Monday, February 23, 2009

Democratic Ulterior Motives for 2012 and Frontloading

Yesterday, Jack put a bee in my bonnet by bringing up the specter of Democratic ulterior motives looming over the presidential primary scheduling for 2012. And as all good comments usually do, that got me thinking about the state legislative parties working to sabotage the nomination process for the alternate party. Just to be clear, I don't think this is necessarily happening. I don't think that Republicans could have foreseen what was going to happen with the DNC's sanction upgrade (fully stripping the state of its Democratic convention delegates) prior to the 2008 primaries or that the Democratic nomination would stretch out as far as it did. In any event the votes in both the Florida House and Senate were nearly unanimous; bringing in most of the Democrats in the process. If the Republicans in the Florida General Assembly were acting in ill will, then the Democrats took the bait. And I don't think that is the case any more than I think State Rep. Kevin Rader is proposing a reversion of the primary date in Florida to March to hurt the GOP in 2012. I just think he wants a primary that is in compliance with DNC rules (...if they were to remain the same for the next cycle or two).

But as long as we're talking ulterior motives, how about this one? The goal isn't necessarily to throw the 2012 GOP process into chaos, but to decrease the opportunity for on-the-ground organizing. In other words, keep the GOP away from an early and competitive, in this case, Florida primary and cause them to miss out on the organizational positives they would have gained. I'm going to go ahead and assume that if the primary rules are unchanged and the schedule remains similarly static, save Florida, the Republican nomination will have been decided well before the second week in March when Florida would hold its primary. Basically the, should Florida prove competitive in the subsequent general election campaign, then, the GOP's nominee will have lost out on some of that early organizational activity.

If 2008 taught us anything its that intra-party divisiveness has several levels. Jimmy Carter/Ted Kennedy divisiveness equals party paralysis while Obama/Clinton divisiveness leads to potential organization-building that will prove useful in the general election. [Now, it could also be that Barack Obama caught lightning in a bottle and that Hillary Clinton's endorsement really helped, but humor me, will you?] Of course, an additional layer in this is competition. Competition in 2008 is alright when both parties have contested nominations, but in 2012 it may not be welcomed in the Republican nomination battle. That type of competition builds interest in the race from state to state, but that could be offset to some extent by the need for the GOP to quickly settle in on an opponent for Obama. Would competition have helped the Democrats in 2004? [Actually, don't answer that. It could be that the Swift Boat stuff could have come out earlier, a la Jeremiah Wright, and either sunk John Kerry or helped his team develop a better strategy for dealing with it.] Still, the DNC allowed for February contests in 2004 precisely so that the party could unify quickly behind a nominee and begin the fight against George W. Bush. Would the RNC repeat this strategy or play with fire and attempt to mimic the competition and organization route the Democrats took in 2008? The former has failed, and the latter has the potential to blow up in their faces if the competition turns nasty.

But let's revisit this organization hypothesis because I don't think it can be understated. Democrats certainly could act in a way as to prevent primary period organization on the part of the Republicans, but it is probably more likely that we see Republican efforts to recreate what the Democrats had in 2008. This doesn't have to be some full-blown effort to resituate all the states on the calendar. It could simply be a few perceived November battlegrounds that get moved to earlier dates. This may also explain why Republicans in North Carolina and Indiana are pushing for earlier contests in 2012.

Let's think about this in terms of states those two states. Here are two states where Obama benefited because the Democratic nomination stretched into and through May. Obama was able to begin building the foundation in those states in a way he perhaps couldn't have minus the competition he had from Hillary Clinton. If Obama was the nominee at that point, Obama-McCain may not have energized voters in the same way that Obama-Clinton did. And in any event, the spotlight wouldn't have been that brightly shone on either state at that point.

If Indiana and North Carolina are shifted to earlier dates in 2012, as Republicans in each state are pushing for to varying degrees, that could provide the eventual nominee with some very much needed early organization in two of 2008's closest states*. So this isn't so much a matter of Democratic ulterior motives as it is about Republican motives in terms of the proper balance to create for 2012. [Am I saying the post title was misleading? No, of course not.]

*Of course if both Indiana and North Carolina move to Super Tuesday in February, then the quality of organzation is likely to suffer because candidate resources will be stretched so thin across so many states. Each would have to tamp down on the level of competition from other states.

Recent Posts:
Florida in 2012: Primary on the Move?

1992 Presidential Primary Calendar

The 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar (2/19/09)

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