Thursday, February 2, 2012

2012 Republican Delegate Allocation: Nevada

This is the sixth in a multipart series of posts that will examine the Republican delegate allocation by state.1 The main goal of this exercise is to assess the rules for 2012 -- especially relative to 2008 -- in order to gauge the impact the changes to the rules along the winner-take-all/proportionality spectrum may have on the race for the Republican nomination. As FHQ has argued in the past, this has often been cast as a black and white change. That the RNC has winner-take-all rules and the Democrats have proportional rules. Beyond that, the changes have been wrongly interpreted in a great many cases as having made a 180º change from straight winner-take-all to straight proportional rules in all pre-April 1 primary and caucus states. That is not the case. 

The new requirement has been adopted in a number of different ways across the states. Some have moved to a conditional system where winner-take-all allocation is dependent upon one candidate receiving 50% or more of the vote and others have responded by making just the usually small sliver of a state's delegate apportionment from the national party -- at-large delegates -- proportional as mandated by the party. Those are just two examples. There are other variations in between that also allow state parties to comply with the rules. FHQ has long argued that the effect of this change would be to lengthen the process. However, the extent of the changes from four years ago is not as great as has been interpreted and points to the spacing of the 2012 primary calendar -- and how that interacts with the ongoing campaign -- being a much larger factor in the accumulation of delegates (Again, especially relative to the 2008 calendar).

For links to the other states' plans see the Republican Delegate Selection Plans by State section in the left sidebar under the calendar.


FHQ has been fond of saying that the rules in the January and February primary and caucus states are no different in 2012 than they were in 2008. But we always say that in the context of the winner-take-all/proportional discussion. On that front, the statement is true, but in terms of the overall delegate selection rules, there is one state with one significant rules change: Nevada. No, the Nevada caucuses are still proportional as they were in 2008. For 2012, however, the Nevada Republican Party altered the binding mechanism within the Silver state caucuses. Instead of the Nevada Republicans being allocated based on what transpires at the state convention, delegates coming out of the state will now be bound to candidates based on the results of the precinct caucuses on Saturday night (February 4). [The ultimate delegate allocation will be proportional based on the precinct caucus vote.]

The reason for the change is twofold:
1) First of all, the first step of the caucus process in Nevada is binding and not non-binding like the vast majority of other caucus states. What will happen Saturday night, then, is not simply a straw poll vote on top of electing delegates to move on to the next step of the process. That is unique among this group of January and February caucus states (and the other caucus states too). The Nevada GOP made the decision last year as a means of drawing candidates into the state; something that did not happen in 2008 when the Nevada caucuses shared the same date as the South Carolina primary.2 Of course, when that change was made Nevada was supposed to have been the third contest on the calendar. Florida's move into January and the subsequent Nevada spat with New Hampshire for calendar positions pushed Nevada back to the fifth slot just four days after Florida. That's a small window of time, but the candidates are out there this week, though they are splitting time there with time in the February 7 caucus states (Colorado and Minnesota).

2) The second reason for the move is not being talked about, but is fairly obvious. The early stage binding of the delegates is a means to an end. It heads off the problems that beset the Nevada caucus process in 2008: that Ron Paul delegates essentially derailed the convention and forced the State Executive Committee to select the delegates. By binding delegates based on the results of the precinct caucuses, the party heads off at least some of that problem (...though Ron Paul delegates will still make it through to the next stage).

But of course, there are some worries about whether the Nevada GOP can improve on their 2008 performance.

What does all of this mean for Saturday night? Well, the Nevada caucuses will be more than the straw polls we have witnessed in Iowa and will witness in most other caucus states. The results are binding -- more like a primary -- and unlike, again, most other caucus states, where the delegates will go to the convention unbound, the Nevada Republican delegates will be bound. This includes not only the at-large and congressional district delegates, but the automatic delegates as well (all 28 total Nevada delegates).

[NOTE: Nevada's Republican caucuses are closed to only registered Republicans. The final day to register prior to the caucuses was January 20.]

1 FHQ would say 50 part, but that doesn't count the territories and Washington, DC.

2 Incidentally, that Las Vegas Review-Journal article was the link the Nevada Republican Party provided on its own website to explain the shift. That was true until just last month when all caucus-related links on the party's page got automatically sent to the new 2012 caucus site. Anyway, if it was good enough for the party before...

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