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GOP lawmaker: Set Arizona's primary to Iowa caucuses

Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, says holding Arizona's presidential primary on the same day as the Iowa caucuses would give the state the chance to look at more candidates and prompt candidates to spend more time campaigning in Arizona. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Julia Shumway)

PHOENIX -- Moving Arizona's presidential preference election earlier in the primary cycle would give the state a greater say in national politics, a state representative contends.

Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, has authored a bill that would require Arizona's primary to be held on the same day as the Iowa caucuses, which have been first in the nation since 1972. If another state leapfrogs Iowa, the bill calls for Arizona to match that date.

Lovas said political party rules allowing only the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries to be held earlier than the first Tuesday in March give those states an unfair advantage. They also see larger slates of candidates, as those who are unsuccessful early on often drop out before Arizona's primary.

"We don't get the whole pick of candidates that other states do," he said. "I'm concerned that we have 2 million-plus voters here in Arizona who don't get the full choice that other states do, and I think that they should have their feelings heard on who they think should be president."

HB 2017 had bot been assigned to a committee as of Wednesday.

The change likely would lead to penalties cutting Arizona's delegation to the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Because Arizona's 2012 presidential preference election took place on Feb. 28, a week before allowed by party rules, half of Arizona's 58 delegates to the Republican National Convention weren't seated.

With President Barack Obama unopposed for re-election, Arizona didn't hold a Democratic presidential primary. But the party has similar sanctions for states holding primaries earlier than allowed.

Lovas said a potential loss in delegates is a small problem compared to Arizonans continuing to vote later in the primary process. Neither party has had a national convention requiring a second ballot in more than 60 years, he noted.

Early primaries in eastern and midwestern states focus little attention on western issues such as immigration, water and land, Lovas said.

"In New Hampshire, they talk about home heating oil prices," he said. "In Iowa, they talk about ethanol subsidies. And the country seems to hear about these things for four years, but issues of particular concern to Arizona are never addressed."

Barbara Norrander, a University of Arizona political science professor, said the reasoning that being earlier in the primary process would provide more choices to voters misses a key part of the process.

"Usually early contests eliminate the weaker candidates," she said.

Norrander said a loss of delegates at the national conventions is far from the only ramification Arizona could face. The national parties and the states that are used to holding early primaries or caucuses would pressure candidates not to campaign in Arizona, she said.

Arizona Republican Party spokesman Tim Sifert said the party couldn't take a stand on Lovas' bill this early in the process because legislation is often amended. He declined to comment on the impact of sanctions on the state's delegation to the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Frank Camacho, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said the bill could do more harm than good if passed because it could result in sanctions and divert legislative attention from real problems.

"Lovas is over here wanting to deal with an issue that's really a non-issue," Camacho said. "Is he solving a problem that exists, or does he have a solution that needs a problem?"

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