Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts on Where the 2016 Presidential Primary Rules Stand, Part Three

Future Changes to the Rules

Having set the baseline of 2016 delegate selection rules for both parties and having examined the pressing divides between those -- Democratic and Republican -- baselines, FHQ will now turn its sights in part three of this series on the possibility of change and what shape those changes may take.

[NOTE: Some of what follows relies on the reader being familiar with the discussions in the first two parts to this series of posts.]

The question of change to the national party rules guiding the 2016 delegate selection process in two competitive presidential nomination races is first dependent on a couple of things. The first is rules-based: Do each of the parties have the ability to alter their respective rules? The second is one of timing: When can rules changes be made?

As we have already described in some detail the rules that came out of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, FHQ will start there. Obviously, no major changes came out of the RNC winter meetings in Charlotte in January. But FHQ does not know that there was any widespread expectation of altering the rules at that meeting anyway. Rule 12 of the 2012 Rules of the Republican Party -- the rules that will govern the 2016 process -- give the RNC the latitude to make amendments to the rules between conventions; something that did not happen before the 2012 cycle. Again, as FHQ highlighted in the previous post, the bar is pretty high for changing the rules (a majority vote on the Rules Committee and a three-quarters vote among the full RNC membership). Whether the rules change or not, we can say that it takes the full RNC to make any changes which means that said changes will only occur at the regular meetings of the RNC. The group meets at least three times a year in accordance with Rule 8 and we furthermore know that the deadline for making changes is September 30, 2014. We can surmise for that that there are approximately four or five more RNC meetings before that time.

The DNC set up is similar, though there is less guidance in the party's bylaws about what constitutes a winning coalition on any amendment before either the Rules and Bylaws Committee or the full Democratic National Committee. [One would assume a simple majority is sufficient.] The DNC does meet at least two times a year according to Article II, Section 7 of the party bylaws.

Opportunities for change aside, the groundwork was laid in Charlotte to potentially make changes to the Republican rules at the spring meetings this week in Los Angeles. What that entails is a more difficult question to answer. Here also there are two matters to consider.

First, the Growth and Opportunity Project report has been released in the time since the RNC winter meeting. Now, as FHQ mentioned in reaction to the report, the provisions on the presidential nomination process contained deep in the document amounted to some rather sweeping changes to the delegate selection process. These are long-term and potentially controversial/divisive changes. And while there may be some discussion of the G.O.P. report during a lengthy Rules Committee meeting on the agenda for this afternoon, the debate and actual changes -- should any emerge from this gathering -- are likely to center on other matters.1

What other matters? Well...

The second consideration, and one that was deeply embedded in the groundwork laid for the LA meeting in January in Charlotte was about the rules handed down from the Tampa convention. FHQ does not think it will come as any surprise to those who either closely followed the 2012 Republican presidential primary process or the convention in Tampa (or both) that there were factions within the party did not like how the process had been conducted in the primaries (and caucuses) or how the future rules were crafted at the convention itself. The Paul faction -- part of which has gained some institutional footing within the RNC -- remains rather agitated over both.

But that faction remains just that: a faction. And it is not a majority faction within the Rules Committee or the RNC as a whole. Yet, the discontent over the rules that emerged from Tampa was something that stretched beyond just the Paul-aligned faction of delegates (and now RNC members). What that group seeks is a sort of retrogression to the rules package that was agreed to by the Rules Committee in meetings the week prior to the Tampa convention but ultimately altered by folks aligned with the Romney campaign. The face of those changes -- changes that were perceived as having centralized power over the nomination rules in the establishment wing of the party2 -- was Romney lawyer and DC national committeeman, Ben Ginsberg. And the ongoing effort to revert the rules to what they were prior to Tampa, as best voiced by Virginia national committeeman Morton Blackwell, has been called an effort to "de-Ginsberg" the rules.

Factoring in both of the above considerations creates a push and pull effect on the rules in their current form. The Growth and Opportunity Project report pushes for broader changes to the rules, well beyond where they stand now, while the de-Ginsberging effort would pull the rules back to basically what they were during the 2012 cycle. Now, FHQ should note that the latter is more of a micro-, inside baseball sort of battle (The fight is not necessarily small nor does it lack controversy or philosophical scope.3) while the former is more macro; a sweeping and potentially new philosophical approach to the nomination process that would entail and almost fundamental rewriting of the rules.

This push and pull does have an impact on the ways in and pace with which change is likely to occur at future RNC meetings. In the context of the meeting in LA this week, it means that the changes are likely to occur along the de-Ginsberg axis rather than on the Growth and Opportunity Project report axis. However, that movement (likelihood of change) is somewhat limited. Rule 12 allows amendments to rules 1-11 and 13-25, but none of the mostly convention-specific rules that are higher in number than 25. That means that the changes to Rule 40 would/could not be included in any amendments.4 But it also means that the delegate allocation and binding rules (and penalties) are on the table. Two things viewed negatively there are the Rule 16.A change that forces delegates to observe their binding during the nomination roll call or be forced to resign their position and the may/shall discrepancy (see part one)  in Rule 16.B.2 that seemingly eliminated the proportionality requirement established for the 2012 cycle.5

Those are not inconsequential changes, but they are the items that are likely to change (if any change is to occur) coming out of the ongoing RNC spring meeting.6

Thus far, FHQ has focused almost entirely on the Republican side of the equation. As has been mentioned previously, that is a function of the RNC actually having made some efforts in the area of 2016 rules. The Democrats have yet to begin their process and will not until later in the summer (2013) when the Rules and Bylaws Committee convenes. As such, the DNC is in a kind of "wait and see" mode. They are waiting to see what comes of the RNC process -- in the way of incremental or sweeping changes -- before making any definitive moves about the rules of their own 2016 process. FHQ mentioned in part two that there were no pressing issues -- no overt desire for any fundamental reform to the 2012 process -- that emerged from the RBC meeting following President Obama's inauguration. The expectation for future change to the Democratic Party delegate selection rules is almost entirely dependent upon what happens with the Republican process of reform. The DNC is currently in the position of reacting or adapting to any changes that come from the RNC.

While the Growth and Opportunity Project report recommends a series of rather big changes, many of them, as FHQ has pointed out, are not possible without Democratic Party buy-in. In other words, there cannot or will not be unilateral and significant change to the process without both parties on if not the same page, then at least in the same chapter. And even then it is difficult because of state party and state governmental interests in the process out of the national parties' control. Incremental change like those called for in Blackwell's de-Ginsberged rules and reaction/adaptation is more likely than G.O.P. report-type alterations to the rules.

1 FHQ would link to it, but it seems to have disappeared from the RNC website. When it was still up, the draft agenda showed a 1-5 or 6pm (Pacific) meeting of the Rules Committee.

2 See particularly the changes to Rule 40 (discussion in footnote here) but also the addition of Rule 12 (allows changes to be made outside of the convention) and Rule 16 (concerning delegate binding and allocation).

3 To say that the de-Ginsberging effort is not based on philosophical concerns is to suggest that a mobilized, grassroots part of the Republican Party is not seemingly against a more establishment part of the party. These are bottom-up versus top-down approaches, respectively.

4 The Rule 40 change in Tampa raised the bar for candidates to be placed into nomination at the convention from controlling five state delegations to eight delegations.

5 For a better idea of what is at stake in these de-Ginsberg proposals, here is a marked up/edited version of the current rules with de-Ginsberged substitutes. In addition to the Rule 16 changes, this motion also includes the removal of the Rule 17 loophole discussed in part two that would potentially invite some states to move into a last Tuesday in February primary or caucus (something that would conflict with Democratic Party rules regarding the calendar).

6 The other noteworthy discussion will be over Rule 12 itself. There is an open question as to how Rule 12 should be interpreted. At question is the amendment process. FHQ has discussed the thresholds for passing measures through the Rules Committee and then the full RNC, but there is some question as to whether amendments raised at one point could be amended at another. In particular, there is no guidance in the rules about whether an amendment that has passed the Rules Committee can be amended at the RNC stage of its consideration. See Matthew Hurtt's diary at RedState containing excerpts from an email correspondence from Morton Blackwell to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus for more.

Recent Posts:
Thoughts on Where the 2016 Presidential Primary Rules Stand, Part Two

Iowa/New Hampshire, Part ∞

Thoughts on the Growth and Opportunity Project Recommendations

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thoughts on Where the 2016 Presidential Primary Rules Stand, Part Two

With members of the Republican National Committee descending upon Los Angeles this week for the party's spring meeting, the opportunity presents itself to revisit the current state of the rules that will ultimately govern the 2016 presidential nomination process.

Having established a baseline set of Republican delegate selection rules for the 2016 presidential election cycle in part one, FHQ will layer in the Democratic Party process and save our prospective look at the potential for future rules changes for a subsequent follow up post. It may also be helpful to look into the collective implications of the rules on both sides as they stand now. FHQ has spoken with some of the principals in both parties over the course of 2013, so the intent here is to be as concrete as possible without giving into the temptation of speculating. That said, FHQ would be remiss if it did not add the caveat that the rules are not set in stone on either side and will not be until the summer of 2014. In other words, there is going to be both intra- and interparty work on the rules and with that some give and take (read: rules changes) between now and then.

This post will focus more on the interparty dynamics and save the intra-party discussion for later.1

If one were to take the baseline set of Republican rules detailed in part one of this series and compare it to the only set of rules available on the Democratic side -- the rules utilized during the 2012 process2 -- there are some notable and consequential discrepancies that may affect not only the progression of the primary process in 2016, but the rules-making process as well.

Delegate Allocation:
As was pointed out in part one of this series of posts, there is currently a change embedded in the RNC rules for 2016 relative to 2012 in regard to the allocation of delegates. There is now a suggestion instead of a requirement that states (in some way) proportionally allocate delegates if they hold contests prior to April 1. This is a language issue within Rule 16 that the RNC is very likely to alter. However, this is largely an RNC issue. The Democrats have discussed allowing late states to hold winner-take-all contests as a means of speeding up an already-decided nomination, but the proportionality requirement for all states has held to this point. If the Democratic process is all proportional and the RNC allows some winner-take-all contests, then as many have discussed in the past, the Republican process could wrap up earlier if calendar and candidate/campaign dynamics are the same across the two parties' contests. That, though, is a large assumption. All of those factors -- delegate allocation requirements, the calendar and candidate/campaign dynamics -- interactively affect how any given nomination race progresses.

The bottom line is that this is not and would represent any new divergence between the two national parties' sets of delegate selection rules regardless of the RNC reinstating the proportionality requirement used in 2012.

Though both parties informally coordinated the basic structure of a primary calendar for the 2012 cycle, there is some break in that at this point in the 2016 cycle. That is not to suggest that there has been some sort of a divorce between the bipartisan group of rules-making principals who kept the lines of communication open with respect to the creation of the 2012 rules. However, there was a rules change coming out of Tampa that is somewhat consequential in a comparative light across the two parties' sets of rules.

FHQ will circle back to a broader discussion of the penalties in a moment, but the interparty divergence on the calendar is based on an intra-party discrepancy between the Republican guidelines in Rule 16 and penalties in Rule 17. In short, Rule 16 allows only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to hold contests prior to March 1 (or one month before the next earliest contest). Yet Rule 17 does not penalize a state for holding a contest -- so long as it provides a proportional element in its method of delegate allocation -- on or after the final Tuesday in February.

As was mentioned in part one, this would provide states like Arizona and Michigan -- already scheduled for the last Tuesday in February according to state law -- with some cover. It provides a landing place for states that would like to hold early contests but potentially penalizes them based on the proportionality requirement penalty. [Yes there is a discrepancy between the "requirement" in Rule 16 and the penalty in Rule 17 here as well.] The states that have been willing to take the 50% delegation penalty for violating the rules on timing in the past -- Arizona, Florida and Michigan -- have also utilized a winner-take-all method of allocation. Under the current rules and penalties, all three could hold contests as early as February 23, 2016 and only lose 50% of their delegation, assuming no changes are made to the delegate allocation rules at the state level. That is a price each was willing to pay in 2012.

This does create a potential problem for the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee. As the rules stood during 2012, no state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina could hold a contest prior to the first Tuesday in March. If Arizona, Florida and Michigan all decide to move into that moderate, 50% penalty area of the calendar -- avoiding the superpenalty associate with going before the last Tuesday in February -- that means that those states would be subject to penalties on the Democratic side as well. The complicating factor and the saving grace here from the states' (Democratic) perspective is that Republicans control the decision on where the primaries in all three states end up. The complication is that Republicans could shift the contests in those states with no real recourse from state-level Democrats (either in the state parties or state governments). However, the Democrats in those states could petition the Rules and Bylaws Committee for a waiver for this very reason as long as some effort had been made by Democrats in the state to create changes that would bring the state into compliance with the Democratic Party rules (see the recently introduced bill in the Florida legislature).

Waivers aside, the question remains: Would the DNC really want a calendar that protected the carve-out states but has three medium-to-large states on their heels? A better question may be whether the DNC could do something about that anyway. One answer to the latter issue is to move up by one week (to the final Tuesday in February) the earliest date that non-carve-outs could hold contests. Of course, that has the potential of inadvertently inviting Democratic-controlled states to move up to that point on the calendar. In turn, that could put Republicans in the same position the Democrats now face: having to deal with states petitioning the party for a waiver. Additionally, if Arizona, Florida and Michigan are already positioned at that point on the calendar, the RNC would have two classes of states: the three aforementioned states penalized because they continue a history or winner-take-all allocation and a possible unpenalized group of states which have gained waivers.

This seemingly small change really does highlight the importance of some form or fashion of coordination between the two parties on their calendar rules and penalties. That one week window creates the potential for a messy situation between the national parties themselves, but the national parties and proactive states as well. This is an area where something is likely to give before both sets of delegate selection rules are finalized.

The mindsets of the two parties where penalties for rules violations are concerned are completely different. The RNC has arrived at a point where they as a party want penalties with teeth. Compliance has proven difficult in the absence of meaningful penalties. That is why there is now a 50% penalty for violating the proportionality requirement (assuming it is reinstated) and a superpenalty, knocking states delegations down to 12 delegates, for states that would violate the last Tuesday in February threshold. There is nothing similar on the Democratic side. There, there is a 50% penalty for violating the rules on timing and an additional penalty on candidates' delegates (should they campaign in a rogue state), but nothing more. That did not prove effective in deterring either Florida or Michigan in 2008 (though one could argue we have not seen the subsequent move from Florida and Michigan on the Democratic side).

Regardless, the Democratic Party approach is different. The teeth -- actually carrying through with the penalties at the convention as the RNC does -- is not something with which the DNC concerns itself. In the eyes of those on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the penalty is effective in that it affects the candidate accrual of delegates during the process. By extension, by the time the nomination process reaches the convention, the decision has already been made and there is no need to penalize states and/or individual delegates. The obvious counter to this is what was witnessed in early February in 2012. Non-binding caucuses (Colorado, Maine and Minnesota) and primaries (Missouri) all received attention from the candidates and media despite there being no delegates at stake.

These two sets of rules do not and will not be carbon copies of each other, but there is the potential need for some coordinating action between the two parties on the rules, particularly those dealing with the calendar and to a lesser extent the penalties for violations. That action -- potential changes to the baseline rules -- is where FHQ will next turn its focus.

1 The one intra-party note to add in this context is that the Democratic National Committee rules-making process will look different in 2016 than it has during any other cycle in the post-reform era. The one seemingly consequential decision -- and it is more a functional change than a substantive one -- that was made when the DNC convened in Washington the same week as President Obama's second inauguration was that the Rules and Bylaws Committee would handle the recommendation phase of the rules-making process in-house. Traditionally, a commission has been created to examine the rules in the context of the previous cycle(s) and compile a list of recommendations for rules changes. For the 2016 cycle there will be no commission like the Democratic Change Commission following the 2008 cycle.

From FHQ's perspective, this signals a couple of things:
1) On some level, the decision on the part of the Rules and Bylaws Committee to forego the commission step of the process is indicative of some consensus behind the existing rules. But...
2) It is also a nod to the reality of the overall process across both national parties. Removing the commission in some ways centralizes the power to craft the rules in the RBC. FHQ says "in some ways" because the RBC has never been in a position of obligation relative to any of the commissions that have existed over the years. The RBC never had/has to act on the recommendations made. But by removing the commission and considering changes in-house, the RBC is theoretically better able to adapt to any changes the RNC makes to its process. The other positive is that this saves the DNC from the needless creation of a body that would examine, compare and make recommendations for rules changes based on a potential moving target on the Republican side. Recommendations are worthless if they are based on in some way an outdated reality in the Republican rules.

2 This is an obviously flawed comparison. The 2012 Democratic Party rules being carried over to 2016 is entirely dependent upon 1) there being a desire among the members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee to alter the rules and 2) what exactly the RNC changes about its current rules. Barring wholesale changes to the RNC rules (i.e.: unilaterally instituting a regional primary system), the expectation based on past precedent is that there would be only minor changes to the rules from the previous cycle.

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.

Recent Posts:
Thoughts on the Growth and Opportunity Project Recommendations

Montana Bill to Consolidate Presidential Primary & School Elections Probably Dead

Bill Would Push Texas Primary to Saturday

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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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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.

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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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