Thursday, January 10, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Primary Movement Starts with the State Legislatures

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first, when do their sessions end and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries? [More below the calendar.]

2019 State Legislative Session Calendar (sequential)
Date (Convene)StatesDate (Adjourn)
January 1, 2019Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
mid July
January 2Maine
New Hampshire
Washington, DC
June 19
late June
January 3Indiana
North Dakota1
April 29
April 26
January 4ColoradoMay 3
January 7California
September 13
early April
May 1
January 8Delaware
South Carolina
South Dakota
June 30
March 29
May 20
April 7
May 9
March 29
late April
May 27
early March
January 9Connecticut
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
West Virginia
June 3
year round2
April 8
May 17
June 6
year round2
year round2
mid July
mid May
March 10
March 9
January 14Arizona
Puerto Rico
Virgin Islands1
late April
March 14
early April
May 3
mid May
November 30
year round2
April 28
January 15Alaska1
New Mexico
April 14
March 16
January 16Hawaii1May 2
January 22OregonJune 30
January 28UtahMarch 14
February 4Nevada1
June 3
May 31
March 5Alabama
June 18
May 3
April 8LouisianaJune 6
1 States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
2 State legislatures whose session calendars have them meeting throughout the year.

2019 in the state legislatures
The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. With the schedule of state legislative sessions down, though, what impact will that have on the formation of the 2020 presidential primary calendar? The biggest thing is that 2020 is not 2016, but it is likely to share more similarities with 2016 than 2016 did with its immediately prior cycle, 2012. There are not nearly 20 states that have to make some form of scheduling change to comply with changes to the structure of the primary process at the national party level. In 2008 both parties allowed February contests. For 2012, both parties changed their minds and together informally constructed a calendar structure that had the carve-outs in February and all other states in March or later.

Right off the bat, then, the 2012 cycle had a tension between where state laws had various primaries scheduled (February or before) and what the national parties wanted in terms of the overall calendar for most states (March and later). That tension has already been greatly minimized. 2011 saw a significant amount of backward primary movement, and that process continued in 2013-14. Importantly for 2016, past rogue states like Florida, Michigan and Arizona moved back from the brink. That does not mean that there will not be other rogues out there, but 2016 demonstrated that the parties had -- at least for that cycle -- a workable mix of penalties and bonuses to keep states in line.

Will that hold in 2020? The early indications are yes, but 2019 will settle that score.

Here are a few things to look out for as state legislative session progress (mostly) over the first half of  2019 and into the latter half of the year.

Primary movement or primary movement?
A couple of states -- California and North Carolina -- made early moves on the 2020 calendar. Both shifted their contest dates to Super Tuesday in 2017 and 2018. That is atypical as most states tend to wait until the new legislatures convene in the year before the presidential election to settle on the timing of their presidential primaries. And while one can expect there to be additional movement up and down the calendar in the coming months, that is not the only type of movement witnessed either thus far or likely witnessed in the near future.

Yes, some states have changed primary dates, but others -- former caucus states -- have moved to primaries as the means allocating delegates for the 2020 cycle. This trend began in 2016 (Maine and Minnesota), continued in 2017 (Colorado and Utah), stretched into 2018 (Idaho and Nebraska), and could push into 2019 in states like Hawaii and Washington. The former saw legislation die during the 2018 session and the latter has a state-funded primary option, but the Democratic party in Washington has eschewed it in the post-reform era. Washington Democrats are set to finalize their plans by March/April.

But does the trend push beyond just that group? 2019 will answer those questions and in the state legislatures.

Likely Movers
The impetus to move for 2020 is different than it has been in the recent past. Republicans are idle at this time, so the motivation is less to move around because of an active nomination race and more to do so in order to potentially protect the renomination odds of the current president. There have been some discussion about South Carolina canceling its primary in favor of a caucus system for instance. But are there states more likely to move than others?

When one thinks about that, there are a few factors for which to account. FHQ will not be exhaustive here, but only point toward the most likely factors motivating primary movement. One is where the contests are currently scheduled. The movement seen so far for the 2020 cycle has been later states moving up, California most clearly.

But second, look to the partisan alignment of state legislatures. That has not been a significant factor in past iterations of my research, but in an increasingly polarized environment, may be becoming a more significant one. Democratic-controlled states, then, might be more inclined to seek out earlier dates. Look, in particular, at the group of mid-Atlantic/northeastern states with late April primary dates as of now. Each has moved pretty far back on the calendar over the last two cycles. Most also have some Democratic control. A wide open Democratic race may draw them to earlier dates for 2020.

Contrast that with the Republican-controlled state governments across the country. Their motivation is different. Protect the president? Then move back (and see the state party shift to a winner-take-all allocation method). Hurt the Democrats? Then move back and shift an important constituency concentrated in a particular region. Think about that SEC primary coalition from 2016. That could break up and push the votes of a valuable Democratic voting bloc -- African American -- to later in the calendar. That might affect some candidates more than others.

Regional primaries
Part of what drove some of those mid-Atlantic/northeastern states back in 2012 and 2016 was the allure of a regional primary clustering bonus from the Democratic National Committee. Neighboring states that hold their primaries together and late enough on the calendar are rewarded with additional delegates; more activists they can take to the convention. That is no small thing for a small state. While it potentially means a lesser voice in the primary process, it means a greater voice at the convention.

That bonus may hold less sway this time around with an active nomination race than it has in the two most recent cycles. Instead one may see attempts to replicate the SEC primary from 2016. There are elements of a Great Lakes primary already on March 10. California's move may prompt the formation of a PAC 12 primary (if California does not already represent that on its own). But there is reason to believe those clusters, if they occur, will fall earlier in the 2020 than in 2016 or 2012.

Anyway, as state legislatures begin to convene, they will be considering any number of things. Undoubtedly though, that will include primary calendar movement if not caucus to primary movement.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. One western state governor is headed to the first in the west caucus state. One seemingly likely 2020 candidate -- Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) -- is trekking to Nevada.

2. On the Sanders front, former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, will work in a different capacity in any presidential campaign the Vermont senator launches for 2020.

3. Speaking of Sanders, New Hampshire groups supportive of his candidacy will hold events this weekend across the Granite state.

4. New Hampshire will also welcome Elizabeth Warren this weekend.

5. Steyer opts to focus on impeaching Trump rather than seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Yes folks, #WinnowingWorks.

6. O'Rourke is more inclined to run than not at this point.

7. While Booker and Sanders are in South Carolina for MLK day, Harris will be back in Oakland to make her 2020 intentions, if not official, then clearer. ...and they have already been pretty clear if one has followed the signals.

8. Finally, ask and ye shall receive. The burning question on everyone's mind in early 2019: Will Jeb Bush run in 2020? Nope.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

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