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Kemp says having primary March 6 benefits Georgia

ATLANTA --- Secretary of State Brian Kemp is betting that holding Georgia's presidential-preference primary March 6 will entice candidates to come to the Peach State.

There are many reasons to try to time a state's primary to attract serious candidates' attention. For one thing, the politicians picking the date are political junkies who want the chance to meet the candidates they hear so much about.

Other reasons are better.

One is the party-building benefit of capturing the names of GOP voters. Without party registration in Georgia, campaigns get their best lists of Republican-leaning voters from the reports of who casts ballots in primaries, people who can be reminded to vote for the party slate in the fall and asked for donations. More voters will turn out if the nomination is still up in the air.

The chief reason, though, is influence.

Would the United States have subsidies and use requirements for ethanol if corn producers voting in Iowa's caucus weren't so critical to presidential politics?

Georgia wants federal funding for deepening the Savannah River shipping channel, various rail projects and waivers from health reform and No Child Left Behind; so having presidential candidates trying to out-promise each other on these issues could be handy if one of them wins.

"There is no doubt in my mind, or the minds of nearly 10 million Georgians, that any candidate wishing to receive our state's support in next year's election must first earn it," said Sue Everhart, the chairwoman of the Georgia Republican Party.

Those promises come more readily the more critical Georgia's primary becomes. That's why picking the right date is so tricky.

The Republican Party vows to protect the status of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as the earliest states by halving the convention delegation of any state that schedules a primary before March 6.

It's not just that those political junkies like going to conventions, but a smaller delegate prize reduces the importance of a primary that jumps the gun -- at least in theory. In practice, momentum matters more than actual delegate counts in most presidential races -- with the exception of the 2008 Democratic marathon.

Racking up wins until opponents all drop out is the key to winning a nomination since conventions are little more than extended cocktail fundraisers nowadays.

But Kemp had another reason for not jumping ahead of the party's preferred order: Alec Poitevint.

He's the two-time chairman of the Georgia Republican Party who is chairing next year's GOP convention in Tampa. He recruited a lot of today's state officeholders and raised a lot of money for them and the party, giving Kemp, the governor and legislators reason to avoid embarrassing him by having to disqualify half of his home state's delegates.

As it turns out, March 6 puts Georgia in position as the largest state up for grabs that day, the 2012 edition of Super Tuesday.

Massachusetts is obviously going to its former governor, Mitt Romney, and Texas will go to its current governor, Rick Perry.

The national rule change that requires primaries before April to award delegates on a proportional basis instead of winner-take-all means Georgia's two favorite-son candidates, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, will get at least some here. The timing might even give them enough momentum to remain in the race.

The momentum argument is more persuasive to Florida announced it will hold primary before Super Tuesday.

When Florida officials voted Friday to hold that state's primary Jan. 31, Kemp issued a heated statement.

"Like many states who have chosen to play by the rules," he said. "... I fully expect the Republican National Committee to enforce its rules and penalize Florida and any other state that violates them as this process continues."

Each additional primary before Georgia's reduces the candidates likely to be still standing, making the nomination more certain for the ultimate winner.

That removes the pressure on candidates to campaign here and make bold promises on issues of concern to Georgia primary voters.

With so many candidates this year, they're not all likely to be out by March 6, even if the ones with the least funding have.

Kemp invites them all to come.

"I want to officially invite the presidential candidates to visit our state and discuss and debate the issues with Georgia voters, just as they have done in the early caucus and primary states for more than a year," he said.

Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News Service and has been covering state politics since 1998. He can be reached at, (404) 589-8424 or on Twitter @MorrisNews.

Web posted on Thursday, October 06, 2011

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