Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Calendar Pieces on the DNCRBC's Board

This post has been updated to account for President Biden's letter giving the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee further direction in finalizing the primary calendar rules. Additions will appear in brackets [ ] below.

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As the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) convenes to determine the last piece of the puzzle that is the party's delegate selection rules for the 2024 cycle, it is helpful to remember that there are some things that the panel can do and some things that they cannot. 

Ultimately, any set of delegate selection rules -- regardless of party -- is a set of guidelines within which state governments and state parties ideally act. But sometimes the ideal is not met and a party ends up with Florida and Michigan in 2008 or Florida and some non-binding caucuses in 2012. And honestly, those are just the calendar headaches. There are a whole host of challenges that come up within state parties' processes and between state parties and the national parties every cycle that either never see the light of day in the news or are dealt with quietly before or during a convention. 

The national parties are set up to deal with these issues, but part of that, at least within the context of the presidential nomination process, is a function of the rules committees being mindful of what they have the power to affect. That is the position in which the DNCRBC finds itself on the cusp of finalizing its early window calendar for the 2024 presidential nomination cycle. They are, to bring up a line FHQ has borrowed/used often in the past, facing a decision over whether to control or manage the nomination process. 

As John Sununu said in addressing the crowd at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference that snowy day in DC, parties are better served when attempting to manage the process rather than control it. And shuffling the beginning of the primary calendar qualifies as an issue that straddles the line of that distinction. Again, if it was easy to make that change, then some one -- some party -- would have altered the beginning of the calendar in some earlier cycle. And it has not been for lack of trying that the calendar has remained largely unchanged. 

States have tried to jump in line. But New Hampshire and Iowa have proven more nimble in protecting their turf. 

The national parties have examined alternatives, but the Price Commission ended up pushing for additions to the early window rather than supplanting the two traditional lead off states. And Republicans jettisoned both the Delaware plan and the Ohio plan at their 2000 and 2008 conventions, respectively.

Against that backdrop, however, the DNCRBC stands on the cusp of maybe shaking things up as 2022 comes to a close. But this is just another step in the process. The DNC (or the RNC for that matter) can make whatever rules they like, but the states react to and within those rules. Well, the states ideally act within those rules. They have not all always done that in the past and state actors may not all follow suit in 2023 as preparation for 2024 ramps up across the board. 

Here are the pieces the DNCRBC is playing with entering their December meeting.

IOWA
By all accounts, Iowa is on the way out in this latest round of DNC rules. The Hawkeye state may be written into Rule 12.A (or its 2024 equivalent) but it is very unlikely to be granted a slot 29 days before the first Tuesday in March as it has over the last several cycles. And it may be written out of the rule and thus the early window entirely. But the question may be less about whether Iowa is in those rules in some capacity and more about how Iowa Democrats react to any changes. 

The state party could lean on state law and merely follow state Republicans to whatever position they carve out for themselves at the beginning of the Republican process. But that likely will not be an easy sell with the DNCRBC when the state Democratic Party has to submit, defend and implement a delegate selection plan. That is even more true if Democrats in the state legislature make no moves -- futile though they may ultimately be with majority Republicans in control -- to attempt to move to a presidential primary election. No, that is not going to happen at all, but if Iowa Democrats are to defend themselves against potential sanctions from the DNCRBC, then they will have to take some demonstrable steps toward making a change. Sure, holding a party-run primary -- uh, caucus(-in-name-only) -- with open access is a good start, but not if the caucuses are held against DNC rules at the head of the line. 

In other words, just going with the flow (of tradition, not to mention Iowa Republicans) and thumbing their noses at the DNC is not a winning pitch. It would give the DNCRBC good reason to test out its new sanctions cutting off incentives for candidates to go anywhere near Iowa. Democrats in the state may hold caucuses, but it will be a largely meaningless, candidate-less sort of Ames Straw Poll on the Democratic side. Look, Iowa's results are already discounted in the current Democratic process. Going-first-at-all-costs is not going to make that better. 

The DNCRBC, then, seems to be on pretty firm ground with respect to dealing with most Iowa problems that may arise after the early calendar is set.

[Biden's letter more or less confirmed Iowa's caucuses were headed for the exits in the Democratic process. No, that correspondence did not call Iowa by name, but seemed to be the death knell for caucuses overall on the Democratic side. Reporting alongside the letter revelations confirmed the Biden team had nixed the Hawkeye state from its preferred early state targets.]


NEVADA
Making a strong push to replace Iowa as the first-in-the-nation contest is Nevada. The Silver state, based on the criteria created by the DNCRBC for this process, makes a strong case. There is diversity in the electorate. There is a small-ish media market in a smaller state that lends itself to the sorts of retail politics that both parties continue to value. There is (general election) competitiveness statewide. And an early Nevada contest is, most importantly, entirely feasible. Nevada has been in the early window since the 2008 cycle, has shifted to a primary (over the old caucuses that are out of vogue in the Democratic process) and it is already scheduled for an early date. The first Tuesday in February is just one day behind where Iowa has held its caucuses in the last two cycles. 

But the question is not really whether Nevada Democrats can fill the Iowa void and check all of the DNCRBC's boxes in the process. They can. Instead, the question is what other states do once Nevada is there. That and how the DNCRBC acts in response to those moves. 

It is possible, likely even, that Nevada Democrats leave this upcoming DNCRBC meeting having secured the top spot on the 2024 primary calendar in the rules. But that is a different matter than suggesting that Nevada will be the first contest once 2024 rolls around. 

Let's put a pin in that for a moment. 

[The reporting on the Biden team's thinking has suggested that Nevada and New Hampshire may be paired  (in the rules) if not on the same date on the calendar behind South Carolina, then during the same week. Nevada, of course, will now have a Republican governor who may be more concerned with the date relative to the Republican process. Nevada's current law sets the date of the newly established presidential primary for the first Tuesday in February, a date that is not compliant with RNC rules. Something will have to give if there is to remain just one consolidated presidential primary for both parties. That may mean one side opting into a compliant caucus, a compromise that funds to separate primary elections (one for each party) or a stalemate that preserves the status quo date and set up and leaves the state parties to figure out how to comply with national party rules.]


MICHIGAN
Yes, legislation to move the Michigan presidential primary to the second Tuesday in February -- a week after the current Nevada primary date -- recently glided through the state Senate. Yes, the midterms were good to the Great Lakes state in this context in that Democrats will now harness all the levers of power behind the setting of the presidential primary date. And yes, Michigan is seen as a suitable, more competitive, more diverse Midwestern state in Iowa. 

But Michigan has one mark against it that Minnesota Democrats, vying for a similar spot, have raised in recent days: it is too big, and too delegate-rich and too media market expensive as a result. That means that while Michigan may be in a good position to snag an early window spot -- replacing Iowa -- it may not be in line to claim the first spot on the calendar that Iowa has held for half a century. 

Sentiment still exists on the DNCRBC to ease into primary season with smaller states, giving all candidates a chance to compete and succeed. Take long time South Carolina DNC member, Carol Fowler:
“We have always put in the pre-window calendar smaller states, and we’ve done that for good reasons,” said Carol Fowler, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee from South Carolina. “If Michigan had been in an early state, I’m not sure President Carter would have ever been president. I think Barack Obama benefited from having small states up front. I think it’s so helpful for a good strong candidate who is not well-funded yet.”
Or Ken Martin, the Minnesota DFL chair and DNCRBC member: 
In particular, Martin noted the number of delegates Michigan has, which correlates to the state’s population and Democratic vote share. The Minnesota party chair called it “too large for inclusion in the early state process,” noting that Michigan’s 139 delegates to the 2024 convention would be nearly as many delegates as the combined total from all three other current early states: New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. 
“With so many delegates being awarded to Michigan, it is easy to see future candidates skipping the rest of the early states altogether — to focus on a prize that delivers nearly as many delegates as all other early states combined,” Martin wrote. “This result would negate the expressed purpose [sic] of our early state strategy.”
Now, Martin is representing Minnesota here (and the overall process, too), but he is also fighting for the same spot Michigan is. But he is right and the tell about Michigan's place in the pecking order is in the description of candidates skipping states to focus on delegate-rich Michigan. Sure, strategically speaking, candidates may be wowed by the delegates at stake in Michigan, but there is no guarantee that any one candidate will net a big advantage coming out of the state. Nevertheless, that traditional sentiment exists which means that Michigan may make it into the early window, but that it would be toward the end before Super Tuesday. 

[Michigan got the nod from the Biden team to be the Iowa replacement. No, it will not be the first contest, but the Great Lakes state appears poised to be added to the back half of the early window]


MINNESOTA 
Minnesota is in the conversation mainly because of the above, but the following hovers over even that:
“It does change the calculus,” a Democrat with knowledge of the discussions among national party leaders who requested anonymity to speak freely said after Michigan Democrats claimed a trifecta in the governor’s office and the two legislative chambers. “Michigan jumps over Minnesota, it’s just that simple. Minnesota was the fallback. Michigan is a key state.”
Unless the last-ditch "Michigan is too big" effort succeeds, then Minnesota is on the outside looking in on the Great Lakes state in this one. But perhaps it works and Minnesota replaces Iowa up front and the two bookend a five state early window. It is possible, but not probable.

[Minnesota was, in fact, the fallback option as the Midwestern replacement for Iowa.]


SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina Democrats have seemingly been in "don't rock the boat" mode for much of this process. Sure, there are more competitive southern states with large African American communities, but Georgia, while occasionally mentioned as a possible early state, did not mimic Michigan in the midterms. In the Peach state, it is the secretary of state who sets the date of the presidential primary. And Brad Raffensperger (R) won reelection in November. Plus, if Iowa gets the axe, tossing another state enshrined in the Republican process may be biting off more than the DNCRBC can chew. It would invite too much chaos between the two parties' processes. 

South Carolina already has two quiet factors in its favor. Jamie Harrison, the DNC chair, once chaired the Democratic Party in the Palmetto state for starters. And if Rep. Jim Clyburn (D) has any remaining chits to cash in with the president after his valuable pre-primary endorsement of Biden in 2020, then his voice may carry weight in this process as well.
But House Majority Whip Clyburn, the dean of South Carolina Democrats and a close ally of Biden, said he would not oppose Michigan’s bid to enter the pre-window as long as it does not overshadow South Carolina and other Southern states that vote on Super Tuesday. 
“If it’s Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, that’s almost ideal to me,” he said, though he cautioned that New Hampshire’s law could hinder efforts to put it behind Nevada. He said he was also open to New Hampshire and Nevada going on the same day.
Clyburn is mindful of the impact the South Carolina results have had on southern-tinged Super Tuesdays of the past. The majority African American constituency in South Carolina has signaled other similar states in the region in a number of past cycles. 

There may be a minor shuffle of sorts for South Carolina, but the Palmetto state looks to be secure in their first-in-the-South status for 2024.

[For the state that changed the trajectory of Biden's push for the 2020 nomination, the proposed changes represent both a minor shuffle and a major change. South Carolina's proposed shift from the fourth slot to the top is minor on the surface. But it would be a major frontloading of an African American constituency that has been the bedrock of the Democratic coalition for longer than Iowa has been the first state in the party's primary order. That is no small thing. 

As for the logistics of such a move, South Carolina is in the fortunate position of having long ago normalized separate presidential primaries for both parties. There are no start-up financial costs to this. Unlike, say, Nevada above, South Carolina Democrats have an ease of movement that nearly every other state does not. As such, a South Carolina Democratic primary in the first slot does not threaten Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire in the same way that any other primary state would. This was a part of the calculus when South Carolina was added to the early state roster for the 2008 cycle. And that has been a major part of why the Palmetto state is third in the Republican order and has been fourth on the Democratic side. It is also, in retrospect, a component of why the Biden team settled on South Carolina for the top slot. With divided government in Nevada after the 2022 elections, changing the rules in the Silver state to accommodate both Democratic and Republican processes got more difficult. And oddly enough, the shift from caucuses to a primary -- which the DNC prefers -- may have cost Nevada Democrats some ease of movement in this context.]


[GEORGIA
The Peach state has been mentioned as a possible addition to the early window in various reporting on the. DNCRBC's calendar deliberations over the course of the last year or so. But it always seemed like that chatter was on the fringe. Perhaps those were Biden insiders who kept bring Georgia up. That would make some sense.

Nevertheless, shifting Georgia into an early window position on the calendar is easier said than done as referenced in the South Carolina section above. Yes, Secretary Raffensperger (R), under law, has a fairly significant amount of latitude in setting the date of the Georgia presidential primary. There is a wide window from early January to mid-June in which he can schedule the contest. But Raffensperger has two major problems in aiding national Democrats in their wishes for an early window Georgia primary. First, there are RNC rules that would strip the Peach state Republican delegation of around 85 percent of its members -- a significant deterrent -- if the primary is before March 1. Additionally, the law does not allow the secretary to schedule two separate contests to accommodate both Democratic and Republican calendars. Perhaps, Georgia Democrats could lobby Raffensperger to exploit the loophole in RNC rules and move the primary to the Saturday before Super Tuesday on March 5. That would place Georgia just inside the backend of the early window in the Democratic process and still be compliant with Republican rules. With unified Democratic control, Michigan will not have to utilize that loophole. There is a freedom of movement there that Georgia does not have (although it would put Michigan Republicans in jeopardy with the RNC.]


NEW HAMPSHIRE
Okay. Let's return to that pin from Nevada. 

If Michigan is likely to be slotted into a later early window spot and not the state most likely to threaten Nevada's ascent to the top of the calendar, then New Hampshire probably is. And New Hampshire may not pose any threat to Nevada at or coming out of this next DNCRBC meeting.

Again, Nevada Democrats may leave this meeting having secured the top slot under the new DNC rules. But the state may not end up first on the primary calendar when the votes start getting cast in 2024. The DNCRBC theoretically has a leg to stand on in dealing with Iowa. If the state party there crosses the DNC rules without having made some effort at remedying the situation (e.g.: proposing at a minimum legislation to shift the Hawkeye state to a primary), then they are unlikely to be able to avert national party sanctions. 

That, in turn, neuters Iowa, leaving Nevada and New Hampshire to spar for the first position. 

First of all, as the laws in both states stand now, New Hampshire is better able to move at a moment's notice. There is no official date until the secretary of state in the Granite state sets one. And that decision has been made as late as the week of Thanksgiving (in 2007 ahead of an early January primary). On the other hand, Nevada's date is set: the first Tuesday in February. The legislature there can change that date, but it tends to adjourn for the year in June. There could be a special session, but that seems unlikely. Governor-elect Lombardo (R) is not likely to call any such session for that purpose and the legislature does not have supermajority Democratic control (in the state Senate) to call such a session themselves. That avenue, then, is a dead end. 

Alternatively, the legislature during its 2023 session could cede the authority to set the date of the presidential primary. But mimicking New Hampshire and testing the limits of that move for the first time in a manner that is acceptable to election officials in the state with decreasing time and who will also be implementing a presidential primary for the first time is not exactly a recipe for success. It could happen, but the climb is steep

But what about the DNCRBC? If they can penalize Iowa, then they can penalize New Hampshire too. Maybe, but the conditions are different in the two states despite the fact that they have been lumped together in this process for 50 years. 

New Hampshire has been able to pull off consecutive, non-controversial primaries for several cycles now. Iowa cannot make that claim.

New Hampshire Democrats really have their hands tied on this matter. They are (happily) along for the ride. There is little the state Democratic Party can do if the secretary of state sets the date of the primary for some time that is earlier than and not compliant with DNC rules. Yes, there is a Republican in that position now, but that could change next week when the legislature selects the secretary of state. There is a Democratic challenger, but the legislature remains in Republican control.

New Hampshire could perhaps show demonstrable steps taken to remedy the situation by shifting to a caucus or party-run primary and scheduling it for later. But while that may fix the scheduling conflict, it runs against where the DNC is subtly pushing states: toward government-run primaries. And that may create new problems with implementing a new party-run process. Potentially making it harder for Democrats to vote in New Hampshire is also a dangerous path considering how competitive the state is and how valuable it is to Democrats' electoral college calculus. 

Together, those factors bode well for New Hampshire Democrats winning a later waiver from the DNCRBC than the exemptions to be written into the delegate selection rules now. Again, New Hampshire Democrats hands will have been tied and all routes to remedies cut off. Those are the conditions under which waivers are granted (by rule).

[Even after the Biden letter and the updated New Hampshire positioning underlying it, the Granite state outlook remains unchanged. It is unique in all of this because of the actors involved. Democrats there will be stuck with whatever date the secretary of state selects. And that will likely be before all the states but Iowa in the Republican order.]

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Regardless of how this DNCRBC meeting comes out in DC, New Hampshire may once again rise to the top of the heap. The DNCRBC may win some points now for placing Nevada, for example, first, but it may take flak later if New Hampshire ends up in first again anyway without it being penalized. But in the end, the DNCRBC has to follow DNC rules. [Again, with South Carolina and not Nevada proposed in that first slot, there is still some jockeying to be done. But unlike Nevada, South Carolina's primaries split between parties provides a bit more wiggle room.]

And that is the trick in managing a presidential nomination system and not trying to control it. 


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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Michigan Senate Passes Bill Moving Presidential Primary to February

The Michigan State Senate on Tuesday passed SB 1207, a simple measure that would move the presidential primary in the state from the second Tuesday in March up to the second Tuesday in February.

While significant in the context of the pending changes the Democratic National Committee may make to the 2024 presidential primary calendar this week -- including a potential addition of Michigan to the early window -- this near-unanimous vote of the Republican-controlled Senate is likely symbolic.1 It was little more than a bipartisan show ahead of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting starting on December 1. 

That is not to say that Michigan legislators are not serious about helping to ease the state's presidential primary to a more prime position on the calendar, but there are a few moving parts here that should be accounted for. 

First, the Senate vote comes in the waning days of the 2021-22 legislative session. Now, strange things can happen as sessions come to a close -- including the expedited consideration of legislation -- but there are just a handful of days left in the state House session. One day this week and three more next week are it.

Second, Sen. Wayne Schmidt's (R-37th) legislation was discharged from the Elections Committee on the same day it passed with no committee hearing preceding it since it was introduced in October. And simple though this bill may be -- it is a one page bill -- it is one that could benefit from increased scrutiny. For starters, elections officials might like to chime in, as they always do, on how the new date would affect filing deadlines and their general timeline for elections. And it is also worth noting that Republicans supported this bill but stand to lose a lot if the Michigan presidential primary ends up on the second Tuesday in February. A Republican primary in that position would violate Republican National Committee rules and decrease the Michigan delegation to the 2024 convention by more than three-quarters

Michigan may get a go-ahead from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to hold an earlier primary in their meeting this week, but there will be some Michigan-specific factors that will have to be considered in scheduling an early window primary. One option is to mirror what South Carolina does and hold those primaries on separate days. That is one avenue, but it would be an expensive one, and one that is not common among states with government-run primaries. South Carolina is the exception rather than the rule. Michigan is also a much bigger and more expensive state. 

Alternatively, Michigan Republicans could simply opt out of the presidential primary and conduct a primary or caucus on their own. But that is expensive as well and party coffers are tougher to fill than those of the state governments. Plus, that money is often better used elsewhere. Of course, the new Democratic unified government in the Great Lakes state could also force the hands of state Republicans by going with the mid-February date in SB 1207 anyway. That would force Republicans to forge ahead with the new date on the hopes that a waiver might successfully be won, or push them to a later and compliant caucus. And a waiver could work, although that would have implications for the scheduling of other early contests that the Republicans set in stone before 2016 (and have carried over in subsequent cycles). 

Granted, there is a third route that would work for all parties concerned. A loophole in RNC rules would allow for the Michigan primary to be scheduled as early as March 1 without penalty from the RNC. A Saturday, March 2 primary would fall in the early window on the Democratic calendar right before Super Tuesday and also be compliant -- or unpenalized -- under Republican rules. 

But that is a great deal to hash out, and typically states -- either governments or parties -- tend to wait until after the two major parties have finalized the rules before making decisions on when to schedule their primary elections or caucuses. Yes, that has typically been done by now in the process. The DNC is a little late this cycle. 

With that step in place after the early December DNCRBC meeting, the new Michigan legislature -- one controlled by Democrats -- will likely look to put its own stamp on whatever the DNC hands down in terms of overarching guidelines. 

But for now, this vote on SB 1207 was a show vote to demonstrate to national players that Michigan is ready to be early. And if one has followed along with the various calendar machinations over time, Michigan is not an unfamiliar character. 


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1 Assistant Majority Caucus Chair Jim Rundestad (R-15th) was the lone dissenting vote. Two Democrats and one other Republican were excused.


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Katon Dawson, is that you? Iowa Republican Threatens Halloween 2023 Caucuses

Few likely will get the reference, but Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa chair, inadvertently or not, stepped into a time machine when he recently suggested moving the party's 2024 caucuses to Halloween 2023.

The players in 2007 were different, but the intent, then as now, was largely similar: to protect a privileged position in the early window of the presidential primary calendar. Then, in the face of Florida shifting its primary for the 2008 cycle into January, South Carolina Republican Party chair, Katon Dawson, gave a similar warning in signaling his desire to keep the status of the Republican primary in the Palmetto state first-in-the-South.

But Dawson's threat was nearly as hyperbolic as Kaufmann's is now. In neither case was (or is) it necessary to push a nominating contest into the year before the presidential election -- much less as far into it as Halloween -- to protect the carve-out status afforded either state. Of course, Dawson was trying to maintain the first slot granted a southern state, not the top overall spot on the calendar. And Florida's striking move was, in the end, the only such push by a rival southern state to South Carolina's position. 

Outside of that, however, the conditions are similar in Iowa now. In both cases there are (and were) separate Democratic and Republican contests run by the state parties and not the state government.1 And that is no small thing. It provides decision makers in similar states the latitude to move when the calendar rules of both national parties are not aligned or when threats arise from other states. 

South Carolina Republicans -- and Democrats, for that matter -- did not have to move ahead of all rogue or potentially rogue states in 2007. They just had to move to a slot ahead of the next earliest, southern state. And Florida, because of its early state legislative session, had made its move for 2008 by May 2007. That gave Republicans in the Palmetto state time to react and move accordingly. Now, 2007 was a particularly chaotic cycle in terms of how the primary calendar evolved and ultimately shook out. It was not completely clear after May whether the Florida threat would sustain itself (depending on what the national parties did in response) or if other states would crash the party as well. 

There were a lot of moving parts in 2007 that are not necessarily present in 2022-23. Democrats ahead of the 2004 cycle attempted to quicken the pace of the nomination process by moving the beginning of their window -- the window in which non-exempt states could hold contests -- from March to February. That was enough to get some states to shift into February for 2004, but the full onslaught did not occur until the next cycle. And that rush was so pronounced with active nomination races in both parties that some states -- Florida among them -- considered pushing even further ahead, contra national party rules. There was an abundance of chaos, sure, but there was even more uncertainty

So, while Dawson's threat was hyperbolic at the time, it also had the effect of laying down a marker for how far South Carolina Republicans were willing to go to protect their first-in-the-South status amid that uncertainty. 

One already knows Iowa Republicans would mount some effort to protect their position. The Republican National Committee has already enshrined Iowa as the first state in its rules for 2024. Kaufmann faces no such uncertainty in 2022-23. That is not to suggest that everything is crystal clear. It is not. However, there is no expected rush to the front of the 2024 queue (at this time). Look, the national parties have been here before. They sat through calendar chaos in 2007, and tweaked their rules (mostly on the Republican side) for 2012 only to see it happen again. Republicans upped their penalties for 2016. And Democrats strengthened their rules for 2024. Those wagons have been circled.

Yes, national Democrats are on the cusp of perhaps shuffling the early window on their primary calendar. That may affect Iowa Democrats, but that has no bearing on Iowa Republican's ability to stay first on the Republican presidential primary calendar (see above on separate scheduling). And Iowa Republicans will not have to push all the way to Halloween 2023 to do that. January maybe, but not 2023.

Even if the DNC gives the green light to Nevada to go first, the collateral damage will be pretty limited. The newly established presidential primary in the Silver state is currently slated for February 6. And if one assumes that the Republican secretary of state in New Hampshire shifts the Granite state primary to a week before that, in accordance with state law, then Iowa Republicans would only have to shift to the Monday eight days before that. 

That looks something like this (from the 2024 primary calendar as it exists at the time of this writing):


I get it. Kaufmann is trying to grab attention, lay down his marker and tweak state Democrats for not better protecting their status in the Democratic process. And he knows this. National Democrats are not playing a game of chicken with him and Iowa Republicans. The fact remains that Iowa Republicans just aren't that likely -- barring a massive unforeseen movement among state actors to go rogue -- to have to hold Halloween caucuses in order to protect their first position on the 2024 Republican presidential primary calendar. 


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1 That has subsequently changed in South Carolina. The separate Democratic and Republican primaries are both funded and run by the state government. 


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Friday, November 4, 2022

Democrats' 2024 Calendar Shake Up Hinges on Midterms

Of all of the things that are top of mind for those following the 2022 midterm elections set to conclude on Tuesday, November 8 -- much less those who have and will vote -- the 2024 presidential primary calendar is likely not one of them. Sure, the 2024 invisible primary has been going on since at least November 2020, but that does not mean that anyone earnestly wants to dig into the next election before the current one is even over. 

However, like a great many things, the 2024 presidential primary calendar will be affected by the outcomes of the midterm elections taking place across the United States. In a typical cycle, that would mean that gubernatorial and state legislative elections may impact where any given state may end up on subsequent presidential primary calendars. But this is not a typical cycle. In a typical cycle, FHQ would wait for the dust to settle on those state legislative elections, see where the out-party gained control and begin assessing where primary date changes are more likely. 

But again, unlike, say, the 2010 or 2014 or 2018 midterms, 2022 is not typical with respect to the formation and completion of the next presidential primary calendar. Yes, this midterm will impact state legislative control, and in turn, affect which states may or may not move as new sessions begin in 2023. But there is an added wrinkle in 2022 that has not been there in past cycles during the post-reform era. Unlike the half century of presidential nomination cycles before it, the 2024 cycle will push through the midterms without both major parties having completed their guidance for states to finalize their delegate selection processes. 

And the place where that guidance is lacking at the moment is on the Democratic side. The Republican National Committee long ago signaled that it would make no significant changes to its rules for 2024 and subsequently carried the bulk of their rules over to the current cycle when the September 30 (2022) deadline for making changes to the national rules came and went with little fanfare. And likewise, the Democratic National Committee -- through its Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC -- completed the bulk of its work on the party's 2024 nomination rules.

Yet, the DNCRBC punted on one facet of those rules, a part that has typically been in place before the midterms: the guidelines for which states are granted exemptions in order to go early on the presidential primary calendar.  Now, in typical cycles, the party would entertain discussions of changes to the early states, but would in the face of institutional challenges stick with Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the queue. In some cycles those discussions are more rigorous than others, but the Iowa/New Hampshire question always comes up. 

The cycles that stand in contrast to that pattern are 2008 and 2024. During the aftermath of the 2004 election, the Price Commission took up the question of Iowa's and New Hampshire's positioning in the Democratic process, ultimately opting to recommend keeping the traditionally early pair among the early states but adding to the early window line up. The DNCRBC acting on those recommendations, then, heard pitches from a handful of states to fill those additional slots alongside Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada and South Carolina emerged as those two states. 

And there was wisdom to the selection of those two. South Carolina was already positioned as an early state in the Republican process, the first-in-the-South contest that occurred third in the order on the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada, on the other hand, was not a fixture in the early Republican calendar, but was a caucus state where the scheduling of the caucuses was not determined by state law. In other words, the two state parties did not have to conduct their caucuses on the same date. Even though Nevada Republicans ultimately forced the issue and joined the early calendar Republican states for 2008 and became normalized thereafter, DNC rules changes did not directly impact that outcome (not in the way that it would if the caucus dates for both parties were set by state law and on the same date).

Now fast forward to the 2024 cycle. Again, the Iowa and New Hampshire question was raised on the Democratic side. The same undercurrent was there -- questioning the wisdom in the same two states leading off the process and what impact that would have on the identity of the eventual nominee. But those typical questions were raised in the context of an error-laden 2020 caucus process in the Hawkeye state, a shrinking of the number of and preference for caucuses in the Democratic process and in the wake of the national conversation stemming from the murder of George Floyd. Basically...
  1. Operational: If Iowa Democrats cannot even conduct seamless caucuses, then why should they continue to be first on the primary calendar? AND
  2. Representational: If the Democratic coalition is as diverse as it is, then why are two overwhelmingly white states kicking off the process to determine the party's presidential nominee?
In that context, the DNCRBC -- and not a separate commission as in 2005-06 -- began to tackle the Iowa/New Hampshire question for the 2024 cycle. That the DNCRNC and not a separate commission led that charge was not the only difference between the 2024 cycle and its forebear from 2008. Unlike during the 2008 cycle, the DNCRBC did not grant a pass to Iowa and New Hampshire and entertain pitches from other would-be early states. Instead, the committee invited Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and any other willing state party to make their case for an early window exemption. Those 20 states would vie for up to five exempt slots on the early calendar with no guarantees for any of the four traditional carve-out states. 

And the handicapping had gone on for months leading up to the August window in which Democrats tend to finalize their delegate selection rules for the upcoming cycle. Obituaries were written for the Iowa caucuses, and possible replacements and/or early state additions -- Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada -- emerged. But the same institutional questions that have dogged past efforts to rearrange the calendar came to the fore in the summer of 2022. That left the DNCRBC to finalize the 2024 rules the panel could finish and leave the calendar questions until after the midterms

But why? 

On the one hand, delaying the decision on which states receive early window exemptions cuts into planning time those states will need to prepare not only for 2024 primaries and caucuses but for submission of draft plans to the DNCRBC by next spring. Yes, it helps some that the DNC finalized all of its other rules, minimizing the uncertainty to the dates of contests and potentially moving them. 

But on the other hand, the DNCRBC also wants to finalize a set of rules that stand some chance to be fully implemented and implemented as seamlessly as possible while also reducing the potential for snags. And here, FHQ means institutional problems when it uses the word snags. 

Now, to this point I have vaguely used the term institutional roadblocks, but specifically, the DNCRBC wants to get through the midterms in order to have some certainty as to exactly who their state-level partners will be in bringing any idealized version of a new early calendar line up to fruition. 

The political climate in 2022 favors the Republican Party based on the typical fundamentals of presidential approval and various measures of the economy. And that, in turn, means that some of those partners may be Republicans who are unwilling or unable to aid Democrats in their pursuit of an altered early calendar. 

Take Michigan. Yes, newly commission-drawn state legislative lines may give Democrats a fighting chance to win one or both chambers in the legislature in the Great Lakes state. But the climate may completely or to some degree negate any gains state Democrats would have taken from redistricting. But even if Republicans retain control of the legislature, there may be some who are willing jump at the chance of holding an earlier primary. In theory, yes, but in practice, those Republican state legislators in control would run into RNC rules setting Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada first and a super penalty that would strip the Michigan delegation of more than three-quarters of its delegates. Perhaps those legislators gamble or perhaps they opt to exploit a loophole in RNC rules. It would not get Michigan to first, replacing Iowa, but it could get the state into the early calendar mix. 

Or how about Minnesota? In the Land of 10,000 Lakes the bar is set a bit differently. The state parties can bypass the legislature under state law. That circumvents the Michigan problem in a way. The date of the Minnesota primary is set for the first Tuesday in March, but the date can be changed if the two state parties can agree on an alternative. That alternative could be first, replacing neighboring Iowa atop the calendar. But again, the same super penalty that would stand in the way of a change in Michigan would also be a roadblock to Minnesota becoming an early state. And the Republican state party chair would have a slightly more difficult time in pleading ignorance of the RNC rules considering state party chairs are RNC members. 

Maybe Georgia could easily fit into one of those early slots? The process for setting the date of the presidential primary is different than the two states described immediately above. But again, the reliability of partners matters. The secretary of state and not the state legislature schedules the presidential primary in the Peach state. 

If Democrat, Bee Nguyen upends incumbent Brad Raffensperger in the Georgia secretary of state race, then national Democrats may have a path to adding the Peach state to the early calendar. Of course, adding a state neighboring another early state, South Carolina, would be unconventional. Georgia is a more competitive state in general elections than South Carolina, but the Palmetto state was instrumental to President Biden's road to the 2020 Democratic nomination and some of his South Carolina surrogates may take umbrage to the first-in-the-South state either sharing the spotlight in the early window or being outright replaced. 

And those are roadblocks with a Democrat as Georgia secretary of state. With Secretary Raffensperger back in Atlanta enforcing state election law, he and the Georgia Republican Party would run into the very same RNC rules that Republican actors in Michigan and Minnesota would face. In other words, there is not necessarily a reliable partner for national Democrats to lean on in Georgia either. 

How about Nevada? The Silver state is already an early state and switched from a caucus to a primary since 2020. Moving Nevada would not necessarily change the early states, but could shake up the order of those early states. It is possible. But again, even that hinges on the midterms. Nevada is currently a state where Democrats have unified control of state government. Should the party retain control of the governor's mansion and the state legislature, then the same Democrats that pushed for the switch to a primary after 2020 and scheduled it for the Tuesday in February immediately after where Iowa has ended up on the calendar in the last two cycles, may make changes to suit the DNCRBC directives (if necessary). 

But Nevada is competitive and while that is an attractive quality to the DNC in terms of the states to slot into the early window, it may also mean that Republicans sweeping to victory in the midterms could spoil any of those plans. Silver state Republicans were not exactly supportive of the switch to a primary and the early February date could run afoul of RNC rules by pushing Iowa and New Hampshire into January. Republicans in power in Nevada after 2022 may reschedule the newly established presidential primary or they could revert the state to a caucus system and leave Democrats there and nationally in the lurch. Regardless, Republicans winning control in Nevada in any way shape or form means that national Democrats will not have partners that could assist them arriving at a calendar that best or better meets the goals set out by the DNCRBC.

But that is how this process goes. If the calendar was so easy to change then it maybe would have been over the course of the last half century. It is not for lack of trying. It is a function of the multitude of roadblocks that stand in the way of change. Big changes to the nomination system come when 1) both parties can agree on them (to some extent) or 2) when one party controls the vast majority of state governments across the country. Look at the 2008 calendar changes as an example of the former and the McGovern-Fraser reforms that ushered in the current system at a time when Democrats lost the presidency but controlled vast swaths of the country on the state level as the major example of the latter.

Look, FHQ is not saying that the status quo will carry over to 2024. It will on the Republican side. But the Democrats' chances of altering the beginning of their calendar depend almost entirely on what happens in the midterm elections. If Republicans sweep the states above, then look for the front of the 2024 primary calendar to look a lot like 2020. Any deviation from that scenario may open the door to some type of change even if it is not the idealized one envisioned by the Democratic Party coalition. Otherwise, the party may get a change, but it may amount to a fifth state being added to the end of the early window in a creative way that state Republicans can stomach (ie: exploiting loopholes in Republican rules).


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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

2024 Democratic Party Rules Changes: May versus Shall in Rule 21

It has been a month since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) met in Washington and adopted the bulk of its rules package to govern the 2024 presidential nomination process. Heading into the confab, the panel undercut itself to some degree by announcing that it would punt until after the midterms the decision on its most-anticipated item on the 2024 rules docket: the primary calendar. But that decision -- to supplant Iowa, New Hampshire (or any of the first four carve-out states) or not in the early window -- hinges on factors mostly outside of the committee's power. 

Yes, the loss of that time -- between now and the midterms and/or when the decision is ultimately made -- hurts state-level preparation of delegate selection plans. [State parties will still have to submit those to the DNCRBC for review by the beginning part of May 2023.] But knowing who controls state legislatures in some of the prospective target replacement states, for example, has significant bearing on just how feasible any calendar change may be for the 2024 cycle. And feasibility matters. If Michigan Republicans, for example, retain control the state legislature in the Great Lakes state after November, then the Democrats' prospects of substituting the Michigan primary in for the Iowa caucuses at the front of the Democratic presidential primary calendar order for 2024 greatly dim. Republicans there very simply have no incentive to cross RNC rules to help Democrats in the state jump Iowa in the queue. National Republicans have held strong on an Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada order again for 2024 (and have until the end of September to make calendar changes the party has shown no signs of changing). That means that Michigan Republicans would have to swallow the RNC super penalty to help Great Lakes state Democrats move into an advantageous calendar position. 

And that is very unlikely to happen. 


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And so the DNCRBC waits. It waits to see if control of the legislature in Michigan or elsewhere changes in November thus greasing the wheels on a rules change that would reshape the early calendar in a meaningful way for the first time since the 2008 cycle

But just because the calendar decision was shunted until December does not mean that the DNCRBC sat idly by in August. While some (most?) may have been disappointed that no decision was made on the 2024 calendar, it did not mean that the committee made, as some said, only "minor" changes to the 2024 rules.

Well, in truth, what may superficially appear to be a minor change may actually carry more significant weight. Take, for instance, one of several alterations made to Rule 21, the section that sets out penalties for rules violations. Starting with the 2008 cycle, Rule 21.C.1.b has read...
A presidential candidate who campaigns in a state where the State Party is in violation of the timing provisions of these rules, or where a primary or caucus is set by a state’s government on a date that violates the timing provisions of these rules, may not receive pledged delegates or delegate votes from that state.
That rule, as written, has given the DNCRBC for four cycles now the latitude to strip any candidate who campaigns in a state in violation of the rules on timing -- when a primary or caucus can be held -- of any delegates won in such a state. But that threat has not proven to be all that much of a deterrent (in an admittedly small number of actionable instances over time).

One has to work backwards to see the logic in this. A candidate may or may not be deterred from campaigning in a rogue state if there is only a threat that delegates won there may be taken away by the national party. And if candidates may or may not be discouraged from campaigning in a rogue state, then there may be enough uncertainty at the state governmental level for decision makers to roll the dice on a noncompliant calendar position. "Hey," the thinking may go, "if candidates see no real disincentive to campaign, then they may come here to our early (but in the eyes of the national party, noncompliant) state to contest our primary or caucus." There is, in other words, just enough downstream weakness in the rules regime to topple the whole thing. 

Moreover, this is absolutely the sort of issue that the DNCRBC would seemingly have to resolve in order to tighten its system in the event that it makes an attempt at a fundamental shift in the early calendar lineup in the coming months. If the party is intent on replacing Iowa at the front of queue, then the DNC must have an answer to "Yeah, but what happens when Iowa goes first anyway and candidates campaign there as normal?

What would they do? 

Well, in this case, the DNCRBC has gone as far as the Democratic Party has ever gone toward preventing any state -- Iowa or otherwise -- from tipping over the first domino and setting off a cascade of rogue decision making at the campaign level and among states. The first component in that effort was replacing the may cited in Rule 21 above with shall. The national party raised the ante, upping the language from "We may strip you of your delegates." to "We will strip you of all of your delegates."

Now sure, the obvious response here is to question the changing of one word. One word?! But this particular one word change is always important when it comes to delegate selection rules. Republicans had a similar issue after the 2012 convention where the shall associated with the party's proportionality requirement became a may. The result was that the requirement to proportionally allocate delegates during the early part of the primary calendar embedded in Rule 16(C) became a suggestion. That would have had a significant impact on state-level decision making about delegate allocation ahead of 2016 as well as the resulting candidate strategy concerning how to approach particular states. But that substitute may was replaced with shall in 2014 when the rules that governed the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process were finalized. 

In the Democrats' case for 2024, the insertion of shall in Rule 21.C.1.b means that instead of the national party retaining merely the latitude to take away the delegates won by a candidate who has campaigned in a noncompliant state, such a candidate would lose them upon violation. 

Additionally, the DNCRBC buttressed that penalty with the expansion of the definition of "campaigning" included in the rule. That definition was already robust, but gained even more teeth during the August meeting. Now included in that definition of "campaigning" is "placing a candidate's name on the ballot or failing to take action to remove it from the ballot."1 That widening of the definition significantly lowers the bar for what qualifies as a violation and thus increases the likelihood that a candidate would be penalized.

And although the committee removed its latitude in penalizing candidates in the may-to-shall transition described above, the DNCRBC did add one more sentence to Rule 21.C.1.b that provided the DNC chair with some discretion in the matter. "The National Chair shall take appropriate action to enforce these rules." This one is clever in its ambiguity. 

Initially, when that rule change was being considered, it read, "The National Chair shall take appropriate action which may include adjusting debate participation, to enforce these rules." The striking of the debate-specific language is noteworthy, but only insofar as it gets at the ultimate intent of the resulting rule. Debate access sanctions are not off the table even without the inclusion of debate access language in the rule itself. That matter remains at the discretion of the DNC chair if he or she chooses to use that to enforce the rules/penalties against candidates. Ultimately, the DNCRBC collectively decided it did not have the power to legislate on primary debates, but empowered someone -- the DNC chair -- more involved in negotiating that process with the candidates and media partners. 

And those are the three legs upon which this more robust DNC penalties regime for 2024 is built. 
  1. Firming up delegate penalties (may-to-shall change).
  2. Lowering the bar for what constitutes "campaigning".
  3. Empowering the DNC chair to potentially limit debate access.
Look, FHQ will close where it often does with discussions of rules changes. Parties are limited in what they can do to rein in rogue actors whether they are candidates or states. 

In the end, if Iowa Democrats want to go first, then they will go first. But it will come at a more significant price under the 2024 Democratic delegate selection rules. Is it worth it to Iowa Democrats and some or all of the prospective candidates to hold and compete in a glorified straw poll? Candidates may gamble that a win in a beauty contest caucus will provide enough momentum heading into subsequent contests with actual stakes (read: delegates) on the line. But will they be less inclined to do so if debates access is on the line? Or does/do such a candidate or candidates just dare the DNC to prohibit them from participating? 

We do not know.

That is the thing about all of this. Nominations happen in real time not in a lab where one can simulate and test what particular actors' reactions will be under certain circumstances. The intent on the DNCRBC's part here in this particular section of rules is to create a psychology, a psychology where rules-based deterrents to future candidate behavior have some bearing on the decisions states and state parties make with respect to primary and caucus scheduling. Iowa Democrats may jump anyway if the protection of their first position on the calendar is not ultimately included in the 2024 rules. But these rules changes will make them think twice about that and about whether any candidates will gamble and show up if they do move into a noncompliant position. 

And that may be enough for the DNC. May.


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1The latter encompasses states where presidential primary ballot access is determined not by specific candidate filing but by state actors such as secretaries of state.


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Monday, June 27, 2022

A Loophole in Republican Rules That May Help Democrats in Their Calendar Shuffle

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) convened in Washington this last week to hear presentations from 16 state delegations and Puerto Rico pitching the value in putting their respective contests in the early presidential primary calendar window for 2024. 

There has been persistent chatter since 2020 -- and before that, if we are being honest -- about how or whether Iowa should still fit into the early part of the Democrats' process. And that was not different in the nation's capital this past week. Heading into the event even, the focus seemed to be on midwestern states -- Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota -- that might ideally replace the Hawkeye state as a regional representative among the early slate of states. But it is not clear that any of those potential replacements is an ideal, much less feasible, stand-in for the quadrennial lead-off contests the state parties in Iowa conduct. 

Each has a conflict with what it is the DNCRBC set as its guidelines for building an early window group of contests. Sure, Iowa Democrats have had its issues with competitive caucuses in the recent past, but there is no perfect candidate that can easily move in and assume an early calendar slot. Illinois convcievably can move to an earlier spot -- Democrats there control the state government. -- but the Prairie state has hardly been a battleground in the presidential races of the last generation. [There are campaign expense issues that candidates would have to contend with in Illinois that are not present in Iowa as well.] 

And both Michigan and Minnesota have Republicans standing in the way of any prospective shift to an earlier primary date. In the Great Lakes state, Republicans in control of the state legislature would have to relent to any change. Further west in Minnesota, the Republican barriers are different. There is no immediate need for change that would require state legislative action. Rather, both state party chairs, as described in current state law, would have to agree to a change of date for the presidential primary. Admittedly, there is less institutional resistance in Minnesota, but it remains a barrier to any alteration in the presidential primary date in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

It should also be noted that both the Michigan and Minnesota delegations indicated in their presentations to the DNCRBC that conversations with Republicans in their respective states had been started and were ongoing. And both came with endorsements of primary moves from former state Republican Party chairs and other former elected officials. But neither delegation was particularly forthcoming about just how feasible a date change was. Neither was willing to go public with any of those discussions for obvious reasons. The fear is that it might blow up those discussions on the Republican end and derail any movement toward a change. 

Those discussions -- that they are happening at all! -- are all well and good. But they obscure a major institutional obstacle to anything happening in either state in the Democratic process. Again, both delegations said discussions with Republicans were happening and ostensibly moving in positive directions. Furthermore, both added that they would keep the DNCRBC abreast of any relevant changes. 

Neither, however, noted the grim reality of just how unlikely it is that state Republicans could ultimately come to the table in a meaningful way. 

And it all is kind of ironic. Here they were, these two delegations among 15 others, pitching to the national party the virtues of their states being viable early, if not leading contests. Each was asking the DNC to add or keep them in to the early calendar window. But there was nary a mention of Republican National Committee rules guiding -- or CONSTRAINING -- Republican state parties in setting their rules for delegation selection (primary dates among them) and what impact that would have on the Democratic process.1

Namely, there was no mention of Rule 17 in the Rules of the Republican Party. As has been widely reported, especially in the context of these discussions of Democrats potentially shaking up their calendar for 2024, the RNC has already decided to carry over its early slate of states from 2020. In other words, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada (in that order) are protected in their early positions in the Republican rules for 2024, and other states are vulnerable to sanction if they try to encroach on the territory -- February -- set aside for those early states' contests. If the DNC opted to make Michigan or Minnesota the first state, or even a February state, then any subsequent primary move into that territory would reduce a delegation the size of Michigan or Minnesota -- 30 delegates or more -- to just 12 total delegates including RNC members. Republicans may be open to Democratic entreaties about a move in the abstract, but are significantly less likely to sign on to any deal that will have their own voices in the Republican nomination process greatly curtailed. This so-called super penalty has been incredibly effective in keeping Republican-controlled (to any degree) states in line since it was put in place after the 2012 election cycle. The potential hit has proven too prohibitive for state-level Republican decision-makers. 

One possible workaround was raised at the DNCRBC meetings in Washington this past week, albeit without acknowledging the Republican super penalty. Minnesota Democrats presenting before the DNCRBC noted that their state law says there needs to be bipartisan agreement on an alternate primary date, but not that there could not also be a second date for a second, later and compliant Republican primary. Minnesota does not have a recent history of presidential primaries split by party (on different dates). Michigan does, but the catch for either or both attempting to push things down that path is that it costs money. Perhaps there will be enough money in state coffers to allow for that, but that certainly is not guaranteed. 

There is also the prospect of Republicans opting for a state party-run and funded contest -- either primary or caucus -- while Democrats use the state government-run and funded primary in the first (or just an early) slot. Depending on the dynamics of the Republican race at the time a decision needs to be made (some time next year after the DNC will have to make a decision on its early slate of contests), Republicans may be open to a lower turnout, state party-run process. But there, too, it is not clear that state Republicans would go along with a plan that would allow state Democrats to have an early contest alone. 

And bear in mind that the DNCRBC is going to finalize its decision on the states that will be codified into the 2024 rules as the early states in early August. It is one thing to come to some tentative deal with state Republicans by then, but another to trust that it will hold over time and not hurt Democrats after that. That is not about anything underhanded Republicans may do in the meantime. Instead, it is an acknowledgment that these decisions have to be made early in order to insure that they can be effectively implemented on the state level. Dynamics may change in the Republican race that may provoke a change of heart from state-level Republicans. 

It very simply is a tough agreement to come to (and that is without considering how much emphasis both parties will place on 2024 and how much tension that may create).

Great. Thanks FHQ. You have once again thrown cold water the parties' reform plans. What else is new? 

Look, these are difficult changes to make because of the variety of interested actors and vested interests involved. If it was easy to change, then these things -- like some state other than Iowa being first -- would have been dealt with long ago. But they are not easy changes. It is easy to say, "Hey, put some other state in there," but it is an entirely different thing to actually do it. 

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But all is not lost. Michigan or Minnesota going first as the sole midwestern representative may be, but not adding either one or the other as a minor tweak to the early state lineup. 

Let me walk through the steps because, again, the Republican rules constrain just how much latitude any decision-makers have in this at the state level. No one is likely to willingly walk into that super penalty. But there is a way to potentially work around it that could add a state like Michigan or Minnesota to the end of the early window (if the DNC so desires). 

Back in 2014 when Republicans made changes to the rules that were adopted at the 2012 national convention in Tampa, rules makers set March 1 as one of two lines of demarcation. No state not named Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada could hold a contest before that point on the calendar in 2016. The other line was March 15, on or after which states were allowed to allocate delegates in any fashion. [Before that point, states were mandated to use a proportional method.]

And that was fine. 

In 2016. 

In 2016, both March 1 and March 15 fell on the traditional days on which most nomination contests are held, Tuesday. But here's the thing: the party never tweaked those lines of demarcation in the rules timeline after 2016. Those rules -- that specific language -- carried over to 2020, but were not all that consequential then with the Republican presidential nomination largely (or meaningfully) uncontested. 

Now, however, as 2024 approaches, the Republican National Committee has chosen to once again carry the bulk of those rules over to a third consecutive cycle. The guidelines continue to prohibit February on the calendar to non-carve-out states and sets a proportionality window that closes as the clock strikes midnight to usher in March 15. Only, neither March 1 nor March 15 are on Tuesday in 2024. They both fall on Friday. 

By now, one can no doubt see where I am going with this. Democratic rules set the beginning of what they call the window -- the period after traditionally exempt states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina hold their contests -- as the first Tuesday in March. In 2024, that first Tuesday in March is March 5, the date that is very likely to be deemed Super Tuesday in the next cycle. But under Republican rules there is a four day window before that point in which states could schedule contests and not be subjected to the super penalty. You know, states like Michigan or Minnesota where state Republicans would not necessarily be inclined to agree with Democrats on a primary move if it meant opening themselves up to losing around three-quarters of their delegation to the national convention. 

Again, that helps neither state slide into the first slot, replacing Iowa, but it does open the door to one or the other of Michigan or Minnesota being added to the early part of the 2024 calendar

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However, even that novel approach to shuffling the calendar is not foolproof for Democrats as their August decision on the early calendar approaches. There are a couple of issues, one on each side of the aisle, that may cause some problems. The first is easy enough. The RNC may change its rules to close that loophole. Rule 12 allows the party to change certain rules -- those pertaining to delegate selection -- up to September 30 of the midterm year ahead of any presidential election. [And after tens of people read this post, it could happen!]

Secondly, presumably adding a fifth state into the mix in the Democratic presidential nomination process really creates a time crunch for the party and those five states. If there is only a window from the first Monday in February to Super Tuesday in early March in which to schedule those contests, then things get dicey.  That is more true in light of state-level scheduling laws. Iowa's law calls for its caucuses (or "caucuses" now that they are likely to more caucus-in-name-only on the Democratic side) to be eight (8) days before any other contest. In New Hampshire that lead time is seven (7) day before any other "similar contest." Oh, and Nevada's new law that established a stand-alone presidential primary starting with the 2024 cycle schedules the date of that contest for the first Tuesday in February, a day after the Iowa caucuses have been in recent cycles. In other words, there some tension there that needs to be ironed out. 

And let us not leave South Carolina out of this discussion either. While the above three traditionally early states have some conflicts to fix at the beginning of the pre-window period, Palmetto state Democrats may take issue with any contest that may slip into the end of that period. For starters, if South Carolina retains an early spot on the calendar, then its recent Saturday before Super Tuesday date would fit into that Republican rule loophole window described above as well. Now, South Carolina Democrats may not mind shifting to a slightly earlier date, but that may also disrupt the regular rhythms of the overall South Carolina presidential nomination process and the perceived impact the state has on the course of a Democratic nomination. 

Typically, South Carolina Democrats and Republicans have not held simultaneous presidential primaries. That is partly a throwback to the not-so-distant past practice of the state parties funding and administering those contests and partly a function of Republicans slotting South Carolina into the third position on their calendar and Democrats scheduling them fourth. For the DNC to keep South Carolina fourth and add a fifth state into the pre-window would likely mean moving South Carolina up a Saturday in February and onto the likely Saturday of the Republican primary in the state. That would mean a lesser expenditure for the state now that it funds and runs the primaries, but again it breaks with the traditional pattern in the state and may not win buy-in from both state parties. 

Additionally, South Carolina Democrats may not want to give up that prime spot on the Saturday before Super Tuesday. Rep. Jim Clyburn's endorsement of Joe Biden was seen as a turning in the Democratic race in 2020. [Some of us would argue that turning point happened the week before in Nevada when Biden placed second, but that view is not as widely adopted.] Biden's subsequent win in the Palmetto state was a springboard into the Super Tuesday states that had more diverse constituencies on a day that had a decidedly southern flavor and emphasized the black electorate. South Carolina may or may not have played a direct role in Biden's subsequent success on Super Tuesday, but if Democratic leaders in the state think it did, then they may prove stubborn when confronted with possibly giving that slot up to another state. 

And even if South Carolina Democrats prefer being fifth in the order to keep that springboard position prior to Super Tuesday, that does not leave a lot of wiggle room to fit in a state like Michigan or Minnesota (if they want to get state Republicans to the table). In fact, it leaves only Friday, March 1. Back-to-back contests may not be workable for either state if that emerges as the only option to DNC-level decision makers.

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Great. Thanks again, FHQ. You have now provided a solution to the initial problem and have even thrown some cold water on it

Yeah, I have. 

But that is indicative of the thicket into which rules makers wade when they set out to tweak their rules every cycle. It just is not that easy. States and state laws are involved. State parties of all stripes and their rules are involved. Voters' interests are involved. The national parties' rules are also at the confluence of all of those actors. It is an intricate jigsaw puzzle that requires a deft touch to alter and sometimes that does not wed well with consensus building. 

So, as the DNCRBC continues to tackle this issue it has set before its members, bear all of this in mind. Change may be forthcoming -- even big changes to the early window -- but do not be surprised if those tweaks are minor and/or incremental. That is just the nature of the process. 


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1 There was a mention of the RNC rules, but that came early on the proceedings before the state presentations began. During a discussion of Rule 21 -- the challenge rule that describes the penalties for delegate selection rules violations in the Democratic process -- DNCRBC member, Elaine Kamarck, noted a convention stage Republican mechanism that basically prevents a state party from using (in the case of this discussion) a non-compliant method of delegate allocation. States can set non-compliant rules, but cannot effectively employ them at the convention on the roll call vote for the presidential nomination. 




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