Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Follow Up on Missouri Presidential Primary Situation

The reactions are starting to roll in to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's decision last week to veto an elections bill that included a provision to move the Show Me state's presidential primary back into compliance with national party delegate selection rules. Democrats in the state are largely indifferent with very little on the line in next year's nomination process. Missouri Republicans in the General Assembly, however, are crying foul and over-exaggerating the severity of the situation in the process:

"If I was a candidate and I knew that I could campaign in Iowa and be sure to have delegates and make an impact, or campaign in Missouri and the delegation might not even be seated, where would you choose?" asked Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, sponsor of the elections bill.

Veteran Republican consultant John Hancock said the veto "makes Missouri irrelevant in the presidential primary process."


Engler has a right to be upset, especially since there was really no direct evidence from the governor that Engler's bill would be vetoed at any point during the bills journey through the legislature. But his line of logic above is deeply flawed. The Iowa to Missouri comparison is just flat out wrong. Ideally, the RNC and DNC would have their way and Iowa's state parties would hold caucuses on February 6. That would be one day before where the Missouri presidential primary is currently scheduled by current Missouri state law. That said, it is naive, as I have tried countless times to point out, to assume that Iowa is going to idly stand by and allow Missouri to go just a day later. And that doesn't even mention the very likely negative reaction from New Hampshire. In other words, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will move up and past Missouri if the Show Me state maintains its current position on the calendar.

Now, let's look at political consultant, John Hancock's statement above as it builds on Engler's flawed apples to oranges comparison of Missouri to Iowa.

Irrelevant? Not likely.

Less relevant? Perhaps.

Let's follow the trail on this one and assume that the Missouri primary situation cannot be resolved in either a special session or by a veto override from the legislature in September. That means that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina move up to at least January. It also likely means that Florida will stick with at least the January 31 date on which their presidential primary was originally scheduled before the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee was formed. Missouri on February 7 would also likely affect the plans of Michigan Republicans as well, who would, it stands to reason, more seriously consider a January date for their primary or caucus as a result as well.1

Take a step back and look at that calendar now.

New Hampshire
South Carolina

7th Missouri
21st Wisconsin4
28th Arizona

Is Missouri irrelevant in that speculative calendar alignment? Absolutely not. Not unless the nomination has been wrapped up in those January states. In other words, it could happen, but is not likely to. Now, FHQ is tempted to make the argument that Missouri would be less relevant in that scenario, but looking at the above calendar has me very strongly reconsidering that position. Even with a half delegation penalty, Missouri would very likely hold a fairly significant amount of sway over the Republican nomination race if it was still undecided heading into February. First of all, Missouri would be the only game in town on February 7 as opposed to having to share March 6 with a growing number of states. Secondly, even with the penalties, candidates are not going to be dissuaded from paying Missouri any attention. No, if anything, if the Republican nomination is still active and close, it will draw candidates to the state to divide up any delegates from the state.

That's the lesson of the 2008 Democratic nomination battle: Candidates fight for what delegates they can get (where they are most likely to get them) and move on to the next battle. Missouri would be very attractive to a wide swath of Republican candidates and would likely see a strong candidate presence there; not a lesser one.

In that light, Missouri General Assembly Republicans should probably be thankful for the veto. And considering that one version of this bill tethered the Show Me state primary to New Hampshire's (scheduling it one week after the Granite state primary, whenever it was), they probably are. But they have to publicly wring their hands over the veto as a means of not risking further sanction from the RNC (The move, or non-move, would have huge impact on the overall calendar.). The presidential primary may come up at a special session if one is called, but FHQ is skeptical of how hard Republicans will work for a resolution to this or for those four House Democrats' votes necessary to override Govenor Nixon's veto.

Only time will tell, and in the meantime, this development only adds to the uncertainty of the calendar.

1 Of course depending on the decisions in Florida and Michigan, the first four states could be pushed into very early January or even December.

2 I won't include dates here because it would be total guesswork, but this would be the order of contests with maybe Florida and Michigan holding primaries on the same date.

3 Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has indicated that the Peach state could move to coincide primaries with Florida. Most of the discussion was in the context of Florida holding a late February contest just outside of the national parties window for non-exempt states to hold contests.

4 FHQ's expectation is that this one will get moved in the late summer or early fall. It hasn't yet, though there was bipartisan support for the move. The need to get the FY2012 budget done in the Badger state superseded the need to move the presidential primary.

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