Maryland vs. the Gorilla

December 21, 1990

Top officials of the Maryland Democratic Party have asked the General Assembly to move the 1992 primary up from the second Tuesday in March to the first. The hope is that presidential candidates will pay more attention to Maryland than they would if the state stays part of "Super Tuesday" (March 12), which apparently in 1992 as in 1988 will be the occasion for a dozen or more primaries in mostly Southern states.

The Maryland Democrats' hope is a forlorn one. When the Democratic National Committee changed its 1992 schedule to allow states to hold primaries on that first March Tuesday, it was anticipated that California would move its primary from June to March 5. No one wanted to compete for candidates' time with California ("a 900-pound gorilla," one party official said). But California decided not to move -- and Maryland Democrats are not the only ones who have decided to try to take advantage. Among other states talking about moving their primary to March 5 is Texas. Texas is a 500-pound gorilla. Candidates would spend much more time there than here, given the far larger delegation Texas sends to the national convention.

This does not mean Maryland shouldn't consider changing its presidential primary. Maryland voters might get to see more of the candidates if our date were shared with only a few states rather than with many. But if the General Assembly agrees to the party's request, it should establish a two-stage primary in 1992. Select presidential delegates in early March, nominate candidates for office in September. That is the traditional primary month in non-presidential years.

The General Assembly should make this change even if it leaves the presidential primary schedule alone. Early March is no time to be nominating candidates for Congress and the state judiciary. Voters are not focused on those races that far in advance of the November general election.

Moreover, there is a special reason why the primaries ought to be later in 1992. The new post-Census congressional district lines may not be drawn and approved till late in 1991 or even early in 1992. We hope that won't happen, but it might. To hold primaries only a couple of months or a couple of weeks after the districts become official would be unfair to voters and potential candidates who might be in doubt till the eleventh hour as to which district is theirs.

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