Friday, November 4, 2022

Democrats' 2024 Calendar Shake Up Hinges on Midterms

Of all of the things that are top of mind for those following the 2022 midterm elections set to conclude on Tuesday, November 8 -- much less those who have and will vote -- the 2024 presidential primary calendar is likely not one of them. Sure, the 2024 invisible primary has been going on since at least November 2020, but that does not mean that anyone earnestly wants to dig into the next election before the current one is even over. 

However, like a great many things, the 2024 presidential primary calendar will be affected by the outcomes of the midterm elections taking place across the United States. In a typical cycle, that would mean that gubernatorial and state legislative elections may impact where any given state may end up on subsequent presidential primary calendars. But this is not a typical cycle. In a typical cycle, FHQ would wait for the dust to settle on those state legislative elections, see where the out-party gained control and begin assessing where primary date changes are more likely. 

But again, unlike, say, the 2010 or 2014 or 2018 midterms, 2022 is not typical with respect to the formation and completion of the next presidential primary calendar. Yes, this midterm will impact state legislative control, and in turn, affect which states may or may not move as new sessions begin in 2023. But there is an added wrinkle in 2022 that has not been there in past cycles during the post-reform era. Unlike the half century of presidential nomination cycles before it, the 2024 cycle will push through the midterms without both major parties having completed their guidance for states to finalize their delegate selection processes. 

And the place where that guidance is lacking at the moment is on the Democratic side. The Republican National Committee long ago signaled that it would make no significant changes to its rules for 2024 and subsequently carried the bulk of their rules over to the current cycle when the September 30 (2022) deadline for making changes to the national rules came and went with little fanfare. And likewise, the Democratic National Committee -- through its Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC -- completed the bulk of its work on the party's 2024 nomination rules.

Yet, the DNCRBC punted on one facet of those rules, a part that has typically been in place before the midterms: the guidelines for which states are granted exemptions in order to go early on the presidential primary calendar.  Now, in typical cycles, the party would entertain discussions of changes to the early states, but would in the face of institutional challenges stick with Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the queue. In some cycles those discussions are more rigorous than others, but the Iowa/New Hampshire question always comes up. 

The cycles that stand in contrast to that pattern are 2008 and 2024. During the aftermath of the 2004 election, the Price Commission took up the question of Iowa's and New Hampshire's positioning in the Democratic process, ultimately opting to recommend keeping the traditionally early pair among the early states but adding to the early window line up. The DNCRBC acting on those recommendations, then, heard pitches from a handful of states to fill those additional slots alongside Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada and South Carolina emerged as those two states. 

And there was wisdom to the selection of those two. South Carolina was already positioned as an early state in the Republican process, the first-in-the-South contest that occurred third in the order on the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada, on the other hand, was not a fixture in the early Republican calendar, but was a caucus state where the scheduling of the caucuses was not determined by state law. In other words, the two state parties did not have to conduct their caucuses on the same date. Even though Nevada Republicans ultimately forced the issue and joined the early calendar Republican states for 2008 and became normalized thereafter, DNC rules changes did not directly impact that outcome (not in the way that it would if the caucus dates for both parties were set by state law and on the same date).

Now fast forward to the 2024 cycle. Again, the Iowa and New Hampshire question was raised on the Democratic side. The same undercurrent was there -- questioning the wisdom in the same two states leading off the process and what impact that would have on the identity of the eventual nominee. But those typical questions were raised in the context of an error-laden 2020 caucus process in the Hawkeye state, a shrinking of the number of and preference for caucuses in the Democratic process and in the wake of the national conversation stemming from the murder of George Floyd. Basically...
  1. Operational: If Iowa Democrats cannot even conduct seamless caucuses, then why should they continue to be first on the primary calendar? AND
  2. Representational: If the Democratic coalition is as diverse as it is, then why are two overwhelmingly white states kicking off the process to determine the party's presidential nominee?
In that context, the DNCRBC -- and not a separate commission as in 2005-06 -- began to tackle the Iowa/New Hampshire question for the 2024 cycle. That the DNCRNC and not a separate commission led that charge was not the only difference between the 2024 cycle and its forebear from 2008. Unlike during the 2008 cycle, the DNCRBC did not grant a pass to Iowa and New Hampshire and entertain pitches from other would-be early states. Instead, the committee invited Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and any other willing state party to make their case for an early window exemption. Those 20 states would vie for up to five exempt slots on the early calendar with no guarantees for any of the four traditional carve-out states. 

And the handicapping had gone on for months leading up to the August window in which Democrats tend to finalize their delegate selection rules for the upcoming cycle. Obituaries were written for the Iowa caucuses, and possible replacements and/or early state additions -- Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada -- emerged. But the same institutional questions that have dogged past efforts to rearrange the calendar came to the fore in the summer of 2022. That left the DNCRBC to finalize the 2024 rules the panel could finish and leave the calendar questions until after the midterms

But why? 

On the one hand, delaying the decision on which states receive early window exemptions cuts into planning time those states will need to prepare not only for 2024 primaries and caucuses but for submission of draft plans to the DNCRBC by next spring. Yes, it helps some that the DNC finalized all of its other rules, minimizing the uncertainty to the dates of contests and potentially moving them. 

But on the other hand, the DNCRBC also wants to finalize a set of rules that stand some chance to be fully implemented and implemented as seamlessly as possible while also reducing the potential for snags. And here, FHQ means institutional problems when it uses the word snags. 

Now, to this point I have vaguely used the term institutional roadblocks, but specifically, the DNCRBC wants to get through the midterms in order to have some certainty as to exactly who their state-level partners will be in bringing any idealized version of a new early calendar line up to fruition. 

The political climate in 2022 favors the Republican Party based on the typical fundamentals of presidential approval and various measures of the economy. And that, in turn, means that some of those partners may be Republicans who are unwilling or unable to aid Democrats in their pursuit of an altered early calendar. 

Take Michigan. Yes, newly commission-drawn state legislative lines may give Democrats a fighting chance to win one or both chambers in the legislature in the Great Lakes state. But the climate may completely or to some degree negate any gains state Democrats would have taken from redistricting. But even if Republicans retain control of the legislature, there may be some who are willing jump at the chance of holding an earlier primary. In theory, yes, but in practice, those Republican state legislators in control would run into RNC rules setting Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada first and a super penalty that would strip the Michigan delegation of more than three-quarters of its delegates. Perhaps those legislators gamble or perhaps they opt to exploit a loophole in RNC rules. It would not get Michigan to first, replacing Iowa, but it could get the state into the early calendar mix. 

Or how about Minnesota? In the Land of 10,000 Lakes the bar is set a bit differently. The state parties can bypass the legislature under state law. That circumvents the Michigan problem in a way. The date of the Minnesota primary is set for the first Tuesday in March, but the date can be changed if the two state parties can agree on an alternative. That alternative could be first, replacing neighboring Iowa atop the calendar. But again, the same super penalty that would stand in the way of a change in Michigan would also be a roadblock to Minnesota becoming an early state. And the Republican state party chair would have a slightly more difficult time in pleading ignorance of the RNC rules considering state party chairs are RNC members. 

Maybe Georgia could easily fit into one of those early slots? The process for setting the date of the presidential primary is different than the two states described immediately above. But again, the reliability of partners matters. The secretary of state and not the state legislature schedules the presidential primary in the Peach state. 

If Democrat, Bee Nguyen upends incumbent Brad Raffensperger in the Georgia secretary of state race, then national Democrats may have a path to adding the Peach state to the early calendar. Of course, adding a state neighboring another early state, South Carolina, would be unconventional. Georgia is a more competitive state in general elections than South Carolina, but the Palmetto state was instrumental to President Biden's road to the 2020 Democratic nomination and some of his South Carolina surrogates may take umbrage to the first-in-the-South state either sharing the spotlight in the early window or being outright replaced. 

And those are roadblocks with a Democrat as Georgia secretary of state. With Secretary Raffensperger back in Atlanta enforcing state election law, he and the Georgia Republican Party would run into the very same RNC rules that Republican actors in Michigan and Minnesota would face. In other words, there is not necessarily a reliable partner for national Democrats to lean on in Georgia either. 

How about Nevada? The Silver state is already an early state and switched from a caucus to a primary since 2020. Moving Nevada would not necessarily change the early states, but could shake up the order of those early states. It is possible. But again, even that hinges on the midterms. Nevada is currently a state where Democrats have unified control of state government. Should the party retain control of the governor's mansion and the state legislature, then the same Democrats that pushed for the switch to a primary after 2020 and scheduled it for the Tuesday in February immediately after where Iowa has ended up on the calendar in the last two cycles, may make changes to suit the DNCRBC directives (if necessary). 

But Nevada is competitive and while that is an attractive quality to the DNC in terms of the states to slot into the early window, it may also mean that Republicans sweeping to victory in the midterms could spoil any of those plans. Silver state Republicans were not exactly supportive of the switch to a primary and the early February date could run afoul of RNC rules by pushing Iowa and New Hampshire into January. Republicans in power in Nevada after 2022 may reschedule the newly established presidential primary or they could revert the state to a caucus system and leave Democrats there and nationally in the lurch. Regardless, Republicans winning control in Nevada in any way shape or form means that national Democrats will not have partners that could assist them arriving at a calendar that best or better meets the goals set out by the DNCRBC.

But that is how this process goes. If the calendar was so easy to change then it maybe would have been over the course of the last half century. It is not for lack of trying. It is a function of the multitude of roadblocks that stand in the way of change. Big changes to the nomination system come when 1) both parties can agree on them (to some extent) or 2) when one party controls the vast majority of state governments across the country. Look at the 2008 calendar changes as an example of the former and the McGovern-Fraser reforms that ushered in the current system at a time when Democrats lost the presidency but controlled vast swaths of the country on the state level as the major example of the latter.

Look, FHQ is not saying that the status quo will carry over to 2024. It will on the Republican side. But the Democrats' chances of altering the beginning of their calendar depend almost entirely on what happens in the midterm elections. If Republicans sweep the states above, then look for the front of the 2024 primary calendar to look a lot like 2020. Any deviation from that scenario may open the door to some type of change even if it is not the idealized one envisioned by the Democratic Party coalition. Otherwise, the party may get a change, but it may amount to a fifth state being added to the end of the early window in a creative way that state Republicans can stomach (ie: exploiting loopholes in Republican rules).


--

No comments: