(Oklahoma City) When the nation's next presidential election is held in 2004, Oklahoma may be at the center of attention in the primary sweepstakes if State Senator Keith Leftwich gets his way. The South Oklahoma City legislator is drafting legislation that would move the state's presidential primary election into February closer to the beginning of the campaign season.
Sen. Leftwich believes the change would benefit both Oklahoma voters and the state economy.
"By advancing the date of our presidential primary, we can put Oklahoma on the map in the national campaign and give our voters a real voice in the process. An early primary will bring the candidates and the national news media to Oklahoma, boosting our economy and giving Oklahomans a chance to meet the presidential hopefuls face to face. We want our voters to know each future president well and we want each president to know a lot about Oklahoma. A February primary is a win-win proposition for voters and the state," said Sen. Leftwich, majority whip of the State Senate.
Currently, Oklahoma holds its presidential primary during the March "Super Tuesday" primary with several other states around the country. Although "Super Tuesday" was originally designed to increase Oklahoma's visibility in the presidential sweepstakes, the Sooner State has been lost in the shuffle of other higher-profile primary contests that occur on or before that date. As a result, few candidates have visited Oklahoma since it joined the "Super Tuesday" states in 1988 and voter turnout has been lackluster.
"Oklahoma had good intentions with 'Super Tuesday', but it just hasn't worked as we had hoped. Our voters have been an afterthought in the presidential primary process and as a result, they haven't been very excited about participating in it. I want to put our state and its voters on center stage with an early primary. It will generate interest in Oklahoma and increase the likelihood of voters going to the polls to cast a ballot," said Sen. Leftwich.
Under the lawmaker's proposed legislation, Oklahoma's presidential primary would be moved to the first Tuesday that follows the closely watched New Hampshire primary in early February.
Sen. Leftwich acknowledged that other states may also be contemplating an earlier presidential primary, but he doesn't believe that should stop Oklahoma from moving its election day.
"If we can't be the first state, we should at least try to be one of the first. States like South Carolina, for example, have made themselves major players in the election process just by advancing their election date. With a strategic positioning of our primary vote, we can make Oklahoma a 'president maker' instead of an afterthought state. The earlier we schedule our primary, the better for our voters," said Sen. Leftwich.
"This will make Oklahoma a more viable player on the national stage," added Representative John Nance. The Bethany Republican is the House author of the legislation.
The presidential primary bill has been pre-filed for consideration during the 2003 legislative session. Lawmakers will return to the State Capitol for a one-day organizational day on January 7th and begin their full session on February 3rd.