Monday, March 22, 2021

FHQ Turns 14

Today marks the beginning of FHQ's 15th year. Like any other period of time, it has been a span that has seen both ups and downs, none more challenging than this last year. But that is nothing unique to FHQ. We have all in various ways been pushed since the start of this pandemic.

They were humble beginnings. For a site that started out as nothing more than an attempt to gather information about how the 2008 presidential primary calendar was forming and share it as part of the (anecdotal) data gathering process for a doctoral dissertation, FHQ blossomed into something else. Over the years we have brought in many advocates and allies (and detractors too, I am sure), Democrats and Republicans, academics, practitioners and lay person alike with a simple goal: to inform the public about the complex process that both parties use to nominate presidential candidates and how that process has changed. 

Each hour, day, week, month spent during these last 14 years aiming for that goal have been extremely rewarding, but I want to close with a simple thank you to those of you new and old who have taken the time to read and take part in the conversations begun and continued here and on social media. So thank you. Thank you for being a part of this endeavor. I look forward to what the next year of FHQ brings.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Oregon Bill Would Shift Presidential Primary to Super Tuesday

Legislation introduced earlier this month in Oregon would push the Beaver state's typical mid-May primary up to the first Tuesday in March.

SB 785, authored by Sen. Lee Beyer (D-6th, Springfield) resembles in part a bill from the last legislative session in 2019 which would have similarly moved the presidential primary up to Super Tuesday. However, the 2021 bill would move the entire consolidated primary -- including those for other offices -- into March in presidential election years only. The measure would additionally shift back the date on which the legislative session would commence in those years from February to May. The latter change also differs from the 2019 bill and saves state legislators from campaigning or raising money during the legislative session.

While that issue was not raised in the public hearing for the failed 2019 Super Tuesday bill, it was among the shortcomings of the legislation. The committee that heard the testimony on that bill also balked at the costs of a separate presidential primary and the impact it would have on election administrators. 

SB 785 addresses those issues, but it remains to be seen whether it will be any more successful than its predecessor was. Neighboring states all hold March or earlier contests, but the year after a presidential election is not a time when this type of legislation tends to move. But it would align Oregon with its neighbors if signed into law.

A link to this legislation will be added to the 2024 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Circling of the Wagons for First-in-the-Nation in New Hampshire

One hesitates to suggest that the process is beginning, but political actors in New Hampshire are continuing the process of defending the Granite state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary for the 2024 cycle. Typically one of the few bipartisan items in some of the early calendar states is that the state parties are on the same page when it comes to preserving their early and privileged positions on the presidential primary calendar. 

That is why it has been so notable that there has not been unity on the topic in Iowa across parties much less within the Democratic Party of Iowa in particular. But in New Hampshire, how the state plays the game of primary defense is a bit different. For all of the talk of the state parties and what they may do in maintaining the status quo, the decision on the presidential primary date ultimately lies with Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D). State law places the presidential primary date-setting power squarely in Gardner's domain and he has been adept over the last nearly half century in waiting out all challengers and scheduling the Granite state primary at the front of the queue. 

But that does not mean that the state parties in New Hampshire have no recourse, no role to play. While Gardner has probably the most effective tool at his disposal, it is one that is typically wielded late in the invisible primary process. The state parties, on the other hand, fill a void earlier in the that sequence, serving as liaisons to the national parties. That process is happening anew for 2024 now. And to the extent the two state parties can act in concert (with respect to presidential primary positioning), the better the united front message will potentially play with the national parties, the player in all of this that crafts and sets the rules that guide the nomination process and how the states and state parties act within it. 

So, whereas Iowa may not be presenting the usual united front, it looks as if feelers are being sent out between the parties in New Hampshire in order to save first-in-the-nation status there for another cycle. At-large DNC member, Joanne Dowdell (NH) recently pledged to work with and within the DNC and with Granite state Republicans to keep the status quo as it has been for more than a century in New Hampshire. 

But there is a process to all of that. And although Dowdell in an address to the New Hampshire Democratic Party state committee recently noted that new DNC chair, Jaime Harrison, will choose members for the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee who will be ratified in a September national party meeting, that is not where the calendar machination begin for 2024. In fact, they began remotely coming out of the 2020 Democratic National Convention last August. It was there that a report on the 2020 nomination process was commissioned. And that report is due at the end of March. 

That report is likely key for how New Hampshire (and Iowa for that matter) will approach any attempted defense of their status for 2024. If the report calls for change at the beginning of the calendar in an effort to diversify the early calendar electorate to bring it more in line with the Democratic primary electorate, then the approach will be different than if the report is silent on the matter. New Hampshire (and Iowa) would react differently based on that. Representatives on the DNC from those states would interact differently with their fellow DNC members on the DNCRBC. Now yes, Chair Harrison does have some latitude with respect to who gets named to the RBC, but that is a second order concern at this point behind that 2020 autopsy. Membership on the RBC matters -- and Iowa and New Hampshire will have representation there -- but it will be colored by the forthcoming report.

For now, however, that New Hampshirites of both parties are continuing to band together in defense of first-in-the-nation status is not as surprising as it is typical. But it contrasts with what is happening in Iowa for now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

From Where Will the 2024 Delegate Rules Changes Come?

A few weeks back FHQ pulled back the curtain on the baseline set of rules the Republican National Committee has to work from as the 2024 presidential nomination cycle continues to evolve. But with that hanging out there and a report on the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination process due by the end of the month, it is fair to ask from where future rules changes will emanate. 

Among the most basic layers here is to consider the parties that typically tinker with their rules as a new nomination process approaches. Despite all the rumblings about Democratic rules changes that may stem from the national party's upcoming autopsy, it tends to be parties out of the White House that maneuver within their rules as a means of attempting to recapture the presidency. Now, it is debatable just how effective that is, but out-parties routinely make rules changes that it hopes will streamline the process and/or produce a nominee well-positioned to take on an incumbent in the opposition party. Although they were not rules changes, per se, the 2013 Growth and Opportunity Project report the Republican Party produced made broad recommendations about the direction of the party but also included a section on rules changes aimed at shrinking the window in which primaries and caucuses could occur on the calendar among other things. Many of those rules recommendations were instituted by the Republican National Committee while the party went the other way in the lead up to and after the 2016 election on a number of the other recommendations. 

By that measure, then, 2024 starts somewhat off-kilter. Again, it is early, but the rumblings about delegate selection rules changes are on the in-party side of the equation. Discussions about replacing Iowa and/or New Hampshire at the front fo the 2024 presidential primary calendar or completely replacing caucuses with primaries abound among the broader Democratic Party coalition and within the commentariat. 

But much of that difference -- the in-party versus out-party dynamic -- early in the 2024 may largely be a function of the priorities of both parties. The wishlist for changes to the Democratic presidential nomination system is mostly a continuation -- an extension -- of the work completed ahead of the 2020 process. Through that lens, adding diversity to the beginning of the calendar or expanding participation by valuing primaries over caucuses is just finishing the work started in 2017-2018. 

Yet, that begs the question: what are the (out-party) Republicans up to? 

Thus far, it has been all quiet on the western front from the Grand Old Party. However, it should be repeated that the priorities there are different than for Democrats. Replacing Iowa and New Hampshire does not appear to be as important nor does the caucus to primary shift (despite some chatter in 2018 about an incentive structure to facilitate such a change). But what are the 2024 priorities for Republicans? If consensus can be built among decision makers in the national party about what type of nominee the party wants, then there may be some more extensive tinkering than there was during Trump's 2020 nomination defense. That consensus may not come or may not be easy to come by as candidates and their proxies in power within the Republican National Committee jockey for position during the 2024 invisible primary. 

And like the 2020 platform, the national rules on the Republican side may very well carry over as is (or with minor corrections to reflect the change in cycle) to the 2024 cycle. Of course, that does not mean that there will not be rules changes for 2024 for the Republican process. It just means that it may not be coming from the national party. Instead, it may be the states and state parties where those changes take shape under the guidance of the national party rules. Although it has waned during recent cycles, Republican state parties still have more latitude to craft their own delegate selection and allocation processes under national party rules than do their Democratic state party counterparts. There very simply are fewer mandates from the national level on Republican state parties. 

Even in that scenario, however, state parties are still limited in what they can do. State governments in primary states are responsible for altering the date of the contest, but state parties do have some discretion on how to allocate delegates to candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. And that could be where there is some movement on the Republican rules in 2023. Yet, if there is enough of a groundswell from the state parties up to the Republican National Committee to expand or revert those allocation rules to pre-2012 levels, then there could be some push to end the use of the proportionality window at the beginning of the calendar, requiring states to allocate delegates in a proportional manner during the first half of March. 

For now, however, all of this is speculative. The relative silence on the Republican side has made this all a mystery to this point in the cycle. The obvious "problem" areas once common across parties are not exactly problematic for Republicans. It could also be said that the perception of delegate selection rules problems is asymmetric across national parties. That may yet change as the cycle develops, but at this point bet on state-level changes over national-level rules changes until anything new bubbles up, something that also differs from how Democrats have handled things in their own rules change track up to now.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Nevada State Democratic Party Shake Up and 2024

The political landscape in Nevada shifted over the weekend. 

Judith Whitmer was elected state party chair of the Nevada Democratic Party which was quickly followed by a mass resignation of most of the state party apparatus. The particulars of the intra-party squabble are less important, however, than the impact the moves may have with respect to electoral politics in upcoming cycles. The elevation of a Bernie Sanders-aligned chair and subsequent loss of party infrastructure is only going to place more strain on the relationship between the state/state party and the Democratic National Committee. Sure, that will affect fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts in the near term, but Nevada Democrats -- in the state legislature and in the now-departing state party -- have come out of the 2024 gates with a brazen yet flawed vehicle to challenge Iowa and New Hampshire for first-in-the-nation status on the presidential primary calendar moving forward. 

The developments of this past weekend in the Silver state will only serve to further hamper that effort. 

Last month, FHQ asked whether the stars would align for Nevada to take over the spot at the front of the queue on the 2024 presidential primary calendar. A state and its decision makers can be willing to do something -- in this case establish a presidential primary to replace a caucus and schedule the contest early on the calendar -- but are those actors actually able to pull that maneuver off? I cannot speak to the current willingness within what will be a new state party structure, but each move thus far in Nevada in 2021 has made it less likely that the state will be able to successfully move up the calendar and displace Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Take a look at Iowa for a moment. It is a BIG deal that there are dissenting voices in the Hawkeye state these days, dissenting voices suggesting it is time for Iowa (Democrats) to give up their coveted early calendar position and shift away from a caucus/convention system to select and allocate national convention delegates. Part of what has made Iowa successful in keeping its slot at the front is that everyone there -- within the two major state parties, across the two parties and among elected officials -- was on the same page: do whatever it takes to stay first. Again, that there is some break in this is BIG deal. That does not mean that Iowa will lose its position at the top, but it will not help. 

And that is an effort to preserve something that Iowa has held for nearly half a century. Already on the defensive after 2020, Iowans may have some difficulty in continuing to make that case.

Now, go back to Nevada. Democrats in the legislature (and formerly of the state party) are not trying to preserve something, but to gain something. A bill to set a January date for a newly established presidential primary may only agitate the DNC and will certainly give New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner ample time to once again move ahead of any would-be interlopers on their first-in-the-nation status. Layer on top of that potential agitation a state party apparatus that does not as clearly see eye to eye with the national party and one has a recipe for disaster. Or if not disaster, then a (very) problematic path to first-in-the-nation status. 

Certainly, under these circumstances, the DNC would be inclined to continue pushing for a state government-run presidential primary rather than let a state party it is at odds with conduct caucuses early on the 2024 calendar. But even if that new party structure supports the presidential primary, it will not be in a good position to make the pitch that it should be first if is remains at loggerheads with the national party and backs an ineffective primary bill that really only stirs the pot. Other states will likely make these pitches too if the DNC entertains replacing Iowa and/or New Hampshire at the front of the line. And what once looked like a reasonable cross-section of the Democratic Party primary electorate in Nevada may look worse off -- like less of a safe bet -- for having provoked the national party. Other states may begin to look attractive as alternatives. 

And it could also be that the road of least resistance is just maintaining the status quo on the presidential primary calendar. Those first two states may not come off looking too good -- representative -- until one begins to consider what the alternatives are. 

...and more importantly what getting one of those alternatives there would entail. Talk of replacing Iowa and New Hampshire is easy. Replacing them is not. So far in 2021, Nevada has done itself no favors in its attempt to be that alternative.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

2020 Presidential Primary and Caucus Movement (Pre-pandemic)

[Scroll down for analysis below graphic]

For a site named for the phenomenon of states shifting their presidential primary and caucus dates to earlier periods on the calendar often clustered with a number of other states, there was not a significant change between 2016 and 2020. States moved, but it was much more muted in the lead up to 2020 than in other previous cycles like 2008

There were five fewer contests in 2020 than in 2016. That was a function of a number of states trading in caucuses for consolidated state government-run primaries. Part of that trade-in was about state parties abandoning caucuses on separate dates -- one for Democrats and one for Republicans -- for, in some cases, newly established primaries (see for example Utah and Washington).

Additionally, whereas 36 states (or state parties) moved contests in 2016, there were only 30 state moves out of 71 contests. [If both Democrats and Republicans used a primary or conducted caucuses on the same date, then those were counted as one contest (unless the moves from one party differed from the other within a state).]

States have largely learned their lesson about frontloading. That era seems to have come to a close after the 2008 cycle. Either they have shifted back to previously held later dates or they have ignored the potential for getting lost in the shuffle among a group of larger states. While there was movement forward on the 2020 presidential primary calendar -- see Arkansas and California -- the average shift among states that moved as the 2020 primaries approached was just -1.47 days, a backward move.

Most of what explains that is not the pandemic. The graphic above accounts for the movement on the calendar before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the calendar starting in mid-March 2020. Instead, what is driving the average negative movement is a group of Republican state parties either canceling primaries or opting out of them in favor of later caucuses and/or state conventions as the means of selecting and allocating national convention delegates. 

Finally, there were a handful of double moves. Both Arkansas and New York had 2016 primary laws expire at the end of 2016 which reverted each to their previous dates, Arkansas in May and New York in February. The DC Council also moved the primary in the district twice. The first change was to a date one week later on the calendar which the second reversed when the council shifted the contest up two weeks to the first Tuesday in June. On the graphic, the first move is always "underneath" the second and final move. 

NOTE: A separate post on post-pandemic movement is forthcoming.