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Presidential races don't value state, group says Case made to return to an early primary

by The Associated Press // Published November 30, 2005 in The Aberdeen News

PIERRE - A report by a nonpartisan group says the days when South Dakota mattered in presidential races are gone, and a state senator says that makes a case for the return of the state's early presidential primary.

''There's really no reason for anyone to come here the way things are,'' said Sen. Ben Nesselhuf, D-Vermillion.

The report, ''Who Picks the President,'' was written by the group FairVote. It examined how much money was spent and how many visits the candidates for president and vice president made during the final five weeks of the 2004 campaign.

South Dakota was one of several states with no visits or spending, the study said.

''South Dakota is completely ignored,'' FairVote chairman and former Illinois Republican U.S. Rep. John Anderson said.

Nesselhuf said he remembers seeing then-Illinois Sen. Paul Simon campaign in South Dakota in 1988, when the state's primary was in February.

''At least when we had an early primary, in February, candidates stopped here,'' Nesselhuf said. ''I remember going to see Paul Simon ... it was a defining moment, to actually see a presidential candidate.''

Nesselhuf said he thinks the early primary paid dividends and that the June state primary is too late to attract candidates.

State Rep. Tom Hills, R-Spearfish, said he doesn't think South Dakota will go back to the early primary.

He said several presidential contenders visited Black Hills State University while he was a political science professor there, including former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, then-vice president George Bush and former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado.

Hills said FairVote's conclusion that the state isn't a player in presidential politics is probably right but that changing back would be difficult.

''The only other thing, and something I'd like to see, would be if we had a regional primary, like South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Nebraska. Then I think people would show up. If you put enough of us in the same kettle, then I think they'd be interested,'' Hills said.

South Dakota had February presidential primaries in 1988, 1992 and 1996. The election's cost of about $400,000 helped persuade lawmakers to go back to the June primary.