Monday, July 25, 2011

A Primer on When the Remaining States Might Decide on Presidential Primary/Caucus Dates

If you are willing to mark West Virginia off the list,1 we are now down (up?) to 14 possible states that may go rogue and hold primaries or caucuses before March 6. That is the date the two national parties set in their respective delegate selection rules as the earliest date that states not named Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina could hold nominating contests during the 2012 cycle. As 2008 demonstrated, though, not all states are willing to go along with those rules. 2012, thus far at least, has proven no exception.

On top of it all, the kicker is that we only have a limited amount of information to guide in any attempt to determine when the actors in these states might decide on a timeframe of dates between possibly December 5 and March 5. What follows is a look at what we know and when we may have a better idea of when the ultimate 2012 primary calendar will be set.

First of all, the list of rogue states does not include Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. With them on the list, that's nearly 40% of all states with primary or caucus states up in the air; a staggering number in July 2011. It should be noted that that statistic is somewhat misleading. With presidential primaries and caucuses, often we're talking about 102 contests and not 51 (50 states plus DC). Both parties have nomination spots to fill and in most states -- mostly primary states -- there is a uniform date for the state parties to conduct their delegate allocation. However, there are a handful of states and state parties that provide exceptions. Some states are strictly caucus states and either tend to have (eg: Minnesota, Colorado or Iowa) or don't have (eg: Wyoming, Nevada or North Dakota) uniform dates between the two parties. There are also states where one state party will opt for the caucus option while the other decides to take advantage of a state-funded primary election (eg: Idaho or Montana).

Given that reality, there are a couple of ways to look at this situation before we dive in. On the one hand, there is a partisan component. The Democratic primary calendar is largely set. Sure, decisions in Florida or Georgia may affect when Democrats in those states will allocate delegates, but outside of the exempt four early states, the Democratic calendar is more settled than the Republican version.

On the other hand, there is also a primary or caucus component that builds off of the partisan explanation. There are seven caucus states that are question marks at this point and each one has a date on the Democratic side but not on the Republican side. To some degree that is a function of an institutional difference between the parties. The Democratic Party requires the submission of a delegate selection plan for approval by its Rules and Bylaws Committee. The deadline for submission this year was May 2. There is no direct corollary in the RNC. The Republican Party rules merely set a deadline by which states must have settled on how delegates will be allocated in the next year's presidential race. For the 2012 cycle, that deadline is October 1. There are already, then, caucus dates for the Democratic contests in Alaska, Kansas, Maine, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming, but not for the Republican contests.

What do we know about the possible landing spots for the caucuses in those states? Well, not much really. With the exception of Wyoming, there is nothing on the horizon -- at least not publicly -- in any of the other five caucus states. There is nothing akin to the executive committee meeting in West Virginia yesterday or the state central committee meeting planned in Wyoming next month in any of those states.

Here's what we know:
Moved 2/5/11 (March 6 district conventions) Alaska: In Alaska, state Republican Party rules specify that delegates must be allocated by a point at least 35 days prior to the opening of the Republican National Convention (Alaska Republican Party Rules, Article V, Section 15.b). Furthermore, the state central committee is charged with calling a state convention at least 75 days before it is to convene (Alaska Republican Party Rules, Article V, Section 1). Both of those conditions will easily be met for 2012, but that tells us little about when the Alaska Republican State Central Committee will meet -- at least quarterly according to the rules (Alaska Republican Party Rules, Article VI, Section 4.c).
Best guess on timeframe for a decision: some time before October 1
Threat level: Alaska Republicans attempted to hold early caucuses in 1996 but with little success. Other than that there is little evidence the party would hold non-compliant caucus meetings in 2012.

Moved 8/13/11 (March 10 caucuses): Kansas: Even less is known in Kansas. The Republican Party in the Sunflower state leaves much to the imagination. There is only one line in the Kansas Republican Party Constitution that is relevant to the discussion of the selection of national convention delegates (Article XIV, Section 4.C): "The state committee shall adopt the rules for the election of delegates to the Republican National Convention." That's it. The state committee meets "at least twice a year". Again, like Alaska, nothing is scheduled publicly.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: some time before October 1
Threat level: Kansas has never been a threat to hold early, non-compliant contests in the past. An early, non-compliant primary was discussed in the Kansas legislature in 2007, but that plan went nowhere.

Moved 9/10/11 (February 4-11 caucuses) Maine: Like many of the other Republican caucus states, the date of the Maine GOP caucus meetings is to be determined. Also like many other Republican caucus states, it is informative to look at the state party rules for some indication of the procedure by which the date of the municipal caucuses are set. According to the 2010 Rules -- those governing the 2012 Maine Republican convention -- the party has to, based on state law, hold a state convention between March 1 and August 1. Beyond that guideline outside of the state party's control, Rule 7 of the Maine Republican Party's rules further describes the guidelines imposed on the party's State Committee -- the entity charged with setting the municipal caucuses date(s). Rule 7 states that municipal caucuses will be held every two years according to state law and "upon [the] call of the Chairman of the Republican State Committee". In addition, Rule 7b encourages municipalities "to conduct their caucuses by March 1 or a single date if so specified by the State Committee". That gives us some idea of a window of time in which the Maine GOP may hold caucuses. If 2008 is a precedent -- and there is not necessarily a reason to believe it is -- the Maine Republican Party will seek to hold Sunday caucuses. In 2008, that was on the Sunday immediately prior to Super Tuesday. The Sunday just prior to the earliest date states are allowed by the national parties in 2012 -- a date FHQ will reluctantly call Super Tuesday -- is March 4. That obviously falls after the rules-encouraged pre-March 1 guideline. The Sunday prior to that is February 26. The Maine Republican caucuses are likely to fall into a window that begins with Sunday, February 26 and ends on, coincidentally enough, Sunday, March 11, the date on which the Maine Democratic Party caucuses are scheduled and the Sunday immediately following Super Tuesday.
Best guess on timeframe for a decision: According to the Maine Republican Party rules, the State Committee meets monthly. The party will, therefore, have a couple of opportunities -- in August and September -- to decide on a date prior to the RNC's October 1 deadline by which dates are supposed to be set.
Threat level: Low. Maine was quietly non-compliant in 2008 and if the Republican Party chooses to repeat similar scheduling of their caucuses in 2012, will likely see a similar level of attention (mainly because if the contest immediately precedes Super Tuesday, candidates will be focused elsewhere).

Moved 3/1/11 (February 7 caucuses) Minnesota: Minnesota Republicans have already indicated that they will utilize the February 7 date triggered by state law this past March.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: Decision made
Threat level: The Minnesota Republicans' precinct caucuses are already set for the day after the tentative date for the Iowa caucuses. Thus far this has been met with little or no reaction. The first step is non-binding and Minnesota's threat to the calendar has been viewed as minor when compared to other states like Arizona, Florida, Georgia or Michigan.

Moved 9/27/11 (March 6 caucuses) North Dakota: The one rule that directly addresses the creation of presidential caucus rules in the North Dakota Republican Party rules has apparently been repealed.2 That is not helpful, but the fact that the party has set a date for the 2012 state convention is some consolation that gives us some idea of the timing of the North Dakota delegate selection process. The state convention is to take place March 30-April 1, 2012. That leaves North Dakota Republicans a window of March 6-March 29 in which to hold precinct caucuses. It may also be the case that the party opts to hold earlier, but non-binding precinct caucuses prior to the convention where delegate selection will take place.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: some time before October 1
Threat level: North Dakota Republicans may be forced to hold the first step of their caucus process before March 6. They will likely follow the lead of the Republican Party in Minnesota, which awards no delegates on the precinct level.

Moved (March 3 caucuses) Washington: Like Kansas above, little is known about what is happening in Washington state. The Washington State Republican Party web site does not seem to have been updated since April and the search function filters everything toward the national party site. In other words, I could not uncover any rules for the party. What we do know -- and it doesn't give us any indication of either when a decision will be made or when precinct caucuses will be held -- is that the 2012 state convention is scheduled for May 31-June 2 in Tacoma.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: some time before October 1
Threat level: Washington Republicans held early February caucuses in 2008, something that was within the delegate selection rules. The party has typically acted within the rules on timing in the past.
Moved 8/27/11 (March 6-10 caucuses) Wyoming: Rare among the other Republican caucus states, Wyoming Republicans have actually indicated that they will make a decision on the timing of their caucus at a state central committee meeting next month. That decision appears to be a choice between the second Tuesday in March (March 13) and some earlier non-compliant date.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: August 26-27 state central committee meeting
Threat level: Wyoming Republicans moved to January in 2008. The party actually had two January dates. The first followed a resolution that place the county caucuses on the same day as the original tentative date of the New Hampshire primary, January 22. Once it became clear that New Hampshire was not going to stick with that date Equality state Republicans jumped to January 5. There appears to be some dissension on an earlier caucus within the party now and it is questionable as to whether a date other than the second Tuesday in March will be used.
If you are looking that over and thinking to yourself that that isn't telling you much, you aren't alone. It doesn't. Wyoming provides the clearest picture and probably the best guide. The other states are likely to set the dates of their caucuses at their next state central or executive committee meetings. That alone is our guide at this point.

Where there is better or more information is in the primary states. Those states that have already come forward and said they are considering or planning to hold non-compliant events are easier to track and are, more often than not, primary states (Colorado is the exception.).

Finalized 9/12/11 (February 28 primary) Arizona: The revelation out of the Grand Canyon state this week provided yet another potential shake up to the 2012 presidential primary calendar. Governor Jan Brewer did more with one statement to remind the country of the power she has to move the Arizona presidential primary than anyone else has been able to do. Sure, we've talked about the governor's proclamation power around here at FHQ, but the fact that Arizona was essentially locked into February 28 at the latest much less that Brewer had the power to move the date up but not back has been underreported in the political press. That said, Governor Brewer, according to the law, has to allow a 150 buffer between her decision on a date and when the primary is actually scheduled. If she were to, for instance, decide today on a date, the governor could set a date as early as December 21. That date isn't likely to become the home of the Arizona primary, but it does give us an idea of the type of timeframe at which we're looking. To legally schedule the primary for the proposed January 31, Brewer would have to act on or before September 2. And while she has a bit of wiggle room between now and then to maybe inch up a bit further -- if Arizona Republicans were receptive to the idea -- states like Florida, Georgia and Michigan will likely not have resolved their primary situations by then. What that tells us is that the RNC has to act quickly if it wants to avoid, as FHQ speculated, a December start to the primary calendar (worst-case scenario), or more likely, some significant January compression with a gap in contests between late January and March 6.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: on or before September 2
Threat level: High. Governor Brewer and Arizona hold a lot of card right now. If she pulls the trigger on a January 31 primary, that likely moves Florida up to at least then if not earlier and pushes the early four states up against New Years.
Moved 9/24/11 (February 7 caucuses) Colorado: Colorado Republicans, like southwestern neighbor Arizona, this week made waves of their own. All along the party had the ability to choose between holding caucuses on the new first Tuesday in March date (It had been the third Tuesday in March.) or moving up to the first Tuesday in February. What was lacking before this past week was the willingness on the part of the Colorado Republican Party to use the provision in that law to move up to a non-compliant date. Given the apparent willingness to consider it, Colorado Republicans have now staked their own hypothetical claim. But when are we likely to get a decision. The article at the center of the Colorado news cites a fall decision. As is the case with the caucus states above, the Colorado Republican State Central Committee will be the one to make the change. FHQ was unable to uncover the rules for the state party, but the pattern of past meetings appears to follow a twice yearly, March and September meeting sequence.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: during the September State Central Committee meeting
Threat level: A week less threatening than Arizona. Yes, Colorado is a caucus state that carries less clout than a primary state, but its status as a likely battleground state in the general election is going to draw the candidates to Colorado despite the fact that delegates will not be directly on the line. Most importantly, Colorado is a bigger threat on February 7 than Minnesota is to the overall calendar.
Moved 9/30/11 (January 31 primary) Florida: What hasn't been said about Florida at this point? The state has been a threat to the calendar since the national parties set their delegate selection rules, calling on early 2008 states to move back to at least March 6. The legislature took the certainty of the state-instituted last Tuesday in January primary date and made the threat more uncertain by the creation of the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee. The committee furthered the uncertainty of Florida's intentions by allowing a timeframe in which the primary could be scheduled (January 3-March 6).
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: required by state law by October 1
Threat level: High. Florida can hold out longer than Arizona and has the ability to schedule and earlier primary with the result that the earliest four states get squeezed into the first half of January (or worse if another state threatens Florida's fifth position.).
Moved 9/29/11 (March 6 primary) Georgia: FHQ will be the first to admit that we have not done as thorough a job of describing just how much flexibility Georgia's new law handing the secretary of state the authority to set the presidential primary gave Secretary Kemp. From the introduction of the legislation, FHQ has discussed Georgia in terms of being able to go as early as January 31. That argument is one that is stuck in a Florida on January 31 (but without the PPPDSC) mindset. Georgia is actually a bit more flexible than that. The only guidelines that Brian Kemp has are 1) the primary has to be in the year of the presidential election, 2) it has to be no later the second Tuesday in June and 3) the decision has to be made 60 days prior to the date on which the primary is set. Georgia could go on January 31 and wait all the way up to the December 1 deadline to make that decision. Of course, Secretary Kemp could also schedule the primary for as early as January 3 -- the earliest Florida can hold a contest -- as long as the decision is made by November 3, 2011. That is still the latest deadline a non-exempt state has. Georgia has the ability to wait out the RNC-mandated deadline on October 1 but can also outlast all but maybe Michigan.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: November 3 is not a deadline Kemp is pinpointing, but he can wait that long or even up to December 1, though the Georgia decision is likely to closely follow the decision the PPPDSC makes in Florida on or before October 1.
Threat level: High. Secretary Kemp has indicated that he is considering not only going rogue and moving Georgia into the pre-window period but hinting at coupling with Florida in the process. What we don't know is if he is willing to follow Florida all the way up to as early as January 3. And we likely won't know that until Kemp announces the decision.
Michigan: Michigan is one the piece of this puzzle now that is the most unknown. [Well, among the primary states.] There is Republican-sponsored legislation in the Republican-controlled state legislature to move the Wolverine state primary to January 31. And pre-Arizona, the Michigan Republican Party telegraphed that it is looking at a window of February 28-March 6 for its primary. The contest is currently scheduled for February 28, so the Republicans in Michigan will need some help from the legislature to move it up or back. But what do we know about a timeframe for a decision? The consensus seems to think that since Michigan went rogue in 2008, it is likely to do so again in 2012. That is probably likely. Again though, we don't know how rogue. The party has expressed a range that it will vote on next month, but the legislature opens that window all the way to at least January 31 (with the legislation in its current form).

Let's set aside the state party's resolution for next month -- during the state committee meeting on August 13 -- and focus on what the legislature can do with the primary date assuming the recommended rules are agreed to unamended by the state committee. [Yes, the committee can amend those rules.] Assuming that Michigan Republicans and their brethren in the majority in the state legislature actually observe the RNC's October 1 deadline, the legislature will have a bit of time in which to work on moving the primary if necessary before then. According to the Michigan House calendar, the House -- not the Senate necessarily though a similar schedule is assumed but not known beyond September 1 -- will have limited time in August but be in session on Tuesdays-Thursdays from September 7-28. Assuming legislative Republicans in the legislature don't care about the October 1 deadline, they can also act as late as December 15. However, that is likely unworkable with candidate filing deadlines. The 2008 filing deadline in Michigan seems to have given a 12 week (84 day) cushion between the deadline and the primary itself. I cannot find that codified anywhere in the Michigan statutes, however. What is in the statutes is that the secretary of state before the second Friday in November (November 11, 2011) issues a list of candidates "generally advocated by the national news media to be potential presidential candidates". But that isn't tied, nor was it in 2008, to the timing of the presidential primary.

All we really have to go on as a guide in this instance is what happened in 2007. In 2007, though, the legislature was split between the parties and a Democrat was governor. In 2011, Michigan is under unified Republican control with only a contested Republican nomination ahead in 2012. Nonetheless, previously introduced legislation was amended and passed in late August and signed into law in early September. That doesn't seem possible in August in 2011, but September is wide open if Republicans in the legislature need to shift the date of the primary up or back.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: mid-August vote from the Michigan Republican Party and September action from the legislature.
Threat level: High. It is high, though it won't be known how high until we get some sort of an indication -- if we get an indication -- from the Republican state committee next month. They could stick with February 28 now that it looks like Arizona is clearing out of that date, or Michigan Republicans could make a more provocative plan with the help of the state legislature. Michigan Republicans in the state legislature will have the benefit of knowing, despite any rules from the state party, if Arizona has moved to January 31 by the time the legislature picks up after a recess on September 7.
Moved 9/29/11 (March 17 Republican caucuses) Missouri: Though Governor Jay Nixon's veto cast doubt on the fate of the Missouri primary, there are still two viable options to keep the Show Me state off the list of rogue states. Currently, the contest is scheduled for February 7, but the legislature will have an opportunity to override the governor's veto during a September 14 veto session and will also have clean bill with only the presidential primary date change to consider from the governor during the September special session. All this will likely be too much for the date to not be changed in some way. That said, Missouri Republicans may reconsider during September if Arizona and Michigan change their dates and move to January.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: September
Threat level: Low. As FHQ speculated the other day, Missouri Republicans risk raising the ire of the RNC if they back out on a planned move that the party within the legislature pushed in the first place. I reserve the right to be wrong, but Missouri will more than likely end up on March 6.
Moved 9/30/11 (April 3 primary) Wisconsin: Like Missouri, Wisconsin seems headed for a later date. But also like Missouri, Wisconsin Republican legislators may reconsider their sponsorship of legislation to move the presidential primary in the Badger state back to the first Tuesday in April if a host of states defy the national party rules. Bills from the early portion of the session are due to the governor by August 4, and if nothing happens with the presidential primary legislation by then, there will be a window from September 13-22 where the bills could be passed in the Assembly, the only legislative stumbling block at this point. The Senate already passed its version of the primary to April bill. If the legislature fails to act the presidential primary will remain on the third Tuesday in February. The figures have not been released, but holding the presidential primary in April with the spring primary will save the state some money. Whether that is enough of an enticement to move the primary is not known; not in the state Assembly anyway.
Best guess on a timeframe for a decision: September
Threat level: Low. Wisconsin may reconsider, but this bill looks to have been more a casualty of the extended budget bill debate and negotiation more than anything else. The primary just wasn't the priority the budget was. In September it should be.
If we tie all of the above together, there is a lot to look at in September. Arizona will serve as the first and most dangerous domino in early September. That will fundamentally affect every other undecided state's decision. Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Colorado are likely to follow throughout the rest of September with Florida holding out as long as it can before setting a date on or just before October 1. That would leave Georgia as a free agent with a little more than a month to choose a date and simultaneously protect the ability to go as early as January 3. Secretary Kemp likely won't need that much time. That would put Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in the position of setting dates -- dependent on what the others have decided -- throughout the end of October and into November.

Then, of course, there are the remaining caucus states. Though they carry less weight they can pick and choose their spots and whether they want to challenge the national party. Regardless, the decisions on dates within those state party organizations are likely to take place at summer meetings in August and September.

NOTE: This is an extremely long read, but I hope it's a super useful one all the same. A link to this guide will be added to the 2012 presidential primary calendar and will be updated as states continue to make their decisions.

1 West Virginia Republicans voted in favor of allocating their 2012 delegates via a primary, but there has been some discussion in the Mountain state about moving the primary up. That said, the primary likely would not be moved to a date in violation of both national parties' delegate selection rules. The only way that West Virginia Republicans were a threat to go rogue was through the proposed caucus/convention system. The caucuses would have begun in January and culminated with a delegate-allocating convention on rules-compliant March 6.

2 Though it is still listed the Rule 21 is tagged as repealed. This is likely due to the fact that the rule references consistency with state law. That rules repeal from the Republican Party is likely attributable to the North Dakota bill in 2009 that passed the legislature and was signed into law removing the link between the state and the party presidential caucuses.

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