Brian Kemp and a 2012 game of presidential primary poker

Brian Kemp is about to become a very, very popular fellow.

Just before state lawmakers pointed their brake lights toward Atlanta last week, they passed a measure to give Georgia’s secretary of state the power to set the most important date in Republican politics next year.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp . Bita Honarvar bhonarvar@ajc.com

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp . Bita Honarvar bhonarvar@ajc.com

All right, maybe the second most important date.

The 47-year-old Kemp was given the authority to choose any Tuesday between Jan. 31 and June 12, 2012, for Georgia’s presidential primary.

Kemp could decide if Georgia will join the Florida rebellion, and move its primary near the front of the line.

Or the GOP secretary of state could position Georgia for a safe April vote that might not matter so much in the national scheme — but would guarantee that the state will seat a full slate of happy delegates when the GOP faithful gather in Tampa.

Or Kemp could gamble. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey last week raised the possibility of positioning New Jersey at the tail end of the primary process — on the theory that a late-starting Republican field with no clear leader will also have a late finish.

Georgia could join New Jersey and perhaps another state or two, Kemp said this week. And play king-maker. “I’m keeping my options open,” Kemp said. “We’ve been fast growing, we’ve gaining influence” — Georgia has 16 electoral votes now, up from 15 — “and we should be a factor in who the next president will be.”

Kemp, a former state senator from Athens, has until Dec. 1 to make a call. A governor, a House speaker, a lieutenant governor, 236 lawmakers and a boatload of Republican presidential candidates stand ready to help him.

In 2008, Georgia and many other states pushed their primaries to the front, to the point that the nation’s traditional leaders — Iowa, then New Hampshire — threatened to hold their votes in December.

As a result, last year the Democratic and Republican national committees sought to instill a little discipline. A first tier of states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — will be allowed to go first, beginning Jan. 16.

States that have their primaries in March, according to Republican rules, will have to award their delegates proportionately — a much less attractive proposition to candidates.

Primaries held in April and later will be winner-take-all. With all the contentment that unified state delegations implies — a plus to party insiders.

States that violate the schedule could lose up to half their delegates. Right now, Florida — by naming a Jan. 31 vote — is the only state that has shown a willingness to gamble that the RNC might not be serious.

“If they change the rules and allow Florida to go early, then we could go with them — and that would be appealing,” said Kemp. “There’d be a lot of synergy there for candidates. You have TV markets that overlap.”

But some GOP candidates might fear that a January contest in two large and expensive states would carry too high a price tag, too early.

On Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal said he has no preference for a primary date. “I’m not running,” he said.

Yet former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, whom Deal is backing, might prefer Georgia comfortably in the middle of the schedule. Rivals would then be more likely to concede the state to Gingrich — who will be claiming “favorite-son” status.

What’s this fuss all about, really? State GOP chairman Sue Everhart was behind the effort to move Georgia’s last presidential primary up to the first Tuesday in February 2008. And she fought the RNC effort to lay down the law last year.

“There is a lot of money if you’re a state coming out early — for your state party,” Everhart said. “The candidates come and you have all the New York television stations buying the rights to record the debate. That could be as much as $1 million. And then the candidates — all of them that want to be on — I think they have to pay about $100,000 each.

“And you charge people to go. So you can easily make $2 or 3 million off one of those,” the Georgia GOP chairman said.

In presidential politics, if you’re not at the front of the line, you’re a “donor state,” she said. That’s been Georgia’s lot.

With the Legislature adjourned, Georgia Republicans are turning their heads to a hotly contested race for the chairmanship of the state GOP that will be settled in mid-May. The presidential primary date is sure to be a part of the conversation.

Everhart, seeking a third two-year term, concedes that Georgia is likely to seek an April date. She worries that anything later might risk a low GOP turnout that could give comfort to Georgia Democrats.

Tricia Pridemore, a Marietta businesswoman backed by Deal, isn’t inclined to give any heartburn to the rank-and-file volunteers whose support she’s seeking —and who will want a front row seat in Tampa. “I’d like to see as many of our delegates seated at the convention,” Pridemore said.

But the third candidate in the GOP chairmanship — Fulton County GOP chairman Shawn Hanley — may be more willing to gamble. “I think the best thing we can do is sit back and let a few issues play out. I don’t think that we should rush it,” Hanley said.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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23 comments Add your comment

Centrist

April 20th, 2011
6:46 pm

Too “inside politics” for me.

Angela

April 20th, 2011
7:10 pm

Phil Lunney

April 20th, 2011
7:15 pm

Do these Republicans think anything about real life? They play politics with everything and then accuse others of that crime. They promise jobs and give us tax breaks for the rich and well connected. Nice to see that former Governor and appointee partners have set up their new business, those in power take control and keep the rules in their own favor…this is not free market, it is capitalism with baricades. The rich get richer.

Centrist

April 20th, 2011
8:16 pm

Unless Obama gets a challenger, the Republican primary is likely to get partisan Democrats voting for whoever they think is the weakest nominee. I wonder if this will be factored into the timing equation and possible GA influence.

Hillary is waiting 4 more years to gear up, but maybe Roy Barnes would be interested in being a “favorite son”. I don’t suppose John Edwards will be making another run ….

SugarHillDawg

April 20th, 2011
9:41 pm

Hey Phil, the rich get richer and when they do they give jobs to IDIOTS like you. You ever get a job from a bu?. Go take your class warfare, rich-hating ass to the Daily Kos where you can be among friends!

Phil Lunney

April 20th, 2011
9:57 pm

I’ll just call you “Sugar”. I was raised Catholic, have a degree and 40 years in business as a salesman. I don’t sell, I don’t eat. If you have such high ideals, why not write in your real name. Sugar, why don’t we have the GOP fund the miltary, wars and security. We liberals will be part of a forward thinking society where people pay their share. Our parent’s generation, was the greatest generation, we Baby Boomers are simply selfish (yes, me too).

Real Athens

April 20th, 2011
11:38 pm

All you have to do is speak to Brian Kemp and you will realize he is in so far over his head in his position as Secretary of State.

He really doesn’t have the common sense to be in charge of anything. Don’t take my word for it, have a conversation with him.

Red

April 21st, 2011
12:05 am

Phil – forward thinking? Really? First liberals say they want government out of the private life but then liberals want to force what we eat, what we learn, what doctors we go to, what health care we get, etc. And pay their share? Liberals have made it their mantra to wage war on the rich and place the tax burden solely on them. Pay their share? Somehow placing a tax burden on the rich is not everyone paying their share. I guess your forward thinking society is embodied in the ‘blue’ states up north. high gas, high unemployment, high taxes, population fleeing in droves. Somehow your ‘forward thinking’ utopia up there is not the workers’ paradise you make it out to be.

double

April 21st, 2011
12:11 am

If you are in the click don’t need any sense,or make difference if capable of job.

Alabama Communist

April 21st, 2011
12:12 am

LOL.. No doubt the date of the Republican primary will be Jan 32 nd since Donald Trump will have won it on Jan 31 1/2 nd along with his chosen VP candiate Gary Busey…

Public 4m

April 21st, 2011
12:36 am

Gov. Deal has been pretty good so far. Wish he would rethink backing the disingenuous Newt Grinch. Guy’s a sleaze.

double

April 21st, 2011
12:39 am

@RED hey if you being force fed you need a living will.

Rawmilkdrinker

April 21st, 2011
6:13 am

Privatize the primaries and let all parties go back to picking their candidate at convention therefore saving the States and Taxpayers a lot of money, not to mention a lot hot air spewed in campaign ads on tv.

Clinton "Skink" Tyree

April 21st, 2011
6:46 am

The Republicans are pulling on a duck’s neck trying to make a swan. What a mess.

John K

April 21st, 2011
9:07 am

I’m all for Georgia having an early primary. This nutjob of a state will give a boost to a candidate the mainstream GOP just won’t be able to support.

joe

April 21st, 2011
9:50 am

“We liberals will be part of a forward thinking society”–funniest thing I’ve read all week. Liberal forward thinking is code for enacting bassackwards legislation and presidential policy to spend the USA into oblivion…so that our currency crashes and the government in turn controls everything…aka socialism/marxism/communism. Take your pick, Phil Dummy.

Intown

April 21st, 2011
3:44 pm

They need to just pick a dang date so folks can plan accordingly.

Z

April 21st, 2011
5:17 pm

The reason that legislation was needed was because both RNC and DNC rules would have disqualified half or more of our delegates to the national conventions. Moving the date back would bring Georgia in line with those national rules and gives Georgia’s Republicans and Democrats full representation at their respective conventions.

Phil Lunney

April 21st, 2011
5:34 pm

Joe, I’ll give you credit for at least using part of your own name. You guys are right, let the roads crumble, don’t worry about sewage and infrastructure, just keep my taxes low and cripple the EPA. Fight wars, cut the draft (oh, it is good to send the jobs off-shore, so workers will fight the wars for the rich), be secure and spread fear. You guys are a hoot. Pretty soon you will succeed but sooner or later the dirty water will get you. Conservatism, a march back to the Middle Ages, next act, bring back the Plague.

Tom Washington

April 21st, 2011
11:46 pm

Texas, a “winner take all” state with more than 150 RNC delegates is contemplating a April 3rd primary.

DeborahinAthens

April 22nd, 2011
6:54 am

Already the Republicans are trying to figure out how best to game the system rather than find a candidate that actually has a brain. And, Real Athens, you are right, Brian Kemp is a feather brain. The only thing he and his family and in laws do is game the system to keep their brainiacs in politics. Remember the redistricting????? Oh, well. They can’t hold down a real job. Without the gov’ment handout, they would be unemployed.

David A. Staples

April 25th, 2011
10:02 am

March sounds like the fairest way to do it to me for all states. Let the candidate who receives the majority of the votes from all states combined be pronounced the winner… not determined by the number of delegates from all the winner-take-all states.