With President Joe Biden’s reelection bid underway and GOP candidates already crisscrossing Georgia, the 2024 campaign for the White House is gearing up. What’s still unclear is how early Georgia will hold its presidential primary.
State law gives Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger the sole authority to schedule a date, but he’s unlikely to make a move without getting buy-in from Gov. Brian Kemp and his allies. The Republican has until December to make up his mind, though he’s expected to act sooner.
Biden and state Democrats want Georgia to join South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada and Michigan in the first wave of states to hold presidential primaries in 2024.
Although that would put Georgia under an even brighter political spotlight — and raise the state’s importance in the wide-open GOP race — the plan has little chance of getting approved.
That’s because national Republicans have already agreed to a lineup without Georgia among the first four states, and moving up the timeline without the party’s approval would cost the state GOP delegates.
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
Raffensperger has firmly opposed any schedule that would require two separate primaries or jeopardize delegates to either party’s convention. Instead, he’s left the door open for an earlier primary in 2028, when state and national officials have more time to prepare.
Kemp, who has no formal say in the process, has also opposed moving Georgia into the early-voting lineup. No other high-profile Georgia Republican supports the idea, even as Democrats maintain it would generate new spending and attention for both parties.
Even with a January or February date seemingly off the table, Raffensperger still has a tough decision ahead.
Should Georgia join a huge bloc of states that hold votes on the same March 5 “Super Tuesday,” or should the state look for a day on the calendar when Georgia can better stand out?
His decision could help shape the nominating contest. Since Biden faces no credible primary opposition at this point, the Democratic race is expected to be an afterthought. But Georgia’s vote in the GOP primary could help determine the nominee in a swing state that flipped in 2020 for the first time in nearly three decades.
“I think the issue right now is that Super Tuesday is so big already, you’re going to be one fish in a pond with a lot of fish in it,” Kemp said. “There are considerations there, but you also run the risk of waiting too long that things may already be played out.”
Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC
Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC
Others say Georgia will be a political force even if it’s lumped in with bigger states, given its status as one of the few battleground states on the 2024 electoral map.
“I don’t think a primary in the Peach State would get ignored or overshadowed even if it coincided with contests in California and Texas on Super Tuesday,” said Josh Putnam, a political scientist who writes the FrontloadingHQ blog, which tracks the details of the primary process.
“There are too many voters and delegates there, and it would mean the parties and candidates would be passing on an opportunity to build for the general election campaign.”
Here’s a closer look at potential dates:
March 1 or 2:
Georgia could upend the primary calendar entirely by picking an unconventional day to hold its vote. Putnam said the state is “uniquely positioned” to consider a date of March 1 or March 2 to move earlier in the Democratic window but also avoid GOP delegate sanctions. That would mean holding a vote on a Friday or Saturday instead of a traditional Tuesday date. It could also trigger some changes to how the state GOP allocates it delegates. But Putnam said the payoff would be worth it, allowing the state to “command attention” across the nation while also satisfying Raffensperger’s criteria.
The date lives up to its “Super Tuesday” moniker with a blockbuster group of states scheduled to vote. California, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia are on the list. So are many of Georgia’s neighbors, including Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. Georgia would bring even more firepower to the bloc, and it’s been a part of regional votes plenty of times before, including the “SEC primary” that Kemp orchestrated in 2016 when he was secretary of state. But if Georgia joins more populous behemoths with a trove of delegates to award, it risks being relegated to second-tier status.
Georgia would certainly get top billing if it sets its date for March 12, as the only other states on the calendar so far are Idaho, Mississippi and Washington state. Georgia politicians could also capitalize on the wave of attention and energy coming after Super Tuesday by delivering timely endorsements for their picks in the runup to the vote, when candidates are likely to bombard the state with visits. The downside is the race could be all but over by then if voters decisively back Donald Trump or one of his rivals in the earlier contests.
You could call it “Super Tuesday 2.0.” Florida, Illinois and Ohio are all set to hold their primaries on that day. So is Arizona, which like Georgia is one of the nation’s most-watched swing states. Adding Georgia to the mix and it might become a make-or-break primary day — if the race isn’t already decided by then. But, like March 5, Georgia also could get lost in the shuffle, especially with Florida on the calendar. If there’s still a close race involving Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, much of the attention would go to his prospects in his home state.
Georgia could have this date to itself, as no other primary has yet been scheduled for March 26. Of course, the later date magnifies the chances that the race would effectively be over by the time Georgians vote. It would come after voters in most bigger states — and the entire Deep South — have already cast their ballots. Still, it would line up with Raffensperger’s initial goal in 2020, when he scheduled the primary for the fourth Tuesday in March to win Georgia more attention during a break in the busy calendar.
April or beyond:
Holding a primary in April would not only risk political irrelevance, it would also defy Georgia tradition. Georgia’s primary has been held in February or March for decades, with one notable exception. In 2020, the March 24 vote was delayed twice — first to May, then June — because of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s also potential for a great reward with a later date, when the calendar thins out and more attention is cast on fewer states. If there’s still a close race, Georgia could determine the nominee.
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