Thursday, April 21, 2016

EDITORIAL: N.J. presidential primaries may finally matter

Believe it or not, the June 7 primary in New Jersey could actually have some bearing on who ultimately becomes president of the United States.

New Jersey and California are among six states that are holding the final state presidential primaries. The only later contest is the District of Columbia’s June 14 primary.

This is a rare opportunity for New Jersey, which has regularly been a nonfactor in determining presidential nominees. According to Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray, this is likely the first time in the state’s history that its primary could have an impact on the presidential primary process.

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On the Republican side, Donald Trump can’t wrap up the nomination before California, New Jersey and the four other states vote June 7. In New Jersey, the GOP primary should have added interest and draw more media attention because of the controversy surrounding Gov. Chris Christie’s support for Donald Trump, whom he regularly hammered during his failed bid for the nomination. On the Democratic side, it’s likely Hillary Clinton won’t be able to clinch the nomination before June 7, although rival Bernie Sanders has a major uphill fight in overcoming her advantage with delegates and superdelegates.

New Jersey traditionally has been among the last states to hold its presidential primary. The one exception was in 2008, when it was one of several states to move its election up in the primary calendar. But it was expensive to have separate presidential and local and state primaries, and state political leaders said they wanted to avoid violating party rules that discourage primaries before March, so a change back to June was made in 2012.

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As a result, once again party nominations were determined long before New Jersey voters have had a chance to express their preference. Not only has that meant that voters’ party preferences haven’t mattered, but New Jersey has largely been off the radar of candidates’ campaigns. When candidates showed their faces in New Jersey it was generally only to tap into the reservoir of wealth of the state’s deep-pocketed campaign donors.

With New Jersey and its delegates now in play, the state may finally receive some serious attention from the candidates.

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Voters who have declared a party affiliation had until last week to change their preference if they wanted to vote in their party’s primary in June. But in New Jersey, almost half of the state’s nearly 5.5 million registered voters have no party affiliation. Those voters are eligible to vote in the June 7 primary if they declare their affiliation at the polling place that day.

Some people may have had their fill of the nastiness that has characterized the Democratic primary in recent weeks, and of some of the outlandishness that has been on display by some of the Republican presidential candidates. But New Jerseyans should seize this unique opportunity to have a say in who will occupy the White House.

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