Thursday, January 17, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- What Will a "Grassroots Fundraising" Threshold for Entry to Democratic Primary Debates Look Like?

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

Just prior to the holidays the Democratic National Committee released a schedule for upcoming presidential primary debates. The party at that time even included a contingency plan for the very real possibility that a slew of candidates have entered the race, forcing the party to have double-bill debates. Rather than follow the Republican big fish/little fish format from 2016, the DNC will instead randomize the selection of participants in each part of a two-tiered debate kickoff.

Outside of those provisions, however, the DNC remained relatively silent on the specifics of an important aspect of the process: how does one qualify? What measures will be utilized to separate participating presidential candidates from those who, well, do not measure up?

It was not that the announcement was without specifics, but they lacked definition. There were two main measures laid out and it was stated that the bar for entry would be kept low for the first debate (and likely rise over time).

Polling was listed as one component, but one that is not without drawbacks given a large field of candidates and the lack of, at this point in time anyway, a clear (and clearly separated) frontrunner. Any resulting polling-based threshold can end up rather arbitrary in such a scenario. What is to say that there is a true difference in sentiment for and between candidates sitting at or just above five percent in polls and those just below that level in the hypothetical situation where the cutoff is set at five percent? Well, not that much in many cases.

It is partly for that reason that the DNC has signaled that it will lean on other metrics as well to determine who gets in and who is left out of the initial two part debates. The other component is some demonstration of "grassroots fundraising". Outside of personal funds and money from PACs, super PACs and/or other groups, how much can/should a campaign pull in and how widespread should those donations be (in terms of from where they are coming)?

That remains an open question before the DNC at this point. But it is not coming into that discussion blindly. This same basic concept has been used elsewhere in the presidential nomination process.

Although it is more than a little outdated, other than for campaigns desperate for a cash infusion to stay alive, the federal matching funds system that in a bygone era helped fund presidential nomination campaigns sets a few markers that may serve as a baseline for the DNC as it continues its deliberations about debates qualifications.

The matching funds system continues to set a minimum of $100,000 raised across at least 20 states (at least $5000 in each) as the threshold for access to federal funding. No, serious candidates do not ultimately end up opting into that system anymore. They can far out-raise not only the threshold but their share and the match combined.

But that reality is beside the point in this setting. Candidates are not attempting to qualify for funding. Instead, they are attempting to do what the matching funds system was originally set up to accomplish: force the candidates and their campaigns to demonstrate wide enough support. Polling and widespread fundraising can build a more robust picture of that support than any one metric alone can.

Yet, that does leave one question unsettled; one with which the DNC will have to wrestle before it finalizes the rules likely in March. If the matching funds system is a starting point, then is the threshold it sets too low, too high, or just right for debate entry? And does the party use any of the information out there about the fundraising being done by candidates officially in or exploring a run up to that point? It is hard to imagine that data not making its way into and potentially influencing those discussions. And that may impact those who are already in versus those who are not at that point.

That may be problematic for a party coming off a cycle when accusations that it played favorites in 2016 continue to bubble up, not to mention the pressure it may continue to put on candidates to expedite announcement decisions.

Related: On DNC Debate Requirements and Candidate Strategy

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Gillibrand officially joins the fray.

2. Pete Buttigieg gets a lengthy profile in WaPo.

3. Sanders continues to staff up.

4. Expectations are already being set for Warren in New Hampshire.

5. Brown now has carve-out state trips planned, but any official announcement will have to wait.

6. Once openly talked about as potential presidential candidates in 2020, Stacy Abrams and Andrew Gillum are now being discussed as sought after endorsements and signal-givers for those candidates who have or will throw their hats in the ring.

7. Add Seth Moulton to the list of folks heading to New Hampshire.

8. Booker's travels take him to Louisiana, a state with a primary the weekend just after Super Tuesday.

9. Klobuchar's potential bid gets a thumbs up from her family.

10. Nate Silver has a coalition-building theory about the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

11. Kevin Collins responds with an alternative hypothesis centered on invisible primary resource acquisition.

12. A component of those resources is the team campaigns, nascent or otherwise, put together. There is only so much seasoned staff to go around in a large field, and potential staff are biding their time.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Washington State Legislation Would Again Try to Move Presidential Primary to March

Legislators are back at it in Washington state.

Since eliminating the presidential primary for the 2012 cycle, there have been ongoing, albeit unsuccessful, attempts made to not only reposition the presidential contest on the primary calendar, but to reconfigure the process in the Evergreen state as well.

The sticking point in 2015, as illustrated in the descriptions linked to above as well as in 2017 when similar legislation was introduced, has always been how to balance both the lack of party registration in Washington and the history of a top two primary ballot in the context of a presidential primary.

None of the remedies to this point have been sufficient enough to get an omnibus presidential primary bill passed. And that has continued to keep the contest in its relatively late May position, but has also given Democrats continued opportunities to opt for caucuses in lieu of the presidential primary.

And now there are competing, partisan bills in the Washington state Senate to again make some attempt in 2019 at changing several aspects of presidential nomination process in the state. The Republican version -- SB 5229, and its House companion, HB 1262 -- would move the primary from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March. This mirrors the date on which neighboring Idaho currently has its presidential primary scheduled and the date legislation in southern neighbor, Oregon, is targeting in a similar move.

In addition, the bill would also grant the secretary of state the ability to shift the date of the primary from that new March position to a date as early as February 15 or to move it to a later date. The added flexibility is intended to help the secretary to potentially facilitate a western regional primary with any state from among Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, or Utah.

The current law already gives the secretary the power to initiate a date change, but the ultimate decision to do so resides in a bipartisan group that includes the secretary as well as state legislative and state party leadership. Changes outlined in the new legislation would shift even more discretion to the secretary of state, but not without some guardrails. Should any new date chosen deviate from the second Tuesday in March date by more than three weeks, then the secretary would continue to have to receive a green light from bipartisan committee detailed above in order to move the primary.

All of that is relatively uncontroversial. Again, the point of contention has always been over who gets to participate in the presidential primary in a state with no party identification. Under the Republican proposal all registered voters would be able to participate, but it would be up to the state parties to decide which of those votes actually counts toward their delegate allocation.

Here's how that would work:
  • All candidates -- Democrats and Republicans -- would be listed on the ballot with their party affiliation listed as well. 
  • Partisans who wish to declare and affiliation with a particular party -- swear an oath through a mark on the ballot -- would only be able to vote for a candidate who shares that affiliation. Democrats can vote for Democrats in other words. 
  • Unaffiliated voters  -- whether they wish to declare that they are unaffiliated on the ballot or not -- would be able to vote for whomever they want, regardless of party, but may not ultimately have that vote counted toward the delegate allocation. 
  • Again, that decision rests with the state parties. 
Under the Republican plan none of the information stemming from the party declarations would be made public as it is in semi-open primary states with similar sorts of oaths.

In contrast, the Democratic bill, sponsored by nearly the entire Democratic leadership in the Washington state Senate and including the chair of the State Government, Tribal Relations and Election committee to which the bill has been referred, differs in subtle ways. SB 5273 would also shift the date of the presidential primary from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March. And the measure would also allow the secretary of state to alter the date in order to form a western regional primary (with the same group of nine states).

However, the secretary, unlike under the provisions in the Republican bill, would only be allowed to shift the date of the primary up as far as the national parties' delegate selection rules would allow (the first Tuesday in March under the current national party rules). That eliminates the potential for Washington to go rogue as is allowed under the Republican legislation.

Moreover, the secretary would have similar discretion to what secretaries of state have under the current law. Deviations from the second Tuesday could continue to occur, but not without a thumbs up from two-thirds of the bipartisan committee described above.

Again, these are subtle differences, but the secretary of state would have less latitude under the Democratic bill than the Republican one.

The framework also differs under the Democratic plan with respect to participation. The all-encompassing ballot would remain as would the partisan declarations. But the Democratic plan does not include the possibility of unaffiliated declarations; declarations that a voter is unaffiliated with a party. Yet, any voter who does not declare an affiliation could vote, but at the discretion of a state party, not have their votes counted toward the the delegate allocation. Finally, the Democratic legislation would make public partisan declarations of affiliation sworn to on the ballot.

There is a lot to digest in these bills, but the main takeaways are that both seek to change the date of the primary and both make some attempt at balancing the history in the state of a blanket primary-type ballot and the state parties' desire to tamp down on crossover voting in particular, but potentially curbing unaffiliated voters influencing the presidential nomination process.

An Update on March Presidential Primary Bills in Washington: One Bill Through Committee

Washington Senate Passes Democratic March Presidential Primary Bill

Senate-Passed Washington Presidential Primary Bill Passes House Committee Stage on Party Line Vote

Washington State House Passes March Presidential Primary Bill

The Washington bills have been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Larson's "Flamethrower" Bill is Back in Texas -- Would Move Primary to January

In what has almost become a custom in the Lone Star state over the last two state legislative sessions, a new bill has been introduced to move the Texas primary from the first Tuesday in March to the fourth Tuesday in January.

Unlike the bill recently introduced further west in Oregon, this is not a new potential swipe at New Hampshire and the other carve-out states. In fact, Lyle Larson (R-122nd, San Antonio) has made this a habit since 2015. But this is merely the representative's third try at a "why not Texas?" bill; one he called a "flamethrower" intended to send a message in 2017. And the current legislation -- HB 725 -- is likely to continue to get the same sort of reaction. Other members on the committee will like the idea of Texas stealing the spotlight, but elections administrators from the county level will balk as will the two major parties in Texas. The latter continues to take issue with the move because of the implications -- national party penalties -- it would have for the delegations the state would send to the national conventions in 2020.

The 2015 version failed to get out of committee, but the 2017 version cleared that committee hurdle only to die from inactivity when the session adjourned. The 2019 version is likely to meet a similar fate.

Historically, Texas just has not budged much from its primary positions. Legislators have only willingly moved the primary twice in the post-reform era; once from May to March for 1988 and again from March to earlier March for 2008. Redistricting dispute forced the state to shift to a late May primary for the 2012 cycle.

More on the history of attempted Texas primary movement here.

The Texas bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- The 2018 Elections and The 2020 Presidential Primary Calendar

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

As presidential nomination cycles have come and gone over the years, the stories change in terms of how states maneuver within that system and why. That is not to suggest that the collision of states and the decision-making conditions they confront is complete chaos every four years. Rather, the terrain is constantly shifting. That is true for a lot of electoral decisions that state legislatures make, and that includes how states position their delegate selection events -- primaries and caucuses -- on the quadrennial presidential primary calendar.

Eight years ago, nearly half the states in the country had newly non-compliant primary dates leftover from a 2008 cycle that saw a slew of states push into February and cluster primarily at the beginning of the month. When the national parties informally coordinated a later start to primary season for 2012, all those February states from 2008 had to make changes to state law.

And the result was at least somewhat predictable. State governments that were under unified Republican control shifted back their dates much less than did the handful of states that were controlled by Democrats after the 2010 midterm elections. Whereas Democratic-controlled states pushed back to traditional positions (California and New Jersey back to June) or positions later on the calendar (the northeastern/mid-Atlantic regional primary in late April), most Republican-controlled states ended up somewhere in March.

At least part of the motivation, then, was partisan. Decision makers in Republican state governments were preparing for an active nomination race and attempted to schedule their primaries for advantageous -- for voters and for drawing candidate attention -- spots on the calendar. Democratic decision makers had no such similar calculus. With no real competition for the Democratic nomination, decision makers in Democratic-controlled states could afford to shift back further in 2012 to take advantage of a new series of delegate bonuses the DNC built into their delegate selection rules for that cycle.

However, when the calendar flipped over four more times, the decision-making matrix at the state level was different for 2016. Both parties had varying levels of competitive races looming and again, acted in at least somewhat predictable ways. Republican-controlled states, already largely in early positions, saw minimal movement.

But Democratic side of the ledger was different. First even in 2014, before the 2015-16 legislatures had been elected, Democrats had a clear frontrunner for 2016 in Hillary Clinton. Second, after the 2014 midterms, there were only a handful of states with unified Democratic control. That is a recipe for little movement, and, in fact, none of those seven Democratic states made any changes for the 2016 cycle.

So as the process heads into 2019, what does the balance of power look like in states across the country for 2020?

For starters, the number of Republican-controlled states is similar to 2015. While there were 23 states with unified Republican control in 2015, there are 22 in 2019. However, there are more Democratic-controlled states now than four years ago and the gains came not from Republican states, but from those with control divided in some way, whether inter-branch or intra-branch.

Not only has the map of partisan control changed, but so too have the conditions under which these decisions are made. Like 2011 or 2015 for Republicans, Democratic decision makers in 2019 seemingly have a wide open and competitive nomination race on the horizon. Those actors, like Republicans in the recent past, have incentives to potentially shift around the dates on which their presidential primaries are held.

That incentive was great enough that California moved from June to March for 2020 back in 2017, an atypical time in the cycle to make such a move.

And that incentive could be enough to motivate the cluster of Democratic-controlled states in the northeast to coordinate an earlier cluster of contests; the inverse of 2011. There is already some evidence that a western regional primary could form in a position just a week after Super Tuesday.

On the Republican side the motivation is different, and not exactly like what Democrats faced in 2011. Yes, defending the president is chief among the concerns of Republicans like the Democrats of eight years ago. However, the defense is potentially different. Democrats, with no real threat of a challenge to President Obama, made moves potentially with the general election in mind; to attempt to influence who emerged as Obama's opponent.

Republican legislators may act, but with the nomination phase in mind; to ward off a challenge to the president. This may happen, as was the case eight years ago on the Democratic side, at the behest of national Republican actors, but it will take place at the state level.

Does that mean Republican-controlled states unilaterally pull back and set later dates? That would be an historical anomaly. States have not typically done that except in situations where it has meant consolidating separated primaries in order to reduce costs; save a line on the state budget. But in more polarized times, both nationally and increasingly in state legislatures, the rules may be different.

It is early in the 2019 state legislative sessions, but it is there that these calendar decisions will be made, and begin to provide a picture of what the 2020 presidential primary calendar will eventually look like.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Gillibrand end last week with a flurry of activity, whether it was lining up potential campaign headquarters, planning trips to Iowa, staffing up, or privately signaling her intentions.

2. She's not the only one headed to Iowa. Brown is going to visit the Hawkeye state too.

3. Swalwell is taking a late January trip to New Hampshire.

4. Inslee is taking flak back home from Republicans and from some New Hampshire Democrats.

5. In West Virginia, announced Democratic presidential candidate, Richard Ojeda, is resigning his state Senate seat to run for president.

6. Meanwhile, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is in.

7. So is Julian Castro.

8. And DeBlasio isn't closing any 2020 doors, but, boy, is the clock ticking and the alarm may have already sounded for statements about door-closing/considerations being either serious or taken seriously.

9. Warren continues to add staff. This time some New Hampshire staff additions were announced while Warren was visiting the Granite state.

10. If Biden's walking, he's running [for 2020].

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Pair of Oregon Bills Would Move Primary to March, but with a Twist

In what may, in part, be the opening salvo in the 2019 legislation affecting the 2020 presidential primary calendar, Oregon has a couple of interesting bills prefiled and ready for when the legislature in the Beaver state convenes later this month.

Both bills seek to move the Oregon primary from the third Tuesday in May up to the second Tuesday in March not just in presidential election years but in all even-numbered years. This differs from when Oregon shifted in the past (for 1996) or when attempts were made in the recent past to move the primary (2007 and 2015). In those instances, the presidential primary was split from the May primary for other offices and moved (or proposed to be moved) to March or earlier dates. In 2019, the legislation proposes moving everything up to March, thus saving the expense of funding a new and stand-alone presidential primary.

However, both 2019 bills offer a twist on this scheduling.

HB 2107 calls for a move the second Tuesday in March, but also is a bit more provocative in giving the Oregon secretary of state the discretion to change the would-be standardized March date "if the date change will result in the primary election being held seven or more days after the date on which the first primary election held during that election cycle is held in any other state."

In other words, this is a bill that could threaten New Hampshire if it becomes law.

If the first primary -- New Hampshire's -- is seven or more days before the second Tuesday in March -- it always is -- then the Oregon secretary of state would have the discretion to move the primary and time before December 1 of the year prior to a presidential election. Ostensibly, the intention is for the secretary of state to have the discretion to move forward on the calendar, but he or she would also have the ability to move the primary back. That is not something -- at least in the introduced version of this legislation that is prohibited.

The second bill -- HB 2279 -- is similar but less provocative. At the request of the secretary of state, this legislation was introduced and would not only move the primary from May to the second Tuesday in March, but it would allow the secretary of state to join a regional primary if two or more states from among Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, or Washington wind up clustered on a date other than the second Tuesday in March. Nevada will be among the carve-out states in February and California already has a primary scheduled for the first Tuesday in March. But Idaho is is currently stationed on the second Tuesday in March and Washington has eyed that position in the past. Utah also has a primary option, but a date has not been settled on yet.

It look as though the second Tuesday in March could end up as post-California/Super Tuesday western states/PAC 12 regional primary spot.

But first the Oregon legislature has to act on this legislation and other pieces elsewhere have to fall into place. The Oregon part of the equation will become clearer when the legislature convenes on January 22.

The Oregon legislation will be added to the evolving FHQ 2020 Presidential Primary Calendar.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Primary Movement Starts with the State Legislatures

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first, when do their sessions end and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries? [More below the calendar.]

2019 State Legislative Session Calendar (sequential)
Date (Convene)StatesDate (Adjourn)
January 1, 2019Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
mid July
January 2Maine
New Hampshire
Washington, DC
June 19
late June
January 3Indiana
North Dakota1
April 29
April 26
January 4ColoradoMay 3
January 7California
September 13
early April
May 1
January 8Delaware
South Carolina
South Dakota
June 30
March 29
May 20
April 7
May 9
March 29
late April
May 27
early March
January 9Connecticut
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
West Virginia
June 3
year round2
April 8
May 17
June 6
year round2
year round2
mid July
mid May
March 10
March 9
January 14Arizona
Puerto Rico
Virgin Islands1
late April
March 14
early April
May 3
mid May
November 30
year round2
April 28
January 15Alaska1
New Mexico
April 14
March 16
January 16Hawaii1May 2
January 22OregonJune 30
January 28UtahMarch 14
February 4Nevada1
June 3
May 31
March 5Alabama
June 18
May 3
April 8LouisianaJune 6
1 States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
2 State legislatures whose session calendars have them meeting throughout the year.

2019 in the state legislatures
The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. With the schedule of state legislative sessions down, though, what impact will that have on the formation of the 2020 presidential primary calendar? The biggest thing is that 2020 is not 2016, but it is likely to share more similarities with 2016 than 2016 did with its immediately prior cycle, 2012. There are not nearly 20 states that have to make some form of scheduling change to comply with changes to the structure of the primary process at the national party level. In 2008 both parties allowed February contests. For 2012, both parties changed their minds and together informally constructed a calendar structure that had the carve-outs in February and all other states in March or later.

Right off the bat, then, the 2012 cycle had a tension between where state laws had various primaries scheduled (February or before) and what the national parties wanted in terms of the overall calendar for most states (March and later). That tension has already been greatly minimized. 2011 saw a significant amount of backward primary movement, and that process continued in 2013-14. Importantly for 2016, past rogue states like Florida, Michigan and Arizona moved back from the brink. That does not mean that there will not be other rogues out there, but 2016 demonstrated that the parties had -- at least for that cycle -- a workable mix of penalties and bonuses to keep states in line.

Will that hold in 2020? The early indications are yes, but 2019 will settle that score.

Here are a few things to look out for as state legislative session progress (mostly) over the first half of  2019 and into the latter half of the year.

Primary movement or primary movement?
A couple of states -- California and North Carolina -- made early moves on the 2020 calendar. Both shifted their contest dates to Super Tuesday in 2017 and 2018. That is atypical as most states tend to wait until the new legislatures convene in the year before the presidential election to settle on the timing of their presidential primaries. And while one can expect there to be additional movement up and down the calendar in the coming months, that is not the only type of movement witnessed either thus far or likely witnessed in the near future.

Yes, some states have changed primary dates, but others -- former caucus states -- have moved to primaries as the means allocating delegates for the 2020 cycle. This trend began in 2016 (Maine and Minnesota), continued in 2017 (Colorado and Utah), stretched into 2018 (Idaho and Nebraska), and could push into 2019 in states like Hawaii and Washington. The former saw legislation die during the 2018 session and the latter has a state-funded primary option, but the Democratic party in Washington has eschewed it in the post-reform era. Washington Democrats are set to finalize their plans by March/April.

But does the trend push beyond just that group? 2019 will answer those questions and in the state legislatures.

Likely Movers
The impetus to move for 2020 is different than it has been in the recent past. Republicans are idle at this time, so the motivation is less to move around because of an active nomination race and more to do so in order to potentially protect the renomination odds of the current president. There have been some discussion about South Carolina canceling its primary in favor of a caucus system for instance. But are there states more likely to move than others?

When one thinks about that, there are a few factors for which to account. FHQ will not be exhaustive here, but only point toward the most likely factors motivating primary movement. One is where the contests are currently scheduled. The movement seen so far for the 2020 cycle has been later states moving up, California most clearly.

But second, look to the partisan alignment of state legislatures. That has not been a significant factor in past iterations of my research, but in an increasingly polarized environment, may be becoming a more significant one. Democratic-controlled states, then, might be more inclined to seek out earlier dates. Look, in particular, at the group of mid-Atlantic/northeastern states with late April primary dates as of now. Each has moved pretty far back on the calendar over the last two cycles. Most also have some Democratic control. A wide open Democratic race may draw them to earlier dates for 2020.

Contrast that with the Republican-controlled state governments across the country. Their motivation is different. Protect the president? Then move back (and see the state party shift to a winner-take-all allocation method). Hurt the Democrats? Then move back and shift an important constituency concentrated in a particular region. Think about that SEC primary coalition from 2016. That could break up and push the votes of a valuable Democratic voting bloc -- African American -- to later in the calendar. That might affect some candidates more than others.

Regional primaries
Part of what drove some of those mid-Atlantic/northeastern states back in 2012 and 2016 was the allure of a regional primary clustering bonus from the Democratic National Committee. Neighboring states that hold their primaries together and late enough on the calendar are rewarded with additional delegates; more activists they can take to the convention. That is no small thing for a small state. While it potentially means a lesser voice in the primary process, it means a greater voice at the convention.

That bonus may hold less sway this time around with an active nomination race than it has in the two most recent cycles. Instead one may see attempts to replicate the SEC primary from 2016. There are elements of a Great Lakes primary already on March 10. California's move may prompt the formation of a PAC 12 primary (if California does not already represent that on its own). But there is reason to believe those clusters, if they occur, will fall earlier in the 2020 than in 2016 or 2012.

Anyway, as state legislatures begin to convene, they will be considering any number of things. Undoubtedly though, that will include primary calendar movement if not caucus to primary movement.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. One western state governor is headed to the first in the west caucus state. One seemingly likely 2020 candidate -- Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) -- is trekking to Nevada.

2. On the Sanders front, former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, will work in a different capacity in any presidential campaign the Vermont senator launches for 2020.

3. Speaking of Sanders, New Hampshire groups supportive of his candidacy will hold events this weekend across the Granite state.

4. New Hampshire will also welcome Elizabeth Warren this weekend.

5. Steyer opts to focus on impeaching Trump rather than seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Yes folks, #WinnowingWorks.

6. O'Rourke is more inclined to run than not at this point.

7. While Booker and Sanders are in South Carolina for MLK day, Harris will be back in Oakland to make her 2020 intentions, if not official, then clearer. ...and they have already been pretty clear if one has followed the signals.

8. Finally, ask and ye shall receive. The burning question on everyone's mind in early 2019: Will Jeb Bush run in 2020? Nope.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- California, Early Voting, and the 2020 Rules

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

As 2018 came to a close a second wave of folks seemed to be getting in their two cents about the impact of the three month shift of the California presidential primary on the 2020 calendar.1

And it is not a move that is without import. While California pairing with Texas (among others) on Super Tuesday is a new wrinkle for 2020, frontloaded primary calendars with California on the heels of the earliest states are not. California was part of the logjam on the first Tuesday in March in 2000, and similarly just a month behind Iowa kicking things off on the 2008 calendar.

Of course, the dynamics of each of those races were different. Each cycle is always different in some way from its predecessors.2 The 2000 cycle saw fields of candidates on both sides that were comparatively small. And in 2008, California was early on a de facto national primary date, but other states -- Florida and Michigan -- sought to push even more directly into the early calendar territory Iowa and New Hampshire.

But maybe 2020 is when the stars align for a California primary move to be of consequence. Perhaps, but 2019 has already witnessed no lack of 2020 candidate maneuvering. And the attention, at least to this point, seems to be in the usual directions: toward the earliest states.

Yes, there is still time for that to change.

In fact, the increase in early voting in the Golden state and the stretch of that window of convenience voting to a point on the calendar in line with the caucuses in Iowa may be enough to alter the equation. It is that reality that has driven much of the renewed discourse about the California primary and 2020.

Some have argued that the implications of the California primary move coupled with that Iowa-aligned early voting start means that the Golden state cannot be ignored. If that is even partly true, then it will likely serve as an extension of the frontloaded calendars cited above. To be successful, candidates have to have the resources to plan for a crowded Super Tuesday, and in 2020, an early vote GOTV effort in the state. Both have winnowing possibilities layered into them.

Still others have made the case that a largely unwinnowed, or lightly winnowed, field entering into a month-long California primary voting window may lead to a fractious split of a large cache of delegates, raising the likelihood of an inconclusive outcome to primary season.

FHQ would submit another scenario altogether, a rather counterintuitive one.

Those rooting most heavily for a still crowded field by the time California rolls around in 2020 are those with some nominal frontrunner status, those with some experience winning statewide in the Golden state, or those with some combination of the two. The more crowded it is, the less likely it is that some number of candidates clears the 15 percent threshold to qualify for delegates in (each of the 55 races for delegates in) California.3

The fewer candidates that crest above 15 percent, the greater the delegate prize California would be to those who do. Bear in mind that, despite the fact that winnowing was slow in 2016 in a crowded Republican nomination race, no primary or caucus saw any more than three candidates receive 15 percent or more of the vote.

And hey, if it is crowded enough in the California results, then California could become a very big prize indeed. If early voting is great enough and distributes the votes in a way that only one candidate clears that threshold (in all 53 jurisdictions), then California becomes a winner-take-all affair.

Advantage: winner.

But it is early yet and the winnowing has only really just begun.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Sanders is heading to the Palmetto state to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally.

2. Later this month Bloomberg will be in Virginia to speak to the Democratic Business Council. This one is more preaching to the choir than broadening any likely coalition of the former New York mayor's.

3. In Iowa today, Steyer is going to announce something. What can one announce in the Hawkeye state?

4. Speaking of announcements, Castro is building up to his own later this week. Yesterday he was in Iowa pledging to shun PAC money and in Nevada reaching out to the Latino community.

5. Meanwhile, Draft Beto stretches into Nevada and California with new hires in an attempt to pull the former Texas congressman into the 2020 race.

6. Finally, Harris has an entry for the 2020 Book Primary.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

1 Second wave because there was an initial round back in 2017 when the California legislature pushed the presidential primary in the Golden state up.

2 That is the reason that even small rules changes can yield large impacts (or alternatively, be amplified by differing dynamics).

3 There will be 55 contests for delegates nestled in the broader California primary. Allocations of at-large and party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates will be based on the statewide results, while the results in each of the 53 congressional districts will determine how the varying numbers of congressional district delegates will be allocated.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- On DNC Debate Requirements and Candidate Strategy

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

Recently, the Democratic National Committee announced a series of basically monthly primary debates that will start in June 2019 and run into primary season in 2020.

Although the qualifications for participation were left undetermined for the time being, the announcement was not without some important rules-related revelations. Most inventive among them was the plan to deal with an expected slew of candidates, a number likely to extend beyond what one debate stage could accommodate. Rather than repeat the Republican undercard/main event debate method from 2016, the DNC demonstrated it had learned some lessons and opted instead to randomize the participants across a doubleheader in each of at least the first two planned debates.

And the announcement has prompted another attempt at examining the importance primary debates on the candidates' fortunes.

But as news of the DNC debates considerations emerged over the course of fall 2018, FHQ returned to a constant drumbeat: No matter what decisions the party makes with respect to debates rules, there will be winnowing implications for candidates, potential candidates and candidates who opt to pass on officially running.

Mostly that is in reaction to the possible qualifications thresholds. But it is not clear that the DNC decision to not finalize those plans at this point in time is not also having some impact on [potential] candidate decision making.

All there is now from the DNC is a rough idea of what may be included in the qualifications, but not the specifics of the thresholds. We know polling. We know some measure of "grassroots fundraising". But we do not know the level of either. Nor do we know the balance between the two. Does polling count for more? Fundraising? Are they evenly counted?

Those are a lot of questions to answer if one is a candidate trying to find one's way in an overly crowded field. Now look, facing uncertainty is nothing new to presidential nomination politics, but this particular bit of uncertainty may be enough to freeze some candidates and to do so consequentially.

Let me explain.

Some candidates -- mostly the big names -- are planning early 2019 announcements. Warren is exploring already. Harris is supposed to be moving quickly. Biden is expected to make a decision by the end of January. The list goes on.

However, other candidates are planning later announcements. It was Jay Inslee's "by April" line on his decision-making calculus that prompted this line of thought.1 The question is why? Why would someone watch other candidates -- bigger names, more likely frontrunner-types -- emerge/announce and begin/continue laying the groundwork of a run while another candidate, seemingly further down the food chain, bides his or her time?

Part of the answer could be built on the idea that most 2016 candidates waited until slightly later into 2015 before officially throwing their hats in the ring. It also could be a decision spurred by a desire, like states on the primary calendar, to carve out a spot where a smaller scale candidate can draw some attention. None of that is implausible.

Yet, let's game out a debate rules scenario here. If you are, say, Eric Swalwell, then you are probably seeking an advantageous announcement time some time in the first half of the year in order to maximize the splashiness of the event. Part of that splashiness -- the timing of it anyway -- is very likely intended to influence the polling part of the debates qualifications equation. And the later the decision falls, the closer it is to the first debate. Such a delay helps that part of getting into the debates, but potentially hurt the grassroots fundraising part of it that will be more likely to rely on an extended period of fundraising (often helped along by an earlier announcement).

And that does not count a situation where a candidate banks on one part of the two-pronged qualifications to find out the other is weighted more.

In the end, the DNC is already on record that the initial thresholds for participation will be quite low. But the specifics of those debate rules matter. A delay until likely March for those specifics matters. Bigger candidates can more easily gloss over those things, while they remain consequential hurdles to longer shot candidates. In other words, those rules can affect decision-making within those campaigns more than others. They create more uncertainty.


What Will a "Grassroots Fundraising" Threshold for Entry to Democratic Primary Debates Look Like?

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. From Seth Market, what we know about 2020 and what we don't from the lessons of 2016. This one's going to be worth flagging now and returning to later as the invisible primary progresses.

2. This seems destined to be a line of demarcation in some way, shape, or form in the Democratic nomination process. Some candidates will approach Wall Street. Others will not.

3. O'Rourke is going to hit the "pop-in" circuit in the coming weeks. You say pop-in, I say listening tour. ...or could anyway.

4. More on Warren's trip to Iowa over the backdrop of what some potential Democratic caucusgoers in the Hawkeye state are looking for heading into 2020.

5. Five state legislatures came online for the 2019 session on January 7. There is not a lot of primary movement promise there.

6. Delaney has hired more staff in Iowa.

7. After a bunch of trips to Iowa, Swalwell is now heading to the Palmetto state.

8. McAuliffe saying his 2020 decision-making calculus is unaffected by Biden's moves and McAuliffe actually being unaffected by Biden are two different things. More importantly, expect a decision from the former Virginia governor in the first quarter of 2019.

9. And now it's time for something completely different: How about those Clemson Tigers!

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

1 Of course, Inslee looks to be fairly well organized despite the plan to possibly announce later.

Monday, January 7, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Trump's Reelection and the 2020 Delegate Game

As we head into 2019 and the heart of the invisible primary, FHQ is beginning a series to catalog some of the maneuvering going on among and between the various campaigns and candidates as they move from the nascent to the real. We have been doing this for some time on Twitter, but in an effort to protect against some of the activities disappearing into the ether, we'll archive them here. 

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

While the Republican National Committee had an opportunity in 2017 and stretching into the first three-quarters of 2018 to make changes to aspects of the presidential nomination process for 2020, the party largely left well enough alone. And that is in keeping with how parties have approached process questions when they occupy the White House. Candidates who have won not only nominations, but the presidency tend to like the process that got them there. As such, the parties under their direction more often than not will either make no changes at all or only minor changes.

Look at the DNC in the 2009-2010 period. There was a commission -- the Democratic Change Commission -- that examined the way in which the party nominated its presidential candidates, but once the recommendations had worked their way through the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the result was a just a handful of small changes. The clustering bonus, where neighboring states could schedule their contests together after a certain point on the calendar in order to net a 15 percent increase in their delegation, stands out. But the most consequential, although often overshadowed change, was the increase in the total number of base delegates from 3000 to 3700 in the convention call. That had the effect of diluting the impact of superdelegates, or would have if the 2012 Democratic nomination had been competitive. In reality, it rewarded more Democrats with a trip to the national convention.

But those are the sorts of changes that often come out of White House-occupying parties.

And the 2017-2018 Republicans were no different. They had an opportunity through the Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process to examine the rules for 2020 and make any recommendations for changes. And they did. But the only change that emerged was the elimination of a 2016 creation: the debates sanctioning committee.

Everything else was left untouched. And that included the Rule 40 threshold determining whose name can be placed in nomination at the national convention. That was left alone because only the convention can change it.

And though the low bar of that threshold remains as it was set in 2016 at the convention, it has been a topic of some discussion in recent weeks. But the efforts to change it -- to raise it -- are both too late and have been shot down by the Trump reelction effort.

The campaign will endeavor instead to protect itself by "dominating the delegate game," by focusing not on changes to the national rules governing delegate selection, but on state-level rules for selecting and allocating delegates (created in response to the national guidelines).

In that patchwork of state party rules opportunities exist for presidential candidates. Creating the most advantageous calendar, for example. Or altering the balance of winner-take-all or proportional states for another.

Actually, this is at least part of where we are likely to see some changes during 2019. State parties will finalize their delegate selection processes in both parties as 2019 wears on. And although it is a gamble -- because what appears advantageous now may not be in 2020 -- we may see an effort on the Republican side similar to what was witnessed on the Democratic side in 2011: a national party urging action on the part of the states.

If a state is viewed now as a strong Trump state in the nomination phase of the process, then why not move it to a point on the calendar where the number of Trump delegates could be maximized? Take Georgia. Traditionally the Peach state has been a Super Tuesday mainstay. And it may still be in 2020. However, the newly elected Republican secretary of state there may hear from the Trump campaign. So might the Georgia Republican Party. The former could set the date of the Georgia primary for some point after March 15 and that would allow the latter to set the allocation method for winner-take-all (without penalty).

The same could be said for other early primary states where there is some combination of Republicans control of state government and perception of Trump doing well there in 2020. If one wanted to massage the delegate game a bit in order to raise the number of Trump delegates at the national convention, then this would be the way to do it.

And bear in mind, any changes to the primary calendar that Republicans make affects the Democratic process too. While the Democrats of 2011 sought to potentially influence the 2012 Republican process, this 2019 Republican maneuvering adds an additional element: protecting the president.

Elsewhere over the weekend...

1. Elizabeth Warren had a pretty good roll out to her presidential campaign from exploratory committee announcement to the trickle of stories about staffing hires to her initial Iowa trek. She was in the news or steadily made it all week.

2. Castro has surround his January 12 announcement event with trips to all the early states but South Carolina.

3. Cory Booker won't be the first and won't be the last to visit the Palmetto state, but he'll speak there on MLK.

4. The Booker super PAC continues to take shape.

4. Biden continues to hold support at home.

5. And no one has passed his test to keep him out of the 2020 sweepstakes yet either.

6. California donors are willing to let the dust settle a bit on the Democratic nomination contest.

7. One can't do one of these without an O'Rourke mention. Draft Beto has moved into South Carolina.

8. According to his wife, Sherrod Brown is heading for an announcement "within the next two months".

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Trump and the 2020 Republican Delegate Selection Rules

Rule 40 is back.

Remember all that chatter from last cycle about a potentially crowded field of candidates vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and the possibility that the ensuing chaos would lead to a scenario where multiple (or no) candidates would control a majority of delegates from eight states and have all/none of their names placed in nomination at the convention, leading to even more chaos?

It is fine if you do not. But FHQ does. Vividly. It was all the rage from 2014 into 2016, peaking in April  of that year and gathering steam again in the lead up to the July convention.

Now, however, the 2016 chaos narrative is being replaced by a 2020 threat narrative, all with Rule 40 as the predicate.

The short version of the threat narrative is this:
The current RNC rules for the 2020 nomination process set a low bar for a potential challenger to President Trump. At Trump's own nominating convention in 2016, delegates adopted a revision to Rule 40 for 2020. Rather than requiring the control of the majority of delegates from eight states to have one's name placed in nomination, the 2020 process would require the control of a plurality of delegates from only five states. This was a reversion to the threshold from before 2016. By extension, the thinking goes that the lower threshold for 2020 means a greater potential threat to the president and that the threshold should be raised.

Of course, there is a rule for that. Well, rules anyway.

First, Rule 12, added at the 2012 convention for the 2016 cycle and carried over to 2020, allows for amendments to Rules 1-11 and Rules 13-25. Noticeably, that is a list of amendable rules that does not include Rule 40. And even if Rule 40 was among the amendable rules, amendments to the 2020 rules had to be adopted by September 30, 2018.

Second, there was a vehicle put in place to devise recommended amendments to the group of rules that could be changed. Rule 10(a)(10) created the Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process (TCPNP) whose charge was to make such recommendations by May 31, 2018 in order for them to be considered, adopted and/or rejected by the full Republican National Committee prior to the September deadline laid out in Rule 12. Although their discussions were wide-ranging, all the TCPNP recommended and the RNC adopted was the elimination of the debates sanctioning committee the RNC created for the 2016 cycle.

In other words, the window for making changes to the rules has passed and Rule 40 was not among the rules that could be changed anyway.

None of those realities have stopped some from suggesting that because the RNC is a private organization, it can change its rules at any time. Nor has it dissuaded (at least one) RNC member from raising the idea of a suspension of the rules in order to fix "loopholes" in the 2020 process.

Look, FHQ is skeptical of that. It is not that there are doubts because of some rules technicality that guards against changes. Those are outlined above. Rather, there is reason to be skeptical of a change in the rules at this point because of something I often told folks with respect to the rules discussion ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention: it is fine to talk about potential changes to any rule that any voting member finds unsavory for whatever reason. Yet, it is another thing altogether to devise an alternative that can win the support of the requisite number of voting members to make that change.

In other words, the devil is in the details.

And if the details include the RNC acting unilaterally to change the nomination rules for 2020 in a way unprecedented in the history of the party, then cobbling together winning coalition to make any change would likely be a very steep climb indeed. Morton Blackwell, the national committeeman from Virginia, spoke against a motion to create this very change during the Convention Rules Committee meeting the week before the party convened in Cleveland in 2016. That motion was withdrawn.

In the end, parties have these rules in place and keep them relatively constant for a reason. They create certainty, or if not that, then prevent chaos. A party that changes rules mid-cycle and outside of the process laid forth for making changes -- typically from the highest authority for both of the major US political parties, the national convention -- is a party with no rules. To make a change now sets the precedent that similarly-timed changes can be made in the future, potentially pitting the party organization against the convention itself (because the convention could change the rules back or to whatever a majority there could agree on). Recognition of constant, stable rules, like constant and stable law, is necessary.

Take the rule in question, Rule 40. The national committeeman from the Virgin Islands, Jevon Williams, suggests that the rules, and Rule 40 in particular, were adopted at a time when there was no thought toward how they may affect an incumbent running for renomination/reelection, creating "loopholes".

[NOTE: That is not the case for anyone who watched the proceedings of the Republican National Convention Rules Committee in the lead up to the convention.]

But even if that was true and there were "loopholes", the plan was to return to the way the Rule 40 looked prior to 2016. George W. Bush was renominated in 2004 under those same rules. Before that in the 1990s, the threshold was even lower, set at a plurality in just three states. And prior to that, there was no threshold in the early equivalent to Rule 40. Past Republican presidents, then, have been renominated and reelected under similar rules.1

So, it should be noted that the overarching rules of the process are being made the scapegoat here for a problem that is not rules-based. If a given president is popular enough, particularly among his or her primary electorate, then that tends to 1) ward off a primary challenge and by extension, 2) renders the rules-based issues at least nonexistent and at most a minor nuisance.

As a coda to all of this FHQ will say that rules tinkering is nothing new here. What is new in this instance in 2019 is the timing. The cycle is beyond the point at which national rules can be changed. The process is in the midst of another phase now. Yes, most will be paying the primary amount of attention in the coming days and weeks and months to candidate jumping in to the race and what they are up to.

However, behind all of that is a parallel process where past presidents have wielded some influence: the rules on the state level. Typically incumbent presidents are loathe to change the rules that got them the nomination in the first place and in turn the national parties typically hold pat with those overarching rules. Yet, on the state level, there are opportunities to make small scale changes that may benefit a particular candidate. State governments for years have changed the dates of their primaries and often to help out a favorite son or daughter. Illinois, for example, uprooted its traditional March primary for the 2008 cycle to ideally give Barack Obama a leg up on a crowded Super Tuesday.

But presidents do this too. The Carter reelection effort foresaw a 1980 challenge from Ted Kennedy and as a result sought to alter the playing field. Their prescription was not to change the national delegate rules, but to manage things at the state level, lobbying a cadre of southern states to hold a subregional primary early in the primary calendar. That Alabama-Florida-Georgia primary was seen as a potential positive response for Carter to any gains Kennedy might make in the earlier New Hampshire and Massachusetts primaries.

While that specific sort of maneuvering is not yet evident in the actions of those officials in the Trump reelection campaign, there is evidence that delegate slates are being built on the same level. That is far more fertile ground for advantageous changes than altering the national delegate process at this late stage. Don't look for changes to Rule 40. Look to the states and what Team Trump is doing there.

1 Actually, the reversion to the pre-2016 threshold was met joyously by the voting members of Convention Rules Committee in 2016. But the change in 2012 -- for the 2016 cycle -- raised the bar to a majority of delegates in eight states with an incumbent President Romney in mind. That is why Ben Ginsberg and Jon Sununu took so much flak coming out of Tampa. But the changes each time were made by the party's highest authority, the national convention.