The Early Primary Cycle

By Jim Ellis

June 6, 2019 — Looking at the 2020 primary calendar, it is obvious that the presidential race is already having an impact upon what is becoming an accelerated congressional campaign schedule in many states.

The analysts for the Daily Kos Elections website released their research posting all of the 2020 state primary dates giving us a better indication of which congressional primaries will be held earlier than their traditional scheduled primary slot.

Several states that have moved to early presidential primary dates have also transferred their entire ballot, meaning the congressional cycle will start earlier than usual for many members and challengers.

Texas and Illinois are typically the first states to hold primary elections, and they are again at the forefront of the congressional calendar. Texas will hold its presidential and congressional nominating elections on March 3, which will become the 2020 Super Tuesday. Illinois, along with Florida and Arizona, will vote on March 17. But, on that date, only Illinois will hold congressional nomination elections.

Next year, however, several other states, will join Texas with a full ballot primary on March 3.

Alabama, featuring what will likely be a contentious Republican nomination battle for US Senate, moves its congressional ballot from its normal June slot to March 3. A run-off state, the Alabama secondary election will be held, when necessary, on April 14. With Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) running for Senate, his crowded open 1st District will have nominees in both parties no later than the April run-off date and it pushes the candidate filing deadline to an early November 8th of this year.

Arkansas and North Carolina are two more states that will move to March 3 from their usual May primary slots. While the Arkansas congressional races, with no Senate campaign, look to be uncontested in the primaries, the North Carolina situation could feature a major Republican Senate primary for incumbent Thom Tillis.

Additionally, the winners of the two September special congressional elections will already find themselves having to file for re-election already on Dec. 20 and be placed on the ballot for re-nomination less than six months after being sworn into office.

Finally, on March 3, the California jungle primary will be held in conjunction with its important presidential primary. Therefore, we will see early general election cycles developing in several House districts in that state. The early Dec. 6 candidate filing deadline, however, could play havoc with at least one presidential contender. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin/Hayward) will have to decide by that date – before any state has voted – whether to continue his presidential campaign or relinquish his congressional seat. Swalwell vowed to continue his national effort just a couple days ago, but said he will reassess his chances as we get closer to the filing deadline and promises to be “realistic” in determining what eventual political move to make.

Mississippi, which tends to move its primaries to different dates – this year’s gubernatorial and state legislative elections, for example, are scheduled for August primaries and run-offs – will join the group of states on March 10 although the congressional card should be relatively uncontested in the primaries.

Along with the Magnolia State, Ohio voters will also decide their November political competitors on this date, but they don’t have a Senate contest next year and, at this point, the congressional delegation races don’t appear particularly competitive, especially since the US Supreme Court recently stayed the Ohio lower court decision to redraw the congressional map.

The early congressional cycle in these eight states will definitively change the playing field and the shorter primary cycle will likely help incumbents who may be drawing intra-party challengers. It appears the cost and convenience of moving all races to the early primary date in these places was viewed as the states’ best financial and political option irrespective of how it might affect any individual candidate or candidates.

Those with February and March presidential primaries that did not concurrently move their congressional nomination slots are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. They will all hold a second primary later in the year in accordance with their traditional nominating schedule.

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