Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar

For the most up-to-date version of this calendar see the left sidebar under the 2012 electoral college projection or click here.

This verges on the ludicrous, but last week I thought I would glance back at the state laws in place regarding the timing of presidential primaries for 2012. My intent was to see if the changes made for the 2008 cycle were permanent shifts or merely one and done changes for this past cycle.

This is certainly a fluid process and will change over the course of the next few years, but I thought it might be instructive to start with a baseline from which we can compare changes. As I have stated, there will likely be less frontloading in 2012 for a couple of reasons:
1) Most of the 2008 moves were permanent. What that means is that fewer states will have the ability to move to earlier dates if the rules regarding the timing of primaries and caucuses remain the same for 2012. Most are already at the earliest allowable date -- the first Tuesday in February.

2) Barring a failed Obama presidency, the president-elect will not be challenged in the Democratic primaries. Only one party, then, will have an active contest for its nomination. And as the Maryland case demonstrated only yesterday, partisanship is a powerful potential factor in the frontloading equation. When both parties have a contested nomination, both parties within a state (or state legislature) can take an "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" approach to frontloading. In other words, if both parties are motivated to move forward, then where's the harm? This is why I've said that GOP-controlled states will be the most likely movers for 2012 holding all other factors equal. They face only token Democratic opposition to a move that could potentially help a Republican nominee. In Democratic-controlled states or competitive (evenly divided) states, that opposition is greater.

Take the Maryland example: The Maryland GOP is discussing a split to the their delegate allocation structure. Some delegates would be at stake in the party's February 2012 primary, but they want to establish a caucus that would jump Iowa and New Hampshire. So the first salvo has already kinda sorta been fired. And the thing is, Maryland's GOP is considering this because there's no way the Democratic-controlled legislature is going to go along with a plan to move the state's primary to an earlier date [especially when that could help a potential nominee build grassroots in the state and challenge Obama in the state. Yes, yes, I'm fully aware that Obama's efforts in South Carolina during the primary campaign didn't prove fruitful in November. But my point is that there is no way the Maryland legislature is going to pass off on such a move, much less the Democratic governor, if there is even a slightly chance that it would slightly help the Republican candidate.].
Regardless, here is how things look for 2012 more than three years away from the opening contests of the nomination campaign (All of the following are primaries unless otherwise noted.).
Monday, January 16, 2012: Iowa caucuses*

Tuesday, January 24
: New Hampshire*

Saturday, January 28: Nevada caucuses*, South Carolina*

A note on the placement of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina

Tuesday, January 31
: Florida

Tuesday, February 7 (Super Tuesday): Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah

Saturday, February 11: Louisiana primary

Tuesday, February 14: Maryland, Virginia

Tuesday, February 21: Wisconsin

Tuesday, February 28: Arizona**, Michigan***

Tuesday, March 6: Massachusetts***, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont

Tuesday, March 13: Mississippi

Tuesday, March 20: Colorado caucuses****

Tuesday, April 24: Pennsylvania

Tuesday, May 8: Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia

Tuesday, May 15: Nebraska, Oregon

Tuesday, May 22: Idaho, Kentucky

Tuesday, June 5: Montana, New Mexico***** and South Dakota

*New Hampshire law calls for the Granite state to hold a primary on the second Tuesday of March or seven days prior to any other similar election, whichever is earlier. Florida is first now, so New Hampshire would be a week earlier at the latest. Traditionally, Iowa has gone on the Monday a week prior to New Hampshire. For the time being we'll wedge Nevada and South Carolina in on the Saturday between New Hampshire and Florida, but these are just guesses at the moment. Any rogue states could cause a shift.

**In Arizona the governor can use his or her proclamation powers to move the state's primary to a date on which the event would have an impact on the nomination. In 2004 and 2008 the primary was moved to the first Tuesday in February.

***Massachusetts and Michigan are the only states that passed a frontloading bill prior to 2008 that was not permanent. The Bay state reverts to its first Tuesday in March date in 2012 while Michigan will fall back to the fourth Tuesday in February.

****The Colorado Democratic and Republican parties have the option to move their caucuses from the third Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February.

*****The law in New Mexico allows the parties to decide when to hold their nominating contests. The Democrats have gone in early February in the last two cycles, but the GOP has held steady in June. They have the option of moving however.

I've obviously added some caveats already, but there is one big one that I should note as well. On the surface this looks like a far less frontloaded calendar. However, it only accounts for a handful of caucuses -- the most predictable early ones and those that are controlled by state law. Montana and West Virginia Republicans in 2008, for instance, opted for caucuses as opposed to primaries and shifted them to Super Tuesday. That could certainly happen again. The other caucus states will be determined at a later date, as the states' delegate selection plans emerge in probably 2011.

Now that we have a baseline for comparison let the frontloading begin. You're on the clock Maryland.

Recent Posts:
Maryland GOP to Jump Iowa/New Hampshire in 2012?

FHQ Hasn't Disappeared...It Just Seems That Way

Live Blog and Open Thread: Georgia Senate Runoff


Cameron said...

If, as you suggest, Republican controlled states successfully move up their contests that should lead to a more conservative nominee, right? I remember some complaints, normally the family dinner table, that McCain was chosen "by the democrats" meaning that he won his nomination in states that would end up going blue anyway. Not sure how much that really is true, but as far as the frontloading goes the perception probably matters more than the reality. The higher up states like GA, AL, MS, OK, are, then that could certainly lead to a less moderate, "get back to our values" candidate. Frontloading as a policy outcome. --Cameron Roberts

Anonymous said...

That's largely true about McCain. Of the contests he won in a multi-candidate field (I'll define that as Super Tuesday or earlier.), McCain won only South Carolina, Missouri and Oklahoma. The rest of the pre-February 5 states that he won were blue in November.

Here's the map from the New York Times.

The type of candidate that emerges depends on several things. Obviously, if the party seems to have lined up behind one candidate (a la Bush in 2000) then the rules I'm getting ready to discuss don't matter much. However, let's assume for the sake of fleshing this out that the Republicans are unable to come to a consensus in the invisible primary before 2012.

What matters?
1) Timing. Sure if you've got a lot of southern states at the front of the queue then you'll likely end up with a particular type of candidate. If you have some regional diversity in those early states, though, it will only exacerbate the problems of not settling on one candidate in the invisible primary. In this particular scenario we can really see the downside of a rotating regional primary system. And that's exactly what William Mayer pointed out in a hearing before Congress earlier this year.

2) Open vs. Closed. Again, 2000 is a good example. That independents put McCain over the top in New Hampshire didn't matter that much when Bush was crushing him in the closed state, especially South Carolina. In 2008 that may have helped McCain some, but I suspect that many independents were more interested in weighing in on the Democratic side. [I need to see if anyone has looked into that.] Regardless, if you have a series of open or closed states early, it could affect the outcome of the nomination.

3) Delegate Allocation. This is the big one on the Republican side. The Democrats require proportional allocation, whereas the GOP allows for winner-take-all and hybrid/loophole systems of delegate allocation. This is the one area where the McCain campaign seemingly strategized in 2008. They targeted the winner-take-all states on Super Tuesday and built a lead that was pretty much insurmountable.

But yeah, if it is just Republican-controlled states moving then the potential is there for the type of candidate you mentioned to emerge.

That list is pretty slim after the 2008 election though. Democrats have sole control in 27 states, there are 8 divided states and two others that are either non-partisan/unicameral (Nebraska) or divided evenly in one house (Montana). If my math is correct that leaves Republicans with just 13 states that they are in control of at the moment.

Let's look at the list (and the potential for a move):
AZ (likely to move given a Republican is taking over after Napolitano heads off to Homeland Security)

FL (not going anywhere)

GA (stuck unless the General Assembly decides to go rogue on the NRC)

ID (didn't move in 2008)

KS (cannot seem to get things together; maybe if Brownback wins the governor's seat in 2010)

MO (stuck a the top; see GA)

ND (held caucuses on Feb. 5; could move again)

OK (stuck at the top, see GA)

SC (favored position; bellwether for recent GOP nominees)

SD (could not make a move happen in 2008)

TN (stuck at the top, see GA)

TX (here's a contender to move)

UT (stuck at the top, see GA)

WY (only Mitt Romney remembers his win there on Jan. 5.)

Well, somebody's math is wrong because that's 14. Here's the link for the 27 Democratic legislatures figure and here is the complete breakdown post-November 4.

Texas really holds all the cards here. That would be a big frontload if it went down. If they were to go rogue like Florida did in 2008, it could really shake things up. Maryland can do what they want, but this would be the headline move of 2012.

Really though, if you look at that list and adhere to my suggestion, there just isn't going to be that much movement in 2012. Texs could go rogue and take some other southern states with it (like what we saw in 1988 but on a smaller scale), but outside of that it will be difficult for the GOP to end up with the type of candidate you mentioned.

Much of this will depend on how the Obama administration does though. That's the X-factor.

Thanks for chiming in Cameron.

Jack said...

Slightly off-topic, but since you mentioned it briefly in your comment, Josh, is there any talk of reforming that mix of winner-take-all/proportional states? It seems to render the proportional states (beyond the early states like IA/NH) almost meaningless in a sustained nomination contest.

One more question: you mention the possibilty of one candidate being chosen in the "invisible primary." You're talking about the party leaders, right? In that case, could someone like Sarah Palin, a modern-day Andrew Jackson fighting a valiant battle against Washington elites, get through anyway?

Anonymous said...

There were several comments in there, Jack. It ended up being rather longer than I intended.

Let me address your questions though.
1) I've heard nothing on the winner-take-all system. The sense I get is that the GOP likes to have a nice mix of styles. In a situation like 2008, when both parties have contested nominations, it plays to their advantage because their candidate will emerge first typically.

Now there has been some talk within Republican circles about closing up the open primaries for 2012. That chatter seems somewhat misguided, though, as most of them imply that RNC could impose that rule with little or no problem. Obviously, that's a state decision and it wouldn't be that easy. Most are just fearful of Democrats crossing over and voting "Operation Chaos" style.

2) Yeah, invisible primary refers to the chase for those party leaders/insiders and big money donors.

Given the Blagojevich situation today, that Washington outsider reformer narrative could be a solid message, but I just don't see the GOP leaders lining up behind Palin. I can see a faction that would, but not the whole thing. If Obama breaks even or just does well over the next four years the GOP will absolutely have to be united behind one person and early to even come close to having a chance.

We are just going to have to wait and see on this one. We won't have any idea until we see Obama in action. And potential GOP challengers will have to weigh their own ambition against the party lining up behind them. Do I take a chance now against the incumbent or do I simply wait it out until 2016 and an open race. I can see Bobby Jindal pulling a Mark Warner in 2010 and just waiting it out until 2016. Let Romney or Palin or Huckabee go lose. Hey, he may even face Mark Warner in that general election.

Jack said...

Just to clarify what I meant: I can't see GOP leaders getting behind Palin either. What I can see is Palin not caring if they don't.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did misread that. Thanks for the clarification.

I'll say this: Something like that has never happened in the Republican party. And I'd be shocked if it ever did. I can't imagine a scenario where the party leaders and big donors get behind someone and then someone else goes it alone and takes the nomination. For the Democrats, maybe, but not the Republicans.

Jack said...

You're welcome. I'm not saying that Palin would win the nomination - though I wouldn't completely count her out simply because the conventional wisdom has been proven wrong so often - if the Republican party leaders want someone else. But it won't her stop from trying.

Robert said...

Newt Gingrich will be 69.5 on January 20, 2013. If he is going to make a run, 2012 is probably as late as he can wait. Newt is someone who could win the invisible primary, a la GWB in 2000, particularly if Palin, Huckabee and Romney are the alternatives. As LID put it Palin is probably the only one who could conceivably defeat an annointed Gingrich in the primaries. A strong win in Florida would be crucial to her campaign. In fact, if the lineup stays as Josh has indicated, Florida will probably again crown the Republican nominee like it did this year. A Gingrich/ Jindal ticket would provide an interesting counterpoint to Obama/ Biden.

Unknown said...

Could you clarify the status of Michigan, Josh? You said Massachusetts was the only state to pass a frontloading bill that wasn't permanent. But Michigan has an early primary and is now back in its usual spot in your list.

Anonymous said...

A glaring omission, Scott. Good catch. I've made the correction in the post. In my mind, I guess I just don't see them staying in late February. One avenue the GOP in Michigan may pursue is to temporarily suspend the primary and hold a caucus. That is what happened in 2004. The state saved around seven million dollars then, and I could see the Democrats going along with such a plan on economic grounds.

Plus there's always the, "You want to opt out of a primary to hold a caucus?" issue. Both parties get something out of that. The Republicans get the opportunity to shift their delegate selection event up without any roadblocking from Democrats and they close the process in the process, avoiding cross-over voters. [That gets back to what Cameron was saying above.]

Democrats, on the other hand, also benefit from a closed contest. The Republicans' organizing footprint in the state would be minimized to some extent if they aren't targeting independents and cross-over Democrats. New voter registrants is the one outstanding factor there. If, in four years time, Republicans have the momentum they may be able to kick-start a new batch of new registrations.

Both the Maryland "split and caucus" plan and the Michigan "suspend and caucus" plan are interesting paths for the state parties to consider. It opens the door to frontloading without having to totally bring in Democrats. I'll have to think about that some more. That idea may be worthy of an additional post.