How the new 2020 primary schedule gives Beto and Kamala a critical boost

It's called home-field advantage, and it's about to become a very big deal

Beto ORourke and Kamala Harris.
(Image credit: Illustrated | REUTERS/Mike Segar, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons, jessicahyde/iStock)

When Marco Rubio was humiliated in the 2016 Florida Republican presidential primary by eventual nominee and ongoing international scourge Donald Trump, he was the first serious GOP candidate to lose a home-state primary since George H.W. Bush lost Texas to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The longstanding home turf primary advantage held by presidential candidates is one of the main reasons that the new 2020 schedule — with California and Texas now voting on the enormous March 3rd Super Tuesday — may give a decisive early advantage to two Democratic hopefuls: Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Texas). And because of Democratic primary rules, it might be hard for anyone else in the field to catch them.

How strong is the home state advantage? In 1988, five candidates made it to the Iowa caucuses in the Democratic primary, but by mid-March the race was effectively a three person scrum between Tennessee Sen. Al Gore, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, and South Carolina civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. Yet despite winning no more than 4 percent of the vote in any of the Super Tuesday contests, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon still won his state's March 15th primary, beating Dukakis, the eventual nominee, by 10 points. In 2016, despite being hopelessly buried in the GOP delegate count, Ohio Gov. John Kasich won his Ohio turf, beating Trump by 11 points. And in 2004, both North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean won their states' contests long after they had publicly withdrawn from the race. In other words, home field advantage plays, even well past the point where voters know the ultimate outcome.

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David Faris

David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. He is a frequent contributor to Informed Comment, and his work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Indy Week.