Super Tuesday, the day in early March when a host of states hold their presidential nominating contests, has always been an important part of the election calendar. This year, though, the day will have a different, more decidedly regional feel. That’s because a group of southern states have moved their primaries to Super Tuesday, creating what’s being dubbed the SEC Primary.
Here’s a quick guide to one of the biggest days of the election season:
WHEN IS SUPER TUESDAY? March 1, 2016
WHICH STATES ARE VOTING? Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia will hold nominating contests for both parties. On the Republican side, Colorado will hold its caucus, but not award any delegates based on the outcome, instead allowing its 37 delegates to remain unpledged. Alaska will also hold its Republican caucus, while American Samoa will hold its Democratic caucus. Additionally, Democrats abroad will be able to cast ballots during the first week of March.
HOW IS THE LIST OF STATES DIFFERENT THIS YEAR? Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas all moved their primaries to Super Tuesday after holding them on different dates in 2012. Idaho, Wyoming and North Dakota all held their Republican nominating contests on Super Tuesday in 2012, but Idaho moved its primary to March 8 this year, while North Dakota and Wyoming are not holding nominating contests. (Josh Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia, explains the odd circumstances in Colorado, North Dakota, and Wyoming on his website, Frontloading HQ. )
WHY IS IT CALLED THE SEC PRIMARY? The primary is named after the Southeastern Conference, the powerhouse college athletics league that includes the flagship state universities in most states throughout the Southeast. The name, though, is a bit misleading. Only five of the 12 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas — have schools in the SEC. (Alabama and Tennessee have two apiece: the University of Alabama and Auburn University for Alabama and the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University for Tennessee. The other three states have one SEC school apiece: the University of Arkansas, the University of Georgia and Texas A&M.)
HOW MANY DELEGATES ARE AT STAKE? There are 595 delegates at stake on the Republican side (24 percent of the 2,472 total delegates throughout the country) and 1,004 delegates at stake on the Democratic side (21 percent of the 4,763 delegates to the convention.)
HOW DID THE SEC PRIMARY COME ABOUT? Brian Kemp, the Secretary of State in Georgia, collaborated with other southern Secretaries of State in hopes of getting more southern states to hold their primaries on the same day. Kemp succeeded in getting Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma to join Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia on the list of southern states voting on Super Tuesday. As the National Review’s Eliana Johnson writes, Kemp’s goal was to increase the influence southern states have on the nominating process, forcing candidates to pay attention to the south rather than ignoring the region in favor of more delegate-rich states in other parts of the country.
HOW WILL THE SEC PRIMARY IMPACT EACH PARTY’S RACE? Kemp’s plan seems to have worked for the most part. Super Tuesday now has a decidedly southern feel, and the makeup of the calendar has had a major impact on certain candidates’ strategies. Ted Cruz, for instance, is all but staking his entire campaign on a strong finish in the SEC, where his platform is tailored to the most conservative voters in the country. There’s one catch, however, on the GOP side: Moving primary dates is a complicated process that requires sign-off from the Republican National Committee. In exchange for allowing the extra southern states to move their primaries, the RNC mandated that all states with primaries between March 1 and March 14 award their delegates proportionately, rather than via the winner-take-all method, which raises each candidate’s stakes in a given states. Click here for a breakdown of the RNC’s delegate rules. The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson also wrote this in-depth piece on the SEC primary’s origins last May. The SEC Primary could also have a big impact on the Democratic race. The region’s heavy concentration of African-American voters on the Democratic side is good news for Hillary Clinton, who leads Bernie Sanders in polls of 10 of the 12 states voting between March 1 and March 8. Winning the lion’s share of the delegates at stake Super Tuesday could allow Clinton to halt Sanders’ momentum before he becomes an even more serious threat than he’s already become.