Thursday, October 6, 2011

"I'm not sure at this point that I do know where everybody else is."

That's New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner on the overall presidential primary calendar date-setting landscape, post-Nevada (via CNN).

But from where are the threats supposedly coming? Those "everybody else(s)"?

Institutionally speaking, most state legislatures are no longer in session, and if they are, they are either in periodic sessions associated with a year-round schedule or in special session with very specific items on the agenda. There are not, then, many primary states with the ability to move. North Carolina could. Missouri could. Massachusetts could. But logistically North Carolina is unable to threaten New Hampshire. Missouri cannot move it presidential primary forward either. Even if legislators in the Show Me state could agree on anything across Republican-controlled chambers these days, Governor Jay Nixon (D) would veto the bill, keeping a meaningless, non-binding primary on February 7. In neighboring Massachusetts, legislation to move the Bay state presidential primary back to June has been stuck in committee since May. The willingness and/or ability is lacking in all of these states.

How about caucus states?

All of the Republican caucus states are locked in. Yes, state parties -- particularly the Republican Parties -- could technically change the date in any one of those states, but it isn't likely. Planning is underway in each for caucuses next year, and while those sorts of changes have happened in the past, they are rare.1

So where is the conflict? Where is the threat to New Hampshire?


Above, FHQ noted that all the Republican caucus states are locked in to dates. All the caucus states but one, that is. Iowa has yet to set a date and now may be competing with New Hampshire to see which gets the last remaining spot in January; the last spot that would keep either one out of December. That is a new element to all of this. With limited space -- space enough for one, but perhaps not two states' contests given the conflict New Hampshire state law represents -- Iowa and New Hampshire are potentially playing a game of hot potato to see who doesn't end up in December. No one wants to be the one state to push the start point of presidential primary season in 2011. But Bill Gardner cannot follow New Hampshire law and stay in January if Iowa nabs the last spot in January -- presumably January 3.

That would force the Granite state to December 27 or December 20 or December 13. It is that last option that FHQ penciled in for New Hampshire way back in May when it became possible for Florida to move up to as early as January 3. Now it is Iowa that may take that date or some other one during that first week in January. [January 5 is often mentioned.]

Again, Secretary Gardner is bound by state law. He has no ability to set the New Hampshire primary for January 10. Nevada Republican caucuses just four days later violates that law. And if Iowa selects a date during the first week in January, that gives Gardner no recourse but to go before Iowa -- in December. There would be no other option in January that would both keep New Hampshire as the first in the nation primary and give it the seven day buffer after the contest mandated by law.

What options are left to Iowa and New Hampshire?
  1. New Hampshire on January 10 and Iowa on January 3 or 5 is not on the table. New Hampshire cannot do that. 
  2. Iowa on January 5 and New Hampshire on December 13 is a distinct possibility. It keeps Iowa out of December. The blame would not be on the Hawkeye state for slipping into December 2011. That would all rest with New Hampshire; a victim of its own law. [How's that for a strange twist of fate?] Conversely, New Hampshire could take the January 3 date and force Iowa into December.
  3. But if Iowa is willing to let New Hampshire go first in December, would it not -- and I'm speaking hypothetically here Iowans -- make sense for Iowa to go on January 10 and cede New Hampshire the January 3 date? That entails Iowa doing New Hampshire a solid -- one of epic and selfless proportion rarely seen in presidential primary calendar politics. [More on this in a moment.]
  4. The final option is the Thelma and Louise doomsday scenario described last night. That's the "if we're going down, let's go down together" option.
Now this turns into something akin to a prisoner's dilemma. Option 1 is not workable. Option 2 protects New Hampshire in the short term, but likely hurts it -- and the other early states -- in the long run. The status of being first and the whole system in fact would be on trial before 2016. Option 4 yields much the same results.

That leaves Option 3. Iowa takes one for the team, allows New Hampshire to eclipse it for this cycle, and all the early states can then blame Florida and/or the RNC's lack of meaningful penalties for pushing the four early states up as far as they did.2

If you are rooting for reform of the primary system, then one of the December options is probably your best bet. If, however, you would like nothing more than to see some order to the process and no contests in December, well, you probably want to call up the Iowa GOP and ask them to consider January 10.

That is the only option that keeps this out of December at this point.

[NOTE: There is also the New Hampshire on a day other than Tuesday option, but Gardner has shot that down -- at least the Saturday, January 7 option.3]

1 Nevada Republicans' second caucuses scheduling in 2007 to mirror the Democratic National Committee-sanctioned move made by Nevada Democrats into the pre-window period comes to mind. But again, the examples are few and far between

2 Yes, the early states could still do that if one or more states was forced into December, but as FHQ has argued that is a psychological barrier that, if crossed, would make the national parties think twice about the current set up -- including the prudence of allowing Iowa, New Hampshire and now South Carolina and Nevada to go ahead of all the other states.

3 Here's John DiStaso in his Granite Status for today:
WHY TUESDAY? Gardner said the state primary law originally called for the election to be held specifically on Tuesdays but was eventually changed to allow it to be held on any day. 
He said the change was made to cover “an extraordinary circumstance” that could put Iowa's caucus on Christmas or New Year's Day with no alternative. 
Even with the current squeeze play, “That's not coming into play this time because we're not in the position of putting Iowa on Christmas or New Year's day,” he said. 
He also said the primary would not be scheduled for a Saturday because it is the Jewish sabbath. 
“Every presidential primary has been on a Tuesday, every state primary has been on a Tuesday, and ever federal and state general election has been on a Tuesday,” Gardner said.

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