NASHVILLE — Tennessee would be the first state in the nation to hold a presidential primary, freeing it from having to compete for attention on Super Tuesday, under a new bill.
Democratic state lawmakers touted the need for the change on Tuesday, arguing that the Volunteer State has a more diverse voter base than Iowa and New Hampshire — the first two states to kick off the presidential primaries every four years.
“We feel very strongly that Tennessee in many ways would better represent the nation as a whole demographically, and for other reasons would be an ideal place to hold the first primary in the country,” said state Rep. Jason Powell, a Democrat from Nashville.
According to the legislation, Tennessee’s presidential primary would become the first in the nation by moving it from March 3 to Jan. 2, bypassing high-profile early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Scrutiny over which state gets to host its presidential primary first has increased during the 2020 election as the Democratic Party’s once robustly diverse field of potential challengers to Republican President Donald Trump has dwindled to four white front-runners.
Iowa and New Hampshire have state populations that are approximately 90% white. Tennessee is roughly 75% white. The United States is 60% white.
“I think we make a good case. Are we the most diverse in the nation? Certainly not, but we certainly are much more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire,” said state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat from Memphis.
Powell said lawmakers specifically selected Jan. 2 because of a New Hampshire election law stipulating that its secretary of state must, if necessary, change the date of its primary to at least seven days before any similar election in other states.
That means New Hampshire would have to dip into 2023 if it wanted to host a primary election before Tennessee in the 2024 presidential race.
It’s unclear, however, if the move would be supported by national Republican and Democratic leaders. It’s also unknown if the legislation will find much support inside Tennessee’s Republican-dominant Statehouse. The legislation currently does not have any GOP co-sponsors.
Tennessee’s Democratic Party is holding off from endorsing the idea, noting that states have been punished when they attempted to sidestep rules outlined by the Democratic National Committee.
“In previous years, when other states have violated the rules by leapfrogging the set schedule, they have been penalized by losing all their delegates, leaving their voters with no voice at the national level,” spokeswoman Emily Cupples said in a statement.
In 2008, both Florida and Michigan defied national party leaders by holding their primaries in January, despite rules calling for states to hold such elections later in the year. As a result, the states lost delegate votes at the Democratic and GOP nominating conventions.
Nearly a quarter of primary delegates are up for grabs in the March 3 Super Tuesday contests, with 73 of those coming from Tennessee. Just seven other states will have more delegates than Tennessee on Super Tuesday.