Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Iowa/New Hampshire, Part ∞

Harry Enten has a nice piece up today in reaction to Richard Cohen's rather run-of-the-mill "Why are Iowa and New Hampshire still first when..." post at the Washington Post on Monday.

Look, Enten is right. First, look at Iowa and New Hampshire for what they truly are -- winnowing contests in the presidential nomination process. [This is a point that Jon Bernstein expands on in a post that popped up while FHQ was in the midst of writing this.] And second, if one is to attack the privileged status of the nation's first two contests, at least bother tease out the differences between the two. It really is poor form to say that Iowa and New Hampshire collectively push the Republican Party in a more conservative direction.

On structural grounds alone, the two are very different. Iowa is a closed caucuses state in which only registered Democrats or Republicans can participate in their party's contest.1 Also, compared to the New Hampshire primary, a lower percentage of voting eligible turnout in Iowa. The Granite state process is more open. The primary permits the participation of independents which would tend to moderate the results depending on the dynamics of a given race.2

Cohen's point, then, that the two contests push, in this case, the Republican nomination process off in a rightward extreme direction is wrong. That may be true of Iowa (again, see Bernstein), but not for New Hampshire.

Both Enten and Bernstein are absolutely right to point that out. But FHQ wishes to offer a concurring opinion.

Sure, FHQ was struck by how off base the above Cohen argument was, but I also take issue with some of the second order questions that were implied in his piece. Namely...
"The report confronts this problem by denying that it exists. While the authors want regional primaries and a truncated nominating process — so as to have an earlier nominating convention — they bow before what they call the “carve-out” states that have individual and early elections."
First of all, Cohen understandably focuses on the Republican side of the equation. It was the RNC after all that sanctioned the "autopsy" that produced the the regional primary recommendation (and not one solving the Iowa/New Hampshire "problem"). The Democratic Party was only mentioned in the final paragraph, and only then in the context of a hypothetically properly functioning Republican process that produces a nominee that can "keep the Democrats honest".

That is another mistake. Neither regional primaries nor a "fix" to the Iowa/New Hampshire issue is going to occur without coordinated (near unified) action on the part of both parties. Pointing the finger at the Republicans, then, is an exercise in futility without also pointing it at the Democrats. Even then it may remain an exercise in futility.

But why?

The fact that the Democrats have yet to weigh in on 2016 rules, much less react to the actions that the Republican National Committee may or may not take in regard to the Growth and Opportunity Project report, does not change the fact that the report -- a platform for the RNC to discuss its nomination rules -- mentioned regional primaries while continuing to protect Iowa, New Hampshire and the other two carve-out states. If coordinated action is required for both, then why not address both?

Well, as Bernstein points out in his post, the whole Iowa/New Hampshire "problem" has been overblown. But, beyond that, at its most basic, the answer is the parties cannot address both. As FHQ pointed out last week, without Democratic Party buy-in, the RNC will have a difficult time with the regional primary concept.  Even unified action on the part of both parties does not change the fact that some states would have some difficulty in shifting their contests around because the presidential primary is coupled with primaries for other offices. That problem stands a better chance of being resolved than the Iowa/New Hampshire issue.

For better or worse, the parties have given up on the idea of toppling Iowa and New Hampshire. Neither party made any kind of concerted effort to address the issue in the lead up to 2012. It came up, but nothing was ever done in terms of resolutions to alter the rules.

Instead of solving the "problem" the parties have opted to manage it. In my research, I talk about the willingness and ability of states to move their delegate selection events. There may be some willingness on the part of a state legislator or some state party officials or a governor to move a state's primary or caucus to an advantageous position on the primary calendar, but the contest will not budge unless there is some consensus to overcome any number of structural, budgetary or partisan hurdles. The national parties can more often than not count that -- those hurdles -- among their advantages in keeping states in line. In most instances, where that does not work, the parties have penalties associated with violations.

But Iowa and New Hampshire are interesting cases. First, each has an abundance of both willingness and ability to retain their first in the nation status. The ability has been made clear for over a generation now. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has the power to set the date of the presidential primary in the Granite state and basically has the state operating like a mobile voting unit on perpetual red alert. [That is only a slight exaggeration.] The caucuses in Iowa are a bit more unwieldy terms of the lead time required to adequately lay the groundwork for precinct caucus night.

That is one issue for the national parties, but the real Iowa/New Hampshire conundrum manifests itself in terms of the willingness each state has to stay on top. From the national parties' perspective, there is likely no penalty that likely alters the willingness in Iowa and New Hampshire to go first. Now, sure, both national parties -- and it would have to be both -- could go nuclear and strip both states of all of their delegates. That might work. Might. But that is not likely to deter either state. Instead, that creates a situation where both states hold their contests early anyway and then crow about the unfair penalties from the beginning of primary season until the convention. Neither party wants that kind of headache in any form (and it is a headache that could range from barely perceptibly minor to migraine of epic proportion).

The parties have learned. They have opted not to solve the Iowa/New Hampshire issue, but to manage it. Part of the negative perception of Iowa/New Hampshire was their collective lack of representativeness (on regional and racial grounds). The Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee managed that question prior to the 2008 cycle by adding Nevada and South Carolina to the mix. The RNC followed suit in 2012. South Carolina was already a mainstay and Nevada Republicans had moved their caucuses up to coincide with the Democratic caucuses in the Silver state in 2008. That may not be a solution, but codifying and protecting the status of those four states manages the representativeness issue.

That also points out an additional shared value across the two national parties: a desire to provide an "on ramp" to the process for the candidates. That small state start emphasizes the retail politics that theoretically levels the playing the for underdog candidates. In practice, it allows for an alternative to an ads air war that would potentially tilt the environment toward a well-funded and/or establishment candidate. [Cohen mocks the "on ramp" but again this is a goal of the process that both parties share.]

The problem, then, in the eyes of the national parties is not the exaggerated Iowa/New Hampshire issue. No, rather it is the tiny group of states that have the willingness and increasingly the ability to challenge the early states' status. The national parties have moved toward managing the Floridas (willingness and ability), Michigans (willingness and an early consolidated primary), Arizonas (willingness and ability) and even Georgias (ability but no as of yet demonstrated willingness) over the last two cycles.

Kick Iowa and New Hampshire (and Republicans, Richard Cohen!) all you want. The parties have moved on to managing other issues.

...and in some cases issuing hard to implement remedies.

1 A prospective caucusgoer in either party can also go to and register for a given party at the precinct caucuses level. See Section I.A.1 of the Iowa Democratic Party Delegate Selection Plan and Article IX.2 of the Republican Party of Iowa Constitution for the specifics of same-day registration.

2 In particular, if both parties have a contested nomination race, New Hampshire independents have a choice of the primary in which to participate. That would tend to muddle the moderating impact (see for instance, 2000 and 2008). Yet, when there is an incumbent in the White House and the out-party is the only party with a competitive nomination contest, those independents only have one option and would have a greater -- theoretically moderating -- impact on the outcome.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Thoughts on the Growth and Opportunity Project Recommendations

The Republican National Committee today unveiled its Growth and Opportunity Project report this morning which contained a number of recommendations that would affect the 2016 presidential primary process if passed by the full RNC. Needless to say there has been some reaction to the sliver of suggestions that would specifically alter the primary rules as well as the rest of the nearly 100 pages of the report. FHQ has spent some time already on the matter of debates regulation, and will focus on the primary changes instead.1

Here are the presidential primary process recommendations (see pages 72-73)2:
  1. The Republican Convention should be held earlier in the summer. It should be movedto late June or sometime in July, allowing our nominee more time to begin thegeneral election phase. (Note: The 2016 Olympics will be held August 5–21.) 
  2. Because the nominee will still need an estimated 60–90 days to prepare for the Convention,changes will need to be made to the primary calendar. If the Convention were to be held
    in July, the last primary would need to be held no later than May 15. If the Convention
    were to be held in late June, the final primary would need to be held no later than April 30.Moving primaries up will require states and state parties to cooperate.
  3. We take no position on whether a contest should be winner take all or proportionate.
    The fact is, both methods can delay or speed up the likelihood of a nominee being chosen.It all depends on who is winning and by what margins in each primary or caucus election.
  4. To facilitate moving up primary elections to accommodate an earlier convention, the
    Party should strongly consider a regional primary system or some other form of a majorreorganization instead of the current system. The current system is a long, winding, oftenrandom road that makes little sense. It stretches the primaries out too long, forces ourcandidates to run out of money, and because some states vote so late, voters in thosestates never seem to count. Such a change would allow for a broader group of Republicansto play a role in selecting our nominee.
  5. Recognizing the traditions of several states that have early nominating contests, the newlyorganized primaries would begin only after the “carve-out” states have held their individualelections. It remains important to have an “on ramp” of small states that hold unique primarydays before the primary season turns into a multi-state process with many states voting
    on one day. The idea of a little-known candidate having a fair chance remains important.
  6. We also recommend broadening the base of the Party and inviting as many votersas possible into the Republican Party by discouraging conventions and caucusesfor the purpose of allocating delegates to the national convention. Our party needsto grow its membership, and primaries seem to be a more effective way to do so.The greater the number of people who vote in a Republican primary, the more likelythey will turn out and vote again for the Republican candidate in the fall election.
Let's look at these one by one:
Earlier Conventions:
This is nothing more than a strategic move. An earlier convention means a nominee can begin spending (and continue raising) general election funds earlier. This was an issue in both 2008 and 2012 for the Republican Party presidential nominees, but for different reasons. John McCain was stuck in the federal matching funds system in 2008 and was hamstrung by those limitations relative to his Democratic counterpart, Barak Obama, who had opted out of the same system and was able to raise an unlimited amount of funds. That hurt but so too did the point at which McCain could tap into that money; after the September 2008 convention. It is worth noting that Republicans held the second convention in that year. That is only a minor difference though (one week).

In 2012, Mitt Romney was also facing Obama, but an incumbent Obama. With no competitive primary, the president's campaign could utilize his cash on hand more strategically (i.e.: with the general election in mind) than his opponent before the conventions. Meanwhile, Romney was forced to fend off his would-be nomination challengers. That put him at a competitive disadvantage as he emerged from primary season and headed into the summer months of a general election campaign that was not a general election campaign from a campaign finance perspective until late August.

That will not be an issue in 2016 with or without an earlier convention. The Democrats, as the report points out, will have a competitive nomination race as well. The scenario where history repeats itself is the one that has the Democratic nomination race wrapping up quickly while the Republican race continues into the spring. Even under those conditions, the "lead" the Democratic nominee will have will not be the same as the lead that an incumbent Democratic president would have.

Earlier conventions, part II:
To accommodate an earlier convention, the party would also have to conclude its pre-convention delegate selection processes at the state level earlier as well. Nebraska Republicans, for instance, could not continue with their July convention to select delegates. Some have questioned how this would affect other states' processes (i.e.: Oregon, Texas). One matter FHQ has constantly raised on issue of forcing changes to state laws is that it is easier said than done. There has to be motivation on the state-level to make the change, but there also has to be some ability. Republicans pushing for change in a Democratic-controlled state may find some difficulty in complying with the new rules. See Oregon for a good example of not only that very partisan conflict, but the costs of creating an all new and separate presidential primary election. As it stands now in the current RNC rules, all non-carve-out states must conduct their primaries within a window from the first Tuesday in March to the second Tuesday in June. The more the party shifts up the backend of that window the more states will have to make changes. And it should be noted that most of the states that populate the tail end of the primary calendar typically hold the presidential contest concurrent with the contests for state and local offices.

This is kind of a big one. States that cannot comply with the rules would not be penalized any in terms of the number of delegates in their convention delegations (under the current rules), but they would run over into that 60-90 day window the party wants between the end of delegate selection and the convention. That could force some of those state parties to hold earlier caucuses to comply with the rules. That obviously conflicts with the above recommendation to reduce delegate selection by caucus/convention (Recommendation #6).

Winner-take-all versus Proportional:
Nothing states the impact of these delegate allocation rules better than, "...both methods can delay or speed up the likelihood of a nominee being chosen. It all depends on who is winning and by what margins in each primary or caucus election." In other words, it is difficult to measure the impact of these rules changes without prior knowledge of the conditions facing the party in any given election year. If there is a consensus candidate, then it will matter very little what the rules are. 2012 demonstrated that minor changes on the state level from 2008 to 2012 did very little to alter the Republican nomination race. The calendar changes did, the allocation rules changes did not.

Regional primaries:
As FHQ mentioned via Twitter earlier in the day in reference to regional primaries: If moving primaries was easy, it would have been done by the parties long ago to combat frontloading. Yet, this site still exists and the issue of states flaunting the party rules are still around as well. It is an open question as to how effective a regional primary system would be compared to the current system. Every body involved -- national parties, state governments, candidates, state parties, etc. -- all basically know what they have in the current system. They would not with a fundamentally altered system. Overlay that on state-level partisan conflicts and financial costs of elections -- much less multiple elections within one state -- and all those knowns become unknowns.

Gaining compliance on this issue requires buy-in at the state-level and to get to that point, the RNC, to implement a regional primary plan, would have to have buy-in from the DNC. The Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee has yet to meet to discuss 2016 rules, but it is not clear such a system is a direction in which the party wants to take its process. Without the DNC onboard, though, the RNC potentially would have a number of non-compliant states in a regional primary plan. And that creates even more uncertainty for those involved in the nomination process.

Carve-out states:
If 2008 and 2012 were not confirmation of this, then the rules coming out of Tampa and the Growth and Opportunity Project report should be: the parties (at least the RNC) has settled the carve-out question. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have protected status at the beginning of the calendar. Case mostly closed (depending on how other states position their own contests and the window of time left for the carve-outs).

Primaries > Caucuses/Conventions:
Primary elections have greater turnout. That we know. Whether bringing more people to the polls during primary season is more effective than grassroots activism through caucuses and conventions is up to a party to decide (at the peril of offending some within the party apparently). Both types of contests are and can be positive for a party by mobilizing voters in different ways. FHQ has no dog in this fight, but we do have a question in response to this recommendation: What is the penalty for any state that would violate a no-caucuses rule? Once new categories of states/rules are created, there have to also be attendant penalties associated with them. This is not an area to which the Republican Party has traditionally gravitated. Historically, the RNC has left these matters up to the states to decide. The only exception to that prior to 2012 was the issue of timing. In 2012, differentiating between states with differing delegation allocation formulas also created a new penalty; one that had to be refined for the current 2016 rules.

This one seems like a tough one to enforce; particularly in light of the window issues an earlier convention would create (more potential caucuses).

To reiterate something FHQ said above, delegate selection rules and the like are all party business. It is up to the party to determine how best to nominate candidates who would serve the party well in a general election. Some of the critiques in the report are likely warranted. FHQ will not pass judgment on those. However, the primary rules recommendations that were handed down from the Growth and Opportunity Project have some holes that will need to be addressed by the RNC Rules Committee when and if they take these measures up. Some things are easy to control; others are not. FHQ has heard tell that the delegate selection process can be managed, not controlled. I wonder if this report is attempting the latter or the former.

1 One huge point that many are glossing over is that the report contains recommendations for rules changes; not rules changes themselves. The RNC had just a few votes to spare on some of the more controversial changes made to the rules in Tampa that netted the 2012 Rules of the Republican Party (The rules that will govern the 2016 delegate selection process.). It is an open question as to how successful the party would or will be in pushing some of these other rules changes before the entire RNC. Some have argued that the RNC chairman has unrivaled power to muster supermajorities within the RNC on votes to change the rules. In the face of the passage of Rule 12 -- the rule granting the party the power to alter the rules between national conventions -- that may be true, but the margin for error is quite small given the margin of the vote in Tampa.

FHQ should mention that, though the Growth and Opportunity Project report may have the backing of Chairman Priebus, that is the only (and consequential) thing that separates it from the quadrennial commissions that have made recommendations for tweaking the delegate selection rules on the Democratic side -- most recently the Democratic Change Commission. Recommendations can be made, but the question always remains: Can they be passed by the party?

2 Here also is the full report from the Growth and Opportunity Project:

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Montana Bill to Consolidate Presidential Primary & School Elections Probably Dead

Montana Senate legislation to consolidate the state primary (including the presidential primary) with school elections in May appears ready to die in committee when the legislative session ends next month. SB 140 did not make it out of committee to be voted by the full state senate much less have to have beaten the deadline (February 28) for bills to have been transmitted to the other chamber. Unless the provisions of the bill make it into another bill as an amendment, then, the effort to combine the two elections will once again fail.1

FHQ often talks about the unintended consequences of electoral reform and/or even the sometimes seemingly simple task of altering state election law, and this legislation appears to be a victim of those unintended consequences. The hearing on the bill was enlightening (read more here). At issue for both supporters and opponents of the bill was voter confusion. Supporters claimed the bill would tamp down on voter confusion by asking less of them in terms of appearing at the polls for multiple elections (thus increasing the likelihood that voters feel they have already voted in the second election in the sequence). In turn, it was argued by the bill's sponsor, Senator Art Wittich (R-35th, Bozeman), that the legislation would have the effect of increasing turnout.

Opponents of the bill, on the other hand, made the case for just the opposite; that voter confusion would increase because of the potential that they would go to vote in different locations (or by mail) in odd and even year elections. It was further argued that this would place additional constraints on elections administrators in terms of providing voters with the proper ballot combining all of the various districts (state house, state senate, school, etc.).

One other point that received some attention -- something we have increasingly heard involving presidential primaries recently -- was the potential for cost savings as a result of consolidating elections. Even that point was disputed by the speaker representing the Montana secretary of state at the hearing, Lisa Kimmet. That dispute is likely why the fiscal note attendant to the bill reveals no cost savings in the event the bill were to pass the legislature and be signed into law.

Perhaps owing to the fact that the next presidential primary in Montana is over three years away, the slight shift forward to an earlier date on the presidential primary calendar was only mentioned in the opening remarks by the bill's sponsor, Senator Wittich. He did make the point then that the earlier date may be of benefit to the state -- bringing more attention -- but that was the extent of the discussion on the presidential contest.

If passed and signed, the bill would move the Montana primary to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May. That is the same date in which state law calls for primaries in both Indiana and North Carolina. It was also a point on the 2008 calendar that was still competitive in the Democratic race, but was outside of the window of competitiveness on the Republican side in both 2008 and 2012.

NOTE: Though the bill is likely destined to die in committee it will be added to the 2016 calendar until that death becomes official at the end of the session next month.

1 Legislation with the same intent has come up if not been introduced in every legislative session since 2007 (see 2007, 2009 and 2011).

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bill Would Push Texas Primary to Saturday

Early last week, legislation was introduced in the Texas House to shift the dates of the Lone Star state primaries to a Saturday. In practice, HB 1911, authored by Representative Stephanie Klick (R-91st, Tarrant), would move the consolidated primary for president as well as state and local offices from the first Tuesday in March to the first Saturday in March.

The bill would be effective as of September 2013, and would thusly impact the midterm primaries next year as well. However, let's examine this bill with 2016 in mind. In presidential election years -- years in which that March primary is of some utility to the state of Texas in the presidential nomination process1 -- this move would have some interesting implications. Basically, the first Saturday in March will precede the first Tuesday in March date both national parties have pinpointed as the earliest date on which states can hold delegate selection events without penalty. In other years, though, the first Saturday in March will succeed the first Tuesday in March.

If this bill had been law in 2012 (and assuming there was no redistricting kerfuffle in Texas), the Texas primary would have been held on Saturday, March 3. That would have been the same day as the Washington state caucuses and three days before Super Tuesday on the 2012 calendar. That would have placed the Texas primary on a date non-compliant with both national parties' delegate selection rules, but would potentially have drawn a lot of attention (and possibly have changed how the campaigns approached not only Super Tuesday but the contests the previous Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona as well).

In 2016, the opposite would be true. The first Tuesday in March happens to be March 1. The first Saturday of the month, then, is obviously after that point. Assuming the nominations are not decided on the likely 2016 Super Tuesday (first Tuesday in March -- though that could be a debatable title for that date by 2016), Texas would still have an advantageous niche carved out on the calendar. In both 2008 and 2012, the Saturday following Super Tuesday [It was in February in 2008.] was a landing spot for a number of small state caucuses. In fact, in 2012, the Saturday after Super Tuesday was the date of the caucuses in Kansas and several of the US territories. Needless to say, if Texas ends up on a Saturday in 2016, it would garner all or most of the candidates' attention regardless of what other states share the date.

This bill differs from the Texas Senate bill that has been introduced to move the primary into February in terms of where the primary would be rescheduled, but the theoretical motivations for the moves are slightly different.  The senate bill would move the primary to a point that would threaten the positions the national parties have created for the four carve-out states. The house bill is not nearly so provocative. Both bills, however, would shuffle the Texas primary around in a way that would draw the Lone Star state more attention from the candidates. As of this time, neither bill has any institutional support (co-authors or co-sponsors) outside the primary authors of the bills. It is, then, a little early to project how successful either will be in navigating the legislative process.

1 Earlier has proven to be "better" more often than not in the post-reform era in terms of when presidential primaries are scheduled. In contrast, there is no similar race to the front among states for midterm election influence. The byproduct of an earlier primary is a longer general election campaign. To be fair, that is a potential drawback to a frontloaded presidential primary process as well, but there are multiple contests determining any presidential nomination. Without a runoff, most midterm primaries are one-off deals that immediately feed into the general election campaign.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Is South Carolina's First in the South Primary Vulnerable in 2016?

The short answer is no, but it is a bit more complex than just that.

The better place to start may simply be to ask why FHQ is posing this question in the first place. Over the weekend two former South Carolina Republican Party chairmen -- Barry Wynn and Katon Dawson -- penned an op-ed in the Greenville News under the headline "Don't lose the right to vote in GOP primaries". What prompted the piece was the current battle within the SCGOP (more so at the mass level than among state party elites) over the party's procedures for nominating candidates. On the heels of the 2012 state primary ballot being purged of a sizable number of Tea Party challengers, some within that faction of the state party have organized an effort to alter the state party nomination rules during the party's 2013 precinct reorganization. Now, what this movement entails is a shift from a primary election to a caucus/convention process as the primary means of nominating Republican candidates to a wide range of offices in South Carolina. Such a move is seen as a potential boon for candidates associated with well-organized factions within the state party that could, in turn, dominate a low turnout caucus/convention system.

That led to Mr. Wynn and Mr. Dawson sounding the alarm of not only that potential for what would functionally be voter disenfranchisement, but also the impact the overall shift may have on South Carolina's first in the South presidential primary. In their words, the primary may be "put at risk".

The reality is that the South Carolina presidential delegate selection event is probably going to be just fine. The same sort of thing happened in Oklahoma in 2009 after Ron Paul-affiliated activists within the Oklahoma Republican Party made inroads in the party during the 2008 delegate selection process in the Sooner state. A year later in 2009, the very same group attempted to install one of its own as state party chair and shift the means of delegate selection from a primary to a caucus. That effort failed. That does not mean that the Tea Party effort  in South Carolina is doomed. There is a reason a pair of former party chairmen are taking to the local op-ed pages. After all, Paul-aligned groups have been successful at wresting control of Republican Parties in several states in 2012 (see Iowa and Nevada for example). However, both are presidential caucus states with primaries in place for nominations to other offices. Neither have sought to end those latter contests. Furthermore, no state has been successful yet in making this change from primary to caucuses. It has been tried, but it has failed.

As for the first in the South primary in South Carolina, well, FHQ suspects that "threat" is being used to mobilize Republicans against the conventions proposal. But the nature of the threat is not particularly clear. What is vulnerable? The primary itself or the position on the calendar. Even if this switch was made, both national parties' sets of delegate selection rules protect South Carolina's position among the first four contests on the presidential primary calendar. And that protection is not conditioned by whether the contest is a primary or caucus.1 If we're talking about the primary itself, then, well, it was already at risk under the proposal.

The interesting thing about the presidential nomination process in South Carolina is how a switch to a conventions system would work out. If South Carolina Republicans opt out of the state funded primary, then the funds will be appropriated for only the Democratic contest in 2016. That is, it would only go to the Democratic primary unless there was a change in state law to sever the state funding mechanism that was instituted for the 2008 cycle. Before that point, parties funded their own primaries.2 A Republican-controlled legislature in South Carolina -- whether controlled by an establishment or Tea Party wing -- would likely not be open to that type of set up. In other words, the Democratic presidential primary would also potentially be at stake in all of this.

The ramifications of this potential shift are interesting, but there has not been a history of successful hostile take-overs of the nominating process like what is happening in South Carolina elsewhere. The primary likely is not in any jeopardy, and even if it was, South Carolina is not about to lose its position on the calendar as a result.

1 The Republican National Committee rules give South Carolina and the other so-called carve-out states added protection for the 2016 cycle and there has been no signal from the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee that South Carolina will not continue to have a privileged position on the calendar in 2016. That said, the RBC has yet to begin its work on the rules that will govern the 2016 delegate selection process.

2 It is not as if the funding issue has been absent in discussions of the South Carolina primary.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Arizona Taps on the Brakes on 2016 Primary Bill

Scott Conroy has a nice piece of reporting up at Real Clear Politics connecting some of the same Arizona-Nevada dots FHQ pieced together earlier in the week. The most interesting addition to the discussion is the fact that the Republican National Committee saw fit to send a delegation to Arizona to discuss the legislation to anchor the date of the Arizona primary to the date of the Iowa caucuses in a meeting with its author, Arizona Rep. Phil Lovas (R-22nd -- Peoria, Glendale). Furthermore, following the meeting, Lovas opted to back off his bill for the time being.

Now, one may ask, "So what?" The 2016 presidential nomination process is three years away. The bulk of calendar jockeying that will take place for the cycle will be in full tilt in two years time. In other words, it is still early. In 2009, there were 13 bills introduced across ten states to shift the dates of 2012 presidential primaries. Only one was successful: the Arkansas state legislature voted to move the Natural state primary back to May.

Four years later, the activity at the state legislative level is not all that different. Thus far during the 2013 sessions, eight bills have been submitted to state legislative chambers in six states. Three of those eight bills are out of Missouri; a residual of the failed attempt in the Show-Me state to move the primary back for 2012. If any of those eight bills are to pass and be signed into law, Missouri is likely at the top of the list of likely movers. The state has to move back for 2016 to come back into compliance with national party rules. The rest just are not all that likely to go anywhere; not in 2013 anyway.

That is the story or seemed like the story in Arizona. Rep. Lovas' bill was filed just after the new year began, did not garner any real attention outside of Arizona and FHQ's world,1 and more importantly did not seem to have any support outside of the bill's sponsor/author.

Yet, the RNC saw enough of a threat in the bill to warrant a sit down with the Arizona representative. Whether it was precautionary or not, this is a proactive step on the part of the RNC. One of the things that FHQ harped on during all of 2011 was the seemingly gaping hole in communications between the national parties and state legislatures. State legislators either ignored the parties' delegate selection rules or did not understand them. National party outreach has not been all that necessary in the post-reform era, but has become so since Florida and Michigan in 2008. One could argue that this is national party intervention, but it would probably be better defined as a better flow of information/communication between those involved in the process. That is a good thing: everyone understanding (or at least having the information in order to start understanding) the ins and outs of the nomination process.

Still, what plagues the national parties is the fact that no matter what the penalties are, there are still states willing to flaunt the rules and take the penalties as they have existed until now. That has changed for 2016 with a stiffer sanction on the Republican side. As the 2013 state legislative session continue -- but especially as the process moves into 2015 -- that will be the test:

Are the new sanctions enough to stop states that have exhibited a willingness to break the rules to go early in the past?

1 That included New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner who raised the issue of the Arizona bill with FHQ on the side of the National Association of Secretaries of State winter meeting in late January.

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Amended House Bill Would Also Move Missouri Primary to March

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Maine in 2016

File this one under Things FHQ Missed During the 2012 Conventions.

As recently as January FHQ made the point that it was, entering 2013, still an open question as to whether legislators in Maine would pursue legislation to reinstitute a presidential primary in the state. Legislation passed in 2012 tasked the Maine Joint Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs with exploring the option and making recommendations about any further legislative action on a primary. That exploration was to have taken place between July and October 2012.

But nothing came of that process. The committee hearing that did take place late last summer showed no support for the transition from caucuses to a primary as the means of selecting delegates and registering presidential preference. In fact, as Scott Thistle of the Lewiston Sun Journal reported, the sentiment on the committee was overwhelming against any switch despite problems encountered during the 2012 Maine Republican caucuses:
“At this point, with the other things competing for our money, maybe this isn’t something we want to move forward with,” [Rep. Jarrod] Crockett [R-Bethel] said. 
“Ditto,” said Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor. “I have had zero people tell me they support the initiative of a primary. Some states want it because they believe it creates revenue for the state. Maine has four [Electoral College] votes; they don’t feel there’s going to be any presidential candidates coming up here to spend money for that and the fiscal note for this is something that none of the people I spoke with want to support.”
A 10-2 vote against the primary option on the committee stopped any transition in its tracks. Furthermore, no legislators have gone against that recommendation during the 2013 session of the Maine legislature by introducing any legislation to the contrary.

Maine, for the time being it seems, will stick with nominating caucuses for 2016.

Recent Posts:
Amended House Bill Would Also Move Missouri Primary to March

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Amended House Bill Would Also Move Missouri Primary to March

Of all the states where legislation has been introduced and considered regarding the scheduling of future presidential primaries, Missouri has been the most active in 2013. Three bills now either directly or in amended form address the date of the presidential primary in the Show Me state. [FHQ has already discussed those direct efforts in the state House and Senate.]

However, a House-passed bill (HB 110) with an amendment to shift the date of the state presidential primary now sits in the Senate committee on Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections. Like the Senate bill already in that same committee, the amended House bill would change the date of future presidential primaries from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March (March 8 in 2016).

Interestingly, this House bill combines the primary move with some revisions to the language in the Missouri statutes dealing with vacancies to the general assembly and statewide offices. That was a combination that derailed the only bill that passed both chambers in 2011 and would have moved the 2012 Missouri primary to March (and into compliance with the national parties' delegate selection rules). Unlike the previously vetoed bill, the current legislation does not propose replacing the executive branch the ability to fill vacancies with special elections. Instead, that power still resides in the executive branch. The bill merely clarifies the gubernatorial power with respect to several statewide offices where there were gaps.

Governors and vacancies aside, legislation to shift the Missouri primary to March -- and presumably back into compliance with both national parties sets of delegate selection rules for 20161 -- has passed the Missouri House. The bill is not on the Senate committee hearing agenda at this time.

[A link to this legislation has been added to the 2016 presidential primary calendar here.]

1 That compliance issue is likely why there is as much legislative activity so early in Missouri to move the primary for 2016.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

More on the RNC Rules and Presidential Primary Debates

RNC Chair Reince Priebus was on with Hugh Hewitt yesterday and the rules of the presidential primary process were among the topics of discussion. The biggest news out of the interview is that the RNC Growth and Opportunity Project -- the five person group charged with examining the whys and hows of the GOP's 2012 electoral fortunes -- is set to roll out some of its findings and some recommendations on March 18.

Part of those recommendations clearly seems to be how the RNC will deal with presidential primary debates in the 2016 cycle. FHQ has already weighed in on this to some extent. But that was more a discussion of the party attempting to regulate the competition among state parties for and resultant number of debates. What Priebus and Hewitt talk about in their interview is something altogether different.  Hewitt even goes as far as framing the process as "mold[ing] the debates".

That is a much different proposition.

That is almost scripting debates, and truth be told, that is an even tougher goal to manufacture and regulate. The presidential election process already has scripted debates during the general election. No, those debates are not expressly scripted, but the candidates usually have a pretty good idea about what's coming in terms of the questions and have prepared for them. And still "accidents" happen. Ask Obama about Denver or McCain about his "that one" comment in 2008 or go on down the line about debate gaffes in the television era.

But the thing is, those moments really don't seem to drive the outcome of presidential elections.

And now the RNC appears to be proffering a series of hypotheses along these lines:
H1: Presidential primary debates create/drive up intra-party divisiveness.
H2: The media amplifies intra-party divisiveness.
H3: Intra-party divisiveness negatively affects that party's candidate in the general election.
All of these are reasonable hypotheses. They certainly merit some exploration. [And, mind you, the Democratic Party will also have to consider this very same issue in some way.] But they strike FHQ as incomplete if not ill-formed. All of this seems to hinge on the notion that these primary debates are creating an atmosphere that is not helpful to the national party's goal of nominating a candidate who can  in turn win the general election. Perhaps they are not helpful in that regard. Again, that is reasonable. But that also seems to gloss over several additional points or questions that are hugely important in all of this:
Q1: What if the intra-party divisiveness already exists?
Q2: What if it is not or has not been dormant or latent, but present all along?
Q3: Further, what if the very nature of the entire presidential primary process -- the battle to win contests, delegates and media attention -- is going to bring that divisiveness out with or without presidential primary debates? 
FHQ gets the intent of the media amplification hypotheses. But it seems to me that those things are going to come out (the media is going to amplify) anyway if they exist. Ron Paul supporters would have raised hell over the perception that a number of caucuses were handled unfairly, not to mention the treatment of their delegates in Tampa with or without debates. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich would have attacked Mitt Romney the very same way with or without those occasional national television platforms. And the media following along and reporting on the process would continue to have had the incentive to talk about those same divisions in the party -- divisions that also exist in the Republican caucuses on the Hill -- to the extent they were represented by voices (candidates) involved in the race. And they were represented. There were establishment/Tea Party/libertarian fault lines in the Republican Party before there were debates and there were always candidates who represented those constituencies.

The nomination process is a tough nut to crack for the national parties. There are a lot of moving parts involved (Debates are just one.), and the parties are constantly trying to define and regulate the best possible conditions ahead of time. Never an easy task. As I said above, the Democrats will likely examine this debates issue as well. I am hard-pressed to envision a scenario where it does not come up in the Rules and Bylaws Committee discussions. But the debates a factor that, while there is some hope for control (from the parties' perspectives), may not actually yield all that much benefit if the party is already divided.

FHQ is not saying that the RNC should not look into this issue; only that the benefits are not exactly clear. That said, the best way to test this is to change the rules and see how the process is impacted. But if the Obama presidency follows any kind of downward trajectory and/or the economy takes a turn for the worse over the next two to three years, the number and scope of Republican (or Democratic) primary debates won't matter a whole lot in 2016. That may even be true if the current conditions remain static in the interim.

Hat tip to David Drucker at Roll Call for passing this along.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Arizona + Nevada = 2016 Primary Calendar Uproar

Disclaimer: This is a thought exercise; nothing more, nothing less.

FHQ is not of the opinion that anyone should light the distress signals in regard to the 2016 presidential primary calendar yet. Yes, there have been a couple of provocative bills introduced in state legislatures out west. That adds to the intrigue that wild cards like Florida and Georgia represent. But folks, it is simply too early. Something may come of this legislation in Arizona and/or Nevada this session, but it is unlikely. Historically, state legislatures do not act on this particular issue until the year before a presidential election. There is more "urgency" then. But that is not to suggest that it cannot or will not happen in 2013.

[I'm not bullish on either bill passing for a host of reasons as I've alluded to in the past.]

Now, having said that, FHQ has given some thought to the combination of these primary-related bills in both Arizona and Nevada since news of the Nevada bill broke the other day. It really could be something of a nightmare scenario for the national parties and perhaps the nomination process in its current form. Let's game this out as if this is late 2015 and both bills are passed and signed into law in their current forms (presumably in 2013).

First, let's look at what that entails:
  1. Nevada would have a primary (and not a caucus) on the next to last Tuesday of January (January 19 in 2016) unless another western state schedules a contest prior to that point on the calendar. 
  2. Arizona would hold its primary on the same date as the Iowa caucuses as long as Iowa Democrats and Republicans are timely enough in their date selection in order to give Arizona elections administrators sufficient lead time (90 days) to prepare for the primary. Absent that buffer period, Arizona would hold it primary on the earliest possible Tuesday available to it after Iowa and with a 90 day window.
The easiest way of looking at this is that Arizona's date is dependent on Iowa's decision and Nevada's date hinges on whether Arizona ends up earlier than than the Silver state on the calendar.

Starting with Iowa, there is some need on the part of the state parties in the Hawkeye state to leave some caucus preparation time as well. However, unfortunately for those in Arizona, that window has not been as wide as 90 days during the last two cycles of calendar chaos.

In 2011, Iowa Republicans first signaled on October 7 that the 2012 caucuses would be on January 3. Ninety days from October 7 is January 5 (a Thursday in 2012). Had the Arizona bill been the law of the land in 2011-2012, Arizona would have held its primary not concurrent with Iowa, but on the same day -- January 10 -- as New Hampshire. [No, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner would not have chosen January 10 if Arizona already occupied that date.]

Four years earlier in 2007, Iowa Republicans waited even longer and Iowa Democrats longer still. The Republican Party of Iowa selected a Thursday, January 3 caucus date on October 16. Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats did not schedule the same January 3 caucus date until a week and a half later on October 28. Again, if the current Arizona bill was the law in 2007-2008, that 90 day clock could not have started until both Iowa parties had made decisions.1 If Arizona waited for Iowa Democrats' decision, the 90 day requirement would have pushed the Arizona primary to January 29; the next earliest Tuesday and the same date as the 2008 Florida primary.2

Now Nevada:
In the 2012 scenario above, Arizona would have preceded the date called for in the Nevada bill (next to last Tuesday in January). That would allow the Nevada secretary of state the ability -- actually, it would be his or her duty by law -- to shift the Silver state primary to a date before Arizona (as earlier as January 2 as long as it is not a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday). Since January 1, 2012 was on a Sunday, January 2 was a legal holiday in 2012. That would have provided the Nevada secretary of state with a range of dates between Tuesday, January 3 and Monday, January 9; all of which would have preceded a January 10 Arizona primary.

The 2008 scenario is less dramatic when Nevada is added to the mix. If Arizona had held a January 29 primary, then Nevada's next to last Tuesday date (January 22, 2008) would not have been affected. In fact, that actually would have been a later date than when the Nevada caucuses were held in 2008 (Saturday, January 19).

The impact, then, would have been minimal in 2008. Michigan was positioned as the next earliest non-carve-out state on January 15. Iowa and New Hampshire would still have likely ended up on January 3 and January 8, respectively (assuming that the dominoes fell in roughly the same order that they ultimately did in 2007). The only change is that Arizona would have been docked half of its delegates for having held a delegate selection event prior to the first Tuesday in February. The Grand Canyon state would have joined the others with that distinction in 2008: Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina and Florida. All were sanctioned on the Republican side and only Florida and Michigan  were affected in the Democratic race (Arizona would have been along for the ride.).

In 2012, however, with Arizona and Nevada pushing into the first ten days of January, Iowa and New Hampshire would have been forced into 2011. That's monumental enough and serves a rough guide for 2016.

What about the implications these bills may collectively have on the 2016 primary calendar?

We can reverse engineer this:
At its simplest,3 the practical implication of the Nevada bill as law for 2016 (excluding Arizona for the time being) is that it pushes Iowa up to Monday, January 4. [See the footnote in the Nevada post from Monday.] If Iowa decides on that date later than October 6 (90 days prior to January 4), then Arizona could not have its primary on the same day as the Iowa caucuses. An Arizona decision can only be made once the date of the Iowa caucuses has been identified. And then it has to be 90 days from that point in time.4

The decision regarding the Florida primary has to be made by October 1 in the year before a presidential election according to election law in the Sunshine state. Everything else, then, would have to fall in place with the other states between that point and October 6 for Iowa Democrats and Republicans to settle on an official date by then. If 2012 is any barometer, then that is not likely to happen.

The state parties in Iowa are going to know to wait it out to avoid the Arizona threat. They, along with New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, will know that 1) Florida is in place by October 1 and 2) Arizona becomes less and less a statutory problem the longer they wait. That serves not only the interests of Iowa and New Hampshire, but of all four carve-outs. However, with Nevada stationed on the next to last Tuesday in January, the 2016 calendar still starts in early January for the third cycle running.

There are a couple of other things to bear in mind here:
  1. FHQ has not really mentioned party sanctions. Recall that the RNC rules would knock any non-carve-out holding a contest prior to the last Tuesday in February down to nine delegates plus the three RNC member delegates from the state. We won't know until 2015 whether this has proven to be an effective deterrent to would-be rogue states. Bills like the one in Arizona do give us some indication, but only if they are successful in the face of very likely having the penalties brought to their attention in some way by the national parties. 
  2. Also, Iowa and New Hampshire waiting it out as a means of protecting their status only works to a point. The decision-makers in Florida (members of the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee who will be named in 2015) will most likely -- one would expect -- be aware of the above possibilities. And they have the authority to schedule the Florida primary for as early as the first Tuesday in January (January 5 in 2016). They just have to do that before October 1, 2015. ...but under the realization that they will be hammered by the RNC delegate reduction in the process. 
Yes, this is all still about waiting on Florida no matter where these bills in Arizona and Nevada end up. Without knowledge of the Florida piece of the puzzle, there is still uncertainty about whether 2016 primary season kicks off in 2015. But we'll have to wait until the end of September 2015 for that answer.

Hurry up and wait.

1 An interesting question following on all of this what Arizona would do in the event that Iowa Democrats and Republicans held caucuses on different dates. There is no contingency in the Arizona bill to account for this possibility. And there is nothing in Iowa law that requires the two state parties to hold concurrent caucuses. It is in the two parties best interest to share the same date as a means of protecting the first in the nation caucuses, but it is not a requirement.

2 If the Arizona secretary of state had assumed in late 2007 that Iowa Democrats would choose January 3 after the Iowa GOP has selected that date, then the earliest possible Tuesday following a 90 day buffer would have been January 15. That was the date of the 2008 Michigan primary.

3 This assumes other states -- namely, Florida -- do not also enter the fray, thus affecting where South Carolina might end up on the calendar.

4 It strikes FHQ that it would -- not surprisingly -- behoove the carve-outs to wait as long as possible to decide on their respective dates to effectively deal with the Arizona (not to mention Florida) threat. Waiting, for instance, to the end October to decide would virtually eliminate the possibility of a January primary for Arizona.

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