Monday, June 27, 2011

What's Happening with the Funding of the South Carolina Primary?

Not much really.

Much has been made over the last week about the fate of the South Carolina primary. The "will it be funded/not funded?" question is not a new one. On Friday, FHQ exchanged emails with Politico's Kendra Marr and my general sentiments have not changed since then given the most recent news from south of the border here in North Carolina. Here's what I told her:
I don't think I'm as pessimistic about SC as some of the things I've read about the situation there this week. I think the most important thing to note is that the state parties in SC have traditionally picked up the tab for their nomination contests. 2008 was the first time the legislature stepped in to pass legislation to institute state funding.

My take home is that the SC GOP will find a way to fund the contest and that it will be just as important to the Republican nomination as it always has been (assuming there is enough time between the FL primary and SC's).
The important thing is to take a step back and provide some context. The fact that state funding of the presidential primary was new in 2008 is extremely important in this instance. FHQ made the case back in March in our write up of the final days of the South Carolina state House's final consideration of the budget that the funding of the primary was new and was expendable because it had not been institutionalized as it is many other states. That is still the case, but let's look between the lines of what the various (Republican -- the ones in power) political actors are saying in the Palmetto state.

No, wait. I won't even give you the run down. Let's say that you, as a party, had funding for the contest in 2008 (or as an individual or interest group on a particular issue or project) and your funding was being threatened. Wouldn't your first order of business be to make the case for why said funding was necessary and what the "dire" consequences would be if that funding was stripped. In the instance of the South Carolina Republican Party, you may even have to mention that holding a caucus was necessary and that that would affect the amount of money and attention the presidential candidates and media would pay to the state.

It might come up.

Oh, it already has:

“It would be the death of a tradition that began after Reagan,” [Columbia-based GOP operative, Richard] Quinn said of ending the primary, which developed the reputation as “the place where presidents are chosen. It would be a tragedy,” Quinn said.

Quinn added a caucus likely would not include the independent voters whose turnout built the GOP primary, which does not require voters be registered Republicans to vote.

Again, FHQ just isn't that pessimistic about the situation. And we should be just as careful in our discussions of South Carolina's contest as we have been with Iowa's caucuses and the doomsday warnings about how candidates wouldn't pay attention to a contest in a state that is "lurching" to the right. The problem is the same really. Switching to a caucus would not be the "death knell" for South Carolina. It may be the death knell for Jon Huntsman's presidential aspirations -- a death knell that is likely to come before the nomination race reaches the Palmetto state anyway -- but it wouldn't necessarily be the end for South Carolina's role in the nomination process. Do caucuses, all other things equal, receive less money and attention from the candidates and the media than primary states? Yes they do as Paul Gurian's research has shown us. But allow me to stand on the shoulders of giants here with my own research. Early states matter more. Early states that have the spotlight to themselves matter even more. South Carolina, whether primary or caucus, will have one of those first four spots. Even if Florida's Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee decides to hold a January 3, 2012 primary, South Carolina, along with Iowa, New Hampshire and probably Nevada will jump the Sunshine state or any other state attempting to infringe on their first in the nation turf. That is just how this thing works until the national parties decide to adopt a different strategy for the nomination process.

And that brings us back to the point I was trying to make in drawing a line between Iowa and South Carolina. What we're really talking about here is that the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is not spending the "requisite" amount of time in either state and that is being viewed as an indication of the downfall of these contests as important players in Republican presidential nomination races. Well, Mitt isn't doing that bad in either Iowa or South Carolina. His strategy is working for now and may work for 2012. But that doesn't demonstrate that Iowa and South Carolina won't be significant players in future nominations if the parties continue to protect their privileged positions. It would indicate that Romney made a calculated decision after his 2008 experience and did what was necessary to win a nomination (assuming the former Massachusetts governor does end up winning the nomination -- anything but a foregone conclusion) in the 2012 cycle. That's it. If Romney wins both Iowa and South Carolina, they will have been important. He will have won where he was not supposed to and that will essentially end the race.

Now, let's get back to South Carolina's situation. This discussion is nothing more than a last ditch effort to secure funding for the South Carolina Republican Party to hold a primary. If they cannot save that funding, I fully expect to the state party to do what former chair, Katon Dawson, said they would do:
“Raise the money and partner with the Election Commission,” Dawson said, when asked what the S.C. GOP should do. “They’re going to have to man up and get the thing done.”
And if the party doesn't do that, FHQ expects them to hold an early stand-alone caucus that won't include independent voters and won't hurt anyone but candidates seeking those independents' votes. Romney might like them, but it will likely really hurt someone like Huntsman who is counting on those sorts of voters to help him in New Hampshire and South Carolina to propel him into Florida. Romney doesn't necessarily need South Carolina for the nomination. He has other paths. Other candidates don't.

This has been a lot to look at. What's the take home? South Carolina will hold an early primary or caucus and the contest will have an impact on the outcome of the Republican nomination race. And that will be the case whether Governor Nikki Haley strikes the primary's funding from the budget via her veto or not.

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