Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kentucky Republicans Eye 2016 Caucuses OR How Kentucky Republicans Already Have Caucuses

It has been over a week since Manu Raju reported that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has had preliminary discussions with the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) about the possibility of the state party switching from a primary to caucuses as a means of allocating delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention. Such a move would help a now-latent Paul presidential campaign circumvent state law barring him from appearing twice on the May 2016 Bluegrass state primary ballot (once for renomination to run for his US Senate seat and also for the presidential preference vote).

The basics of this story are simple enough:
  • Democrats retain control of the Kentucky State House in the 2014 midterms.
  • The majority Democrats also signal that they would block attempts to change the law, allowing Senator Paul to run simultaneously for both a senate and presidential nomination.
  • Paul and Kentucky Republicans consider a shift to caucuses to accommodate the senator and to avoid Paul breaking the law.
Outside of that outline, though, some of the commentary on this has been a bit off.

First of all, this is something of a no-brainer reaction from Kentucky Republicans and Senator Paul. The barrier separating a law change -- a Democratic majority in the Kentucky State House -- survived  the midterm elections. It is not as if states and state parties have not done things to benefit their favorite son presidential candidates during the nomination phase of the campaign in the past. Typically, that has resulted in calendar maneuvering at the state legislative level. In 2011, Utah Republicans considered moving the primary in the Beehive state to an earlier date to help Mitt Romney. In 2005, Governor Mike Huckabee signed into law a bill moving the Arkansas presidential primary from May to February for a 2008 cycle that saw Huckabee run for run for the Republican nomination. Similarly, Illinois legislators pushed through a bill in 2007 moving the Prairie state primary up a month to February to boost Senator Barack Obama's chances in the Democratic nomination race. In 1988, the entire South (a group that included Kentucky) shifted their nominating contests up in the hopes of building momentum behind a southern Democratic nominee (who could win the White House).1 There are plenty of other examples, but this type of supposed machinations from the states is not new or all that controversial.

It also is not the sort of move that would potentially draw legal challenge from Kentucky Democrats (as Raju mentioned in passing in his Politico piece). FHQ is still trying to figure that one out. Challenge what? The shift to caucuses? Paul's name being on a caucuses ballot (president) and a primary ballot (senate)? The former is not something that would last long in the courts. State parties have the freedom of association rights to select the mode of delegate allocation (primary or caucus) and who can participate (open, closed or some hybrid primary type). More often than not the courts side with the parties. Idaho Republicans, for instance, abandon the traditionally late presidential primary in the Gem state for early March caucuses for the 2012 cycle. Nebraska Democrats took a similar path four years earlier. Kentucky Democrats could challenge Paul appearing on two ballots, but would find that a likely uphill climb because 1) there is not typically a ballot at caucus sites and 2) the language of the Kentucky law is a bit quirky naming only voting machines and absentee ballots  (Again, neither of those would be involved in caucus proceedings.).

Counter to what Jazz Shaw had to say at HotAir about the potential move in Kentucky, Kentucky Republicans would not have to reinvent the wheel in shifting from its business-as-usual primary to caucuses as a means of allocating delegates. Kentucky Republicans have used the primary as means of allocating delegate slots to presidential candidates. Yet, they -- the RPK -- also have had a caucuses system in place for the purposes of selecting delegates to fill those allocated slots. Rule 5.03 of the Rules of the Republican Party of Kentucky lay out the rules regarding the timing of those first determining events (precinct caucuses). They are to occur between March 1 and March 31 of a presidential election year. The only thing Kentucky Republicans would be likely to do is to clean up some of the language to have the precinct caucuses all coinciding on the same date, say, March 1. Making the switch would not be difficult for the party, but participation would certainly go down relative to a primary.

One final thing FHQ has not seen mentioned in association with this story is the fact that there have been concerted efforts on the part of (Ron) Paul supporters across the country over the last few years to take over control of state parties and/or to change the nomination processes in those states to caucuses. The elder Paul did quite well in 2012 caucuses/conventions. Hypothetically, such a move would potentially help Rand Paul too, though one would imagine him likely being quite successful no matter what type of contest his home state decided to adopt.

This one will be an interesting one to watch develop from an institutional standpoint. The question is, does the RPK opt to shift and move to an earlier date where there may be other regional partners on the same date or try for an earlier calendar position where they may not get lost in the shuffle because of contest crowding and other candidates avoiding a likely Paul win for other states on the same date? The benefits are not as clear on that front as they are for Senator Paul avoiding breaking current Kentucky state law.

1 Kentucky Democrats had actually moved up in 1984, abandoning the May primary for set of March caucuses. In 1988, the state government moved the primary up to an earlier March date (only to move it back for 1992).

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kentucky's delegates will more than likely not play a critical role in determining the Presidential nomination. I don't see how this maneuvering matters in the grand scheme. The bigger question is how Rand will solve the problem of appearing on the general election ballot twice if he is nominated for Senate and President.