Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Chaos? What Chaos? Iowa Republicans signal January caucuses, but that has been clear for a while.

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
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It has been clear since December when the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee first signed off on a newly revamped early presidential primary calendar lineup for 2024 that the Iowa caucuses -- the precinct caucuses for Republicans in the Hawkeye state, anyway -- would end up in January 2024 sometime. When one national party schedules a non-traditional state first for the first time in half a century it has some impact on the actions of decision makers in the two traditional lead-off states, Iowa and New Hampshire. 

And it has had an impact. 

Those moves, made official by the full DNC vote in February (based in part on assurances from South Carolina Democrats that they intended to request a February 3 primary date for next year), have triggered all of the typical responses. Leapfrogging states! Calendar chaos! Competing state laws to protect early calendar status! National party penalties! The full gamut (albeit with some new wrinkles, perhaps). 

So it was nice that Brianne Pfannenstiel at the Des Moines Register got Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann on the record about his thoughts on the caucuses schedule for 2024.
“It looks as though we're heading for a mid-January caucus,” Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann said in an interview. “But it's still very unsettled. … That uncertainty prevents me from saying anything definitive.”
That confirms the reality that has existed since December, but FHQ would push back on Pfannenstiel's characterization of all of this as a "complicated calendar fight." Folks, it is not that complicated. What is true is that the DNC complicated the outlook by straying from business as usual for 2024. But the range of options moving forward is pretty limited. 

First, look at the calendar. South Carolina Democrats have a February 3 primary. The next earliest Tuesday at least seven days before that is January 23. Under state law, that is latest point on the calendar where New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan would schedule the presidential primary in the Granite state to keep it first. The clearest action that would force New Hampshire any further up on the calendar is if some other contest ends up between the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary and that January 23 point on the calendar. That could be a South Carolina Republican primary. [The primaries there for both parties have traditionally not been on the same day.] It may also not be. That likely hinges to some degree on what Nevada Republicans decide to do.

The easy rule of thumb, then, is that if South Carolina Republicans select a date before the February 3 date on which the Democratic primary is in the Palmetto state, then the New Hampshire primary is likely to end up on at least January 16.

But what about the Iowa Democratic caucuses-turned-mail-primary!?! 

Yes, that change breaks from tradition as well. If the caucuses are not caucuses, then New Hampshire is going to jump Iowa, right? FHQ would argue that that is not necessarily the case. And that conclusion has everything to do with the draft delegate selection plan Iowa Democrats released at the beginning of May. While some bought the headlines that Iowa Democrats would caucus on the same night as Republicans in the Hawkeye state and assumed the worst, the reality was something far less ominous. Rather than being an aggressive and defiant document -- one that might actually have led to a chaotic calendar fight -- the Iowa Democratic delegate selection plan was innovative while being slightly coy.  

The draft plan was innovative in that it veered off the usual course, bifurcating the delegate selection process and the delegate allocation process more clearly than has ever been the case in the Iowa Democratic process. Yes, Iowa Democrats will caucus on the same night as Republicans in the state, whatever that date is. But that will have no bearing on the delegate slots that are allocated to particular presidential candidates. All that is going to happen for Iowa Democrats on that January night is party business: electing folks to go to the county conventions, talking platform ideas, among other things. There is no winning candidate in that process. No score to keep. No horserace to assess. 

That will come from the separate presidential preference vote that the Iowa Democratic Party will conduct by mail. The vote-by-mail preference vote will be for Iowa Democrats what the DNC calls the "first determining step" in the delegate allocation process. Delegates from Iowa will be allocated based on the results of the preference vote. And that is the coy part of the story because there is, at this time, no date for the preference vote. And Pfannenstiel raises that:
Scott Brennan, Iowa’s representative to the [DNC] Rules and Bylaws Committee, said the committee will meet in June, but he doesn’t expect the group to consider Iowa’s proposal until its meeting in July. 
“My guess is that they will find the plan noncompliant because it does not have a date for the caucuses,” he said.
But why does it not have a date? The all-mail preference vote does not have a date yet because Iowa Democrats are still fighting for an early spot on the calendar. Importantly, that is not for the first slot, but an early spot. The gamble is that when Georgia and New Hampshire are unable or unwilling to meet the early calendar requirements for the DNC that there will be an opening for the formerly first state to seize a spot among the earliest states for 2024. 

That is not threatening to New Hampshire. In fact, the Iowa Democratic delegate selection plan was deescalatory in nature (with both New Hampshire and the DNC). All of this will take some time to play out, and in the meantime, there are likely to be reports of back and forths among various actors that get described as chaos. But that is not what this is. Iowa Democrats are negotiating (or will be) with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee for an early spot. The resulting preference vote is very likely to conclude after the South Carolina Democratic primary. [Remember, that will be after New Hampshire, rogue or not.] 

That is a lot to sift through, but it is not that complicated. At the end of the day, one may not know the exact dates for the Iowa Republican caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. But one does know that it depends on what Nevada and South Carolina Republicans do and how the negotiations go between Iowa Democrats and the national party go. Regardless, what is really at stake is whether Iowa Republicans caucus on January 8 or January 15. That is how small the range is. 

...even at this stage. That is not chaos. It is earlier than the Republican National Committee had planned. But it is not chaos.

In the travel primary, little more than a month since his last visit to the Granite state, DeSantis will once again drop in on New Hampshire to meet with state legislators later this week. Republican candidate visits to first-in-the-nation New Hampshire have increased in frequency in recent days. Trump, Scott, Haley, Hutchinson, Ramaswamy and Pence have all also trekked to the Granite state since the beginning of the month.

It was two steps forward and one back in the endorsement primary for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday. On the plus side of the ledger DeSantis secured valuable endorsements from legislative leaders in both chambers of the Florida legislature. Losing so many endorsements from members of the Florida congressional delegation to Trump in recent weeks was a bad look for the Sunshine state governor and would-be presidential candidate. But if the leadership endorsements open up the floodgates for additional Florida state legislative endorsements for DeSantis down the line, then that will serve as some counterweight to the inroads Trump has made in Florida endorsements. [Whether DeSantis would be able to work those state legislative relationships was an open question FHQ posed a few weeks ago.]

On the negative side, the Never Back Down roll out of state legislative endorsements of DeSantis from New Hampshire was already undercut by the split Trump-DeSantis endorsement from one Granite state representative, but another, Rep. Lisa Smart (R) went even further and reneged on signing onto the letter of support for DeSantis, going back to Trump. Better to make these sorts of mistakes early rather than consistently and/or later in the invisible primary. But still.

On this date... 1976, Democrats caucused in Utah. 1979, Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker (R) withdrew from the 1980 Republican presidential nomination contest after a short run that began in March 1979. 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis won their parties' primaries in Oregon. 2016, Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders claimed victory in the Oregon primary while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Kentucky. [Republicans caucused in the Bluegrass state earlier in the calendar.]


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