Friday, November 19, 2010

Bill Introduced in Texas House to Move 2012 Presidential Primary from March to February

All the talk coming out of the Texas legislature this week has been about the birther bill introduced that would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to share with the Texas secretary of state their birth certificates in order to run. FHQ isn't here to debate that bill so much as point out that it has overshadowed another bill that was filed this week; one that would shift the state's presidential primary from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February. State representative, Roberto Alonzo, as he did prior to 2008, introduced a bill to enhance Texas' impact on the presidential nomination process.

Of course, that 2007 bill, pushed by Democrats, got bottled up in committee -- a committee controlled by Republicans -- and Texas stood pat in March. That maintenance of the status quo actually worked well for both parties. Texas was among the states that put McCain over the top in the Republican nomination race and helped Clinton stem the flow of Obama victories after the February 5 Super Tuesday (effectively keeping the contest going).

The 2011 version of the bill (HB 318) is simply a repeat of what happened in 2007. Same Democratic sponsor, same Republican-controlled committee and same goal: Move the primary from March to February. What has changed, however, is that the national parties have a different set of rules regarding the timing of primaries and caucuses in 2012 than they did in 2008. Both parties are in agreement that only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can go prior to March 2012. All other states, according to the rules drafted and accepted by both national parties, are required to hold delegate selection events in March or later.

On at least one level, those rules make this Texas bill moot. If every other state outside of the exempt states is holding their primary or caucus on the first Tuesday in March or later, then Texas is already positioned on the earliest possible date. However, as FHQ has attempted to point out since the parties began drafting their rules for 2012, this is something that isn't necessarily be easy. In any event, it is a decision -- shifting the date on which a state's primary or caucus is scheduled -- that is fraught with problems.

First of all, with all other factors held equal, the national parties have still not developed a successful incentive or penalty regime to prevent states from ignoring the rules and scheduling their contests outside of the required timeframe. Taking away half of a state's delegates (or all of them) did not deter Florida (or Michigan) from breaking the national party rules in 2008. In fact, both states are still scheduled to have February primaries in 2012, given current election laws in both states. The expectation here at FHQ has always been that the states that are currently outside of that timeframe for 2012 would be where the action was in terms of primary/caucus movement. Yet, states currently in compliance with those timing rules can opt to position their primaries on dates that are in violation of those rules as well. Texas is in that group.

The second set of issues concerns partisanship within the primary date-setting bodies on the state level. Typically, it is the party outside of the White House that tinkers the most with its rules (see Klinkner 1994). In other words, Democrats intent on reelecting President Obama are less interested in shifting the dates on which their primaries or caucuses are scheduled than the Republicans who have a competitive nomination race. In Texas in the case of this bill, that notion is turned on its head; particularly if the same thing that happened in 2007 happens again in 2011. The bill is being sponsored by a Democrat, but the state legislature and the governor's mansion are controlled by Republicans. Those Texas Republicans may opt to go along with the national party rules, but they may also be tempted this time around to flaunt those rules and attempt to give Texas an outsized voice in the Republican nomination race by moving forward.

As such, HB 318, is one to keep an eye on as the Texas legislative session progresses next year.

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Anonymous said...

You could have a stampede earlier. Would the party really halve the delegates of the majority of states? I assume yes and the result is likely to be a longer primary with the late winner-take-all states actually elevated in importance. In a way, I think the devised plan could not brake the race to be early but at least spread out the attention to later primary states which actually ended up being good for 2008 Democrats; see Obama's razor thin general election wins in May primary states Indiana and North Carolina. While a long race will jam Romney's easy path via hitting jackpot in California and New York, his deep coffers will prepare him for a long race and if it's against Palin, leave her more time to wipe out. The only real primary threat to him is Palin passing- doesn't seem her temperament- and throwing her heat behind a Pawlenty (I'm skeptical anyone from Pence, Christie, DeMint or Perry will get in.)

Anonymous said...

Any sense of when the traditional early states are likely to pass bills moving their primaries up before Florida?

Josh Putnam said...

It is instructive to note that the GOP will likely be the only party with a competitive nomination race in 2012. As such, yes, with 2008 as a guide the RNC will follow through with enforcement of its rules by penalizing states in violation half their delegations. Each state holding a contest prior to February 5, 2008 lost half of their delegates on the Republican side. Only Iowa and Nevada skirted that penalty. Both did not allocate delegates in the first step of their caucus processes.

The combination of the penalties and the lack of winner-take-all contests prior to February and March respectively may have the effect of prolonging the contest. May. Much will depend on the delegate cushion any leading candidate holds through those early contests. And we'll have to wait on the calendar and specific set of candidates before speculating on this in any educated fashion. I definitely think the GOP had the 2008 Democratic competition/grassroots wins during the primaries as motivation for the changes the RNC adopted. But it really does tread a very fine line. If what happens is a divisive split between the establishment of the party and the Tea Party, then the resulting tension is only going to hurt the Republicans. Now, it could be that both factions come together the way the Obama-Clinton rift was healed in 2008. That, however, is a big if.

Institutionally, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina can wait it out as long as they want. New Hampshire settled on a date for 2008 just before Thanksgiving in 2007 and that was after the the Iowa GOP settled on January 3 in mid-October and the Iowa Democrats followed suit at the end of the month. South Carolina's Republicans settled on their January 19, 2008 date in August 2007. The Democrats were scheduled for January 29, the same day Florida moved and also occupied and got a waiver from the DNC around the same time of the GOP move but to hold their contest on January 26.

The point is that these states can hold out as long as it takes to ensure their positions. I used the word institutional before. In New Hampshire, the primary date is decided upon by the secretary of state. That allows much more freedom than having to filter the decision through both the legislative and executive branches to get the date moved as is the case in most other primary states. In South Carolina and Iowa, the state parties make the decisions on the date of the delegate selection event. Again, the partisanship that may exist in a state legislature or between it and the governor doesn't within a state political party.

The other primary states will start falling in line throughout the late winter and into spring as their legislatures are in session. I'll have more on that issue up soon.