Arizona gets GOP debate as Brewer keeps presidential primary options open - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona gets GOP debate as Brewer keeps presidential primary options open

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Posted: Friday, September 2, 2011 3:49 pm | Updated: 7:06 pm, Mon Sep 12, 2011.

Arizona appears in line to get a Republican presidential debate.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said late Friday that his party's debate committee has given preliminary approval to scheduling one of its officially sanctioned events in the state.

In a letter to Brewer obtained by Capitol Media Services, Priebus said the debate could occur as early as December. But he said that depends on the Arizona Republican Party putting together a formal proposal "as soon as possible in order to make this happen.''

State GOP Chairman Tom Morrissey said one is in the works.

The announcement comes as Gov. Jan Brewer said she will not use her power to move the presidential primary up to Jan. 31 as she had earlier suggested she might do.

But the governor told Capitol Media Services she did not trade away her authority to do that in exchange for the debate. In fact, the governor said, she still may advance the election from its currently scheduled Feb. 28 date.

"I am keeping my options open,'' she said.

Brewer has some time to make that decision: The state law that sets the election for the fourth Tuesday in February gives her permission to schedule an earlier primary as long as she schedules it at least 150 days ahead of time. That means, for example, if the governor wants a Feb. 7 primary she has until this coming Saturday.

But that move would have a cascading effect nationally.

Chad Connelly, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said he has the unilateral power to set his state's GOP primary. And Connelly said there is no way he will allow Arizona to go first -- or even on the same day.

Wayne McDonald, Connelly's counterpart in New Hampshire, pointed out that the law in his state requires its presidential primary to be at least a week before any other similar election. So if Arizona moves up its vote and South Carolina responds in kind, then the New Hampshire secretary of state will automatically scrap the planned Feb. 14 election and set an even earlier date.

And Iowa, which is now set to conduct party caucuses on Feb. 6, has its own rules which put them ahead of New Hampshire.

Brewer hinted, though, that she might leave well enough alone and be satisfied with getting the presidential candidates into the state for what would be a nationally televised event. She said an Arizona debate could set the agenda for the GOP race, forcing candidates to focus on issues like immigration, border security and states' rights.

"Arizona, of course, has been on the forefront of all these battles nationally,'' Brewer said. "And I think it's important that we highlight them.''

The last presidential debate in Arizona was in 2004, when incumbent George Bush faced off against Democratic challenger John Kerry on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe.

"It was informative and it was a good thing for the state of Arizona,'' Brewer said.

The state also hosted a pair of pre-primary debates among Republicans in 1999, one in Tempe and one in Phoenix.

Brewer denied, though, that her public pronouncement last month that she was weighing a Jan. 31 primary was designed as a form of extortion to get the Republican Party to give Arizona an official debate.

"It didn't have anything to do with it,'' she insisted. But the governor acknowledged that, even as she was floating the idea of an early primary, she was thinking all along about getting all the candidates into Arizona at the same time.

"We live in a political arena,'' she said. "So the debate, of course, is part of the primary.''

That still leaves the question of when Arizonans will get a chance to decide who they want as their party's standard-bearer.

With its Feb. 28 primary set by law, Arizona already is in violation of Republican Party rules which prohibit any state from having a primary prior to the first week of March. That is designed to preserve the existing order of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as the first four events.

The rules also strip any state that goes early of half of its delegates, a move designed to prevent a repeat of what happened four years ago when more than half a dozen states rushed in with January primaries.

And Preibus, in his letter to Brewer, said there is no provision to waive those rules.

So at this point, the state has nothing to lose by moving the election up even earlier, perhaps to the first week of February.

But New Hampshire's MacDonald said Brewer is kidding herself if she thinks that Arizona is going to get a jump on those other four states with a primary any time ahead of Feb. 28.

"It might make a state feel good,'' he said.

"But New Hampshire will be the first primary, by hook or by crook,'' MacDonald said. "That's what our state law requires. It's not like it's just an ego thing.''

And he said the record shows that New Hampshire will do what it takes to preserve that status.

"Our primary in 2008 was Jan. 8,'' he said.

Connelly said he shares MacDonald's belief that Brewer cannot put Arizona ahead. Aside from the four officially sanctioned early events, he said other states will not stand by idly.

"When she jumps, six or eight others are going to jump,'' he said.

The governor said she is aware of exactly how sensitive these issues can be -- and how anything she does has ripple effects -- saying that's why she is no longer considering a Jan. 31 primary.

"I didn't want to upset the apple cart,'' she said.

"I didn't want to cause all this cascading in January,'' Brewer continued. "When you look at it in that respect, I wanted to be nice.''

But she stressed that being "nice'' does not automatically mean keeping the Feb. 28 date.

The prospect of giving Arizona a more high-profile role in the primary process pleased several Republican Party officials. Bruce Ash, Arizona's GOP national committeeman, said the state is "acutely impacted'' by issues of border security and smuggling.

"The debate venue here in Arizona will go a long way to showcase practical conservative Republican solutions to these and other problems facing our country,'' he said in a prepared statement.

Morrrissey said the debate will help "ensure that Arizona voters are heard loud and clear during the presidential nomination process.''

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