Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Louisiana Republicans Craft New Delegate Rules and Possible January Caucuses

Much may be made of the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee's vote this weekend on a set of delegate selection rules to governor the Republican nomination process in the Pelican state. Here's how Jonathan Martin at Politico describes the process:

The Louisiana Republican Party voted last weekend to move up their presidential caucuses to earlier in 2012, a move that could attract more GOP candidates to the state this year.

The state party is eyeing the last week of January or early February, depending on how the still-unsettled primary calendar is ultimately set.

To stay within RNC rules and out of the early-state window, the Louisiana GOP has set up a two-step process for picking presidential delegates. The winter caucuses will elect 25 delegates per congressional district. Presidential candidates will run slates of delegates in each of the congressional districts. Caucus participants will have the option of voting for 25 individuals or simply checking the box for a candidate and his or her official slate. Delegates could run as uncommitted, but most are likely to run on a candidate slate.
Now, Martin goes on to state that Louisiana has done this before, holding a dual primary/caucus system with an early, out-of-window caucus and a later, compliant primary in 1996. Yes, Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) falling flat in the early, pre-Iowa Louisiana caucuses that year was interpreted as significant. It is often cited as, if not the death knell, then as a significant blow to the senator's campaign. That may be, but that also obscures a bigger point here: 1996 was not the last time Louisiana Republicans had such rules. In fact, at one point or another during each of the successive cycles, the party has held a parallel caucus/convention system alongside its primary to allocate a portion of the state's delegates to the Republican convention. Delegate allocation via the caucuses was canceled in 2000 by the state party very late in 1999, preceded the primaries but still fell within the "window" in 2004 and looked very similar to the plans for 2012 in 2008.

Yeah, that's right: Louisiana Republicans quietly held January 22 district caucuses -- the same as what is being proposed for 2012 -- in 2008. Going back to our discussions from the other day, this complies with Republican National Committee rules. No delegates are directly allocated in that first step of the process. Delegates pledged to a particular candidate move on to the next step, but the three delegates to the national convention per congressional district, for instance, are not directly allocated.

FHQ, then, is not terribly concerned with this move as a potential violation of the rules. That is the case because it is probably not a threat to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. It wasn't in 2008 at least, and that January 22 date fell at a point in the calendar where nothing else was going on. South Carolina and Nevada Republicans held contests on January 19 and South Carolina Democrats held the next delegate selection event on January 26. The next Republican contest wasn't until Florida on January 29. In other words, those Louisiana caucuses were scheduled at a time that should technically have garnered the state some attention, but did not. The Republican candidates' focus had shifted to Florida. And that was arguably because the Louisiana caucuses were not binding.

The contests, especially the timing of them in Louisiana, is not problematic, but other parts of the delegate selection plan may run afoul of RNC rules. One issue that was not raised in the Politico piece, but that did come up in a New Orleans Times-Picayune article over the weekend deals the vote threshold for gaining any delegates to the convention:
The new rules say a candidate has to receive at least 25 percent of the popular vote in the primary to be allocated "at-large delegates in proportion to the percentage of votes received." The remaining at-large delegates will go to Tampa uncommitted.
That 25% threshold is a violation of the RNC rules (see Section III, part iv). Under the guidelines passed by the Republican National Committee which set the maximum at 20%. Candidates in a state with a 20% threshold, then, have to receive at least 20% of the vote in order to receive any delegates from that contest. Louisiana with a 25% threshold would be in violation of the Republican rules. That, though, is a minor point, but of greater significance than the possibility of an early and seemingly non-compliant caucus.

Hat tip to Tony Roza at The Green Papers for brining the Politico article to my attention.

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