At it stands, Democratic voters in Washington, D.C., will be last in the nation to weigh in on who should challenge Donald Trump in 2020’s presidential contest. But some local politicos want to change that.
At a meeting Thursday, the D.C. Democratic State Committee will consider whether to recommend moving up the District’s primary from June 16 to April 28, or some other early spring date.
“If you want to be competitive in the democratic process, you need to be early up,” said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the District on the Democratic National Committee.
Evans and others have long argued that an earlier primary would draw national attention to the city’s lack of representation in Congress and spark more enthusiasm from local voters.
“For statehood purposes, we want to get these candidates to come here and campaign and answer our questions,” Evans said. “It’s important we are part of the process.”
Evans has pushed similar efforts in previous presidential cycles.
In 2003, he led the D.C. Council to approve moving the next year’s primary from May to January, leapfrogging ahead of the traditional primary season kickoff in New Hampshire. But the Democratic State Committee withdrew its support for the proposal, and balloting proceeded that year in a nonbinding primary aimed at drawing attention to the voting-rights cause.
Ahead of 2008, Evans helped orchestrate the “Potomac Primary,” in which the District, Maryland and Virginia cast their votes for party nominees on Feb. 12.
But holding an earlier primary next year has detractors, including council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who noted that in a city where the primary usually determines who will win the general election, an earlier date can be difficult for local candidates challenging incumbents.
“We need to stop messing around with the primary date,” Mendelson said in a statement. “It creates uncertainty within the electorate about what our electoral process is in this city. It’s not a good way to encourage democracy, and there’s reason to believe having an earlier primary date makes it harder for challengers to run for office.”
The council has already agreed to hold the primary on the third Tuesday in June, Mendelson said, “so we need to stick with that.”
He noted that the city could consider a separate, presidential primary on an earlier date but said such a change would come “at enormous cost.”
“Every four years people say, ‘This year the District will get on the map if . . . ,’ and in the end, it makes no difference,” he said.
Supporters of moving up the primary date say April makes sense because local candidates would have enough time to campaign and District voters could weigh in before a presidential candidate locks up the nomination.
Voters in several eastern states are scheduled to hit the polls April 28 for the Democratic presidential primary, including Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. It’s often dubbed the “Acela” primary after the Amtrak service along the Northeast Corridor.
Charles Wilson, chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said there are advantages to moving up the primary date.
“We definitely want to be much more relevant in the conversation, and we want all the presidential candidates who are still in the race to spend time and resources in the District,” he said.
But he declined to speculate on what the committee may decide to recommend on Thursday.
“I’m just looking forward to a robust discussion with the party, and we’ll make a decision as a group,” he said.