Thursday, May 4, 2023

Raffensperger Zeros in on Date for Georgia's Presidential Primary

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • More on the delegate selection plan from Iowa Democrats (and an update on that caucus bill working its way through the state legislature there as the session winds down), a final update on Hawaii's presidential primary and Iowa's was not the only delegate selection plan to go live on Wednesday. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Georgia to March 12? Greg Bluestein and Mark Niesse at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are reporting this morning that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) is set to schedule the presidential primary in the Peach state on Thursday, May 4. And the choice is an interesting one. 
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger plans to announce the decision on Thursday to establish Georgia’s primary date for March 12, according to several people with direct knowledge of the decision who aren’t authorized to speak publicly ahead of a press conference.
Georgia added some flexibility to the timing of its presidential primary back in the lead up to the 2012 nomination cycle. Instead of the state legislature handling those scheduling duties, the body ceded that authority to the secretary of state and empowered the office with rather broad latitude on the matter. Despite that discretion, the presidential primary in the Peach still ended up on Super Tuesday in both 2012 and 2016, consistent with where the primary had been stationed in every cycle dating back to 1992.

But Raffensperger broke with that pattern for the 2020 cycle, initially setting the date for the fourth Tuesday in March, three weeks later than had become usual. And the move was something of a nod to Georgia Republicans. The state Republican Party took the opportunity of the later date to increase the delegate prize for anyone victorious in the Republican presidential primary. Delegate allocation shifted from a more proportional method to one that was winner-take-all by congressional district. Georgia was another piece in the bigger puzzle that was President Trump's renomination race. As in other states across the country, Georgia's 2020 plan made it harder for other candidates to win any delegates and easier for Trump to win, if not all, then most of the delegates in the state. 

All of that is important context for the decision Secretary Raffensperger is apparently set to make. Moving to March 12 would not only impact the ill-fated plans of national and Georgia Democrats to move the primary to a pre-Super Tuesday position, but it would affect the delegate allocation scheme Georgia Republicans would be able to use. Any plan like the one used in 2020 would not comply with Republican National Committee rules. Winner-take-most methods like the one used by Georgia Republicans in the last cycle are prohibited by RNC rules before March 15. 

That means that Georgia Republicans will have to return to a more proportional method similar to the ones utilized by the party in either 2012 or 2016. It may take some folks a bit of time to get there on this, but some will likely eventually argue that this move by Raffensperger hurts Trump because it dilutes any potential net delegate advantage the former president may take out of the Peach state next March. But honestly, that conclusion is not exactly clear at this point in time. The difference between a winner-take-all by congressional district method and a proportional one that has a winner-take-all trigger (as Georgia's did in 2016) can be negligible. If Trump is in the position he is in now in polls when votes are cast next year in primaries and caucuses, then it is likely that he would take fairly significant net delegate gains from Georgia regardless of the methods mentioned above. 

That, however, hinges on what Georgia Republicans decide about delegate allocation rules in the coming months. It seems unlikely, but the state party could opt for a strictly proportional method that really could hurt Trump or at the very least potentially stunt any significant delegate gain from the Peach state. 

All this just triggers the usual mantra used around these parts: The rules matter. And this calendar decision of Raffensperger's moves the needle there. 

Iowa Leftovers. I still do not feel like many folks have spent much time reading the Iowa Democratic Party draft delegate selection plan. Some of the reporting has been bad and some of the reactions have been worse.

From New Hampshire, Michael Graham at The New Hampshire Journal had this lede:
The Democratic National Committee may have killed the Iowa caucuses, but Hawkeye State Democrats aren’t going down without a fight. Their problem is that, even if they can somehow battle their way past the DNC, they’ve still got to contend with New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan.
This is just wrong. 

The Iowa plan in no way signaled that Iowa is fighting anything. In fact, it indicated just the opposite. If anything, the Iowa plan was a deescalation in its back and forth with the Democratic National Committee. Yes, it laid out a delegate selection process that will start with the likely January precinct caucuses. But the allocation process, the important one based on the vote-by-mail preference vote, will not kick in until that preference vote is completed. The Iowa plan went to some lengths to separate those two processes so as not to run afoul of the DNC rules for the 2024 cycle. It stands to reason, then, that the preference vote will not be complete until some time that is compliant with DNC rules. 

Now, those mail ballots may be sent out to Iowa Democrats at some point in January, but that is no different from absentee ballots being mailed to voters or early voting starting before early contests like New Hampshire's primary conclude. Hey, Californians started voting as early as February 3 in 2020, the same day as Iowa's caucus (and before the New Hampshire primary!). But results were not reported until Super Tuesday, well after the early contests in 2020. And guess what! New Hampshire's primary law was not "triggered."

Sure, there is a new secretary of state in New Hampshire this cycle, but the dynamic is no different. New Hampshire's results will very likely be in and part of the fabric of the 2024 presidential nomination races before Iowa Democrats begin to report on the preference vote there. 

Graham really should have led with Secretary Scanlan's last line from the New Hampshire Journal story: “We’re just going to have to watch and see what they do.” Indeed. If the Iowa Democratic preference vote ultimately is scheduled to conclude before New Hampshire, then there may be a fight, but all this "fight" talk is wholly premature in light of the plan Iowa Democrats shared on Wednesday.

And from Iowa, FHQ hates to disagree with our friend Tim Hagle, but I do disagree with elements of his reaction to the Iowa Democratic delegate selection plan here:
“It’s polite to say it’s in flux.” He [Hagle] added, “Nobody knows what’s going on at this point. ... The plan that the Democrats are putting through with a mail-in caucus, there won’t be that sort of that intensity where you’ve got to get people ready by caucus night. And so we’re probably not going to see a lot of candidates. It’s basically a disservice to Iowa voters.”
It is fact to say that the draft delegate selection plan is in flux. Plans from all 57 states and territories are at this point. But Iowa's plan made things a lot clearer about the path forward there. The disservice that the Iowa Democratic Party is doing is continuing to call the entire process a caucus. Yes, there is a brand there. But the plan offered by the party is no longer a caucus. The delegate selection process is through a caucus, but the allocation part of this -- the part that matters to everyone watching -- is going to be routed through a separate vote-by-mail preference vote. Folks, Iowa now has a party-run primary if some version of this basic plan is approved. That is what this is. Continuing to call it a caucus just confuses that reality

Polls may be flashing warning signs at President Biden, but just as troubling, if not more so, is the fact that a major union, the United Autoworkers, is holding off on endorsing the president. That is a biggish story about the potential Democratic coalition in 2024. Granted, the polling and the UAW not endorsing at this time may just fit into a broader narrative that is in vogue at this juncture of the invisible primary: embattled Biden. It is something of a theme this week, what with there being a story about Biden's possible troubles with African American voters recently as well. 

Of course, all of this comes before the reelection campaign has kicked into full gear for the president, the sorts of activities meant to woo valuable constituencies back into the Democratic fold for the general election in 2024. Voters are just not engaged yet. As Karl Rove noted over at the Wall Street Journal just this morning, Barack Obama was not in the best of positions at this point in 2011 either. Let's get into (or at least closer to) 2024 and see what the fundamentals look like and then we can talk about warning signs. They may be there now, but odds are high that the UAW will endorse Biden in the end and African Americans will solidly back the president (Yes, the margins matter.).

On this date... 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace (D) won the first Tennessee presidential primary. 1976, both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan swept primaries in Alabama, Georgia and Indiana. Reagan's Indiana victory was his first primary win outside of the South. 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) won the Indiana primary on his way to the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich bowed out of the contest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.


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