Thursday, April 25, 2019

New York Democrats Signal an April Presidential Primary

After a one cycle departure, it appears as if New York will rejoin the late April Acela primary for 2020.

Empire state Democrats have indicated in the party's draft delegate selection plan that the 2020 presidential primary -- currently scheduled for February 41-- will fall on April 28. That would once again align the New York primary with primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. That mid-Atlantic/northeastern regional primary formed in the aftermath of the 2008 cycle when New York, Connecticut and Delaware all held February primaries that, while allowed under national party rules in 2008, would have been in violation in 2012 under the new rules in both parties. Those moved to late April to coincide with the traditional Pennsylvania primary date and were joined by Rhode Island (which had a more modest move from March to April).

That changed in 2016. Most of the Acela primary states held pat, but New York pushed forward a week to mid-April. Democrats in the state did not want the primary to fall in the middle of the Passover commemoration. The remaining four states, however, were joined by Maryland. But without New York, the grouping was a noncontiguous five state regional primary.

That is important because there are incentives built into the Democratic delegate selection process. New York benefited in 2016 from holding an April primary. The delegation from the Empire state got a 10 percent boost. But by breaking from the other states, New York Democrats missed out on an additional 15 percent bonus for clustering with two or more neighbors. Additionally, New York's move affected Connecticut and Rhode Island. By cutting the two northeastern off from those in the mid-Atlantic, it cost Connecticut and Rhode Island the clustering bonus laid out in the Democratic call for the convention.

With New York hypothetically back in late April as the bridge between Connecticut and Rhode Island in the northeast and Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania in the mid-Atlantic, all six states would be in line for a 25 percent bonus -- 10 percent for April primaries and 15 percent for a clustering of three or more contiguous states -- to their base apportionment of delegates. That would take a six state group with 543 pledged delegates and increase the total by roughly 120 delegates (across all six states). That is more than double the number of bonus delegates that California lost in its more from June 2016 to March 2020. And significantly, that is a large chunk of delegates at stake in an area of the calendar where presumptive nominees have emerged. But those presumptive nominees have not typically broken the 50 percent plus one delegate barrier by that point. Rather, the gap in the delegate count has been sufficiently large (considering the remaining delegates to be allocated) to force the remaining viable competition from the race. Both Romney and Trump benefited from the Acela primary cluster in 2012 and 2016, respectively. However, that regional primary played less a role in the one-on-one 2016 Democratic nomination race. Sanders lingered well after that point, competing against the delegate math through the end of primary season.

That may be a lot to digest, but the delegate math -- both the overall trajectory in primary season and the bonuses to the state party -- seem to have figured into the primary date decision making within the New York state Democratic party. Of course, this remains unofficial until the legislature in New York makes the change. Typically the legislature waits on input from the state parties with respect to what a compliant date would be relative to the national party rules and then introduces and passes a bill in the late spring. That step remains in this process.

New York's position and those of other states can be found on the 2020 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

1 While the New York presidential primary is currently scheduled to coincide with the February spring primary, it is only a placeholder on the calendar to which the primary reverts every cycle. The standard operating procedure that has emerged in the Empire state over the last several cycles has seen the state legislature set the primary for April, but also make the change temporary. The date change typically sunsets at the end of the presidential election year and returns the primary to February.

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