Early presidential nominating contests have given states like Iowa and New Hampshire prestige, national attention, and great political significance, but how much is that really worth?
While White House hopefuls and the swarm of reporters who cover them spend millions during primary season, promises candidates make to win over voters can be worth much more, as evidenced by support for federal rules on ethanol that have created a guaranteed market for Iowa corn growers.
Georgia, a battleground state, now has an opportunity to reap those kinds of economic benefits.
The Democratic National Committee is giving it a chance to move ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire on the party’s recently revamped calendar, but only if the Republicans who control Georgia agree and move their primary date to 2024. Politics is risky, so advocates appeal to potential financial gains, instead arguing that early primaries would be an economic boon.
An early primary could add $1.12 billion to Georgia’s economy, according to a new economic impact report prepared by economist Tom Smith of the Emory University Goizueta School of Business in Atlanta, who has studied the economic impact of major events. sports and culture in local economies.
The 26-page report, commissioned by Democrats and first shared with NBC News, estimates that a field of 12 candidates would generate $220 million in direct campaign, PAC and media spending, from TV ads and member salaries. from staff to hotels, automobiles. , office rentals and event spaces for additional businesses for restaurants, caterers and more.
“It is hard to overstate what a game changer the $9 million-plus inflow that Athens could win from a previous primary would represent for the business community,” said David Bradley, executive director of the Athens Chamber of Commerce, citing the estimated spending of the report. for the college town northeast of Atlanta. «The spate of campaign visits will bring a flurry of spending and attention to Main Street businesses that are the heart of Athens’ local economy.»
But the biggest benefit to the state could come from shaping the policies of whoever wins in 2024.
“It is a state very rich in delegates. It is an oscillating state. So I think to win the presidency, Georgia will have to win,» said Smith, the author of the economic report. “What could happen if a president decides to reward the state through a set of policies?”
A generation of presidential candidates from both parties in Iowa have vowed to support a renewable fuel standard that requires gasoline to be blended with ethanol, which is produced from corn, much of which comes from Iowa farms.
And the pressure on presidential candidates in Nevada, which has held its third nominating contest since 2008, has helped keep the Yucca Mountain empty nuclear waste repository, despite the fact that billions of dollars have been invested in a federal project to do the opposite.
Former President Donald Trump supported the Yucca Mountain project for years before abruptly reversed course days before the 2020 Nevada caucuses, despite running unopposed for the Republican nomination, while seeking to win the state in the general election. “Nevada, I hear you at Yucca Mountain and my Administration WILL RESPECT you!” Triumph tweeted.
For Georgia, that could mean more federal funding for the Port of Savannah, one of the largest in the country, more incentives for the state’s burgeoning EV battery manufacturing industry, less regulation on fintech firms clustered around Atlanta and more favorable trade policies. for the state’s main agricultural exports, according to the report.
“In addition to the boom in economic activity that an early Savannah primary would generate, I am also optimistic that it would bring more attention to our bustling port and hopefully secure some additional commitments and investment,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said. a democrat.
Instead of admiring the cornfields in Iowa or the machining plants in New Hampshire, candidates might praise the walnuts and onions of Vidalia in Georgia (although it’s known as the peach state, it’s no longer a major state). U.S. peach growers) or tour one of their giant new electric vehicle plants.
“There is still a lot we can do to grow the industry, especially here in Georgia, one of which is specialized electric vehicle training,” said Kenny Mullins, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union chapter in Atlanta. “The additional exposure we can gain by becoming part of the early presidential primary calendar could be a really defining moment.”
Georgia Republicans, however, have no interest in complying with the orders of the DNC or President Joe Biden, particularly after Biden became the first Democrat to win Georgia since 1992.
But early-primary advocates hope the promise of more jobs and investment will win over Gov. Brian Kemp, Republican lawmakers and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who ultimately sets the date for the state’s primary and has said he would love to move up in the Georgia primary, in 2028, not next year.
“Georgia Republicans pride ourselves on our business-friendly policies that grow the economy, create jobs and attract more investment to our state,” said Josh Gregory, former chair of the University of Georgia Campus Republicans. “The economic case for making Georgia an early primary state couldn’t be stronger, and any business-minded conservative should support it.”
In 2020, Georgia held its primary election on June 9, more than four months after Iowa’s nominating contest.
Under the DNC’s new plan, South Carolina’s primary would be on February 3, Nevada on February 6, Georgia would follow on February 13 and Michigan’s primary would be on February 27.
It’s impossible to put a precise price tag on the value of an early primary. And critics of economic impact analyses, which development officials frequently use, say they are often based on optimistic assumptions and inherently unquantifiable valuations.
Some researchers, such as an Iowa State University economist who studied his state’s caucuses in 2008, concluded that the expense «was not as great, I suspect, as most people would suppose.» The first such analysis by an economist at the University of New Hampshire in 2000 came to a similar conclusion: arguing the economic impact of the first state primaries on the country was small but not negligible.
Still, that hasn’t stopped state officials from raising the alarm about lost revenue in Iowa and New Hampshire as they prepare to lose their status in the Democratic primary. Meanwhile, Republicans are sticking to tradition and keeping their primary schedule unchanged for 2024.