Globe Editorial

Scared of Mitt? DNC should keep hands off Mass. primary

April 8, 2011

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FORMER GOVERNOR Mitt Romney should be flattered by national Democrats’ efforts to delay next year’s Massachusetts presidential primary, but the overly clever ploy to undermine moderate Republicans is an insult to everyone who actually votes in the Commonwealth. Secretary of State Bill Galvin and Senate President Therese Murray should stand firm in resisting the idea.

The Globe reported this week that outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and his staff have asked local Democrats, whose party dominates the state Legislature, to consider moving the Massachusetts primary from March 6 to some date later in the spring. The national Democrats have argued, among other things, that letting more conservative states dominate the early phase of the GOP battle would help President Obama’s reelection bid, by increasing the likelihood that he’ll face a hard-line right-winger instead of a relative moderate such as Romney or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

Suppose, for a minute, that the strategy would work as intended: In effect, Democratic National Committee officials are asking Massachusetts legislators to diminish some of their constituents’ influence in national politics, for the sake of hypothetical partisan gains.

But campaigns play out in unpredictable ways. In the last campaign, Massachusetts and other states that wanted to magnify their influence guessed wrong when they rushed to the top of the calendar; the Democratic race dragged on until June.

Plus, changing the rules for partisan ends seems more likely to backfire than not. What’s more likely next year: that delaying the Massachusetts primary will nudge the Republicans to nominate Michele Bachmann, or that the DNC’s machinations here will enhance Romney’s reputation among primary voters in other states? (Memo to Romney: Start cutting those ads now.)

Local Democrats should know all this. In 2004, the Legislature changed state law to keep Romney from appointing a US senator should John Kerry be elected president. Though they modified the process somewhat after Ted Kennedy’s death five years later, the fruit of their efforts was last year’s special Senate election, won by Republican Scott Brown.

None of this is to say there’s any magic to the current primary date, or that the nation’s jury-rigged presidential nominating process couldn’t stand some changes. National Democrats have also pointed to party rules that would reward the state for holding its primaries in a regional cluster — an idea that, in some future campaign, could be a convenience for candidates of both parties.

Moving the 2012 Massachusetts contest would only hamper that discussion. March 6 it is.