Saturday, July 23, 2011

How Does Florida Respond to an Arizona Presidential Primary on January 31?

FHQ got a really good comment loaded with great questions in response to my "what impact will Arizona have on the calendar" post yesterday from regular reader, MysteryPolitico. What the questions and my response highlight is that Florida is still the one state to watch. The legislature, foreseeing this type of potential move from other states, gave the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee the flexibility to absorb a threat such as Arizona to January 31 and still be able to go earlier. The likelihood, then, that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina shift into December depends almost entirely on what Florida decides to do between now and October 1.

But before I get too far into that let's have a look at MysteryPolitico's comment:
I don't get the sense that Florida is looking to "break" the primary calendar, by which I mean, go so early that Iowa and/or NH are forced into December. Based on past public statements by the politicos in Florida, it seems like the important thing to them is that they go 5th, and they're willing to be "cooperative" on the exact timing.

Thus if Arizona (and possibly other states) move up to Jan. 31, then I figure Florida would probably aim for Jan. 24, but probably no earlier. You'd probably end up with something like this:

Jan. 5 IA
Jan. 10 NH
Jan. 21 NV, SC
Jan. 24 FL
Jan. 31 AZ (+maybe GA and/or MI?)

The scenario in which Iowa is forced into December is the one where Michigan goes earlier than Jan. 31. So I guess the relevant question is when will Michigan show its hand relative to when the other states have to decide? Brewer has to announce a primary date at least 150 days in advance (which means early September if she's aiming for Jan. 31), and Florida has to decide by Oct. 1. What's the likely timeframe for Michigan?
My response:

I'm generally sympathetic to the Florida argument. No, there is absolutely no evidence that anyone in Florida is seeking to move up any further than they have to. In other words, in the doomsday scenario, Florida is more likely to be later than earlier in that January 3-31 window. In fact, I've had a couple of off the record conversations with some well-positioned folks within the party that have indicated to me that there are some institutional/political factors involved that actually bolster this argument.1 Florida is willing to slightly jostle the boat, but they don't seem to want to rock it. Unless some state, Michigan or Georgia, say, moves to January 10, Florida is not going to go on January 3, definitively pushing the early four states into December.

Now, I had that conversation before the Arizona revelation, but I think the same broad rules apply.

As to the alignment of the calendar, I'm at a point where I feel like a continuation of these sorts of moves is going to draw the ire of the RNC (again, see Rule 16.e.3). We are going to see some push back from the national party at some point. Actually, we may not "see" it since the RNC would very much like to handle this, in my opinion, in-house. To the extent that we hear about a push back from the national party, it seems to me that it will come from folks on the state party level.

That sounds ambiguous, so let me attempt to clear it up by laying out what the national party wants relative to what we're continuing to see from the handful of rogue states. In essence, we're entering a negotiations phase. When we see comments like this one:

"We are currently working with all states and state parties to abide by the rules of the Republican Party to ensure compliance," said Sean Spicer, communications director for the RNC. increasingly, veiled though it may be, looks like two sides -- state parties and national parties -- trying to hammer out a deal. [And no, I don't think this hypothesis finds its root in the ongoing debt negotiations.] The RNC knows quite well that it is not going to get its desired calendar with Iowa kicking the process off on February 6. But the folks there also know that they don't have to sit idly by while a few states wreak havoc on the primary calendar. In fact, it has the means, as long as they ultimately enforce them, to decimate a state's delegation to the national convention. Of course, the RNC doesn't want to do that. The states know this, thus the apparent willingness to defy the rules.

That's why I say this is a negotiation. The RNC has the means to come down hard on the states, but doesn't want to use them. The states, recognizing this, are willing to slightly break the rules but not shatter them completely. The evidence is pretty clear here in both Florida and Michigan. The talk out of Florida lately has been about squeezing a technically non-compliant primary into a March 1-3 window. Similarly, Michigan's Republican Party has set a nearly equivalent, though slightly wider, February 28-March 6 window. Those are both, save the one compliant, March 6 date Michigan is considering, non-compliant, but only just so, relative to the RNC rules on delegate selection.

Obviously, Arizona has thrown a bit of a monkeywrench into the plans in Florida and Michigan much less at the RNC. But I'll go on record as saying that Arizona won't move up to January 31 and doesn't really want to. Why? It's a negotiation. Arizona is only trying to carve out its own spot early on the calendar, and has now submitted its initial offer to the RNC. Now arguably, Arizona already had its own spot early on the primary calendar on February 28. That week between February 28 and March 6, however, is beginning to look, tentatively mind you, compressed enough as to make most of the contests indistinguishable. From a candidate/media attention standpoint, all of those states within that window may as well go on the same date. That's not what Florida and Michigan and now Arizona want. No, they would rather have stand-alone primaries that give them the maximum attention.

It should be noted that the RNC, well, if I was there anyway, should want that too. That's why I think they are working toward this behind closed doors, but also waiting as long as they can -- to let the dust settle as much as possible -- before publicly "acting". If I was in a position at the RNC, and I'm not, the following is what I would be pushing:
Monday, January 9, 2012: Iowa
Tuesday, January 17: New Hampshire
Tuesday, January 24: South Carolina
Saturday, January 28: Nevada
Tuesday, January 31: Florida

Tuesday, February 7: Colorado
Tuesday, February 14: Arizona
Tuesday, February 21 or 28: Michigan

[Other states potentially likely to slip into February: Georgia, Wisconsin, Wyoming]2

Tuesday, March 6: Less-Super Tuesday
Not only does that give each one of the rogue states its own chance at the spotlight -- a week in nearly every case -- but it places on nearly every week a contest. That allows the RNC to avoid any gaps in the calendar like the likely February gap in the MysteryPolitico calendar above or similar to the gap that existed in the 2008 Democratic calendar between Mississippi on March 11 and Pennsylvania on April 22. That was a big hole in the calendar that, while it kept Democrats in the news, it also brought us the "clinging to guns and religion" tangent and the return of Jeremiah Wright. The RNC and the prospective candidates would rather have results in contests to talk about than idle time for opposition research fodder to emerge and dominate the news. That is especially true with an incumbent in the White House. The Republican National Committee doesn't want to afford Obama the opportunity to look and act presidential simultaneous with news being dug up about their own prospective candidates. Now, that is a fine line to tread since the field could be winnowed down to two rather quickly leading to a week-to-week, contest-to-contest sniping fest among the remaining candidates. Contest results, if there are any in that interim, would tend to trump any negative back and forth. At the very least contest results help to frame such exchanges better than in their absence.

As FHQ is apt to do, we have taken a series of questions, slightly answered them and proposed an alternative. The simple truth at this point is that we don't know what the calendar will ultimately look like. What we know is that no one wants the primary calendar to bleed over into 2011. We also know that the early four states and in addition Florida, Michigan, Arizona and maybe Colorado, Georgia, Wisconsin and Wyoming want a crack at early contests and still have the ability to move. Call it a hunch, but I'd bet the RNC also would like to retain some modicum of order to the process and not have a bunch of states compressed in January with a gap in February before March 6 opens the window in which non-exempt states should have been allowed to hold primaries and caucuses according to the rules. Finally, we also know that the RNC has the ability to stiffen the penalties on states if they go really rogue. Sure, that idealistic FHQ proposal above meets those criteria and might even make some sense. But we also know that that probably makes it much less likely that it will become a reality. As I said, if I was at the RNC that would be what I would be advocating now.

NOTE: FHQ began a post on the timeframe for the remaining states to decide on primary/caucus dates yesterday, but decided to wait and see how the events of today impact that before posting. Nonetheless, that post should answer the questions embedded in the final paragraph of MysteryPolitico's comment. Stay tuned. That should be up later today or sometime tomorrow.

1 Directly from this conversation, this mainly consists of the idea that the RNC has a check on Florida. And believe it or not, it really doesn't have anything to do with the convention in Tampa. No, instead the national party has some sway in the Florida matter based on the fact that its co-chair, Sharon Day, is from Florida. Does Day have a significant say in where Florida ends up on the calendar? Yes and no. She will not necessarily be involved in the selection of a date for the Florida primary, but being that she aspires to move to positions other co-chair of the national party, Day would be, and indeed is, highly motivated to influence the decision-making there in an effort to save face. Again, this isn't a direct check. It is an indirect one based on someone who is connect to and in the Florida Republican Party political structure.

2 Missouri is left off of this list. It will be very difficult for Republican legislators there to vote against a bill to move the primary to March 6 from the governor after already passing such a bill without risking further penalty from the RNC. Though some may like to stick to February 7, I think Missouri Republicans' hands are tied now.

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