The South wants its status as GOP’s geographic heartland reflected in presidential primaries

The “Solid South’s” realignment from reliably Democratic to reliably Republican, a trend that began in the middle of the 20th Century and accelerated dramatically in the late 1990s, is virtually complete.

With Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) ouster, Republicans now occupy all of Louisiana’s statewide offices for the first time since Union troops occupied the formerly Confederate state. In 2015, the GOP will control every U.S. Senate seat, legislative chamber, and governor’s mansion from Texas to North Carolina. The Republican ascension in the Deep South’s legislative chambers, many of which were dominated by Democrats as recently as 2010, has ensured that much of the Republican Party’s farm team will be drawn from this region of the country.

In the next decade, the South will serve as the geographic heartland of the Republican Party, in the same way that Southern New England served that role for the GOP in the 1920s. And Dixie is demanding that the party being to treat it with the importance it has earned. To that end, a bloc of Southern states is targeting the Republican primary process in order to see their influence elevated.

“Officials in five Southern states — Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas — are coordinating to hold their primary on March 1, 2016,” Politico reported on Monday. “Texas and Florida are considering also holding a primary the same day but may wait until later in the month. Either way, March 1 would be a Southern Super Tuesday, voting en masse on the heels of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.”

Republicans from the South say their states make up the heart of the GOP and that it’s only fitting the region should have commensurate say over whom the party puts forward to compete for the White House. Proponents are already dubbing March 1 the “SEC primary,” after the NCAA’s powerhouse Southeastern Conference

“We think it’s important that the next president of the United States — he or she, Democrat or Republican — come through our states and speak with our citizens about our issues,” said Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. “My gut feeling is this will happen, and you’ll see candidates start to spend a lot more time in the South in the next six months.”

All this strategizing about how to create a prominent position for the Southern states after the traditional early primary states vote begs the question, why does it seem as though states like Iowa and New Hampshire seem to enjoy such an unassailable position on the nominating calendar?

The place that Iowa and New Hampshire occupy in the primary process is just a fluke of history. In the wake of the bloody and shocking 1968 Democratic nominating convention, in which the Lyndon Johnson’s vice president who entered the race late and represented a pro-war wing of the Democratic Party on the decline, Democrats engaged in a primary reform process aimed at eliminating the “smoke-filled rooms” that had produced nominees in the past.

In 1972, the party settled on both the calendar and committed delegates system that we are familiar with today. Republicans essentially embraced the Democratic Party’s reforms. But the logic of these reforms appears more and more antiquated every presidential cycle. The fact that both the Democratic and Republican parties have successfully leveraged their influence to prevent these states from holding their nominating contests until after January is evidence of their decreasing influence Iowa and New Hampshire wield over the process.

The conventional wisdom among Republican grassroots voters is that this system that arbitrarily yields the Hawkeye and Granite states undue authority is, at best, an anachronism that does not do the party much service. At worst, they may even hinder the party’s ability to field a competitive nominee. Moderate, “establishment” Republicans cringe over how Iowa’s caucus system rewards unelectable candidates who enjoy the support of an enthusiastic but small base. Conservatives roll their eyes at the New Hampshire GOP’s consistent ratification of the conventional wisdom that prevails among Beltway Republicans. But the fact that these two states are increasingly in conflict with one another also suggests that they may serve to winnow the field of Republican nominees in a comprehensive fashion.

What’s more, for Republicans, a counterpunch from a bloc of Southern states aimed at challenging the conventional wisdom that emerges from New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina could be a powerful corrective force for the GOP. Democrats, too, may eventually contemplate reforms to the nominating process similar to what Republicans envision with a “Big State Tuesday,” in which Democrat-heavy states like California, Illinois, and New York coordinate their contests. It is not difficult to envision a future in which the Democratic Party’s progressive grassroots grow increasingly frustrated with their own establishment’s obsession with nominating electable candidates who routinely disappoint the left-wing base of the party.

The South’s decision to pool their clout in a single massive primary is a valuable experiment. While the results of that test are as yet unpredictable, any changes to the dated presidential nominating process are welcome.

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