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Barack Obama at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium on February 7, 2008

Primary or Caucus in 2020? Relevance is the Key Consideration

The Nebraska Democratic Party (NDP) has commendably posted on their twitter account a survey on whether we should keep a presidential caucus or move to a primary for the 2020 cycle. I would urge every Nebraska Democrat to fill it out and submit it to the NDP. I salute the NDP for seeking input on this important question.

My key consideration is relevance. Whatever we do , we need to hold a caucus or primary early enough in the cycle so that the voices of Nebraska Democrats make a difference. The NDP chose to go with a caucus beginning in the 2008 cycle so that Nebraska would matter.

This decision followed a series of presidential primary cycles where the Democratic nomination was wrapped up long before the traditional Nebraska May primary date. Before 2008, the last Democratic presidential candidate to campaign in Nebraska was Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton at that time was contested by Jerry Brown and made a quick stop in Omaha.

The May primary date has been even harder on the Nebraska GOP — they have been utterly irrelevant for nearly 40 years. The last Republican candidate to campaign in Nebraska in the run up to the primary was Ronald Reagan in 1980. Since then, every Republican presidential contest has been decided well before Nebraska had a chance to vote.

In 2007, the State Central Committee (SCC) recognized that Nebraska’s May primary date was too late and chose to go with a caucus format beginning in the 2008 cycle. The 2008 caucus proved to be a huge success. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Chelsea Clinton all campaigned in Nebraska. The Obama campaign waged an effective ground game and the turnout for the 2008 caucus was huge.

Similarly in 2016, Nebraska mattered again. Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns set up shop in Nebraska and campaigned hard for delegates. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Bill Clinton all appeared in Nebraska. Once again, Nebraska Democratic voices were heard on a national level.

As the Second Associate Chair of the NDP during the 2016 cycle, I voted for us to have a caucus and I received a lot of input about it once it was over. Most of the Democrats I heard from were very positive about their experience. A few Democrats opposed the caucus because fewer people turn out for a caucus than a primary election.

The concerns of those who want a higher turnout are valid. However, I would only support a primary if we can move the date up to February or March. That would take a law change from the legislature.

If we truly want to have a primary, the NDP must talk to the leadership of the Nebraska GOP about supporting and passing a bill that would move up the primary date. My best guess is that the Nebraska GOP is tired of being ignored by the presidential campaigns and would be receptive.

My chief concern is relevance. I want Nebraska to go early whether we have a caucus or a primary. My preference would be an early primary because I favor a larger turnout. However, I would prefer an early caucus over a late and irrelevant primary.

I would urge all Democrats who are interested in this issue to fill out the survey and talk to our party leaders. They are good people and are anxious to receive your input.

Here is a link to the NDP survey:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdYCeu9v8DBc2kQz0JxeVuyWt37qV7IZtsPVtTGZzMkOkc6Aw/viewform

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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