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Red States Hold Primaries More than Five Weeks Earlier on Average than Blue States: Which Party Benefits?

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Study finds average 'red state' primary date is June 15th, while average 'blue state' date is July 23rd. 'Purple state' average date is July 11th.

As Illinois voters went to the polls last Tuesday to launch the 2010 primary season, other states, such as Minnesota and Vermont, are contemplating moving their primary dates to earlier in the calendar year.

But even if the Minnesota legislature, for example, is successful in moving the Gopher State's primary date from September 14th to August 10th as proposed in new State Senate legislation, blue states will still dominate the back end of the primary schedule.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that the average primary date for red states is June 15th - more than five weeks earlier than the average primary date for blue states (July 23rd). Purple states rest in between with an average primary date of July 11th.

(Note: the 'average primary date' is calculated by assigning a numerical value for each day of the year and dividing the sum total of primary date values by the number of red, blue, and purple states respectively. For a note on the definition of red, blue, and purple states, and the admitted quibbling that may result at the margins, see the footnote at the bottom of the table, below).

Almost half of the nation's 20 blue states will hold primary elections in the middle of September.

Under the current primary calendar, blue states comprise nine of the last ten spots on the list: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin all hold their elections on September 14th with Hawaii four days later on September 18th.

One purple state - New Hampshire - also holds its primary on September 14th.

The latest primary date for a red state is August 24th (Alaska) with 15 of the nation's 19 red states holding primaries before August 1st.

The momentum pushing some states on the back end of the calendar to move their primary elections forward is coming from the pressure on election officials to allow enough time in the event of a recount (a particularly sensitive issue in Minnesota) to be able to mail general election ballots in time to its overseas residents (i.e. armed services members).

But will these earlier primaries in red and some purple states, and later primaries in blue states, benefit Republicans or Democrats in 2010?

In general, political parties looking to steal a seat against a potentially vulnerable incumbent want their nominee selected as soon as possible - solidifying (financial) support around a candidate and having enough time to build name recognition in the electorate to compete with well-known incumbents.

With that in mind, Arkansas' early primary date (tied for the eighth earliest in the nation on May 18th, with a potential runoff on June 8th) would seem to favor the Republicans, who are hoping to pick up Democrat Blanche Lincoln's U.S. Senate seat.

Likewise, Nevada's early primary date of June 8th (tied for 16th earliest in the nation) will winnow the field of Republican candidates to one nearly five months before the general election as the GOP seeks to dethrone Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In U.S. House races, the GOP will get an early look at its nominees in red states against incumbents in districts they hope to capture such as Walt Minnick's 1st CD seat in Idaho (May 25th), Bobby Bright's 2nd CD seat in Alabama (June 1, pending a potential runoff), and Travis Childers 1st CD seat in Mississippi (June 1, pending a potential runoff).

In purple states, the Republican Party will settle on its U.S. House nominees late in the spring against vulnerable Democratic incumbents such as Mary Jo Kilroy in Ohio's 15th district (May 4) and Tom Perriello in Virginia's 5th CD (June 8).

On the other hand, late primary dates in some purple and blue states may help a few rookie Democratic incumbents who seek to stave off challengers.

For example, lightning rod Alan Grayson in Florida's 8th CD won't officially have an opponent until August 24th and the GOP challenger of Frank Kravotil in Maryland's 1st CD won't be settled until September 14th.

However, most Democratic-held U.S. Senate and U.S. House seats in blue states with late primaries in September, are either not expected to be vulnerable to GOP pick-ups, or are open seat races, which means both parties are facing the same compressed timeline to rally behind a candidate.

2010 Primary Dates in Chronological Order

Rank
State
Date
Partisan tilt
1
Illinois
February 2
Blue
2
Texas
March 2
Red
3
Indiana
May 4
Red
3
North Carolina
May 4
Red
3
Ohio
May 4
Purple
6
Nebraska
May 11
Red
6
West Virginia
May 11
Purple
8
Arkansas
May 18
Purple
8
Kentucky
May 18
Red
8
Oregon
May 18
Blue
8
Pennsylvania
May 18
Blue
12
Idaho
May 25
Red
13
Alabama
June 1
Red
13
Mississippi
June 1
Red
13
New Mexico
June 1
Blue
16
California
June 8
Blue
16
Iowa
June 8
Blue
16
Maine
June 8
Blue
16
Montana
June 8
Red
16
Nevada
June 8
Purple
16
New Jersey
June 8
Blue
16
North Dakota
June 8
Red
16
South Carolina
June 8
Red
16
South Dakota
June 8
Red
16
Virginia
June 8
Purple
26
Utah
June 22
Red
27
Georgia
July 20
Red
28
Oklahoma
July 27
Red
29
Kansas
August 3
Red
29
Michigan
August 3
Blue
29
Missouri
August 3
Purple
32
Tennessee
August 5
Red
33
Colorado
August 10
Purple
33
Connecticut
August 10
Blue
35
Washington
August 17
Blue
35
Wyoming
August 17
Red
37
Alaska
August 24
Red
37
Arizona
August 24
Purple
37
Florida
August 24
Purple
40
Louisiana
August 28
Purple
41
Delaware
September 14
Blue
41
Maryland
September 14
Blue
41
Massachusetts
September 14
Blue
41
Minnesota
September 14
Blue
41
New Hampshire
September 14
Purple
41
New York
September 14
Blue
41
Rhode Island
September 14
Blue
41
Vermont
September 14
Blue
41
Wisconsin
September 14
Blue
50
Hawaii
September 18
Blue
Note: Ten states also have potential runoff elections. Deciding on a red-blue-purple state definition, of course, is subject to some quibbling. One quick-and-dirty method is to simply look at the most recent presidential race (e.g. Obama states vs. McCain states), although that method unfairly paints some states as 'blue' when they have been historically red in recent years (e.g. Indiana, North Carolina). As such, this table reflects the definition of a red state as having an average margin of victory over the past five presidential election cycles of more than five points for the Republicans, a blue state of more than five points for the Democrats, and a purple state as having less than a five point tilt in either direction. This results in 20 blue states, 19 red states, and 11 purple states. This yields a workable, but admittedly flawed definition (e.g. Arkansas, Louisiana, and West Virginia stand out as questionable 'purple' states at this point in political history).

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