Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Funding the South Carolina Presidential Primary

State funding.

Party funding.

State funding.

Party funding.

Tuesday was an interesting day in the South Carolina state House. On a day that saw the chamber debate Governor Nikki Haley's budget, much was on the line; including $1 million set aside for the state's first-in-the-South presidential primary next year. But Governor Haley didn't really get her way.

...not at first anyway.

Though the Republican-controlled House rejected that part of the governor's budget, maintaining state funding of the presidential primary, South Carolina Republican Party chairwoman, Karen Floyd, responded later in the day and offered a compromise of sorts:

South Carolina's GOP chairwoman says Republicans will try to raise private money to run the 2012 presidential primary but she's looking for taxpayer money as a backup.

Karen Floyd said Tuesday it would be prudent for legislators to set aside money for the primary to ensure first-in-the-South contest will pass legal muster and assure it is beyond reproach.

This is particularly pertinent given the discussions here at FHQ since the California bill to eliminate its separate presidential primary -- moving it back to June with the other statewide and local primaries to save the state $90 million -- was introduced back in January. Subsequent state actions have increasingly brought the issue of cost savings through combining or canceling presidential primaries to the fore. It is an evolving trend that the AP partially shed light on today. [I'll hopefully have some longer form comments on that tomorrow.]

And while the situation in South Carolina seems to fit the cost savings narrative, a bit of context is in order. Up until 2008, state parties in South Carolina paid for party-run primaries and caucuses. But the state legislature took on the financial burden four years ago while continuing to allow the state parties the freedom to select the date on which their held their delegate selection events. Four years later it is en vogue to reconsider the cost of presidential primaries -- or at least the prudence of holding them separately from in-window primaries for state and local offices. In other words, it is totally out of left field for the governor in South Carolina to ask the legislature to return the spending levels on the primary to pre-2008 levels, especially considering the history. That the effort failed before a Republican-led chamber, though, speaks to how much the funding would help a cash-strapped state party -- $5000 cash on hand at the end of 2010 -- on one hand. On the other, it speaks to some level to how quickly the process has become institutionalized in just four years:
Opponents, including House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper, (R-Anderson County) argued that having the state pay for and run the primaries would add credibility to the process.
Rep. Tracy Edge, R-Myrtle Beach, said the state has been embarrassed before by presidential primary problems. "I would think the taxpayers would rather spend a couple million bucks here than not be embarrassed on the national stage like we will be if we don't rise to the occasion," Edge said.
Funding aside, though, South Carolina Republicans still have the flexibility to choose the earliest date they can to stay ahead of all but Iowa, New Hampshire and maybe Nevada.

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