Friday, March 8, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Presidential Primary Movement (So Far and Yet to Come)

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

Presidential primary maneuvering in 2019 has gotten off to a slow start.

Obviously, the 2017 shift of the California primary weighs heavily on how one views primary movement for the 2020 cycle. And while states have changed the dates of presidential primary elections in years other than the year before the presidential election year -- like California, North Carolina and the District of Columbia have done for 2020 -- that sort of movement is the exception rather than the rule. States tend to act under a couple of primary conditions. First, legislators often wait for a period of time when there is either more urgency to move or more information to better position a contest on the calendar is available. That combination of urgency and information aligns best when newly-elected state legislatures convene after the midterm elections.

In other words, that is right now in the quadrennial cycle.

And yet, things are seemingly off to a slow start. There are at least a couple of reasons for that. For those with memories longer than just the last cycle, recall that 2011 saw a flurry of activity as a host of states with February (or earlier) contests codified in state law had to make changes to comply with new national party rules that no longer allowed February primaries. State legislatures shot out of the gate in early in 2011 and kept a constant stream of legislation going into the summer months.

But not every state played along with the new rules in 2012 and so the Republican Party in particular increased its penalties for violating the timing restrictions placed on states for scheduling their primaries and caucuses. Cleaning up that residual 2012 mess for the 2016 cycle again provided a more narrowly cast urgency to some states to move and comply with the rules.

Before 2015, four states -- Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina -- had changed their dates for 2016. Two of those -- Arizona and Florida -- were rules breakers from 2012 and shifted back to compliant dates. Another, North Carolina, had moved to a more provocative, non-compliant position on the calendar. Combined, that alleviated some but not all of the state-level need to move. But by March 8, 2015, there still had been 20 bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, and while no state had officially moved in 2015, Florida was less than two weeks from codifying legislation to further clarify the date of the primary in the Sunshine state.

Early 2019 looks similar to 2015, but without the leftover rules breakers from the previous cycle. Yes, three states moved prior to 2019, two of them shifting a sizable chunk of delegates with them into earlier in March, but thus far just 16 bills have been proposed to change the dates of presidential primary elections in 2019 (and that includes the two 2016 caucus states, Maine and Utah, attempting to create and use presidential primaries for 2020). That is a far cry from the chaos of 2011.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of wildcards out there with the potential to add to the calendar logjam in March 2020. Colorado Democrats may be signaling a Super Tuesday primary, but that date can be officially set for any of the first three Tuesdays in March by the governor and secretary of state any time before September 1 this year. Georgia, too, grants the date-setting discretion to an officer outside of the legislature, the secretary of state. And new Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger (R) has until December 1 at the latest to settle on a date for the primary in the Peach state. Finally, New York remains a question mark. There have been some indications that a March date may be in the offing. However, that likely will not be settled until toward the end of the state legislative session in June if the past two cycles are any indication.

And keep an eye on the remaining Democratic caucus states as well. Those have tended to fall in the earlier part of the calendar in competitive cycles. Those states like Colorado and Georgia above could move into March outside of state legislatures where, so far, more attention has been granted to presidential candidate ballot access (proposed tax return requirements) than to maneuvering on the primary calendar.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Announcements: Sherrod Brown takes a surprising pass on a White House run.

2. #MoneyPrimary: Inslee is not shy about accepting super PAC support.

3. #StaffPrimary: This is not about recent hires by any campaign, but instead about the diversity among campaign managers on board with the various Democratic campaigns at this point.

4. #[Non]EndorsementPrimary: Unlike her rivals, Gillibrand is struggling to pull in home-state support. Part of this can be explained away by the fact that the junior New York senator remains in exploratory mode, but only part.  That does tell us something, but we can do better than a simple binary treatment of the aggregation of endorsement data. There are tiers even here. Which candidates have locked down their home state delegations? Which have not? There are degrees there that help us at this early stage to begin to differentiate between candidates. Booker, for instance, fits in the former category while Warren falls into the latter. That, too, tells us something or at the very least gives rise to questions of why the disparity between the two despite being from similarly-sized blue states. Anyway, we can do better than haves and have nots even at this point in time. But Gillibrand is certainly in have not territory here.

5. #EndorsementPrimary: Harris gains the support of three San Francisco area mayors and another from further south in Long Beach. The junior California senator also reeled in the support of DC's attorney general.

6. Travelogue: Sanders hit Iowa before he heads to New Hampshire this weekend. DeBlasio will continue his early state tour in South Carolina. Inslee stopped by the Hawkeye state as well.

7. Moulton is still mulling, now on national security grounds. Of course, this is terrain that Biden has begun to emphasize as well.

8. Hickenlooper states the obvious: finish strong in Iowa or New Hampshire or go home. That is true for him and just about every other Democratic candidate.

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