Thursday, Oct. 29, 1998 | 11:31 a.m.
Western states should join together to position the region as the make-or-break primary in the 2000 presidential election, Utah's Gov. Mike Leavitt suggested during Wednesday's first meeting of a state task force.
Leavitt said eight Western states, including Nevada and Utah, would have better leverage in the national political arena and would be better able to attract presidential candidates to discuss the region's issues if they all hold presidential primaries on the same day.
The initial suggestion -- although each of the states' legislatures must approve the idea -- would be to hold a Western election somewhere between the March 7 primaries in delegate-rich California and New York and the Southern states' Super Tuesday election on March 14.
"We potentially set ourselves up as the linchpin primary," Leavitt said, during the meeting at the Sawyer State Office Building. "Whoever it is who comes out of the Western primary will have two wins going into Super Tuesday."
The task force was created by the state Legislature in 1997 to examine the benefits of developing a western presidential primary. Since that time, California, Washington and Oregon have joined to hold a Pacific primary on the same date.
With states nationwide recently moving up their primary date or joining in a regional or multi-state primary, candidates vying for their party's nomination have a shorter time frame in which to get their message across.
In 1996, 70 percent of the delegates were selected by the end of March.
If the Western states joined together, they would have 312 Democratic and 233 Republican delegates -- compared with Iowa's 56 and 25 and New Hampshire's 26 and 16, according to the Western Governor's Association.
The possible Western partners -- Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana -- will meet Nov. 16 and 17 in Salt Lake City to determine a possible date for a 2000 primary.
Leavitt suggested straying from the traditional Tuesday voting day to hold the primary on a Thursday or Saturday.
Secretary of State Dean Heller, who was elected chairman of the committee at Wednesday's meeting, said Nevada officials need to figure out the costs associated with such a primary and whether it will be able to continue with its early-voting service.
In Utah, which currently does not hold a presidential primary, the cost to implement one is expected to be $400,000.
"If that's the price of admission to participate with the candidates to be leader of the free world, then it's worth it," Leavitt said.