Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ohio Senate Passes Bill Creating Separate June Primary for Presidential and US House Candidates

The Ohio Senate today passed by a vote of 20-10 an amended version of HB 318. The bill, originally introduced and passed by the House with the intent of moving all of the primary elections in the Buckeye state from March to May, will now leave the state, local and US Senate primaries in March, but create an all-new and separate primary election in June for the presidential and US House nominations. Separate presidential primaries are nothing new. That some states have had separate presidential primaries while others have had those contests consolidated with primaries for state and local offices is one of the primary explanations for why some states are better able to move the dates of their presidential primaries than others.

The proposed separation in Ohio, however, is unique. To take the presidential and US House primaries and move them to a later date, separate from the other primaries, is a set up unlike anything FHQ has ever seen. And it is purely a function of the circumstances in Ohio in 2012. On its face, the move of the presidential primary seems less necessary than the shift of the US House primaries. The latter have a great many more question marks at the moment with unresolved congressional district boundaries.

Why, then, is a move of the presidential primary being proposed?

Rules. The Ohio Republican Party rules for allocating delegates [more on this in a later post] include an element that uses the congressional district vote to allocate the three delegates apportioned to each congressional district by the Republican National Committee. To uphold those newly-tweaked rules, the Ohio Republican Party needs the same sort of concession being afforded the congressional nomination (House) races for its presidential delegate selection. Both sets of races depend on the defined congressional districts that continue to be unresolved.

This potential change does have consequences. The presidential primary moves from being a Super Tuesday presidential primary battleground -- one with no clear link to any candidate1 -- to being at the tail end of the process. If passed, this legislation would potentially shift Ohio out of the window of decisiveness and that could have negative implications for the RNC and its presumptive nominee organizing in the state. It is not guaranteed, but the nomination will likely be decided by the time the process reaches Ohio on June 12. That means that the Buckeye state primary will not be competitive and an organizational opportunity could be missed. Could be because that competitiveness is always a double-edged sword. It can yield organization (Clinton-Obama) or divisiveness (Carter-Kennedy). Organization can always occur -- late or not -- but the effects of divisiveness sometimes cannot always be fixed in time for a general election.

Ohio will likely be a prime battleground in the fall general election campaign anyway. So, no harm, no foul.

If this bill does become law, it would move Ohio back to June alongside California and New Jersey; a significant cache of delegates that has not been so backloaded together since 1992 and before. HB 318 now moves onto the House for concurrence consideration in the lower chamber.

[NOTE: Creating the separate June primary will cost Ohio taxpayers $15 million.]

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing the news along.

1 Texas, for example, and perhaps the other southern contests on the same day could favor Rick Perry while the northeastern primary and western caucuses could favor Romney.

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