Craig Dunn: It's time to move the Indiana presidential primary
Thursday, May 05, 2016 10:10 AM
KOKOMO – Forget about the analysis of the primary races for president, U.S. Senate and congressional races. That’s all fine and good, but I want to talk about an issue while it’s hot; an issue that both Republicans and Democrats can get their hands around and agree on at least one thing. Indiana desperately needs to move our primary election to the early part of the presidential election cycle.
For virtually my entire life Indiana has been flown over, walked over, passed over and mostly ignored by the national political elites. We’ve been mostly a super safe state in the Republican electoral column; so safe that Republican presidential candidates rarely stop for much more than a quick cash grab at the Columbia Club. You might get a vice presidential candidate whistle stop visit, but the main attraction spends their time where it is needed. Democrat presidential candidates stop just as infrequently as the Republicans. Why waste your time tilling extremely rocky soil?
It has been an amazing experience watching Indiana become the object of affection for Republican and Democrat presidential candidates for the past 10 days. It has been a joy to see all of the big boy national media outlets realize that there is, “more than corn in Indiana.” It has been great to see people from around the country and from around the world drop some serious cash around the state. All of this has been priceless to our state and it should become a permanent fixture every four years.
I have spoken to several legislators about moving the Indiana primary to early February every four years. The traditional roadblock to doing this has been the Indiana legislative session. This should be a very simple fix. Run our primary on the second or third Tuesday in February and then start the legislative session the next Monday. After all, it is the 60-day short session. It might take a little psychological adjustment and it might be a little difficult to shove yard signs into the frozen ground, but it would be well worth the adjustment.
I don’t know about you but these headlines sent a chill down my leg, ala Chris Matthews: “Indiana Make or Break State,” “Hoosier State to Decide Republican Candidate” and “President Clinton Surprises Everyone at the Cone Palace.” It’s fun, it’s informative and it elevates our status to that of Bumfuddle, Iowa, in the lexicon of presidential politics.
There is another significant benefit to moving the Indiana primary earlier on the calendar. Let’s look at the long lines waiting to vote across the state. We witnessed an engaged, outraged and excited electorate desperate to cast their vote. Hoosiers knew that their vote counted and they wanted their voices to be heard. They were. Woe be to any politician who takes the people of Indiana for granted on their way to political stardom.
For years we, and by we, I mean everybody, has lamented the dismal voter turnout percentages in the primary and general elections. The average Joe or Jolene just hasn’t been motivated to get out and vote. We’ve tried early voting and vote centers with little improvement to show for it. This year, the voters were lit up like Roman candles and they turned out and voted in huge numbers. Call it voter anger or angst, but the average Hoosier felt very relevant this year and turned out to vote.
You may not have been happy with the outcomes, but anyone who loves the democratic process had to feel a warm and fuzzy feeling about voters flocking to the polls. I witnessed some great moments during the Indiana primary campaign. I saw Indiana Senate Finance Chairman Brandt Hershman introducing Ted Cruz on national television. I heard Gov. Mike Pence on every media outlet endorsing Ted Cruz. I saw and heard county chairmen, district chairmen and elected officials of both parties interviewed on television. I read the words of wit and wisdom from our state’s citizens from South Bend to New Albany. I’m not sure what the dollar value of the earned media was to our state, but it must have run into the millions.
Now, while it is still fresh in the minds of our legislators, the press and the voters of Indiana, I implore our legislative leaders and our governor to please move our primary election to February, beginning in 2020.
I feel so strongly about this issue that I intend to heavily lobby on its behalf. I intend to buy steak dinners and cocktails every week for the legislators. I intend to buy NCAA and Indianapolis 500 tickets and drop them from a helicopter over the copper dome of the Indiana State Capitol building during session. I intend to charter a bus, make myself a sign and stand at the corner of Market and Capitol streets hooting like a British soccer fan. I intend to provide Biblical proof that Jesus wants the Indiana primary to be in February.
Last Friday the Howard County Republican Party held its annual Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner. We hosted 24 members of the foreign press who visited through a United States Department of State program. One of the members of the foreign press corps, Szalbocs Panyi, a reporter from Budapest, Hungary, told me that if it wasn’t for the presidential primary and Indiana being still in play for both Republicans and Democrats, he would have never visited Kokomo nor Indiana. He said, “You have such a wonderful place to live and the people are so nice. Everyone should visit Indiana.”
Twenty-four foreign journalists from the four corners of the earth, the major television networks, the massive print and online press corps, our next president and countless other people of influence have just spent a week in the Hoosier State and pronounced it a pretty good place to visit. We shouldn’t have to wait a lifetime for this to happen again.
Dunn is chairman of the Howard County Republican Party.