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Georgia Pushes For An SEC Presidential Primary


Those of you who are sports fans will hear the letters SEC and think football. It is the Southeastern Conference, home to Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss - 14 schools in all. It is, many argue, the nation's best college football conference. We won't settle that here. It's fast-paced with strong characters and even stronger regional flavor. But this story is not about sports. It's about politics and a drive to bring the SEC brand to next year's presidential race in the form of a big, Southern primary. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This is college football SEC style.


ROD BRAMBLETT: And Chris Davis takes it in the back of the end zone. He'll run it out to the 10, 15, 20...

GONYEA: It's hard to deny that they know how to put on a show.


BRAMBLETT: Forty-five, 50, 45 - here goes Davis.


BRAMBLETT: Davis is going to run it all the way back. Auburn's going to win the football game. Auburn's going to win the football game.

GONYEA: That's Auburn announcer Rod Bramblett with an epic call of his team's upset of top-ranked Alabama in 2013. Georgia is also an SEC state. And at the risk of making a mere politician follow that play-by-play, we now go to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who thinks it's time the South gets off the sidelines when it comes to presidential primary campaigns.

BRIAN KEMP: I think I was just riding down the road one day thinking about presidential politics, and I just kind of came up with this idea about us having a regional primary in the South.

GONYEA: Other than South Carolina, which goes very early, and Florida, which votes soon after that, the rest of the South has generally been a bystander, too late to really influence the process. Kemp says no more.

KEMP: I thought it'd be a good idea just to call it, quote, "the SEC primary" to raise awareness to what we were trying to do down here. And that's really where the whole idea came from.

GONYEA: The date for this SEC primary would be March 1, likely putting it in the first month of voting. Big, multi-state primary days are nothing new. Each election season seems to have a Super Tuesday with a huge pile of delegates at stake. This one might not be as big, but the focus would very much be the South.

The lineup is still fluid - Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi seem sure things. The final mix could include Tennessee and maybe Arkansas and maybe even Florida and Texas. The University of Arkansas's Janine Parry notes that her state is used to going very late in the process.

JANINE PARRY: The consequence has been that, at least when it comes to the presidential nomination process, we simply haven't mattered much.

GONYEA: That's because the nomination is locked up by the time of the Arkansas primary. But Parry adds going earlier carries no guarantee of instant clout. She says in 2008, Arkansas did that. But...

PARRY: The minute we moved, of course, lots of other states moved, so we weren't as consequential as we'd hoped. And we also put out an extra $2 million for the primary.

GONYEA: One thing a so-called SEC primary would do, at least on the Republican side, is put the focus on the most conservative region of the country. That could be good for family values conservatives, perhaps Rick Santorum, the former senator who did well in the South four years ago. Or maybe it'd help former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, should he get in the race. Here's Brian Kemp.

KEMP: You know, and I'm not really sold on the fact that it's going to help a certain person.

GONYEA: Getting back to football for a moment, the Georgia secretary of state even suggests other regions might think about following suit.

KEMP: I mean, there's nothing that would keep Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, some of those Midwest states, to band together right now and say, hey, let's go a week after the Southern primary. I mean, you're talking about a gauntlet of having the SEC primary and then go to the Big 10 primary. I mean, that'd be a pretty neat run to watch.

GONYEA: But for now, the SEC primary is still taking shape. And we won't know till game day 2016 if it lives up to the hype.


BRAMBLETT: There goes Davis.


BRAMBLETT: Davis is going to run it all the way back. Auburn's going to win the football game. Auburn's going to win the football game. He ran the missed field goal back. He ran it back 109 yards. They're not going to keep them off the field tonight. Holy cow.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.