Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State Parties in Florida and Ohio Add Their Two Cents on the 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar

State parties always have their say on the date that is ultimately chosen (or maintained) for any given state's presidential primary, but their influence varies depending on the circumstances. On the Democratic side state parties have to submit a delegate selection plan to the DNC for approval. [It should be noted that the DNC checks that each of the states is complying with the entire list of delegate selection rules, not just those concerning timing.] That same type of approval is not required on the Republican side, but that translates into one less formal hurdle in a decision-making calculus that is largely the same across parties. There may be an added step on the Democratic side, but states always opt to operate within the existing framework of rules (...at least initially*).

What do I mean by "existing framework of rules"?

Well, state parties always face a decision on timing their delegate selection events. They can opt to go-it-alone and foot the bill for a primary or caucus (most likely) of their own or they can choose to utilize the state-funded primary system that is already in place. The first option allows the parties the freedom to hold a primary or caucus whenever they desire while the second option cedes the date-setting power to the state government (or some alternate, state government-sanctioned entity). The convenience of the latter option usually trumps the price tag of the former.

Such is the case in both Florida and Ohio, where lately the two state parties' chairs have been in the news over the timing of the presidential primaries in the Sunshine and Buckeye states. There has been no shortage of talk here at FHQ about the position Florida currently occupies on the 2012 primary calendar and the ramifications a move (or no move) would have on the calendar overall. That said, Florida's is a state government under unified Republican control. And that puts the state's Democratic Party in a tough position. They are nearly powerless in terms of influencing the date-setting decision as the minority party in both chambers of the state legislature. In other words, the Republicans in control of the state may decide to keep the Sunshine state's presidential primary in January and take their punishment (a 50% penalty in terms of the number of delegates in the state's 2012 convention delegate) in exchange for a more direct influence over the identity the eventual Republican nominee. That decision, though, affects the Democrats in the state as well. Through no fault of their own, Florida's Democratic primary would be in violation of the Democratic National Committee's delegate selection rules.

That's problematic (at least in the eyes of Florida Democrats). And that is probably why state party chair, Rod Smith, reached out to newly elected state Republican Party chair (full letter below), David Bitner, last week, urging his Republican counterpart to use his position to speak out in favor of a rules-compliant March date for the state's presidential primary (and against the January primary). It was a nice gesture on Smith's part, but he and the Democratic Party of Florida know this one is out of their hands. The Republicans in the state government may opt to move back, but regardless of the decision, it likely won't be affected much by the Florida Democratic Party's desires or the DNC's delegate selection rules. At the end of the day, they will decide to move (or not move) based upon whether they judge the delegate penalty to be steep enough to warrant a shift in the date of the presidential primary.

In Ohio, the issue is not one of rules violations. Instead, it concerns a new rift between the state party chair where there was once an apparent agreement. Earlier in the month, FHQ posted a link to a story about the new Ohio secretary of state's warning that a prolonged redistricting process in Ohio could delay the state's 2012 primaries. Those contests are slated for the first Tuesday in March currently, but they could be moved back to May when the state holds primary elections in other, non-presidential years. Prior to this warning, however, there had been some discussion and agreement about when the primary should be held among the two state party chairs. Both Democratic chair, Chris Redfern, and Republican chair, Kevin DeWine, had discussed a May primary as the best option. Now, however, DeWine is in favor of keeping the Buckeye state's primary in March because of the impact the state's voters could have on the nomination process and because of what that might do for drumming up support in the state (with an eye toward the general election). Like Florida, Ohio is now under unified Republican control. And even though DeWine might speak for the state party, he may not necessarily speak for Republican state legislators or Governor John Kasich.

State parties and their chairs have some platform for discussing these matters, but in primary states like Florida and Ohio, their influence is limited to the extent to which their wishes and desires overlap with those of the various decision makers within the state government.

*The delegate selection plans and any amendments to them are usually due to the party around Labor Day of the year preceding the presidential election. In the 2008 cycle there was a fair amount of positioning and repositioning after that point. That is expected to some extent from the exempt states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina), but 2008 saw several non-exempt states move after this point (Michigan and Massachusetts among them).


January 21, 2011

Chairman David Bitner
Republican Party of Florida
420 E. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301

Dear Chairman Bitner,

Congratulations on your election as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

On behalf of the Florida Democratic Party, I write today asking for your support to change the date of Florida’s 2012 presidential preference primary. This move is critically important to ensure full representation of our state at our respective national conventions since Florida law currently sets the date of the presidential primary as the last Tuesday in January, which is out of compliance with the rules of both parties.

As you may know, for the first time ever the Republican National Committee has adopted the same timing rules as the Democratic National Committee, which came about through bi-partisan cooperation between the two parties.

It is my sincere hope that we, in the same spirit of cooperation, can work together on selecting a date that complies with the rules set by both national parties. While changing the date of the primary would require action by the Republican Legislature and Governor, I am confident that we can make this happen.

I look forward to working with you on this issue.


Rod Smith
Chairman, Florida Democratic Party

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