Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy

Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy

Congratulations to Colorado registered Democrats and registered unaffiliated voters. They have been voting by mail — or soon will cast their ballots by mail or at a vote center — in a “relevant” presidential primary. The results will be counted and announced on Super Tuesday, March 3.

“Relevant” means voting in a real election in which the final winner is still unknown. Under this nation’s unsatisfactory presidential nominating system, many states’ citizens cast their votes at caucuses and in primaries that are scheduled long after the winner has been previously decided in other states.

Such presidential caucuses and primaries are, obviously “irrelevant.” The outcome of the nomination race has already been decided.

That is not happening to Colorado Democrats and unaffiliateds in 2020. Although U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has emerged from early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada with a lead, the race for the Democratic nomination is not over.

Colorado Democrats and unaffiliateds can vote for Sanders, or they can vote against Sanders in what is still a realistic effort to deny him the nomination.

In the process they can help to pick an alternative to Sanders from Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, or Amy Klobuchar. Or they can support former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose name is appearing on Super Tuesday in the race for the first time.

Super Tuesday is the first date on which Democratic Party rules allow any state to schedule a presidential caucuses or primary. Only about 14 other states are joining Colorado in grabbing this opportunity for an early vote.

Having a large number of states vote on the same presidential primary election day was the mid‑1980s brainchild of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate southern white Democrats who wanted to see the Democratic Party nominate more southern‑oriented and more moderate candidates for president.

If a large number of southern states voted on the same day as early in the primary schedule as possible, it would give a boost to presidential candidates from southern states.

The Democrats found it easy to implement Super Tuesday in the 1980s because most of the state legislatures in the South still had Democratic majorities in both houses.

But Super Tuesday did not work well for moderate southern Democrats in the 1988 primary season. The Southern vote split between Jesses Jackson, an African-American with a strong Civil Rights record, and Al Gore, a moderate U.S. senator from Tennessee.

With the Southern vote split, a northern liberal, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, won a number of key southern states on Super Tuesday in 1988. Dukakis went on to win the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Republican George H. W. Bush.

Four years later, in 1992, the moderate southern candidate for the Democratic nomination for president was Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas. This time the southern scenario worked. Bill Clinton won on Super Tuesday and went on to win the Democratic nomination and the White House.

By the year 2000, Super Tuesday had changed in character. It was no longer dominated by the southern states. A number of states from around the nation caught the Super Tuesday craze and front-loaded their presidential caucuses and primaries on to that early date. Foremost were California and New York, the two most populous states in the nation. In addition, many of the New England states, except for New Hampshire, clambered aboard as well.

Everything changes when so many states are holding presidential primaries on the same day. No longer is the campaign limited to one or two states with voting populations that are totally unrepresentative of the American people as a whole. Candidates turn to a completely different campaign style. Shaking hands at the factory gate and chatting in some grandmother’s kitchen is done only briefly, if at all, for the daily photo opportunity. The presidential caucuses and primaries become more like the general election in November, with candidates jetting from state to state. 

We think Colorado made the right choice in scheduling its presidential primary on Super Tuesday. True, we are one of several states voting on March 3, but the race is still very much alive. Best of all, Colorado Democrats and unaffiliateds are getting to participate in a “relevant” election.

Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy were longtime political science professors at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. They regularly write about Colorado and politics.

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