Monday, January 16, 2023

Post-2022 Partisan Control of State Government and 2024 Presidential Primary Movement

What if anything do the 2022 midterm results mean for primary movement on the 2024 presidential primary calendar

Part of that question was actually answered back in August when the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) finalized all of the delegate selection rules for the 2024 cycle except one section. That exception? The pre-window calendar rules and exemptions. And why did the panel wait? They pushed pause on finalizing the early calendar because the midterms were going to be determinative in just how ambitious Democrats could be in reworking the calendar. A Republican surge would have meant something more like the status quo would have prevailed while a Democratic hold or gains would have given the DNCRBC a bit more latitude in changing things. 

The results ended up closer to the latter and Democrats swung big in booting Iowa and (effectively) New Hampshire from the pre-window in the adopted calendar proposal for 2024. 

That has largely been the story thus far for 2024 primary movement, prospective or otherwise. And that is unusual. It is atypical for a party currently occupying the White House to tinker with its delegate selection rules, especially when the incumbent president is signaling a run for reelection. Very simply, incumbent presidents of the post-reform era have made a habit of demonstrating that they like the rules that got them to the nomination in the first place and have tended to carry them over for the most part to their reelection cycle. 

That has not been the case with the Biden administration of the DNCRBC following the 2022 midterms. Instead of the focus being on Republican-controlled states angling to better position their primaries and caucuses for a competitive nomination cycle, the spotlight has been on two states tabbed to be a part of the new Democratic pre-window lineup. Two states where Democrats did not gain sufficient state legislative or gubernatorial seats to change the tide. That is, the talk has been about Georgia and New Hampshire not moving because Republicans in both state governments stand in the way. 

But the DNC calendar rules are not finalized yet and will not be until the February winter meeting at the earliest. Georgia and New Hampshire will continue to be stories in the process, but may force Democrats to look elsewhere to states that may be better able to implement changes. Given the national party's preference for state-run contests, any changes to move additional states' contests around will occur in state legislatures across the country. 

The other side of this, of course, is that Republicans did not flip control of any state legislative chambers in 2022. And the only gubernatorial seat the GOP gained was in Nevada, where Democrats retained control of the legislature (and the primary is already early on the calendar). As a component of possible primary movement, the lack of a typical out-party surge in the midterms did not portend pronounced primary movement. 

Another significant component is that Republicans are still dealing with the fallout of the primary movement from the 2012 cycle. As a quick primer on 2012, one has to go back to the 2004 cycle when Democrats aligned their calendar rules with those of the Republicans. Both parties allowed February contests for the first time then. While that set off some movement toward the new early, most states did not catch on to the rules change and act until the 2008 cycle. But that rush to the front of the queue was marked not just by states trying to shift to the earliest date allowed by the two major parties -- the first Tuesday in February -- but by a handful risking penalties to go beyond that point, threatening the positions of the earliest states exempted from national party rules. That pushed Iowa and New Hampshire to the brink of conducting contests in 2007, something that decision makers in neither national party seemed to prefer. 

And that influenced the calendar rules for 2012. The parties informally brokered a later start to primary season, nixing February as the earliest point during which non-exempt states could hold contests. Both parties nudged that starting time back to the first Tuesday in March for the 2012 cycle. But that left nearly 20 states in the lurch. All had February or early contests on the books. And all 20 needed to change state laws in order to come back into compliance with the new national party rules.

That change set off a flurry of activity on the state level in 2011. But there was a pattern to it. With an active Republican presidential nomination race on the horizon, the Republican-controlled states among that 20 tended to move back but less so. They mostly ended up in March. Democratic-controlled states, on the other hand, pushed even further back on the calendar with less at stake. 

And that is the legacy of 2012. The March start point for most states is still there in the national party rules and so are most of the Republican states. Some of the Democratic ones have even come back. That is not to say that there are not Republican-controlled states later in the calendar. There are. But there just is not a lot of movement that can happen at this point. Not movement forward anyway. 

In the end, there will be primary movement for 2024. Some has already happened prior to 2023. But the point here is to hone in on just how much movement can happen. Some can, but this is neither 2008 nor 2012. The changes on the Democratic side will likely push at least Iowa and New Hampshire into January and bring Michigan at a minimum into the pre-window. Other than that, however, there may be some incremental changes to comply with the new national Republican rules that will affect the end of the calendar. Unified Republican control in Montana and South Dakota ought to make those changes easier. 

The 2022 midterm elections saw relative stability across the board, and the lack of change there will affect how much the calendar is able to change in 2023. So far the outlook suggests limited tweaks. But it is still early.

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