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8 Dixie States Plan Same-Day Primary

Times Staff Writer

A Southern regional presidential primary--just a gleam in the eyes of Dixie legislators a few months ago--has passed beyond the conjecture stage and is now an “established fact,” Texas state Senate Democratic leader John Traeger boasted Wednesday.

Traeger, chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference, said that eight Southern and border states have already adopted March 8, 1988, as “Mega Tuesday,” the date for their presidential primaries or caucuses. Among the eight is Missouri, which was not one of the 15 states originally targeted by the conference.

In two other states--Maryland and Virginia--bills supporting an early March regional primary effort have received final legislative approval and are expected to be signed by the governors. Virginia’s caucus would be the same week, but on Saturday, March 12.

W. Virginia in Doubt

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In addition, five more states are safe bets to join the bandwagon, Traeger said.

Only West Virginia remains in doubt, the Texas lawmaker said, adding that the West Virginia House has rejected the proposal but the House Speaker intends to bring it up again.

“The matter of a Southern primary is no longer conjecture,” Traeger said at a news conference in the gold-domed Georgia state Capitol. “It is an established fact. There will be a Southern primary.”

A dozen state legislators--all Democrats--attended the news conference.

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State Sen. Bill Harpole of Mississippi, one of the eight states that have approved the regional primary, added: “You can go back home and gather up your Confederate money, ‘cause the South is going to rise again!”

Diminished Influence

Georgia House Speaker Thomas B. Murphy said that creation of a “Mega Tuesday” regional primary would diminish the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential nominating process and force White House candidates to pay more attention to the South.

“Instead of coming down here in a skip and a jump and talking about God, motherhood and the flag, and then running off up North somewhere, they’re going to have to talk about hard issues” of concern to Southern voters, Murphy said. Among those issues are textiles, agriculture and energy, he added.

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Southern Democrats also believe that a regional primary will enhance prospects that their party will nominate a “center-of-the-road” candidate who would be able to reverse the tide of Democratic voters’ defecting to the GOP side in recent presidential elections.

John Glenn Favored

Asked who the likely Democratic presidential nominee would have been in 1984 if such a regional primary had been in place, legislators from Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas agreed on U.S. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio.

“He’s the kind of candidate this primary would favor,” Traeger said.

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State Senate Majority Leader Kenneth Royall of North Carolina said his state would have done away with presidential primaries if the “Mega Tuesday” proposal had not come along. “There’s no use for us to have a presidential primary the way it’s run now,” he said.

North Carolina has not yet approved the proposal but the proposal has the endorsement of the House Speaker and the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate.

Special-Interest Groups

Mississippi state Rep. Charlie Capps, vice chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference, said the “Mega Tuesday” primary also would diminish the power of special-interest groups in his state over the presidential nominating process.

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The legislators rebuffed suggestions that a regional primary might have some unintended consequences--such as enhancing rather than decreasing the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire, or strengthening the hand of the Rev. Jesse Jackson if he decides on another quest for the White House.

Capps conceded that “nobody knows exactly what will happen.” However, he said: “I believe some good will come out of it for the South and for the country.”

‘Everything Moving South’

“The Sun Belt is the future of America,” Georgia House Speaker Murphy added. “Everything is moving South and will continue to move South.”

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The state-by-state report on the Southern regional primary effort also showed:

--In addition to Missouri and Mississippi, states that have adopted the early March primary date are: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

--Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas have yet to approve the proposal but are strong supporters of the idea.

--In South Carolina, legislation is not required to change the primary date; state party chairmen need only agree upon a date change for it to occur. The state’s Democratic caucuses are set for early March. The GOP caucus will not be determined until next year.

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