Thursday, September 1, 2011

2012 Calendar Correction Corner

There have been an awful lot of 2012 primary calendar stories out there the last few days. Layered into them has also been a fair amount of, oh, FHQ doesn't want to call it misinformation, but certainly things that could have used some footnotes or -- ideally -- more space. Look, the rules and the calendar are complicated. As I'm fond of saying, there's a reason someone can maintain a blog on the subject.

That said, I did want to point out a few of the more egregious instances of this.

The Mother Jones piece by Kate Sheppard that came out on Wednesday just didn't sit well with me. ...and right from the get-go:
The 2012 Republican primary contest might be all anyone can talk about these days, but there still isn't a very clear picture of what the primary calendar even looks like. With just months left before the first votes, the Republican National Committee has done little to reduce the uncertainty: GOP officials have yet to issue a final decision on which states will be first in 2012, and it's not clear when they will. 
While the RNC dawdles, several states are taking action. Arizona and Florida are considering jumping ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to claim the first-in-the-nation title for themselves. If they do so, they could throw the entire primary calendar—and candidates' plans—into chaos.
If one is to purport that one is "explaining" the primary calendar (in the headline), then one had better have a basic understanding of the mechanics of the process behind what is being described. Some may say that the RNC should exert some power over rogue calendar states, but the typical reply around these parts is "What Power?" The notion that the RNC has "yet to issue a final decision on which states will be first in 2012" is borderline ludicrous. The parties set the guidelines -- both the RNC and DNC did so in 2010 -- and the states set their dates accordingly. Well, ideally states set their dates accordingly. Florida and Michigan (and Wyoming Republicans) broke with that tradition in 2008 and ushered in an era in which some states -- not all, mind you -- have decided to challenge the national party rules in an effort to maximize the state's influence over the nomination process. But again, the states are the ones making the decision here. The national parties only provide the guidelines and a set of (mostly toothless) penalties to keep states in line. The RNC and DNC have already weighed in on this (see figure below). Both would prefer the first four states to hold February contests with the remaining states following in March or later. So no, the RNC is not "dawdling". The national party may have lengthened this process by setting an October 1 deadline by which states have to decide on dates, but the party has not dragged their feet on this. Things are undecided as of now, but we absolutely know that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will go first.

...we just don't know when.

[Click to Enlarge]
Next on the list: 

I tweeted this yesterday, but thought I'd offer a slightly broader explanation here. Michael Shear at The Caucus blog at The New York Times in a rundown of the Arizona situation had this to say about the potential chain reaction an Arizona move to January 31 might set off:
So what? 
The calendar scramble is a rite of passage every four years for the candidates, reporters, pundits, pollsters, ad makers, schedulers, cable TV hosts and others who plan their lives around the presidential campaign. Just about everyone involved wants to know whether the campaigning will be reaching a crescendo during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

FHQ agrees that calendar jockeying is the norm -- or has been in the post-reform era -- but what we are witnessing in 2012 and before it in 2008 is something different than the frontloading that came before it.   Before 2008, and even during that cycle, states in varying numbers customarily clustered their contests at the earliest date allowed by the two national parties. But Florida's and Michigan's (and Wyoming Republicans') challenges to the "earliest allowed date" rule, as was mentioned above, fundamentally changed the process of the primary calendar developing. This was especially true after neither party did much to alter the penalties that rogue states face for violating the rules on timing between 2008 and 2012. Viewed through that lens, the challenges that we are seeing from Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Georgia at the moment are entirely predictable. 

So yes, the primary/caucus movement may be a rite of passage, but that rite has taken on a different form in the last two cycles. 

Finally, I want to gently push back against the NPR story on the calendar on All Things Considered this afternoon. The information was based on Liz Halloran's post on NPR's It's All Politics blog. I say gently push back because FHQ spoke with Ms. Halloran for that story. They opted to play up the primaries in December angle. And that's fine. People should know that it is a possibility. But Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina leaping into 2011 is a remote possibility. That December 5 date Elving cites is FHQ's and it is entirely predicated on Florida moving its primary to the earliest date that its state law allows the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to set. Barring the Sunshine state moving to January 3, then, December primaries and caucuses are not going to happen. And given the current dynamics, it looks as if everyone will be able to fit into January even if Arizona moves to January 31. 

If you want to read a fairly quick synopsis of what is going on -- if you aren't reading yourself to sleep here -- I'd recommend Aaron Blake's post on The Washington Post's The Fix blog. I thought it was spot on.

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