Showing posts with label Democratic National Committee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Democratic National Committee. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

New Hampshire blinders in the Democratic nomination race

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...
  • Michigan Republicans had everything in place with respect to their 2024 delegate selection plan. ...until they didn't. The plan adopted by the state party last month hit a snag with the RNC and will require a tweak. But the state party has options. All the details at FHQ Plus.
If you haven't checked out FHQ Plus yet, then what are you waiting for? Subscribe below for free and consider a paid subscription to support FHQ's work and unlock the full site.

In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Al Hunt had an eye roll-worthy opinion piece up at The Messenger over the weekend and it was the 315 billionth one since December to inform readers about how the Democrats' Biden-led calendar changes for 2024 have "backfired, spectacularly" in New Hampshire. And again, this was not revelatory. There has been a steady stream of stories and opinion pieces in this genre that have followed the same basic formula: accentuate the negative in the only story outside of the president's age to move the needle in a nomination race that looks like a yawner, only gather quotes from folks inside of and tied to the state of New Hampshire and assume the worst for the president. 

Look, if folks have caught even a whiff of one of these Biden/New Hampshire stories since late last year, then they will likely understand that upsetting folks in a battleground state may have implications for the president in the general election next year. That has been and remains clear

However, Hunt, like many before him, has chosen the New Hampshire-centric path that leads to hypothetical chaos (or some lesser form of uncertainty in the 2024 Democratic nomination race). And that path always seems to place some variety of blinders on those who spin these yarns of incumbent woe. 

Folks miss that New Hampshire Democrats are not without options in this saga. Like other state parties, New Hampshire's Democrats can opt out of a state-run presidential primary in favor of some party-run contest to allocate national convention delegates. The Democratic Party in the Granite state has the very same free association rights under the first amendment that all parties across the country do regardless of any state law on the subject. Perhaps, then, the state party could diffuse the situation by going along with the calendar rules supported by folks from 55 of 57 states and territories and adopted by the Democratic National Committee for the 2024 cycle. [It honestly is like that Politico piece from May was never reported. It certainly was not internalized by very many.]

But even if New Hampshire Democrats continue along the route of defiance, does that necessarily mean that the Biden campaign will topple like a house of cards on the evening of (probably) January 23? Is a non-loss by the president in an unsanctioned primary really the death knell for Biden in 2024? It could be. But it could also very well be that the South Carolina primary comes along eleven days later on February 3 and starts a string of (actual delegate-allocating) victories for the president, things become boring and attention goes where it most always does when an incumbent is seeking renomination: to the other party's active contest. But, of course, Hunt did not reckon with that possibility. 

Neither did he consider the long-term implications of New Hampshire Democrats' defiance in the short term. Again, what if Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Marianne Williamson wins a New Hampshire primary, the ballot of which the president is not on? That is not embarrassing for Biden. That is embarrassing for New Hampshire Democrats. The state party would lose face and set itself back even further for future discussions of the calendar for 2028, a cycle that will actually matter on the Democratic side. It is shaping up to be competitive. 

Iowa Democrats still have a chance to mess this up, but this is what separates them from New Hampshire Democrats in this calendar kerfuffle. Iowa Democrats are seemingly playing the long game. If they go along with the 2024 calendar rules and manage to pull off a successful mail-in presidential preference vote, then the party will have a leg to stand on in pitching a return to the early calendar for the Hawkeye state in 2028. They may be rejected again, but that is still a firmer foundation from which to argue than "we defied the national party the whole way in 2024 and some conspiracy theorist won our meaningless primary." The membership of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee may change substantially between now and 2026 when the calendar decisions are made for 2028, but unless the entire committee is made of DNC members from New Hampshire, then Granite state Democrats are very unlikely to find a receptive audience for their early calendar pitch. 

But Hunt does not consider that either. And it is understandable. It is not a flashy story at the moment (if it ever is for more than just FHQ and, like, seven other people). But at some point, Hunt and others will get beyond this initial set of questions about the Biden/New Hampshire situation and dig a little deeper. One can only hope.

This addendum from Seth Masket to the most recent wave in his survey of Republican county party chairs includes a graphic that is just fascinating to look at. It charts the percentage of county party chairs considering various candidates against the percentage who do not want a particular candidate nominated in 2024. As he notes, there are caveats, but it does give a sense of the direction of movement in the race. And Tim Scott noticeably moved in a positive direction. The junior senator from South Carolina saw his consideration numbers go up and his against nomination numbers trail off. Neat graphic. Seth continues to do solid work over at Tusk. 

From around the invisible primary...
  • In the staff primary, the DeSantis campaign trimmed its payroll over the weekend, cutting loose a dozen staffers. That drew parallels to Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and others who have busted out of the gates with hype to spare only to find themselves in a similar position: not meeting expectations (that they did not set), scaling back only to scare skittish donors which leads to further scaling back. Wash, rinse, repeat: doom loop. [Look, it is another troubling sign in a series of them for DeSantis and company in recent days. It may or may not be premature to write the obituaries of the Florida governor's campaign. But the simple truth of the matter is that DeSantis remains well positioned to do well in the 2024 race. [Well may mean something other than winning the nomination.] The governor has raised a lot of money -- with some caveats -- has the (endorsement) backing of a fair number of elected officials and has experienced staff in the broader campaign orbit. On those measures, DeSantis is well ahead of every other nomination aspirant but one.]
  • In the money primary, Mike Pence and Chris Christie turned in FEC reports that fell below $2 million. For what it is worth, both entered the race for the Republican nomination just last month. 
  • Wall Street donors are opening up their checkbooks for Trump alternatives, but that money is going to multiple candidates. 
  • The chatter may be there, but Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is not running for president. ...again
  • DeSantis has been in the Palmetto state the last two days and Chris Christie will make his first stop in South Carolina on Thursday, July 21.

On this date... 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale is formally nominated in a roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. 1988, the Democratic National Convention kicked off in Atlanta.


Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sunday Series: There's no budding feud between Iowa and New Hampshire, but the Democratic parties in each are approaching 2024 differently. Here is how.

Much happened this past week with respect to the maneuvering at the very front of the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Iowa Democrats finally revealed an initial draft of their 2024 delegate selection plan. In the General Assembly in the Hawkeye state, the Senate pushed through a bill intended to protect the first-in-the-nation caucuses that now heads to Governor Kim Reynolds (R). And the motivation, at least part of it anyway, for that bill was to further insulate the caucuses from triggering the first-in-the-nation law in fellow early state, New Hampshire. 

But in the rush to draw battle lines between the pair of traditionally early states -- battle lines that do not really exist in the first place -- many missed an important story developing in plain sight. In the face of new calendar rules for 2024 on the Democratic side, state Democratic parties in Iowa and New Hampshire are taking vastly different approaches to protecting their early calendar turf. 

In the Granite state, Democrats started off defiant in December when the new DNC calendar rules were unveiled, have stayed defiant and give every indication that they intend to see this through to the national convention next  summer if they have to. Much of that defiance has come directly from the state parties and elected officials in the Granite state of all partisan stripes. But it is also right there in the delegate selection plan New Hampshire Democrats released back in March:
The newly released draft DSP specifies no date, a break from the past protocol. Additionally, it says what New Hampshire Democrats have been saying for months
The “first determining step” of New Hampshire's delegate selection process will occur on a date to be determined by the New Hampshire Secretary of State in accordance with NH RSA 653:9, with a “Presidential Preference Primary.” The Republican Presidential Preference Primary will be held in conjunction with the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary.
And, in truth, Iowa Democrats have not been saying much different from what their brethren in the Granite state have been. In February, new Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart was quick to strike a similar tone to New Hampshire's above in the immediate aftermath of the full DNC vote to adopt the 2024 rules.
“Iowa does not have the luxury of conducting a state-run primary, nor are Iowa Republicans likely to support legislation that would establish one. Our state law requires us to hold precinct caucuses before the last Tuesday in February, and before any other contest.”
Of course, none of that is surprising. Folks from both Iowa and New Hampshire have uttered similar things in past cycles when the calendar positions of each have been threatened. The mantra is simple in both states (for better or worse): When in doubt, lean on the state laws that protect the caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire primary. But on the surface this past week, it looked like Iowa Democrats were now doing the same thing in their delegate selection plan that New Hampshire Democrats did in March in theirs. Which is to say, it looked like the party was planning to defy the national party rules. 

Headlines that made their way to the fore after the release of the plan seemed to reflect that: "Iowa Democrats plan to caucus same night as Republicans." But under the hood, in the weeds of the Iowa Democratic Party delegate selection plan, the state party was telling a different story. The caucuses will take place on the same night that Iowa Republicans caucus. And that is likely to be sometime in January 2024. However, those precinct caucuses, at least according to the plan, will have no direct effect on delegate allocation in the Iowa Democratic process. It is not, to use the DNC terminology, the first determining step, the part of the process where voters indicate presidential preference which, in turn, determines delegate allocation. That is the step the DNC is watching. That is the step that would draw penalties should it occur prior to March 5, 2024, the first Tuesday in March for this cycle. 

What the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee is concerned with is when that all-mail presidential preference vote concludes. It is that vote that will affect delegate allocation. Like the New Hampshire primary in the delegate selection plan in the Granite state, the date the preference vote is set to conclude was left unspecified. If the end of that vote-by-mail process coincides with the likely January caucuses, then it would be a problem. If the point at which the preference vote results are revealed falls later in the calendar, it may not (depending on where that is). 

The key here is that Iowa Democrats are more clearly than ever bifurcating the allocation and selection processes. Their plan does not roll everything into one "caucus" as has been the case in past cycles. The January caucuses will only advance the delegate selection process. That will not influence delegate allocation. Even if delegates aligned with, say, Marianne Williamson were to move to the county stage from the precinct caucuses and set themselves up to be selected to move on to the district and state convention stages, that would not mean that they would be eligible to fill any Biden-allocated slots (as determined by the preference vote). That is something that can occur in the Republican nomination process, but on the Democratic side, the candidates and their campaigns have the ability to approve the delegates that are pledged to them. It is a failsafe the Republican process does not have. 

Bifurcation, then, allows Iowa Democrats to have their cake and eat it too. They can continue to hold first-in-the-nation caucuses (as part of the selection process) that complies with state law but also comply with DNC rules by using a later vote-by-mail presidential preference vote as the first determining step in the allocation process. 

One could argue that there is a structural difference between Iowa and New Hampshire in this instance. The Iowa Democratic Party has more control over its party-run process than New Hampshire Democrats do with respect to a state-run presidential primary. And while that is true, it also obscures the fact that New Hampshire Democrats are not completely without discretion here. Granite state Democrats have chosen to live free or die with the state-run primary option as a means of protecting the first-in-the nation institution. 

But New Hampshire Democrats do have a choice. The state party has the same first amendment/free association rights as the state Democratic Party in Iowa. But they have chosen -- and folks, it makes sense for them to do so politically in New Hampshire -- to stick with the state-run primary rather than explore other options. That could be some party-run process or lobbying majority Republicans in the New Hampshire General Court to create a carve-out for either the Democratic Party or the party with an incumbent president running for reelection. As an example, there could be a state-run/state-funded option for Democrats aligned with town meeting day in March

But again, New Hampshire Democrats have chosen a different path in response to the new DNC calendar rules than Iowa Democrats have. And as FHQ has argued, New Hampshire Democrats may be vindicated in the end. They are banking on the fact that the national party will cave at the national convention and seat any New Hampshire Democratic delegates if the fight lasts that long. 

In the near term, however, Iowa Democrats are differently approaching the threat to the caucuses (or what they are continuing to call caucuses). Their plan, rather than coming out defiant buys the state party both time and flexibility. And both are useful as the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee moves into the job of reviewing and approving 2024 delegate selection plans. Continued New Hampshire defiance in that process coupled with the flexibility the Iowa Democratic Party plan provides them means that, should New Hampshire Democrats draw sanctions from the DNC, then Iowa Democrats are well-positioned to make the case that their vote-by-mail presidential preference vote should be a part of the early window. That part of the process may not be first -- the caucuses, after all, will be in the selection phase -- but the all-mail preference vote could make the cut. 

...if the DNC feels compelled to keep four or five [compliant] states in the window before Super Tuesday. South Carolina, Nevada and Michigan are already there. Could more states be added? Iowa and Delaware, where things have been quite quiet, could be poised to move into that area of the calendar

The bottom line here is that there is no budding feud between Iowa and New Hampshire. Yet, the in the face of threats, state Democratic parties in each are taking on the new challenge in markedly and notably different ways. That is a story that merits more attention than any attempt to manufacture some non-existent calendar drama between the two. 


Monday, February 15, 2021

Former DNC Chair Perez Calls the Calendar Status Quo "Unacceptable"

In a sit-down with The New York Times, former DNC Chair Tom Perez was asked about the case for continuing with Iowa and New Hampshire at the beginning of the Democratic presidential primary calendar. He painted an ominous picture for the two traditional two states on the calendar:
Q: Should Iowa and New Hampshire keep going first in the presidential nominating process?  
A: That will be up to the D.N.C.’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.  
Q: I’m aware. But what does the private citizen Tom Perez think? 
A: A diverse state or states need to be first. The difference between going first and going third is really important. We know the importance of momentum in Democratic primaries.  
Q: I’ll try one more time. Could you make a case for defending Iowa and New Hampshire going first?  
A: The status quo is clearly unacceptable. To simply say, “Let’s just continue doing this because this is how we’ve always done it,” well, Iowa started going as an early caucus state, I believe, in 1972. The world has changed a lot since 1972 to 2020 and 2024. And so the notion that we need to do it because this is how we’ve always done it is a woefully insufficient justification for going first again.  
This is the Democratic Party of 2020. It’s different from the Democratic Party in how we were in 1972. And we need to reflect that change. And so I am confident that the status quo is not going to survive.
As FHQ mentioned on Twitter a day ago, this is not revelatory from Perez. He discussed the wisdom in continuing to protect Iowa and New Hampshire just after the primary in the Granite state in 2020 and has regularly raised the importance of diversity early on in the nomination process. The former chair dipped back into both wells in his comments to the NYT. 

But a former national party chair is still a former national party chair. Folks of that ilk go on to do a lot of things, but directly influencing the formalizing of national party rules is not always among them. However, where Perez may have some influence is in continuing to give voice to this viewpoint that the status quo on the calendar is no longer acceptable. It is not as if the Iowa and New Hampshire question is going to disappear for Democrats. 

It is not. 

Yet, this keeps the issue salient in a time that is usually very quiet on the rules front (just after a presidential election year), but in a period in the lead up to an expected autopsy from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee on the 2020 process (due out by the end of March). Iowa and New Hampshire and their arguable lack of diversity will be components of that report. Of course, that will only be step one in the process of devising the 2024 delegate selection rules at the national party level. The real work by the DNCRBC will come after that. Talk of change is cheap, but actual change is not. 

But those obstacles are not insurmountable. And Perez's stewardship of the 2020 rules speaks to that. He constantly in introductory statements at Unity Reform Commission or DNCRBC meetings from 2017-18 -- and no doubt behind the scenes -- talked of the "north star" principles of the party. And one of those was participation. The party sought to increase participation in the nomination process by encouraging states to shift from caucuses to primaries and by easing the barriers to registration and voting. The former bore fruit in 2020. Caucus states decreased in number from 14 states in 2016 to three in 2020. [And the pandemic shifted Wyoming toward a mail-in process that did not ultimately qualify as the caucuses the state party intended to conduct.] The party also made efforts to reduce the role of superdelegates in the process -- another thorny issue that looked like a steep uphill climb to achieve -- on Perez's watch. 

That effort took a great deal of work and so, too, will any push to rejigger the beginning of the 2024 Democratic presidential primary calendar. Any constant drumbeat about such a change -- like these comments from Perez -- will only keep the pressure on those in the national party to make a change. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

South Carolina Democrats Call Audible on Delegate Selection with a Thumbs Up from the DNC

This is an important story out of South Carolina from the Post and Courier's Caitlin Byrd.

Democrats in the Palmetto state had a primary on February 29 to allocate national convention delegate slots to the Democratic candidates still in the race at that time. Both former Vice President Biden and Vermont Senator Sanders qualified for delegates then.

And while that went smoothly enough in South Carolina before the tipping point in the coronavirus evolution in the United States, other Democratic state parties and other state officials have had to make adjustments to how they are conducting the delegate process. Georgia and Louisiana shifted back the dates of their respective primaries and Wyoming Democrats eliminated the in-person portion of their caucus process. But all those changes more directly affect the delegate allocation process.

What is happening under the surface of all the remaining primaries and caucuses is the delegate selection process, the process of actually filling the delegate slots allocated to the various candidates with actual human beings pledged to the candidates who won more than 15 percent of the vote in states and congressional districts across the country.

Typically, those selection processes happen in tiers of caucuses and conventions parallel to and often after the "first determining step" primaries and caucuses. Precinct meetings feed into county conventions and those select and send delegates to district and state conventions in some states. All those meetings tend to entail gatherings of enough people that would raise concerns about further community spread in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

That means that state parties are scrambling to come up with alternate plans for the multi-level selection processes. And South Carolina Democrats offer a glimpse into not only how state parties are responding to the concerns, but how the national party is being flexible in allowing state parties to act in order to carry out their delegate selection plans. In the face of likely poor turnout, the DNC has granted the South Carolina Democratic Party the ability to conduct precinct reorganization meetings (on March 14) and county conventions (held between March 20 and April 7) to be conducted virtually via Facebook Live, Skype, FaceTime or some other type of (online or otherwise) conference call.

That national party flexibility is warranted given all of the fallout from coronavirus and that all of this builds toward the district and state conventions to be held simultaneously in South Carolina on May 30.

But to be clear, this is not an issue that is unique to the Palmetto state. The selection process will be affected across the country and is a story to watch as the Covid 19 concerns evolve. The problem may not be unique and the state party response may not be either.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Unity Reform Commission and Superdelegates

Let's talk about the superdelegates.

FHQ has largely steered clear of the topic of the unpledged delegates within the Democratic presidential nomination process for a very simple reason. The convention resolution that created the Unity Reform Commission (URC) in the first place in the summer of 2016 really tied the hands of the commission with a specific recommendation the group had to make to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.1 Given the language of that section of the resolution, the question has always been over whether the commission would stick with that specific recommendation or go beyond it (while still fulfilling the mandate). This is a point FHQ has hammered since the convention and on social media in the time since.

That question -- resolution mandate or mandate and more -- remains the pertinent one to pose, but the report of the unpledged delegate working group of the URC added significant nuance to it in probably the shortest of the four working group reports at the recent commission meeting. And what did we get from that status update from the working group "conveners" David Huynh (Clinton campaign Director of Delegate Operations and Ballot Access) and Lucy Flores (Our Revolution board member)?2

Most significantly, Huynh said that there is agreement within the unpledged delegates working group that the role of superdelegates is due for both revision and reduction within the presidential nomination process, but went on to concede that the mandate for what the commission is to do on the topic is clear. Huynh went on to say that the work ahead was about "working out the kinks" and "logistics".

Now, those terms in quotation marks above merit some further explication. Huynh did not elaborate, but Flores did in her brief comments to the full commission during the meeting. The main kink from her point of view was the language in the resolution on superdelegates creates two classes of unpledged delegates. Furthermore, she added, echoing the Sanders campaign and many others before it arguing against superdelegates presence in the system, that it was unfair to give more weight to some voices/unpledged delegates than others.3

Looking at that, there is not much that wanders very far from the binary choice mentioned above with respect to superdelegates and 2020. Again, that is resolution mandate or mandate and more. However, Flores later augmented her commentary on the progress of the unpledged delegates working group in an interview with The Young Turks. There, Flores points to a possible third -- yet to be determined (thus the "working" group) -- option on superdelegates. No, the pointing Flores did was not emphatic, but what is is that both the unpledged delegates working group and the URC are not all that enamored of the language on the superdelegates section of the resolution that created the commission. Its specificity limits what the group can accomplish in reexamining the role of superdelegates in the process.

And all of this comes full circle right back around to the "logistics" on which the subgroup is working. To be clear, this does not mean that the working group or the URC are nefariously trying to "get out" of that section of the resolution. Rather, the goal would be to devise an option different than that set out in the resolution while staying true to the intent: revising and reducing the role of the superdelegates. It is that point on which there is agreement on the commission after all.

With the time between now and the final URC meeting on December 8-9 -- the one where voting on recommended changes will be done -- ticking away, where does all of this go with respect to unpledged delegates? Does the group stick with the mandated recommendation, go beyond it, or find some alternate path? The answer hinges on a number of factors that I would file into three main categories.

1) Two classes
The main "logistical" issue cited in the comments of the unpledged delegate working group conveners was the two classes of superdelegates that the mandate creates: a group of unpledged, unfettered elected officials and a group of pledged party leaders.

This is nothing new.

FHQ will delve into a part of the history of superdelegates here before circling back to the main point of this section. Bear with us or scroll on down to the paragraph beginning "FHQ will deal...".

The two classes of delegates is almost inevitable so long as the Democratic National Committee places some value on having elected officials -- particularly Democratic members of Congress -- and party leaders involved in the process. Following two trial runs of the newly reformed system, post-McGovern-Fraser, the DNC was still in search of "just right" from its nomination process.4  Roughly, that is a system that manages a balance of a number of factors. And with respect to superdelegates there was a desire for balance in terms of representation among convention delegates. As Priscilla Southwell (1986) notes:
Some argued that the 1972 and 1976 conventions had contained too many “amateur” delegates who had little understanding of the necessary qualities for successful presidential candidates. Others argued that exclusion of mainstream Democrats prevented presidential nominees from building coalitions that were necessary for winning the election or governing effectively.
Now, there no doubt will be those who would contend that the rank-and-file members of a party do not need the party establishment to tell them what the "necessary qualities for successful presidential candidates" are. And that point would be well taken. However, the Democrats of the 1970s were still after not only an overarching set of delegate selection rules that would produce a winning presidential candidate, but one who could govern effectively as well. One concept that has made its way into the Unity Reform Commission discussion of superdelegates that was also often used in similar meetings in the 1970s is that of "peer review". In other words, there would be a faction of delegates that could provide that point of view at the convention.

But the first attempt at adding that point of view for the 1980 cycle fell short. The 1978 Winograd Commission had boosted each state delegation by ten percent with the express purpose of providing pledged delegate slots to party leaders and elected state officials (PLEOs). This had the effect reducing competition for the at-large and district delegate slots. Activists, grassroots organizers and others did not have to run for those positions against those PLEOs with better name recognition. Alternatively, it removed a negative incentive for PLEOs: They did not have to run against their constituents for those spots, something most were loath to do. After all, those rank-and-file most likely to run for delegate positions are the same who are most likely to volunteer for and/or donate to reelection efforts of those officeholders.

Those were the positives of the Winograd Commission addition of PLEO delegates for the 1980 cycle. But those changes missed the mark in terms of peer review. The number of party leaders and elected officials delegates actually decreased in 1980 relative to 1976 and that was most acute among members of Congress, those perhaps best equipped to judge the qualities of a potential partner in the executive branch.

It was there that the Hunt Commission began in 1982; again attempting to provide for robust peer review to complement the voice of rank-and-file party members filtered through primary and caucus voting. To bridge the gap between the perceived shortcomings of the Winograd Commission rules and the need to get more PLEOs involved in the process, the Hunt Commission reversed the 1972 era ban on automatic delegates but also made the 568 new delegate positions for DNC members and some members of Congress unpledged. The former -- the ban reversal -- addressed the participation issues for members of Congress while the latter -- their unpledged status -- returned, in the words of the Hunt Commission report, "decision making and flexibility to the convention."

FHQ will deal with most of the issues with that decision in section two below, but the important factor here in light of the "two classes" complaint is that the context was much different in 1982. The DNC not only saw the need for peer review, but foresaw that process happening after the voting and at the convention. Those were the considerations that became the the very foundation of this two classes distinction.

A generation later, though, the process functions differently than intended, and there are two groups of delegates treated differently in terms of how they function. But the baseline recommendation the URC is to make to the Rules and Bylaws Committee based on the group's charter does not really remedy that issue. In fact, as unpledged delegate group convener, Lucy Flores, basically argued in Las Vegas, it perpetuates the two classes problem while shrinking one of those classes.

Actually, it creates a third class of delegates when one fully considers the relevant dimensions of this. The pledged at-large, district and PLEO delegates remain as do the unpledged national elected officials and distinguished party leaders (i.e.: former presidents, former speakers of the House, etc.). But the DNC members who would be shifted into the pledged category do not so neatly fit in with the rest.


The answer is twofold. Part of it lies in the process the URC resolution creates. Those DNC members would be, in the words of the resolution, required to cast their vote at the Convention for candidates in proportion to the vote received for each candidate in their state. They would be bound. Now, the Republican Party does this. The last two Republican conventions have had heated discussion over the issue.

But the secret of the Democratic process is that the delegates are not bound. They are pledged. They are pledged to a candidate but are free within the context of the convention to vote for whichever candidate they please. What kept, for example, delegates in Bernie Sanders' corner at the 2016 Democratic convention despite the fact that he could not win the nomination was loyalty. But that loyalty was borne of the process by which those delegates were selected. Sanders won the delegate slots in primaries and caucuses and filled those slots with loyalists from his slate of delegate candidates. And lacking a full slate or enough candidates to fill those slots, the Sanders team had the right of review over who filled them (if filled by the state or district party). Those delegates are not bound, but are the folks least likely to stray from their candidate in a competitive convention environment.

The treatment of the DNC members would be different than both those pledged delegates and the unpledged superdelegates. They would be bound, not pledged. And they would be bound because, unlike the other pledged delegates, they could not be replaced by the candidates or would ostensibly lose their DNC positions in order to be replaced.5 But that is a treatment different than the two other types of delegates that potentially creates unintended consequences.

No matter how one cuts it, there will almost always be different classes of delegates, super- or otherwise, on some level so long as the national party continues to place value on trying to maintain both instructed delegates and enlightened trustees involvement in the process. But creating a new class of delegates is something with which the URC and later the Rules and Bylaws Committee will have to wrestle.

2) History and Evolution
Having established the context for the addition of superdelegates in the previous section, it is additionally worthwhile to look at the evolution of that group of delegates for some hints about any potential alternate paths the URC may consider, one divergent from the superdelegates resolution.

It is often easy to assume that the group of superdelegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process has been mostly static over time. Add Democratic members of Congress to DNC members and that equals superdelegates. That, of course, is an oversimplification of the equation now and historically. The number of superdelegates has evolved over time as has their share of the overall national convention.

Let's revisit the 1984 cycle. To reiterate, this was the cycle that unpledged superdelegates became a part of the system, added by the 1982 Hunt Commission to provide what was and has in the time since been called peer review at the convention. But fighting the battles of the previous cycles to right the ship for the future often lays the groundwork for unintended consequences. That was the case in this instance.

The original idea was to create a group of unpledged delegates that would equal 30 percent of the total number of delegates to attend the 1984 convention. By the time the delegate selection rules had been finalized for 1984, that number had been cut by more than half to around 14 percent. But the emerging method of determining who was a superdelegate was much more complicated than was the case in 2016.

The 568 superdelegate slots in 1984 were reserved first for state party chairs and vice chairs. The remaining approximately 400 positions were granted to the states and the Democratic conferences in Congress. States received a number of slots equal to the sum of Democratic members of Congress, governors and big city mayors. However, those spots were not necessarily reserved for members of Congress, governors and big city mayors. State parties could fill them how they pleased with, for example, DNC members from the state and/or other party leaders and elected officials not filling the pledged PLEO positions in state delegations. If that was not complex enough, the formula also granted the Democratic conferences in Congress the ability to choose 60 percent of their members to be unpledged as the final piece to the original superdelegate puzzle.

Now, the addition of these unpledged delegates was controversial as it stood. Yet, in practice, the selection itself, particularly of those congressional superdelegates, became separately contentious during and following primary season in 1984. And the reason was not dissimilar to what occurred in 2016. Early in 1984, before Iowa and New Hampshire voted, the Democratic conferences selected 60 percent of their members to be unpledged delegates to the national convention. But while still unpledged, the vast majority of those selected had a public preference for Mondale.

That selection served as an unofficial and unintended first contest in the 1984 Democratic nomination race. Again, the Hunt Commission report had seen the addition of these delegates as adding more deliberation to the convention, not less to the progress of primary season. The parallel is imperfect, but like the Sanders campaign during 2016, the Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart campaigns saw the early activity of superdelegates in 1984 as problematic.

After  primary season in 1984, Jackson surrogates argued for the elimination of superdelegates while Hart proxies pushed for a reduction of their share relative to the total number of delegates to the national convention (Southwell 1986). Of course, there were those who argued for the preservation of unpledged delegates moving forward. The byproduct of the back and forth for 1988 was a streamlining of the superdelegate process. First, the "who" of the superdelegates was simplified. Specific groups were granted unpledged status: DNC members, Democratic governors, distinguished party leaders and 80 percent of the congressional Democrats. Not only was that percentage of Democratic members of Congress raised, but a window was created between late April and early May for selecting them. That addressed a lingering issue from the 1984 cycle, pushing the selection back to a point well after the beginning of primary season voting.

However, rather than reduce the number of superdelegates, those changes for the 1988 cycle slightly increased their number. And that was generally the trajectory of change through the 2008 cycle; what was later referred to as "superdelegate creep" during the proceedings of the post-2008 Democratic Change Commission. That interim period saw the superdelegate share of the total number of delegates rise for a variety of reasons; a trend made clear in the chart below.

Some were more benign than others. Obviously there is some variation in the number of Democrats who hold elective office at the federal level, but the position of Democrats in Congress or in gubernatorial positions ebbed and flowed over the course of the period in question. There was also a broadening of the distinguished party leader category of unpledged delegates. Former presidents and vice presidents were included in that group from the start, and it expanded in fits and starts over time to include not only former Democratic speakers of the House and Senate majority leaders, but former minority leaders as well. Later, this was expanded to former DNC chairs and sitting presidents and vice presidents. Again, though, these were not changes that significantly altered the superdelegate share.

What more greatly increased the share of superdelegates were a couple of factors. In 1992, add-on delegates -- one additional superdelegate for every four DNC members in a state delegation -- pushed the number higher. And during Bill Clinton's reelection campaign in 1996, all Democrats in Congress -- not just 80 percent as was the case in the previous two cycles -- were granted to superdelegate status.6

All of this created an increasing share of superdelegates over time. But that was a period that witnessed neither the type of deliberative conventions the Hunt Commission had hoped for, nor superdelegates playing an outsized role in those nomination contests. That changed in and after 2008, prompted by the intensely close Clinton-Obama nomination battle. Not since 1984 had superdelegates and their role in the process been in the spotlight in the way each was in 2008. That was enough to put the role of unpledged delegates on the agenda of the Democratic Change Commission, the post-2008 group tasked with reexamining the nomination process and rules.

Typically, the modus operandi of any party following a successful capture (or recapture) of the White House is to maintain the status quo in the nomination process. Newly nominated/elected presidents tend to like the process that got them into office. That leads to subtle if any changes. And that was mostly true after 2008. However, one of the largest changes for 2012 was to the superdelegates system; to counteract the slow, but ever increasing share of unpledged delegates in the process.

And that change, too, is clear in the figure above. That substantial drop from a superdelegate era high point of 19.3 percent in 2008 to a low point -- lower than the original share of superdelegates in 1984 -- in 2012 of 13.1 percent is attributable to a couple of factors. One is that the add-on category was eliminated.7 But the decrease in 2012 is greater than the increase due to the add-ons in 1992. The other main factor differs from those above. All of those affected the numerator in the superdelegate share equation. The denominator also can change and did for 2012. From 1988-2008 the baseline number of delegates in the Democratic delegate apportionment formula was 3000. That was increased for 2012 to 3700, an uptick nearly equivalent to the overall number of superdelegates. But when that denominator increases the resulting share of superdelegates decreases. Practically speaking, those add-on spots were shifted from the unpledged to pledged area.

[The subtle uptick for 2016 is directly linked to that denominator change made for 2012. A baseline number of delegates set at 3700 plus unpledged and alternate delegates pushed the total number of delegates close to 5000. This proved to be a logistical nightmare. Delegations were seated not only on the floor but took up the entire lower bowl in the arena in Charlotte. That pushed press in to the mezzanine and upper deck and all other attendees in the upper deck as well. There just are not that many arenas that can handle that, nor a variety of cities that can accommodate that number in terms of lodgings. That, in part, forced the reduction in the baseline number of delegates for 2016 to 3200. That pushed the share of superdelegates to just above but around where it originally was in 1984.]

This evolution since 1984 does offer some potential courses of action for the Unity Reform Commission if the group is looking for ways to uphold the intent of the superdelegate section of the resolution, but alter in some ways the language and implementation. On its surface that resolution redoubles efforts to curb the influence of superdelegates. It echoes the 2012 change eliminating the add-on delegates (and shifting of them in to the pledged category). However, as was described in the first section above, such a move to shift DNC members into the pledged category does create some issues that would require further discussion if not rule-making to properly implement. However, such a change, if ultimately recommended and passed, makes more sense than reintroducing an unnecessarily complex cap on the percentage of Democratic members of Congress who can be selected as unpledged delegates. That does not appear to be a road the DNC would be willing to tread again.

One could argue that the pledging of members of the Democratic National Committee is not the highest priority of those who were superdelegates detractors in 2016. Indeed, considering how by the end of March 2016 the Sanders campaign was openly discussing a plan to persuade superdelegates to switch allegiances, there does seem to be at least some acceptance of them. Granted, acceptance then does not equate to acceptance now. However, that strategic shift does point toward a hierarchy of  superdelegate grievances. The issue was less that those delegates were unpledged -- only that could allow a switch of preferences -- but the timing of the public announcement of the initial presidential preference.

As in 1984 with the selection of congressional superdelegates, the primary unpledged delegate issue in 2016 was that the public preferences of some gave a decided advantage to one candidate in the delegate count before any votes had been cast. The answer after 1984 was to create a window deep enough into the calendar in which congressional superdelegates could be selected and not give any candidate a pre-vote advantage.

Adapting a similar method for 2020 could accomplish the same goal. The idea is less to reduce the role of superdelegates and more to reduce the pre-primary role of superdelegates by prohibiting DNC member endorsements before a certain point/window on the calendar, until their home states have voted, or until primary season is complete. Many superdelegates have waited until those latter two points in past cycles. Such a move would circumvent the replacement and additional rules-making issues attendant to the current resolution -- as described in the first section -- while eliminating the largest of the superdelegates problems from 2016. And by delaying the endorsements of DNC members, especially if until the convention, maintains some consistency with the original intent of the Hunt Commission, a more deliberative and flexible convention (if the nomination remains unresolved at that point).

3) Process = Outcomes?
Now, if one were to handicap this and attempt to put odds on the likelihood of something other than the current superdelegate resolution being recommended to the Rules and Bylaws Committee, then one need look no further than the formation of the URC itself. This is a group almost engineered to deadlock on the most controversial items before them. And that is especially true for anything that reanimates the Clinton-Sanders fault lines. The superdelegates issue hits that mark, but so too do the items in the other so-called buckets. This is a group almost designed to create narrow and likely small changes -- at least compared to what some on the fringes of both sides seem to want out of this process -- to the 2020 delegate selection rules.

But that is precisely what makes how concrete the requirements of the superdelegates part of the resolution so important. Therein lies a recommendation the Unity Reform Commission has to make. If the narrowly divided group cannot agree on an alternative, then that is the recommendation that will make its way to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

In the end, it is easy to be against something (like this resolution or the superdelegates system for that matter), but harder to come up with a passable alternative. That is all the more true given some of the complexities involved.

1 Here is the language of the superdelegates portion of the unity amendment:
Section 3.
That the Unity Reform Commission shall consider and make appropriate recommendations for revisions to the Delegate Selection Rules for the 2020 Democratic National Convention to provide for a change in the manner by which unpledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates participate in the presidential nominating process. In particular, the Commission shall make specific recommendations providing that Members of Congress, Governors and distinguished party leaders (DNC Charter Art. Two, Section 4(h)(ii)(1)-(6)) remain unpledged and free to support their nominee of choice, but that remaining unpledged delegates be required to cast their vote at the Convention for candidates in proportion to the vote received for each candidate in their state.

2 Convener is the term used by the URC for leaders of the four working groups (unpledged delegates, caucuses, primary/participation and party reform). Like the commission leadership structure, there is a Clinton-appointed and a Sanders-appointed convener for each subgroup.

3 Flores continued that grassroots voices/unpledged delegates in the party are the most important and should not be treated as lesser than those of other delegates.

4 Of course, given the rules tinkering that has become customary every four years, one could argue that the search for "just right" is never-ending. And considering that new problems are raised with new conditions in different cycles it is. However, it is more maintenance now than it was in the early days immediately post-reform. The two 1970s cycles and even 1980 were less maintenance and more about an attempt at developing a working nomination system.

5 It would take an additional bit of rule-making to bring this enforcement/replacement into being. But it would be a necessary addition to the superdelegates provision in the resolution to create some basic functionality.

6 Interestingly, the expansion of congressional superdelegates from 80 percent to 100 percent was offset between 1992 and 1996 by the loss of Democratic seats in Congress in 1994. The combination had the effect of reducing the total share of superdelegates in 1996 relative to four years previous.

7 It should also be noted that Democrats lost seats in Congress and gubernatorial positions in 2010, reducing the number of superdelegates in 2012. But that change was slight compared to the other tweaks to the superdelegates rules.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Caucuses, the Unity Reform Commission and Democrats in 2020

The Democratic National Committee Unity Reform Commission recently reconvened for its third of four meetings.1 On the agenda were caucuses, support for state parties and superdelegates.

If you had told me heading into the meeting that superdelegates were going to be one of the topics -- even one of many -- then I would have assumed that superdelegates would have been the point of controversy coming out of the meeting. And that assumption is not without a foundation. The unpledged delegates in the Democratic presidential nomination process were a wound reopened in late 2015 and one that continued to fester not only throughout primary season, but into and beyond the national convention in Philadelphia. Ripping that particular scab off, then, would, it stands to reason, reanimate those divides within the party.

But that is not what happened recently in Chicago. And there is a reason for that. The Unity Reform Commission was chartered in Philadelphia with the express purpose of reexamining a number of items within the nomination process. Most of that was open-ended. The Clinton campaign and its proxies took issue with, for example, the caucus process, and those affiliated with Sanders had concerns about, say, how the party was reaching out to unaffiliated voters. The URC was tasked with working together to discover, devise and recommend any changes to the rules to address those issues (if the need was pressing enough and/or if consensus could be built). However, there was little guidance in the charter as to the shape those recommendations would take.

That was not the case with respect to superdelegates. The task there was more defined and much less open-ended. In other words, there is a specified recommendation the URC has to make via the charter on superdelegates; to trim their ranks by roughly a third by pledging DNC members based on the primary or caucus results in their home states. That, in turn, has the effect not of limiting the discussion on the place of those unpledged delegates in the process, per se, but rather, putting in place a floor on the discussion where one does not exist on the other matters. The URC, then, could go beyond that mandate for a recommendation, but could find it difficult to find consensus (and/or design an alternative that would pass muster with the Rules and Bylaw Committee much less the full DNC).

Regardless, superdelegates were not controversial (or any more than they already were) coming out of the meeting. Strangely, caucuses elicited the biggest response. And to be clear the controversy was mostly external to the URC meeting; more in reaction to the topic discussion than anything else.

Again, this is unusual. The Democratic National Committee is limited in what it can do on caucuses. As the Unity Reform Commission heard in their first meeting in DC, primaries are mainly state-funded, giving those state governments some limited input on matters of scheduling and participation.  There are state party-funded primaries, but they are exception rather than rule and have mainly died out. Both South Carolina and Utah have had party-run primaries as recently as 2004, but if a state is not funding a primary, then caucuses have become the default alternative.

Indeed, that is an important point. Caucuses, to the extent they remain in the current context, are a function of, in most cases, a lack of a state-funded primary. Of the 14 states -- not including the territories -- that had Democratic caucuses in 2016, 11 of them were in states where there is no state-funded primary option. Only the state parties in Idaho, Nebraska and Washington -- the states in lime green below -- opted out state-funded primaries for the most recently completed cycle.

Furthermore, if one overlays the recent open primaries map (below) on top of the remaining yellow states on the map above, the picture fails to clear up any further for Democrats. The important thing to eye there is the stripe denoting partisan control of state governments. In only Hawaii and Washington are there unified Democratic state governments that could, if they were so inclined, shift from a caucus system to a primary. And obviously one of those states, Washington, has seen its state Democratic Party opt out of the state-funded primary since it was brought into being by ballot initiative in 1989. In each of the seven intervening cycles, Washington Democrats have chosen to record presidential preference and select national convention delegates through a caucus/convention system.

Elimination of caucuses, then, does not appear to be in the offing in 2020 and beyond. Unless the DNC is willing to pony up or state parties raise the cash necessary to conduct party-run primaries in states where no state-funded option is available, then caucuses, for better or worse, will be a part of the presidential nominating process.

And while it is true that caucuses are not going anywhere anytime soon, they have gradually dwindled in number over the course of the post-reform era. Primaries have proliferated as the main means of presidential preference expression across the nation since 1972. Then there were only 22 primary elections. The remainder were caucuses. In the time since, the balance has tipped and even more decidedly toward primaries. Not counting the territorial contests in 2016, there were, as was mentioned previously, just 14 caucuses left in mainly small and medium-sized states. That number will be scaled back even further in 2020. Already Colorado, Maine and Minnesota have made moves to add state-funded primary options for the next presidential nomination cycle. And in the latter two, the state parties have a say in the date selection for the primary and thus have incentive to opt in. In Colorado, the state parties are structurally hemmed in by the new law and national party rules and likely have no other recourse but to utilize the primary for delegate allocation.

That leaves just 11 caucus states at this point in 2017 for 2020. And other than Washington, the remaining caucuses are in small states. None have more than four members in the House. Participation rates in caucuses, though reduced by comparison to primaries, are reduced by less in small states than in large states. Those are all steps in the right direction for those who are proponents of scaling back or eliminating caucuses. The reality is that this is much like the Democratic Change Commission (DCC) deliberations on the caucuses subject. Minus funding, the most feasible path is through a tweaking of the processes and the development of what the DCC called "best practices," a more uniform process across states.

That remains the most likely URC outcome/recommendation where caucuses are concerned.

While the spotlight is on caucuses, I want to take an opportunity to address a rather strange narrative on caucuses that has blossomed during the summer months. The idea, as proffered by Armando at Daily Kos and picked up by some in the national media, amounts to this: Sanders-affiliated members of the URC are aiming to propose "a rule that will call for the the Democratic Party Presidential nominating rules to require a state either hold open primaries or if the state refuses, and instead holds a closed primary, that a state party hold a caucus instead to select presidential nomination delegates."

Now, on the one hand, this would create an expansion of the types of contests in which Sanders was most successful during the 2016 presidential primary calendar. That would be an understandable push for Sanders-appointed members on the Commission, and the behavior would not necessarily be that atypical. Proxies advancing the interests of their candidates in these settings is nothing new. What would be different is the Sanders folks attempting to include such a proposal among the recommendations the URC will make as 2017 comes to a close.

I say that for a number of reasons.
1) Nothing along these lines has come up at any of the three Unity Reform Commission meetings.

2) It is not that the Sanders appointees cannot push a measure like this, but rather, that they would likely have a difficult time garnering the votes necessary -- a majority -- to make such a recommendation. Clinton-affiliated members outnumber those appointed by Sanders, and new party chair, Tom Perez, filled the remaining three slots on the URC. And even if the votes were there, the measure would still have to make it through the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the full Democratic National Committee to be enacted.

3) That is even less likely given that the supposed proposal would face some of the same roadblocks as a rule eliminating caucuses, namely, funding. The Democratic National Committee would find it difficult to force a state/state party to have caucuses in lieu of a closed primary. First, the political landscape currently is not amenable to opening primaries as has been dealt with already. Republicans, at the moment, control too many of the state-level levers of power. That may change in 2018, but is unlikely to be reversed to an extent that newly-empowered Democrats could -- or even would -- open up primaries. And to force states in that category to hold caucuses would be unnecessarily and historically (in this context) punitive. State parties would have to give up a funded election and foot the bill for caucuses. Some states do that, but they are, as was pointed out above, very few in number.

4) It would be odd to allow states constrained by state-level partisan factors to apply for a waiver from penalties on something like what Minnesota Democrats faced in 2012 because of their statutorily mandated caucuses scheduling and not on something like how opened a primary is to unaffiliated voters. There would be an inconsistency there. There are inconsistencies in the delegate selection rules to be sure, but they tend to be on matters much less consequential than penalties on violating states.

5) The history of carrots and sticks offered by the DNC does not match this hypothetical proposal. Those have been used to combat issues where there was a widespread view that the matter was problematic. Frontloading is a great example. That increasingly more states were moving up their delegate selection events and clustering on earlier dates was seen -- regardless of which candidate one was rooting for on past rules commissions -- as a problem for the nominating system, not just a particular candidate. This proposal would mark a significant departure from that pattern of rule making.

Until the evidence changes and such a proposal is put forth, this is not something that should be taken seriously. The reality is that this proposal and the weird narrative around it are an engineered vehicle for some within the broader Democratic Party coalition to vent about some of the more vocal Sanders appointees on the URC if not Sanders supporters more broadly. It just would not be a serious proposal even if all of the Sanders appointees on the URC were publicly in favor of it. Those folks are still in the minority on the Commission.

In the end, it would still be more likely to see Sanders acolytes do what Ron Paul/Tea Party folks did after 2008. That is, attempt to fairly take over state parties and opt for closed caucuses over wider turnout primaries. The Tea Party era attempts failed in that bottom line, and it is still a likelier end point for Sanders folks than this unserious "proposal".

1 A fifth meeting has now been added for December, one that will, no doubt, be utilized to finalize the recommendations the URC will pass on to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How is the DNC Involved in the New York Presidential Primary Situation?

Legislation is currently active in New York to bring the presidential primary back into compliance with the national party delegate selection rules. However, the effort to move the election from the first Tuesday in February to April 26 is facing a backlash from a group of 71 Democratic legislators. And the sticking point is not pushing the presidential primary out of February; a position that while non-compliant would keep the Empire state very early on the calendar. Instead, Democratic legislators in New York are upset that the proposed calendar position for the presidential primary election is in the middle of Passover week.

Now, that is a story in and of itself. The state legislature in New York is winding down its work for the session and not resolving the issues surrounding the scheduling of the presidential primary next year would have New York on the wrong side of national party rules (with a February primary). Any delay -- any impasse -- means that a date change is in some jeopardy. Things get prioritized differently when that legislative countdown clock is ticking toward zero hour.

But what is odd is to whom Democratic lawmakers in New York have chosen to air their grievances. The letter the group of 71 sent was sent to the Democratic National Committee.


To FHQ that is the real story in all of this. Why would legislators choose to reach out to the DNC? There are national party rules prohibiting February presidential primaries and significant penalties that come along with that. Beyond that, however, there is nothing in the Democratic delegate selection rules for 2016 that explicitly schedule the New York presidential primary for April 26. There may be some pressure from the DNC to do that, but there is absolutely nothing preventing New York legislators of any partisan stripe from agreeing on a primary date anywhere on the calendar between March 1 and sometime in early to mid-June.


That is a lot of dates from which to choose. And as FHQ has mentioned there is incentive for New York Democrats to want that April 26 date, Passover conflict aside. It means bonus delegates tacked onto the New York delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next July; extra delegates for a later primary scheduled concurrently with similar contests in potentially five other states. Yet, if New York Democrats want to take advantage of those bonuses, they would have to be on April 26.

There may also be pressure that is being exerted on the New York Democratic Party and/or legislators   by the DNC to keep a partially Democratic-controlled state (or group of states) later on the calendar. These sorts of rumors emerged in 2011; that Democrats were attempting to schedule contests in states the party controlled later in the process as a means of influencing the Republican nomination. The hope then as presumably now would be to produce a more conservative nominee chosen by a frontloaded group of more conservative states.

Again, however, that is potential pressure folks in New York are getting from the DNC. That is a lot different than rules violations that give the national party some reason to penalize a state. There is something missing in the reporting on this story. It does not make any sense that New York Democrats would point the finger at the national party. The way this process -- the scheduling of presidential nominating contests -- works should mean that those legislators should be pointing their fingers at each other.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for sharing news of the Passover conflict with FHQ.

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