this is a cynical view of the conventional behavior of line cutting among the many states, but it’s true.
Arizona was hardly the cynosure of the political universe they had hoped to be this year. Instead, that sound you hear in the desert is a chorus cursing their plight as a primary afterthought.
Serves ’em right.