Saturday, January 7, 2023

Primary Movement Starts with the State Legislatures (2023)

The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first (1), when do their sessions end (2) and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries (3)? 

[Much more below the calendar.]

2023 State Legislative Session Calendar (sequential)
Date (Convene)StatesDate (Adjourn)
January 2, 2023Montana1
May 111
January 3Kentucky1
North Dakota1
Rhode Island1
Washington, DC1
April 131
May 221
April 3n1
April 281
January 4California3
New Hampshire1
New York1
June 71
June 211
May 301
May 261
January 3, 20241
May 91
January 9American Samoa1
Puerto Rico1
Virgin Islands1
April 221
March 101
May 91
December 311
March 301
April 81
February 81
May 171
May 121
April 291
January 10Delaware1
South Carolina1
South Dakota1
January 9, 20241
March 271
May 61
May 291
March 31
January 11Illinois1
New Jersey1
North Carolina1
West Virginia1
year round2
April 101
year round2
year round2
July 281
February 251
March 111
January 17Alaska1
New Mexico1
April 171
March 181
June 261
March 31
January 18Hawaii1May 4
February 6Nevada
June 5
May 26
March 7Alabama
June 8
May 5
April 10LouisianaJune 8
1 States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
2 State legislatures whose session calendars have them meeting throughout the year.
3 Technically, California opened its 2023 legislative session with an organizational session on December 5, 2022. That counted as the first legislative day of the session, but the legislature was in recess thereafter until January 4, 2023.
4 Technically, Maine opened its 2023 legislative session with an organizational session on December 7, 2022. That counted as the first legislative day of the session, but the legislature was in recess thereafter until January 4, 2023.

2023 in the state legislatures
The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. However, with the schedule of state legislative sessions down, what impact will that have on the formation of the 2024 presidential primary calendar? The biggest thing is that 2024 is not 2020. The partisan tables are turned with the Republican Party gearing up for an active and competitive nomination race while Democrats are less likely at this time to have one with an incumbent in the White House. Most recently the topline conditions that match best are from the last time a Democratic incumbent sought renomination, 2012. But that was a completely different environment with respect to the emerging primary calendar.

For starters, both parties allowed states to conduct February contests in 2008. Yet, given the flirting that early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina did with the idea of late 2007 primaries or caucuses, both national parties made rules changes for 2012 intended to push back the start of primary season. And those changes meant that entering this period in the 2012 cycle -- early 2011 -- there were roughly 20 states with laws on the books that scheduled primaries that were not in compliance with the new national party rules. In other words, there was a tension at this point in the 2012 cycle that does not exist today. There was built-in and expected primary movement then that is not present in 2023 (or at least not present at near the same level). 

However, the backwards movement that characterized a lot of calendar movement for 2012 continued in 2013-14. And importantly for 2016, past rogue states like FloridaMichigan and Arizona moved back from the brink. But the 2020 cycle saw California move all of its delegates from June all the way back up to Super Tuesday in March, further concentrating just how many delegates were at stake so early in the process. What 2016 and 2020 demonstrated was that the national parties had -- at least for those two cycles -- devised a workable mix of penalties and bonuses to keep states in line.

Will that hold in 2024? The early indications are less clear than they have been in recent cycles, but 2023 will settle that score.

Here are a few things to look out for as state legislative session progress (mostly) over the first half of  2023 and into the latter half of the year.

1. Primary movement or primary movement?
There are at least a couple of different categories of primary movement. One is the movement of existing primaries from one spot on the calendar to another. The late 2022 attempt to shift the Michigan presidential primary from March to February is one such example. With Michigan factoring into the Democratic National Committee pre-window plans, one can expect further action on this front in the Great Lakes state in the coming months.  

The other type of primary movement concerns changes to the mode of delegate selection: primary or caucus. Every cycle there is at least some movement from primary to caucus or from caucus to primary. There has been a push in the Democratic process since 2016 to move away from caucuses in favor of primaries, whether state government- or state party-run. Democratic-controlled states on the whole shifted to state government-run contests for 2020 while the most of the rest adopted delegate selection plans with state party-run primaries. Only Iowa, Nevada and Wyoming kept caucuses intact. And the Covid-19 pandemic claimed the Wyoming caucuses, forcing the state party to use a mail-in process that more closely resembled a primary. In the intervening time, the Nevada legislature passed a bill establishing a presidential primary that was signed into law in 2021. And Iowa Democrats pledged during their pitch to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) to protect their early calendar position to adopt a mail-in process that makes the Democratic caucuses there caucuses-in-name-only. 

Primary to caucus movement or vice versa will likely be more mixed on the Republican side of the ledger. A number of state Republican parties scaled down their operations for 2020 with an incumbent seeking renomination. A handful of primary states shifted to caucuses and a fair number of caucus states cancelled those contests in favor of other means of delegate selection. [Democrats on the state level followed much the same route in a number of states in 2012 when the party was last defending the White House.] But those Republican moves for 2020 will likely reverse to some extent for 2024. Yet, at least one Republican-controlled state, Missouri, has already eliminated its primary for 2024. Although there is an effort to reestablish it. Of course, with a competitive nomination race, there could be movement in one or both directions as state Republican parties potentially consider which mode -- primary or caucus -- helps one candidate or type of candidate over others. 

2. Likely Movers
As noted above, the impetus to move for 2024 is different than it was in the recent past. Democrats are idle at this time, so the motivation is less pronounced for states to move their contests around because of an active nomination race. Granted, the calendar proposal adopted by the DNCRBC will trigger some activity. Michigan fits in there as may some other states. But are there some states more likely to move than others?

When one thinks about that, there are a few factors for which to account. FHQ will not be exhaustive here, but only point toward the most likely factors motivating primary movement. One is where the contests are currently scheduled. The movement seen so far for the 2024 cycle has been focused more on states switching modes rather than switching positions on the calendar. But later states are more likely to be motivated to move up on the calendar than early states are to move back. Yes, the Louisiana primary shifted to a later date for 2024 in 2021, but that was due to a non-compliance issue. There are a handful of other states that face non-compliance issues as well, but that is because of a change in Republican National Committee (RNC) rules and they are at the end of the calendar.

But second, look to the partisan alignment of state legislatures. That has not been a significant factor in past iterations of my research, but in an increasingly polarized environment, may be becoming a more significant one now. Republican-controlled states, then, might be more inclined to seek out earlier dates. Look, in particular and as noted above, at the Republican-controlled group of states with early June primary dates as of now. Also states like Florida and Ohio with mid-March primaries may be motivated to move to even earlier dates. A wide open Republican race (not to mention favorite son candidates in Florida's case) may draw them to earlier dates for 2024.

Contrast that with the Democratic-controlled state governments across the country. Their motivation is different. Diversify the beginning of the calendar? Protect the president and/or create a smoother path to renomination? Affect the Republican process? Any movement among Democratic states is likely to be if not minimal, then narrow and particularized. 

3. Regional primaries
Part of what drove the mid-Atlantic/northeastern states back in 2012 and kept them there for 2016 and 2020 was the allure of a regional primary clustering bonus provided for in the rules of the Democratic National Committee. Neighboring states that hold their primaries together and late enough on the calendar are rewarded with additional delegates; more activists they can take to the convention. That is no small thing for a small state. While a later contest date potentially means a lesser voice for a given state in the primary process, it means a greater voice at the convention.

And that bonus may hold more sway this time around without an active nomination race than it has in the most recent cycles. Of course, this would mainly be a Democratic phenomenon and one that may be more active in the likely absence of a competitive nomination race if states opt to collectively chase the bonuses with less on the line (and less need to hold early contests).

4. Priorities for election legislation at the state level
This is a factor that has weighed on me since the 2020 election in trying to handicap what we may witness in 2023 with respect to presidential primary movement. Republican state legislatures have moved in that time to protect what the party collectively views as threats to election integrity while Democrats on the state level have focused on combatting what they see as voter suppression. Yes, state legislators can walk and chew gum at the same time, so it is possible to both fight the above fights and also move primaries around for 2024. 

Inevitably, there will be legislation proposed across the country to move primaries to varying points on the calendar, but does such legislation take a backseat in the legislative process to potentially higher priorities on electoral matters? That strikes FHQ as a big question heading into 2023. Yes, rules changes in both national parties will affect some change at the margins, and although there may be some fallout from and noise about the Democrats' proposed changes to the beginning of the calendar, this may -- MAY -- be a quiet year overall for calendar movement.1 And what is likely to keep things quiet-ish is that the parties have a pretty good mix of rules and penalties in place to deal with most rogue states not named Iowa and New Hampshire. And honestly, those rules and penalties have not been tested on the traditionally earliest pair of states.

Anyway, as state legislatures begin to convene as they have over the last week, they will be considering any number of things. Undoubtedly though, that will include primary calendar movement if not caucus to primary movement.

1 Even with the proposed changes, one can map out the range in which most states are likely to fall on the calendar at this point. 

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