Thursday, June 8, 2023

Pat Robertson, 1988 and the Modern Caucus Strategy in Republican Presidential Politics

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • Another big daily digest update on primary calendar maneuvering in the mid-Atlantic and northeast and possible delegate allocation rules changes by Republican state parties in a pair of big states. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Many obituaries will talk about Pat Robertson's impact on how Republican presidential candidates strategize around the Iowa caucuses on the day of the televangelist's passing. And while his 1988 run for the Republican presidential nomination expressly targeted Christian conservatives, it was about more than just Iowa and evangelicals. 

The Robertson campaign's savvy on the grassroots level not only delivered caucus victories that cycle in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, but in many ways, it laid the predicate for the modern caucus strategy that recent campaigns like those of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 or Ted Cruz in 2016 mimicked. It has not always been all about evangelicals. Rather, it is about emphasizing the delegate selection process through the caucuses (in most states) to push as many delegates through to the convention to influence the ultimate nominee and the platform (if not the rules for subsequent cycles).

George H.W. Bush, for example, won the preference vote in the Nevada precinct caucuses in 1988 only to have Robertson's team run an end-around on them in later rounds of the caucus/convention process when delegates were actually selected. It is the same thing Ron Paul pulled off in a number of states in 2012, including Iowa and Nevada. 

And the stories from Michigan that cycle are priceless, from electing delegates in 1986 all the way through a rump state convention with Robertson at the center. But again, Robertson's team was able to exploit the delegate selection game to their advantage. It did not lead to the nomination, but it did lead to influence. And the 1988 Iowa Republican caucuses are only part of that story.

It should also be noted that RNC rules have progressively made this caucus strategy more and more difficult.

In the endorsement primary, former President Donald Trump rolled out 50 endorsements from West Virginia state legislators on Wednesday. FHQ did some endorsement math with a similar DeSantis endorsement wave, so it is only fair to do the same here. Trump's 50 endorsements come from 120 possible Republican legislators in the Mountain state.

Not to be outdone, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gained the support of 20 state legislators (out of 121 Republicans across the state House and Senate) in Oklahoma. The list included three representatives who are part of the House leadership team.

And the campaign of Vivek Ramaswamy signed on former Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz as one of its co-chairs in the Hawkeye state. Schultz previously served in similar roles for the Santorum and Cruz campaigns in 2012 and 2016, respectively. Both went on to win the caucuses. Ramaswamy also reeled in the endorsement of Iowa state Senator Scott Webster (a defection from DeSantis).

In the travel primary, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, fresh off his campaign launch, is swinging through eastern Iowa on Thursday and Des Moines, Ankeny and elsewhere on Friday.

And President Biden and Ron DeSantis will overlap in northern California later this month. 

On this date... 1976, President Gerald Ford fended off former California Governor Ronald Reagan in the New Jersey and Ohio primaries, but Reagan continued his dominance out west, winning the primary in the Golden state and keeping the delegate count close. On the Democratic side, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter outlasted the competition in the Ohio primary, but lost to California Governor Jerry Brown in the latter's home state. Carter also won the beauty contest primary in New Jersey while losing the delegate battle to Brown and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. 1979, Illinois Congressman John Anderson formally entered the race for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. 2004, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry won the Montana and New Jersey primaries to close out primary season.


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Is the RNC Using the Debate Criteria to Winnow the Field?

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the upper chamber's version of a bill to move the presidential primary in the Ocean state. All that and more at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
As FHQ noted earlier in the week in this space, the RNC released the qualification criteria for its first presidential primary debate in August late last week. Of course, our's was not the only reaction out there. Walt Hickey at Business Insider astutely pointed out the likely small pool of polls the national party will be able to lean on by requiring qualifying polls to have at least "800 registered likely Republican voters" in the sample. And FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley noted that the DNC allowed qualification in the first 2019 debate by polling or donors whereas the RNC is requiring candidates hit both metrics to qualify in 2023

In total it sums to a high bar exerting some pressure on the low end of the field. The Burgums and Hutchinsons and Elders and Johnsons, in other words, will potentially have some to a great deal of difficulty making the stage. And that is a departure from the past two contests that have seen large fields, the 2020 Democrats and 2016 Republicans. Four years ago, the DNC had to have two consecutive nights of debates (with randomly chosen participants) to accommodate everyone who qualified. And four years before that, the RNC split the field into a main stage debate and kiddie table debate; a set up that had its own potential winnowing effects. 

But the criteria are not the only facet of this overall process exerting winnowing pressures on the candidates struggling to gain attention. There is pressure from the top end of the field in 2023 that was not present in either 2020 (Democrats) or 2016 (Republicans) or not present to the same extent. Here is what I mean.

Look at how the fields of candidates are positioned on this date in 2015 and 2019. How much support were the top candidates pulling in?

Jeb Bush -- 11.3 percent (please clap) 
Scott Walker -- 10.8 percent 
Marco Rubio -- 10.3 percent 
[Combined: 32.4 percent]

Joe Biden -- 33.5 percent 
Bernie Sanders -- 16.7 percent 
[Combined: 50.2 percent]

Quibble if one will about using the Real Clear Politics averages or the specific date chosen or how many candidates were included or whatever, but the two examples above are far different from what one sees now in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. 

Donald Trump -- 53.2 percent 
Ron DeSantis -- 22.3 percent 
[Combined: 75.5 percent]

There just is not a lot of oxygen there for other candidates. Some might have difficulty qualifying for the first debate regardless of the criteria. The first debate was going to apply winnowing pressure regardless. What the RNC criteria may decide is just how much. And this top end pressure is not new. Trump and DeSantis have routinely gobbled up about three-quarters of the support out there. As DeSantis has faded Trump gained. Stretching into last year, as Trump's fortunes waned, DeSantis rose. 

FHQ is not saying the debate rules do not matter. They do and they will likely help winnow the field to some degree. But that is not the only thing exerting some winnowing pressure on the other candidates. They are, however, one of the few things in the control of the national party.

Former Vice President Mike Pence has launched his bid for the Republican nomination with a splashy new video, but starts in a bad spot. And as Julia Azari and Seth Masket argue, Pence is stuck trying to resurrect the party of Reagan while simultaneously tethered to a Trump anchor. Candidates have seen some success trying to tread between past and present in years gone by, but it is not a path for Pence that is without resistance in the current context, they point out.

In the travel primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues to branch out and hit states that are not home to one of the first four contests. There is a trip to Oklahoma this weekend and another to keynote a big Tennessee Republican Party fundraiser next month. Both are Super Tuesday states.

Also, CNBC's semiannual survey of millionaires still shows DeSantis as the choice, but the gap between him and the former president has noticeably shrunk since the last survey was conducted in fall 2022.

On this date... 1988, President George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis both swept primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico. The wins by Dukakis pushed him over the number of delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic nomination. 2008, New York Senator Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Senator Barack Obama a few days after the last round of primaries. 2016, Donald Trump ran off a string of victories in primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota to close out primary season on the Republican primary calendar. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won primaries in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders continued his success in caucus states, winning in North Dakota and besting Clinton in the Montana primary. 2020, President Donald Trump won an electronic vote of party leaders in Puerto Rico to take all of the island territory's delegates in the Republican presidential nomination race.


Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Launch Week Continues & Biden and the Iowa "Caucuses"

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • With state legislative sessions winding down, things have gotten kind of quiet in terms of the primary calendar and rules for 2024. But that does not mean that nothing has been going on. In fact, it is picking up once more with some big-ish changes to delegate allocation for New York RepublicansAll the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
President Biden appearing on any state's primary or caucus ballot next year will depend entirely on whether the state party in question is conducting or involved in a noncompliant contest. That is clear and has been clear for some time. The president has stood behind a primary calendar change for 2024 that disrupts the standard positions that both Iowa and New Hampshire have occupied on the calendar for half of a century. But when those changes are combined with rules that also create penalties on candidates who campaign in states that break those rules, it makes things look rather ominous with respect to president's participation. After all, it is unlikely that a president is going break the rules of the party he leads to campaign in some rogue contest. 

But that did not deter Biden challenger, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from saying this to radio host Michael Smerconish in an interview on Monday, June 5:
“I think that President Biden is not going to even put his name in Iowa and New Hampshire. So I think he’s not even going to compete,” Kennedy added.
However, Kennedy is like others who have fallen into the trap of expecting Iowa and New Hampshire to behave the same in the face of changes that strip them both of their customary positions. New Hampshire Democrats have clearly been defiant. But Iowa Democrats have not been. Not yet anyway. And signs pretty clearly point toward an Iowa Democratic Party that is trying to thread a needle with their 2024 process. Those signs indicate a likely compliant preference vote. 

And if that all-mail preference vote occurs at a compliant point on the calendar, then Biden will be on the ballot. If not, well, he will not be. But no one -- not even RFK Jr. -- has an answer to that yet. And as for competing beyond merely being on the ballot, Biden will likely do what most incumbent presidents do in terms of campaigning in compliant contest states.

On Christie's launch day, Jonathan Bernstein has a good one up at Bloomberg chock full of advice on how the former New Jersey governor can run a productive campaign despite not having any real chance to win (based on the typical horserace standards).

FHQ was at least somewhat skeptical in Invisible Primary: Visible last week about an NBC News look at the potential failings of canvassing on the Republican side. Derek Willis has provided some good additional perspective on the matter in terms of expenditures on those GOTV efforts in the DDHQ newsletter this week. 
The grumbling in the NBC story about the GOP's canvassing operations - "That’s why we’re losing elections," one anonymous source is quoted as saying - doesn't sound like sour grapes from a competing consultant. But it's also not clear to an outsider how effective paid canvassing is, especially in the final weeks of the campaign. 
One thing is pretty certain: paid canvassing isn't going away, and one important reason why is primary elections, where a party apparatus usually isn't available to help pull in volunteers.

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission on Monday to run for president ahead of his Iowa launch on Wednesday, June 7.
  • Taking a different route than most recent prospective presidential candidates, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu opted not to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, calling on candidates to "not get into this race to further a vanity campaign, to sell books or to audition to serve as Donald Trump’s vice president." Seth Masket has more on Sununu's decision at Tusk. But the University of New Hampshire's Dante Scala pushed back on any impact Sununu would have had one way or the other. All FHQ would add is that a Sununu entry was very unlikely to make New Hampshire irrelevant for 2024. He has basically been flirting with the delegate qualifying threshold (10 percent) in public opinion polling in the Granite state. Sununu is no Tom Harkin in Iowa, circa 1992. He was not deterring anyone.
  • On the other hand, North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum has a new extended video out ahead of his announcement on Wednesday, June 7.

On this date... 1972, South Dakota Senator George McGovern swept the Democratic primaries (or won more delegates) in California, New Jersey, New Mexico and his home state of South Dakota. The backstory on the New Jersey primary is a wild read more than 50 years on. 2000, Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore both won primaries in Alabama, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota to end primary season. 2011, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden won caucuses in Guam and the Virgin Islands.


Monday, June 5, 2023

The Rules Help Frontrunners in Both Parties, not just Trump

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Elaine Kamarck had a really good piece up over at Brookings late last week. Breaking the nomination process timeline into three parts -- invisible primary, early contests and everything -- could perhaps use another layer, the opening of the winner-take-all window on March 15, but that is a small quibble. The hypothesis that someone will have to trip Trump up in one of the early states to take him down is a sound one as well. 

But FHQ breaks with Kamarck on an earlier section she penned...
"A few months ago, I helped create the now conventional wisdom which says that a large field of challengers will help Trump because the Republican winner-take-all or winner-take-most delegate selection rules are tailor made for a candidate who holds a solid base among primary voters and who can wrack up a series of plurality wins."
First of all, this is not exactly wrong. Winner-take-all rules certainly would not hurt a frontrunner with a built-in base of support like Trump seems to have. However, that is not the only layer of the rules that might help. There is another facet of the delegate selection process in both parties that could also help frontrunners in a similar position: the qualifying threshold. After all, candidates in both parties have to receive a minimum amount of support to gain any delegates in the first place. It is a standard 15 percent across all states, territories and jurisdictions in the Democratic process, and although it varies on the Republican side, the qualifying threshold can be no higher than 20 percent. In fact, more Republican state parties moved toward the 20 percent maximum qualifying threshold for the 2020 cycle. That remnant from the changes for the last cycle will potentially benefit the former president as well. 

But it is not just Trump who is helped by such rules. Frontrunners of all stripes can reap the benefits of a qualifying threshold. Here is an example. Say Trump wins 40 percent of the vote in the Minnesota primary on Super Tuesday next year. Ron DeSantis comes in a distant second at 20 percent, enough to qualify for delegates under the proportional rules Minnesota Republicans used in 2020. Trump in that scenario falls below 50 percent, so the winner-take-all trigger is not activated. Yet, only he and DeSantis qualify for delegates. Only their collective vote counts in calculating how many delegates each is allocated. Trump would not receive 40 percent of the delegates. The former president would claim two-thirds of them. DeSantis would take the remaining third. While that is not all of the delegates going to Trump, it would be a fairly healthy net delegate advantage coming out of the state. And if replicated across other states on a Super Tuesday with a number of primaries and caucuses, the delegate count could get lopsided quickly.

And this is not just a Republican phenomenon. This very thing happened to Joe Biden on Super Tuesday in 2020. Yes, some of his competition dropped out after South Carolina (and before Super Tuesday) and endorsed the former vice president, but they were still on the ballot, gobbling up votes and hovering well below the qualifying threshold. Who was above it? Biden, Bernie Sanders and a revolving cast of characters who nudged above 15 percent barrier across the slew of Super Tuesday states. The result was that Biden built a large enough lead in the delegate count to pressure others to cease campaign operations thereafter. 

Look, this is not all just delegate selection rules. As Seth Masket pointed out last week, winnowing matters a great deal in all of this. But the fact remains that it is not just winner-take-all rules that help just Trump. The delegate selection rules in both parties help frontrunners. Kamarck is not wrong, but her hypothesis is a bit too narrowly crafted. 

The Republican National Committee late last week also released the qualifying criteria for the first presidential debate this August in Milwaukee. Some candidates are already complaining. Others are too:
“It seems that the RNC is going out of its way to purposely narrow the field at one of the earliest times in the party’s history,” said a Republican consultant working for one of the presidential candidates who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “And rather than finding a way for as many conservative voices to be heard by Republicans throughout the country, they are attempting to make this a two-man race.”
The RNC was going to catch some flak on this decision regardless, but this is much more about one candidate -- a dominant former president as frontrunner -- than it is about squelching the others struggling to gain support. How much lower than topping one percent in the polls was the national party supposed to go? The donor threshold is lower at 40,000 than it was for Democrats in their first debate four years ago. And Democrats managed to have 20 qualifiers across two debates on consecutive nights. The difference is not those on the low end. This is about the someone at the top end of polling crowding others out of a debate in which he may not even participate. 

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • In the endorsement primary, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam threw his support behind South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
  • Never Back Down, the super PAC aligned with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, started canvassing in New Hampshire, continuing to test the effectiveness of the practice outside of a traditional campaign.
  • Granite state Rep. James Spillane flipped his endorsement from Trump to DeSantis. [There has been some early churn in the endorsement primary between these two among state legislators. That may or may not be a story, but it signals that both sides are seemingly (and intensely) battling for the support of this subset of elected officials (especially in early states.]
  • And action (or inaction) over in Iowa may help explain why state legislators are so sought after: Republicans elected statewide are for the most part staying neutral for now. That is true in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire. South Carolina is the exception. Trump has endorsements from the governor and senior senator.

On this date... 1972, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty withdrew from the Democratic presidential nomination race on the eve of the California primary. 1984, in a series of five contests to end primary season, Colorado Senator Gary Hart won the delegate vote in California and primaries in New Mexico and South Dakota. Former Vice President Walter Mondale claimed victories in New Jersey and West Virginia. 2012, both former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama swept primaries in California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. Obama also took the caucuses in North Dakota. 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Puerto Rico. 2020, President Donald Trump won an online vote among Republican party leaders in Puerto Rico to take all of the delegates from the territory.


Sunday, June 4, 2023

Sunday Series: Demystifying Delegate Allocation and Delegate Selection

Delegate allocation.

Delegate selection.

Delegates, delegates, delegates.

The 2024 invisible primary is deep in the heart of rules season. Each of the national parties have settled on the rules that will govern their respective presidential nomination processes next year. Well, both parties have mostly done that. The Democratic National Committee still has to finalize which states will receive (or not receive) waivers to conduct primaries or caucuses during the early part of the primary calendar next year. But other than that (not insignificant) detail, the guidelines within which states and state parties can operate for 2024 have been set for some time. And states and state parties have been, are and will continue to make decisions -- when to schedule primaries and caucuses, how to allocate and select delegates, etc. -- as 2023 progresses. 

And those are important decisions that can influence the path a presidential candidate takes in getting to the nomination. But together, all of those rules, the layers of national party guidelines, state laws and state party rules, form a complicated matrix that seems far removed from a voter walking into a polling place and pulling the lever for their preferred presidential candidate. 

For most, those who, like FHQ, grew up or currently reside in a state with a presidential primary, that can seem like the extent of the process. One expresses their presidential preference, some candidate wins the primary and the candidate who wins the most across the country becomes the nominee. More often than not, that is true. However, that description of the process is a vast oversimplification that smooths over many of the complexities that can render that way of understanding things false. 

In truth, what happens every four years is that those votes in primaries and caucuses throughout the United States translate into delegates and it is those delegates who decide at the national convention who a party's presidential nominee is going to be. But that process of votes producing delegates for the various candidates can be shrouded in mystery, or perhaps more appropriately, complexities. 

Many of those complexities owe to the fact that there are two parallel events taking place in that translation of votes to delegates. One of those, delegate allocation, most folks at least vaguely understand. If a candidate wins more votes, they more often than not win more delegates. There are exceptions to that rule, but in the vast majority of cases, the candidate with the most votes in a given state's contest is the candidate who is awarded the most delegates. This is true if the state party rules for delegate allocation are proportional (where if a candidate wins 53 percent of the vote, that candidate wins around 53 percent of the delegates), winner-take-all (where a plurality winner statewide can win all of a state's delegates) or something in between those two.

But as FHQ has often described it, that allocation process is only granting the various candidates delegate slots based on the results of the primaries or caucuses. There is a second process -- delegate selection -- that operates in the background to actually fill those slots. They end up filled with people that go the national conventions aligned with and/or bound to the candidates to whom the slots have been awarded. 

Taylor Swift and National Conventions

Confused yet? 

Yeah, it happens. And FHQ gets asked about this a lot. I can launch into that "Well, the nomination process is one of two parallel processes..." and folks' eyes start to glaze over. There are a lot of layers involved in this process and it quickly gets messy. So let's think about all of this delegate allocation and selection a bit differently. 

Think of a national convention like a Taylor Swift concert. Sure, one's mileage may vary in terms of the entertainment value of those two events, but the convoluted nature of the process to actually get into either event is similarly opaque and complicated. Just as Swifties in the fall of 2022 wanted to get tickets to see the singer/songwriter in concert, candidates want to get as many of their delegates into the national convention (in order to be nominated as the party's standard bearer). But just like those diehard Taylor Swift fans, the various candidates have to compete against other candidates, some with vastly more resources (like ticket resellers buying in bulk), to gain access. 

But both are competing for something similar. Swifties want tickets that reserve a spot for them at the concert. Presidential candidates are vying in primaries and caucuses for delegate slots that reserve spots for their delegates at the convention. That is the delegate allocation process. It is getting tickets to the show. 

Now, suppose you are the parent of two young Swift fans. Ideally, you want three tickets so you and your two kids can see Taylor. Only, because of the process -- ahem, allocation -- you manage to get just two tickets. Who gets those two tickets? You cannot possibly let your two underage kids go alone. Or can you? But how do you choose between the two kids in the scenario that a chaperone is necessary? Do you flip a coin? Do you let them literally battle it out in hand-to-hand combat to see who goes? Do you design some Taylor Swift trivia contest? And assuming your kids are not twins, you have to design a process that levels the playing field for them that does not advantage the older kid. In fact, you probably want to use some system that does not appear to play favorites at all. 

That is the delegate selection process; the rules of deciding (or that decide) who goes. 

And state parties operate within national party guidelines to set the rules for both allocation and selection. They set the rules for 1) how folks get tickets and that 2) decide who gets to go based on how many tickets were acquired. The getting the tickets part is allocation. Those are the proportional and winner-take-all rules mentioned above. All states are proportional in the Democratic process, but there is a mixture of those rules (and various hybrid forms in between) across the states and territories in the Republican system. Voters vote in the primaries and (the first round of) caucuses and that determines how many of the delegate slots -- those tickets to the national convention -- are allocated to the various candidates. Each state has a set number of tickets to allocate based on different formulas across the parties that weigh population (the bigger the state, the more tickets it gets) and partisan voting history (the more Republican a state is, for example, the more tickets it gets to the Republican convention).

But how do state parties decide the actual people that get to go to the concert; those who get the tickets?

Again, that is the delegate selection process. In some states, like Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Rhode Island, when voters vote in a presidential primary, those voters vote for their presidential preference and also vote for delegate candidates. Those states merge the ticket acquisition portion with the process of deciding who gets to go. To some degree, it is similar in caucus states. Caucus-goers attend their precinct caucuses and collectively their votes determine how many delegate slots are allocated to which candidates and start the process of deciding who gets to go, a process that plays out through county, district and/or state conventions. This is the way things have been for, say, Iowa Democrats in the past and will continue to be the case for Iowa Republicans in 2024. 

Yet, in most cases and in most states, there are two very separate processes: a primary for delegate allocation and a caucus/convention system for delegate selection. The latter is something that almost universally gets missed by casual observers in this whole process. In other words, even in primary states there are caucuses. But they are separate caucuses with separate (or if not completely separate, then a subset of) decision makers from the primaries. It is in those caucuses where that subset of typically very tuned-in partisans begins to decide who gets those tickets, who fills a candidate's allocated slots to the national convention.

Take New Hampshire, a traditional primary state. All one ever hears about is the primary there. It has been first, after all, for more than a century. But delegates are selected in the Granite state before the primary. Slates of delegate candidates are selected for each candidate in pre-primary caucuses and then folks are pulled from those slates to fill slots allocated to the candidate once the results of the primary are in. This is basically the model Iowa Democrats appear to be proposing for their 2024 process and from where some of the recent confusion comes. The state party is abandoning the merged allocation and (start of the) selection processes and is proposing to bifurcate them. The idea is that the traditional caucuses will be held on the same January night that Republicans hold theirs, but the decisions made that night only affect the selection process (who goes to the convention). A separate all-mail preference vote (one that presumably concludes after the initial caucuses) will be what determines the allocation (how many tickets each candidate gets).

In most primary states, however, the selection process in those caucuses follows the primary. But again, they are separate. 

Hijacking who gets tickets

There is one additional layer to all of this that separates the two major parties and how each handles the selection process overall. Think of it as a safeguard that Democrats at the national level have added to their selection process that does not exist in the Republican process. The rules that state parties operate under on the Democratic side give the candidates the right of review over who fills any delegate slots allocated to them. Candidates who have been allocated any delegates have the ability to weed out any delegate candidates who have made it through the selection process and into one of their allocated slots but who are not actually affiliated with or sympathetic to the candidate. To extend the concert analogy, Democratic candidates have some backend control over who gets their tickets.

By comparison, there is no such safeguard on the Republican side. There is no right of review. A candidate may lose a primary but if that candidate has a dedicated enough following at the grassroots level, those supporters may be able to overrun a caucus and/or convention and force through a disproportionate number of delegate candidates. That produces a delegation that may be bound through the allocation process to support a particular candidate but one that is made up of people filling those allocated slots who support someone else. Recall that during the 2016 Republican primaries there was some talk about the possibility that delegate slots allocated to Donald Trump may be filled with people aligned with another candidate. That talk has returned for 2024.

Now sure, that may sound as if it is undemocratic, the idea that one candidate may be able to make an end run around another candidate who has received more votes overall in the primaries and caucuses. But it is (or has been) much easier to speculate about that than it has been for a candidate to actually successfully implement such a strategy across enough states to change the course of the nomination at the convention. But still, the possibility exists that a well-organized campaign can come in and hijack the decision on who gets a ticket to the national convention. 


Obviously there is more to it all than this. There are maybe more layers that make the Taylor Swift concert ticket analogy work better in some facets of the delegate allocation/selection process than others. But complicated though all of this may be, it helps to think of allocation like getting tickets to the national convention and selection as deciding who gets to use those tickets and actually go to Chicago or Milwaukee in 2024. The rules governing each process may be stretched beyond this simple example, but for the most part this is basically how it works. 


Saturday, June 3, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] Uncertainty and the 2024 Presidential Primary Calendar

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


The 2024 invisible primary has gotten to a point where more and more folks are starting to look at the calendar of nominating contests that the Republicans vying for the presidential nomination will face next year. And due to the proximity to the beginning of primary season seven-ish months away, the order of those contests is taking on increasing importance. 

But here things are, seven months or so from the kickoff of primary season 2024, and uncertainty remains. And it exists at the very beginning of the calendar. There is not one Republican primary or caucus in any state that has an official date on the calendar before Super Tuesday. Or stated differently, every state one might expect to fall before Super Tuesday in 2024 has at least one caveat that makes it impossible to know exactly where those states may end up when the calendar dust settles.

Now, some of us are of a mind that all of this will shake out with some drama over the coming months, but limited drama. It all depends on the moves the various players make. Here are a few of the moves about which there is uncertainty, but from which the calendar answers will come.

  • Michigan Republicans: Do Republicans in the Great Lakes state opt into the late February presidential primary or choose to select and allocate national convention delegates in a party-run caucus/convention process? The party is in a bind either way (but this will not directly affect the earlier protected states in the Republican process).

  • Nevada Republicans: Same question, different state Republican party: Do Nevada Republicans opt into the state-run presidential primary on February 6 or decide to use a slightly later (but before a Michigan Republican primary) caucus/convention process? The later caucus option may save Republicans from starting primary season in early instead of mid-January. [And just this week, there were signals from Silver state Republicans that they are aiming for caucuses.]

  • South Carolina Republicans: Theoretically, the decision here will hinge to some degree on what Michigan and Nevada decide. But what Palmetto state Republicans decide is also colored by the political custom in the state for the parties have (state-run) primaries on 1) a Saturday and 2) on different days. Breaking from those traditions may provide some additional leeway, but they are traditions for a reason. If Nevada Republicans opt into the primary in the Silver state, then South Carolina Republicans would likely have a primary no later than February 3 alongside Democrats in the state. However, if they follow tradition, then Republicans in the first-in-the-South primary state would likely hold a primary a week earlier on January 27. And that would leave Iowa and New Hampshire with a very narrow sliver of calendar in which to operate (under the traditional rules of calendar engagement).

  • New Hampshire: The secretary of state in the Granite state -- the person who makes the primary scheduling decision -- is cross-pressured on two sides, sandwiched between the decisions Iowa and South Carolina actors may make. But the South Carolina Democratic primary is scheduled for February 3. That means that the New Hampshire primary will be no later than January 23, on a Tuesday at least seven days before any other similar election. South Carolina Republicans may push that a little earlier if they schedule a January primary. On the other side, Iowa Democrats' decision to conduct a vote-by-mail presidential preference vote raises red flags in New Hampshire because it too closely resembles a primary. But there is no date for the conclusion of that preference vote. If that vote concludes on caucus night, whenever in January that ends up, then that could draw New Hampshire to an even earlier date ahead of Iowa.

  • Iowa Republicans: Decision makers within the Republican Party of Iowa are also stuck to some extent; stuck between what Iowa Democrats are planning and what New Hampshire's secretary of state may do in response. But the party is mostly stuck because decision makers seem to want to make a decision on the caucus date for 2024 some time early this summer when there may not yet be enough information to make a decision that protects the traditional calendar order in the Republican process. Waiting for Iowa Democrats' preference vote (conclusion) date to settle is likely to resolve much of this drama at the very front end of the calendar. 

The takeaway is that there is some uncertainty that is sure to create some drama over the final calendar, but it is uncertainty that can be boiled down to a handful of decisions in a handful of states. Admittedly, it can go in a number of different directions -- choose your own adventure! -- but there is a pretty narrow range of possibilities. 

Follow the evolving calendar here.


[Side note: FHQ likes the Ballotpedia way of looking at the primary calendar. While FHQ attempts to explain all of the chaos away (or to put it into context), their model is simpler: what is confirmed. But if one is going to do that, then one has to actually confirm confirmed primary dates. Ballotpedia lists Colorado as confirmed for Super Tuesday. Now, FHQ fully expects that that is where the presidential primary in the Centennial state ends up in 2024. The secretary of state has it on the calendarThe Colorado Democratic Party has it in their delegate selection plan. But the date is not official yet. The secretary of state and the governor make that decision. And nothing has been said publicly about that yet. For comparison, Governor Polis announced the 2020 presidential primary date at the end of April 2019. By law, decision makers have until September 1 of this year to set the date.]


Friday, June 2, 2023

Real Talk: FHQ has to roll its eyes at coverage of this new caucus law in Iowa. It's bad.

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...


This new law does not affect the delegate selection plans for 2024 that Iowa Democrats have previewed. It does not. Read the language of the change:

If the state central committee of a political party chooses to select its delegates as a part of the presidential nominating process at political party precinct caucuses on the date provided in subsection 1, the precinct caucuses shall take place in person among the participants physically present at the location of each precinct caucus.

Everything one needs to know about that entire section and how it interacts with the Iowa Democratic Party delegate selection plan is right there in that one highlighted word, select. The proposed vote-by-mail component of the Democrats’ defined “caucus” procedure has nothing to do with the process of selecting delegates. It has everything to do with the allocation of delegates. That all-mail presidential preference vote affects the allocation and not the selection process. As such, it is unaffected by what Governor Reynolds signed into law on Thursday. 

The selection process for delegates to the national convention will commence at the precinct caucuses, presumably on the same night for Democrats in Iowa as Republicans. According to the draft plan from Iowa Democrats, that part will be conducted in person. It would comply with the new law.

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Nate Cohn is good at the Upshot on millennials' party identification. They will not all be voting in the Democratic primaries (or for the Democrat in the general election) in 2024.

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • In the staff primary, Senator Tim Scott beefed up his Iowa team, hiring Annie Kelly Kuhle, who was Jeb Bush's Iowa state director for 2016, to reprise her role along with Jeff Glassburner. Scott also brought on George Anderson, Cole Kramersmeier and Andy Finzer as part of the Iowa team, all folks with deep ties and experience in Hawkeye state Republican politics. 
  • On the travel primary side, Governor Ron DeSantis treks from New Hampshire yesterday to first-in-the-South South Carolina today. He has three stops in the Palmetto state, hitting all three regions in Beaufort (Low Country), Lexington (Midlands) and Greenville (Upstate). 
  • Senator Joni Ernst's Roast and Ride event will feature eight announced or prospective Republican presidential candidates this weekend. 

On this date... 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton swept primaries in Alabama, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and Ohio to win enough delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. President George H.W. Bush won contests in all six as well, including a beauty contest win in Montana. 2011, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden won seven contests in Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington, DC to inch within range of claiming the requisite number of delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination. [He was declared the winner in Pennsylvania as well, but voting in the Keystone state would not complete for another week in some areas.]


Thursday, June 1, 2023

Republican Sound and Fury in Nevada Over 2024 Presidential Primary, Signifying Little

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • Folks are starting to look more at the 2024 primary calendar and while there is uncertainty as to its final state, it can be narrowed down to a limited number of questions in a handful of states. An update on the calendar at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
FHQ had a number of interesting conversations on the periphery of the news about the lawsuit filed last week by Nevada Republicans to seek relief from (future) enforcement of the new presidential primary law in the Silver state. One can read the brief FHQ take on the matter at the link above, but we would also recommend the piece by Derek Muller at Election Law Blog and the Nevada Independent rundown of things from the Silver state perspective.

It is a strange lawsuit. 

It is strange because, according to the NV Indy report, the Nevada secretary of state's office interprets the code created by the 2021 bill to allow for a party to conduct caucuses in lieu of the newly created state-run presidential primary. Furthermore, legislation also considered and passed during the same legislative session in 2021 unentangled the state from the business of the state parties organizing themselves, something that conflicted with an amendment to that section of the code in the presidential primary bill. But the repeal of those sections overrode the one amendment included in that primary bill.

So why all of the fuss from Nevada Republicans?

Well, for starters, the party is fundraising off of the lawsuit. [That is a screengrab of the splash page when one navigates to the Nevada Republican Party web page as of this writing.] But that is perhaps an unconventional (but increasingly conventional) way to raise funds, via lawsuit.

But also there is a potential national party angle here as well. No, the Republican National Committee (RNC) is not pushing Nevada Republicans to sue, not directly anyway. However, national party rules may present something of a problem to Nevada Republicans should there be a beauty contest primary but also caucuses that would serve as the official method by which the state party would allocate and select delegates to the national convention.

The problem? Consider the situation in Michigan. 

Democrats in control of the state government in Lansing passed a bill earlier this year that was subsequently signed into law moving the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state to late February for 2024. But that is in violation of RNC rules on the timing of primaries and caucuses. That, in turn and in part, may prompt Michigan Republicans to conduct caucuses in order to avoid sanction from the national party. 

But that is a problem. Later and compliant caucuses would necessarily have to follow the noncompliant February presidential primary in Michigan. Yet, RNC rules also require that any statewide vote be used as the contest on which delegate allocation must be based. With the noncompliant statewide primary vote coming first, it would have to be used as the data from which delegate allocation is to be allocated. 

See the issue here? Nevada Republicans, even if they have the cover to conduct caucuses as the Nevada secretary of state's office suggests, would be forced to conduct those caucuses either alongside the state-run primary or before it -- constraining the party's choices -- to avoid running afoul of the RNC rules. 

Or so it would seem. 

The situations in Michigan and Nevada, however, are different. Candidate filing is different. Candidates actually file to appear on the primary ballot in Nevada. They do not in Michigan, where the secretary of state merely creates a list of recognized candidates to appear on the primary ballot. If Nevada Republicans plan to hold caucuses on, say, February 13 -- after the February 6 primary -- and allocate delegates based on that, then the candidates will file with the state party and not with the state to be on the primary ballot. If no candidates file -- or if just one files -- then there would be no Republican primary in Nevada under current law. There would be no earlier statewide vote to conflict with a later official caucus vote. There would be no RNC penalties. 

It would appear, then, that Nevada Republicans already have the answers they need and do not really need the lawsuit. Unless they are just looking to raise funds for the caucuses. But again, this is a strange lawsuit.

Allan Smith over at NBC News has a great deep dive on the alleged problems in Republican-aligned canvassing efforts. Look, it is likely that the "problem" is overstated in the piece -- close election losses rarely come down to just one factor -- but that does not mean canvassing on the Republican side does not fall short of what Democrats are doing. And the issue with paid volunteers is particularly important given all of the hiring that outside groups like the DeSantis-affiliated super PAC, Never Back Down, are doing in states on Super Tuesday and earlier on the calendar

Invisible Primary quick hits:
  • In the staff primary, Donald Trump hired Eric Hollander to oversee operations in Iowa and New Hampshire. Hollander's presidential campaign experience includes being a part of the Cruz operation in South Carolina in 2016 before moving on to lead the campaign in Illinois, a state with notoriously difficult delegate rules.
  • It was nice to see some actual analysis in press coverage of the steep odds a late-entry Glenn Youngkin bid for the Republican nomination would face.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence will enter the presidential race on Wednesday, June 7 in Iowa. Pence will be a part of a busy week for candidate entry with Chris Christie set to announce Tuesday in New Hampshire and Doug Burgum launching his campaign on Wednesday as well.
  • The busy travel primary week in Iowa continues on Thursday. Donald Trump returns to the Hawkeye state in the wake of DeSantis stops there. Senator Joni Ernst's Roast and Ride is also this weekend in Iowa.

On this date... 1976, another late-season series of contests saw split results in both parties' competitive nomination races. President Gerald Ford took the Rhode Island primary while former California Governor Ronald Reagan continued his dominance out west, winning primaries in Montana (beauty contest) and South Dakota. On the Democratic side, Jimmy Carter topped the field in South Dakota, but lost to Idaho Senator Frank Church in Montana and an uncommitted slate (aligned with California Governor Jerry Brown) in Rhode Island. 2004, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry won primaries in Alabama and South Dakota and President George W. Bush won primaries in the Yellowhammer state as well as in New Mexico. 2008, New York Senator Hillary Clinton won the Puerto Rico Democratic primary, but still trailed Barack Obama in the delegate count late in a tight race for the Democratic nomination. 2015, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) officially joined the growing field of candidates vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. 2019, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declines to challenge President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination.