Monday, August 15, 2011

Michigan Republicans Formally Support a Late February or Early March Primary

The Saturday morning meeting of the Michigan Republican Party State Committee and the resolution on the timing and nature of the presidential nominating contest there were more formalities than anything else. Even before the votes were cast, there were Michigan Republicans talking of assurances that the measure to call for a "closed" presidential primary some time on or between February 28 and March 6 would pass.1 It did pass ( a 92-17 margin).

What 2012 primary calendar watchers are left with, however, is not all that different from what we had prior to the meeting in Lansing on Saturday. Michigan Republicans have formally endorsed holding a presidential primary as the means of allocating their delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa next year. The state party has furthermore deemed the window of time on or between February 28 and March 6 as acceptable. Again, heading into Saturday, this information was pretty clear.

It is a baby step toward setting the date in Michigan, but the date is still just as uncertain now as it was last week. Sure, the Michigan Republican Party can pass all the resolutions in the world, but that does not necessarily translate into a confirmation or near confirmation of the Wolverine state primary date. That is the case because the resolution, while binding within the Michigan Republican Party, does not bind the other decision-maker in the matter: the state government.

Michigan is currently at a point in this process where most states were months ago. In light the rules from the national parties in 2010, the states -- whether state governments for primary states or state parties for caucus states -- were/are faced in 2011 with setting delegate selection plans that comply. In many cases that has meant former February primary and caucus states moving back to later dates. States get the rules from the national parties and then act either as state parties or state governments (state legislatures passing legislation then signed by a governor) to comply.

This Michigan case highlights something that should be clarified in the figure above and made clearer here: there is a certain back and forth between state governments and state parties in primary states. Even though state governments technically move a primary date, the state party ultimately must sign off on the decision. Look at Idaho. The state government moved the primary date during its winter/spring 2011 session, but the Idaho Republican Party later decided over the summer to abandon the mid-May primary for a Super Tuesday caucus.

The Michigan case flips that on its head. In the instance of Michigan, the state Republican Party has adopted a timeframe into which it would like its 2012 presidential primary scheduled. But those plans may require action from the Michigan legislature. Now, the Michigan legislature is Republican-controlled, but that legislature is not bound by Saturday's decision.

There are several courses of action now, but the major question that emerges from all of this is what the Michigan Republican Party would do if the legislature -- and then the governor -- chose to take up, consider and pass the legislation currently before it to move the Michigan presidential primary to January 31? FHQ is inclined to say that the Michigan Republican Party would go along with it. The party may not come out and say, "We passed a resolution. We can't do this. Therefore we need to hold a compliant caucus." But they may say [to the RNC], "Look, we passed a resolution. The legislature and governor acted on their own. What choice did we have but to hold the primary on January 31?" That scenario likely won't transpire, but the Michigan Republican Party would have some built in defense if it did.

No, as I mentioned above, there are several courses of action that the powers that be in and around Lansing could end up taking. The above scenario is one. The legislature taking that same bill and using it as a vehicle to move the primary back into compliance on March 6 another.2 The most likely outcome, however, is that nothing happens in the state legislature at all. The Michigan primary is already scheduled for February 28; the date at the opening of the state party's timeframe. And as was the case in our discussion of Missouri the other day, the path of least resistance is the most likely path at this late date.

In terms of gaming that scenario out, the Michigan legislature is back in session on Tuesdays-Thursdays from September 7-28 (see FHQ's Primer on When the Remaining States will Decide on Dates for more). If the legislature decides to sit on the legislation, we won't have confirmation of the primary date in Michigan until after September 28. That is the last day the legislature is in session before the RNC-mandated deadline for making decisions, October 1. Of course, if there is any attempt to move the primary, the legislature will have had to act before then in order to pass the bill and transmit it to the governor for signature.

The bottom line? The situation in Michigan is clearer after Saturday, but only slightly, and there won't be confirmation of the final date until late September perhaps.

1 In this instance the quotation marks around closed refers to the fact that Michigan law allows for open primaries, but the Michigan Republican Party is going to require that voters request a Republican ballot. That is not the same deterrent as those dictated by law and constraining a primary election to only partisans of a particular party.

2 The Michigan Republican Party would presumably go along with this as it meets the guidelines of the resolution passed Saturday.

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