|Currently 24 states, American Samoa and Democrats Abroad are scheduled to hold caucuses or primary elections on Super Tuesday, 2008. Blue denotes Democratic-only caucuses, Red denotes Republican-only state conventions, and Purple represents states holding elections for both parties.
“Super Tuesday” is the national primary election that marks a key turning point in the 2008 presidential campaign. On February 5th, voters in 22 diverse states from New York to California will finally have the chance to indicate which presidential candidate they support. To win the Republican presidential nomination, a candidate must nail down the votes of 1,191 delegates by the time the party’s national convention opens in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 1st. To win the Democratic presidential nomination, a candidate must have the support of 2,025 delegates by the opening of the national party convention in Denver, Colorado on August 25th. Super Tuesday matters because 52% of all pledged Democratic delegates and 41% of all pledged Republican delegates will be at stake on February 5th. Super Tuesday is the single richest prize of the primary season.
Super Tuesday has reflected different political needs and goals over the years. In 1988, Democrats in the South were upset by the party’s tendency to nominate liberal candidates from the North or Midwest who had little appeal to conservative voters in Georgia or Tennessee. The Southerners responded by organizing a regional primary designed to boost the chances of a moderate candidate. As so often happens in politics, things did not turn out as the experts expected. Three of the strongest candidates, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis each won some of the Super Tuesday primaries and Dukakis became the Democratic nominee. In the fall general election, the Governor of Massachusetts failed to carry a single state south of West Virginia. However, this Democratic “Southern Strategy” did work in 1992, when Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton became the leading candidate for the party’s nomination by winning primary contests in several southern states on Super Tuesday.
By 2008, Super Tuesday had become an expression of very different concerns. Traditionally, some of the largest and most diverse states in the country held late presidential primaries, only to discover that everything had been decided by the time their citizens actually had a chance to vote. In Pennsylvania, voters went to the polls toward the end of April, which was often too late in the process to make a difference. In addition, the media attention showered on such early voting states as Iowa and New Hampshire made the feelings of irritation and resentment even more intense in the rest of the nation. As political scientists and ordinary voters in other states pointed out, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire are really representative of the U.S. as a whole. Both are too small, too rural and have few African-Americans or Latinos among their residents. The resentment described above also had an economic component. A hotly contested presidential primary has the potential to attract armies of journalists, bloggers, campaign consultants and volunteers. This in turn can translate into an economic bonanza for the state in question. Why, voters in other states asked, should we be left out? For all these reasons, legislatures in a multitude of states passed laws moving up the dates of their presidential primaries. As a result, Super Tuesday, which began as a regional event has truly become national in character.
Both major political parties had their own reasons for embracing the Super Tuesday concept. If Democrats and Republicans often disagree about issues and programs, professionals in both parties often agree on practical matters like strategy and tactics. The pros on both sides felt that if presidential nominating contests were allowed to drag on too long, the respective candidates would burn through vast sums of money that could be better spent in the fall. In addition, a long primary season would increase the risk of nasty campaigns that would leave key elements of the party’s base angry, embittered and more likely to stay home in November. At this moment, a national Super Tuesday primary seems to have a bright future because it benefits so many different interest groups.
Dick Levinson, Public Relations - Drexel University Libraries
January 31, 2008