Thursday, January 20, 2011

Yeah, but what about the caucuses? 2012 Caucus Date Calculus

FHQ has done a fair amount of talking about the impact state legislatures (and more broadly speaking, state governments) will have on the 2012 presidential primary calendar. That offers a glimpse into the overall decision-making calculus -- in terms of timing -- but does not provide the full picture. Obviously, state legislatures or state governments have a say in the matter when it comes to states that utilize primaries as the mode of delegate allocation. However, that discounts or completely misses activity in caucus states. I argued and ultimately found that the state parties that are behind the decision on timing in caucus states generally -- all other things being held equal -- have an easier time of shifting the dates on which their delegate selection events are held. State parties do not face the potential partisanship that is inherent in states with divided government at the time the frontloading* decision is made.

The ease with which state parties can move their caucuses around then, if they so choose, is greater than it is in primary states where the decision has to be filtered through the state legislature and the governor (see this flowchart for an illustration and discussion of the path of least resistance). That said, what do we know about when the decision is likely to be made on when 2012 caucuses will be held? This is a tougher question to get at than the decision in primary states. One cannot simply say, "We know the state legislatures meet during these various windows of time and that is when the decision will be made" in caucus states. What we do know is that the decision in caucus states is likely to be made around the same time as the decisions in primary states. In other words, usually in the winter or spring of the year preceding a presidential election year. Furthermore, we know that the decision is likely to be made during state party gatherings that fall in that window of time; state party central committee meetings or state party conventions, for example. When are the 2008 caucus states' (the ones that don't have their caucus timing determined by state legislatures**) parties meeting over the next several months?

2011 State Party Meetings (Winter & Spring) -- Caucus States
Democratic Meetings
Republican Meetings
AlaskaCentral Committee Winter Meeting:
February 4-6, 2011
Central Committee Winter Meeting:
February 2011*
Hawaii--Republican State Convention:
May 14-15, 2011
KansasWashington Days Party Gathering:
February 25-26, 2011
Executive Committee Meeting:
January 28, 2011
State Party Committee Meeting:
January 29, 2011
MaineState Party Committee Meetings:
January 23, 2011
March 27, 2011
May 22, 2011
MinnesotaState Central Committee Meeting:
February 5, 2011
Spring State Central Committee Meeting:
April 16, 2011**
North Dakota----
WashingtonSpring State Committee Meeting:
April 30, 2011
*The Alaska Republican Party left the official date of this meeting mark as ?? in a summary of the minutes from their last central committee meeting.
**The Winter meeting took place during December.
***The Democratic side is the one worth looking at here. The Republican Party in the state has typically used the May state-funded primary for delegate allocation. The Democratic Party in Nebraska first utilized a caucus in 2008. Without a contested nomination race in 2012, Nebraska Democrats are likely to revert to the primary.

This leaves some holes, but gives us some idea of when the decision on the timing of 2012 caucuses is likely to occur. Neither of the North Dakota parties' websites were terribly forthcoming with information about party meetings, nor were the sites of many of the Republican state parties. Sadly, that is the information that is most needed. Democratic caucus timing is near inconsequential, but Republican caucuses, with a contested nomination race, are far more interesting, yet lacking for information.

Let me make a few state-specific notes:
Hawaii Republicans have already changed the date of their caucuses for 2012. At the 2009 Hawaii Republican Convention, the party moved the the delegate allocation decision from the May convention to a February caucus. We should expect a similar decision to take place at the convention again (especially considering the earlier move put the state in violation of RNC rules on delegate selection).

Minnesota's state legislature, as recently as 2009, examined the possibility of switching to a primary for 2012. Take the above information on the Land of 10,000 Lakes with a grain of salt, then. It may be that the state legislature considers that possibility again. [The Minnesota representative on the Rules and Bylaws Committee mentioned at their meeting last May that there was hopeful that the state would finally go that route.]

Finally, will Wyoming Republicans violate Republican Party rules again and hold a very early caucus in 2012? The state party early in 2007 opted to go on the same January 22 date that the Democratic Party had reserved for New Hampshire, but moved again once it was apparent that the Granite state was moving to protect their first in the nation primary status. The latter decision didn't come until August 2007.

Though there are some gaps overall, this gives us at least some information as to when some of the caucus states will decide on when they will hold their first-step meetings.

*I have attempted to be careful with my language within the context of primary movement for 2012. It may be that I slip up and use the term frontloading instead. The reason I raise this issue is that with the new national party rules attempting to curb frontloading, that isn't the issue this cycle. Instead, we're left to examine the decisions of states that are in violation of the rules and need to shift the date of their primaries and caucuses to later dates. That isn't to suggest that there will be no frontloading during this cycle. Rather, we are most certainly going to see far fewer instances of frontloading; states at the back of the pack that decide to move up to the earliest point the parties allow -- the first Tuesday in March -- or to flaunt the party rules and hold February contests.

**Colorado, Minnesota and until recently North Dakota.

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