Monday, April 7, 2008

Frontloading Under Fire: The Ohio Plan & the GOP in 2012

NOTE: See also FHQ's broader discussion on a wide array of presidential primary reform plans here.

From the "Things that May Destroy Your Blog" file
, the GOP has advanced a plan to reform the scheduling aspect of its presidential nominating system. Fortunately Blogger allows me to change the blog name, but unfortunately, Regional Primary HQ doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Frontloading HQ. [Of course, that name has its drawbacks too. A change may solve the problem of having people stop by thinking they are on a blog devoted to the finer points of frontloading washing machines.]

What, though, is this Ohio Plan? How does it change things? And most importantly, what is the likelihood that this plan is put into action? As both the CQ article (linked above) and The Fix describe it, the Ohio Plan is an equal parts lottery and regional primary system for determining the order in which states hold delegate selection events. Under the terms of the plan pas by the Republican party rules committee last Wednesday, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would retain their status as the first states to hold contests. What follows is what is different though. With the goal of eliminating the chaos of frontloading, the Ohio Plan places the next 14 electorally smallest states as the next step in the process. That leaves 32 which are split into three groups (no longer regionally aligned according to the plan agreed to by the GOP rules committee). Those three "pods" would remain the same and rotate which one went first behind the smallest states every four years. Here are those pods (via The Fix):
Pod X: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, Utah, and Washington

Pod Y: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia

Pod Z: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania

This plan avoids the regional candidate issue that I raised in last week's post. It also maintains some level of retail politics by preserving the position of the traditional first states and augments that to some degree by positioning the smallest states next. As I stated, the goal is to reverse the frontloading trend the process has witnessed during the post-reform era. In the end the plan offers a scenario where the decision on the placement of nominating contests is nationalized to some degree. And that opens up a Pandora's box of issues. The end is an admirable goal, but the means of implementing such a plan are full of problems.

Why (and where) will the Ohio Plan face resistance? The first hurdle to clear is the Republican party at the St. Paul convention this summer. Traditionally, the GOP has set the rules of delegate selection and allowed the states to decide where (within a window of time) to hold their contests. That jibes well with the party's overarching themes of a smaller national government intervening less in decisions best made by states. From an economic perspective, the markets dictate where the states will go--earlier is better in the frontloaded era. Why then, would the GOP go along with this? It isn't clear that they will. There is some opposition to the Ohio Plan and that dissension is best voiced by South Carolina GOP chairman, Katon Dawson (from The Detroit News):
"If you look at the process we have, it worked. The RNC should decide a date, decide the penalties (for violating the date) and move forward."
Now there's that skepticism toward change that you expect from the conservative party in a two party system. Change in this process being driven by the Republican party is something of a foreign concept. Typically, it has been the Democratic party that made the changes only to have the GOP follow suit. The roles are being reversed here somewhat. It should be noted though, that it was the Republicans in 1996 who first proposed and instituted the bonus delegate incentive plan to entice states to hold their delegate selection events at later times; something the Democrats have since adopted as well.

The GOP rules committee passed this plan by a two to one margin, so let's assume for the sake of argument (and for the sake of fun) that this thing passes muster at the convention in September. Well, we have a new system then, right? Ah, if only things worked that easily. As the CQ piece alludes to, the state parties and state governments become the subsequent hurdles to clear. The state parties are one thing: they are an extension of the national parties in most respects, but they only directly influence the decreasing number of caucuses. And those are contests in the small states that stand to gain from these proposed changes.

Most states have primaries now; the parameters of which are settled on by state governments. And that ushers in partisanship as a major obstacle. Are states controlled by Democrats going to go along with these changes if either they or the the DNC oppose them? That remains to be seen, but could hamper the possibility of change. State parties have the final say on whether to go along with the date the state legislatures have decided on, but rarely opt against a state funded contest if the alternative is a party funded primary or caucus.

Well, how did the drastic changes the Democrats made for the 1972 cycle ever get passed and why couldn't history repeat itself? One side effect of those reforms was a growing number of primaries (as opposed to caucuses). Those primaries were instituted by the predominantly Democratic state legislatures of the time. In the post-reform era the shift on the state legislative level has been toward the GOP (especially following the party's successes in the 1994 midterm elections). That's good for Republicans, but means that the balance of partisan power in those institutions is more evenly dispersed now. In other words, big changes to this system sanctioned by a national entity (either national party) require harmonious, collective action on the part of state governments with differing levels of partisan balance.

This isn't a recipe for change.

What do we have then? Well, the movement of primaries since the McGovern-Fraser reforms has the system inching closer to a national primary. And as more and more states began to position themselves earlier for 2008, several polls indicated support for the idea of a national primary. And while that doesn't settle the problem of the compression of the frontloaded calendar, it at least removes the chaotic movement of states from cycle to cycle. It also is the path of least resistance (read: cheapest, least conflicting).

Oh, and it allows me to keep the blog name going.

...until all the states move up.


Robert said...

I wonder what people are thinking with a national primary. I certainly have problems with the current system, but it is far superior to a national primary. This year, for example, Clinton would certainly have won a national primary on the Democrat side. McCain certainly would NOT be the Republican nominee. I suspect that it would have been Guiliani but it might have been Romney. A national primary would favor those with money and name recognition. It does nothing to provide the nation with the testing that our current system gives us. If we look back at the past 50 years, Goldwater, McGovern, Carter, Bush I, Dukakis, and Clinton would probably have never been nominated. I don't like it.

Also, with regard to front-loading, selection of a nominee early in the process seems to be advantageous. The Week quoted the New York Times that in nine of the last ten nomination contests, the party that selected its nominee first has won the election. It guess that one exception was in 1992.

Robert said...

Have you seen this article?

He needs to read your analysis of the Electoral College.

Josh Putnam said...

Here's that link from Rob.

Josh Putnam said...

Yeah, he may want to check it out. The MyDD update is a bit off (not to mention it relies on only one poll). I don't like relying on one polling firm (though admittedly I do for some states to fill out the analysis).

Even the snapshot analysis I did with the most recent polls didn't have Clinton winning. That is strange.

Anonymous said...

It's really funny to take robert's argument and apply it to the national elections. Heck, why should all of America choose its president at the same time?
Just for laughs.

Robert said...


The general election is very different than the nominating contests. In the general election we have two months to focus on two candidates (or three if there is a viable third party candidate). It is all about getting your message out via various media outlets. Public financing and the party organization provide the funds.

As dysfunctional as the primaries and caucuses are, it does help even out the playing field. With a national primary name recognition and money are what you need. A person who can develop a grassrooots campaign and is willing to campaign in public has a chance. This year, for instance, Guiliani had the name recognition and Romney had the money. McCain spent all his money early and he had name recognition but he also had high negatives among Republicans. He was able to capture the nomination because he got out and met people in town meetings unlike Guiliani who relied on his name recognition and 9/11 persona and because he presented a relatively consistent message unlike Romney who had a different message each week.

On the Democrat side, Obama was a very green candidate last Fall, and has evolved to be a much more seasoned candidate in the interim. He was able to raise large amounts of money and to develop strong grassroots campaigns across the country. Clinton ran a superior campaign in 2007, but she did not connect with her supporters until after she lost in Iowa and pulled off the upset in New Hampshire. The strengths and weaknesses of both Obama and Clinton have been exposed during the primary campaign.

Thus, McCain and Obama were able to bring their message to the public with a series of contests connecting to real people in the early contests. In a national primary, neither one would have had a chance and we would now be talking about who Guiliani (or Romney) and Clinton would choose as their running mates.

Josh Putnam said...

I'm not one to condone digs at other commenters on the blog, but this dig actually raises an interesting idea. Joking aside then, what would the general election look like if it were conducted like the primaries? It would never work because states would have the same incentive to move to the earliest possible date in the process just as we've seen with primaries over time.

However, let's assume that the process began as a series of state to state contests scheduled from September (just after Labor Day or the conventions) to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. How would that affect the outcomes of past elections?

I was going to do "Age vs. Experience" today, but this is an interesting concept that may deserve its own post.

Robert said...


That is an interesting concept I missed when I responded earlier. It would probably overemphasize the effect of the early states, but it would change which states were battleground states, and it would give more attention to more states. You would be more conerned about momentum. I like the way we have it now, however.