Friday, March 28, 2014

A Step Closer to a March Presidential Primary in Missouri

The Missouri state Senate Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee on March 26 gave the green light to a substitute version of a bill that would shift the Show Me state presidential primary out of February, into compliance with national party rules. More importantly, the timing discrepancy that existed between the House version of the bill (HB1902) and the Senate version (SB 892) was reconciled by the committee amendments to the Senate bill.

Now, both the Senate and House bills call for moving the primary from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February to the first Tuesday after the second Tuesday in March. That would place the Missouri presidential primary on March 15, 2016. The move would not only bring the state back into compliance with the timing rules put in place by both national parties, but would also allow Missouri Republicans to protect their traditional winner-take-all allocation of delegates. March 15 is the first date in 2016 on which Republican state parties can allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion according to the RNC delegate selection rules.

The Senate bill now heads to the floor for consideration next week while the House version (...has passed the House and...) has been referred to and will be considered by the same Senate committee that just granted the exact same language -- in the Senate version -- a "Do Pass" designation.

While this is a positive move in terms of moving the primary into compliance with the national party rules, it should be noted that legislation has reached this stage before and failed in the Missouri General Assembly. Floor debates and inter-chamber divides have derailed similar legislation several times since 2011.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bill to Clarify Funding of South Carolina Presidential Primary Passes State House

The South Carolina state House on March 26 unanimously passed HB 4732. The record will show that the legislation does little more than remove references to the 2008 presidential election cycle in the current statute, but the story is slightly more complicated than that.

It was for that cycle -- 2008 -- that South Carolina opted to change its to-that-point traditional practice of state parties directly funding their own delegate selection events and settling the rules (including the scheduling of the primary itself) for conducting the contests. The rules-making function remained with the state parties, but legislation ahead of the 2008 nomination process shifted the funding from the state parties to the South Carolina State Elections Commission (and the counties).1 When 2012 rolled around, the clause in the statute pertaining to the funding of the presidential primary -- specifically the 2008 and only the 2008 primary -- left questions about which governmental entity would fund the election. A disconnect developed between the State Elections Commission and the counties.

This 2014 legislation seeks to clarify that issue. Technically, the state parties collect the filing fees from the candidates and transmit the funds to the State Elections Commission to conduct the election. Any surplus (filing fees minus election expenditure) stays with the state to be used for similar purposes in future elections.

This bill still has to be considered and passed by the South Carolina state Senate and signed by the governor. There seems to be broad support, however. In any event, this discrepancy did not affect South Carolina's ability to conduct the first in the South primary in 2012 and would not in 2016 even if this legislation dies at some point in the legislative process.

1 Though state parties have the final say on (the conditions for) how they will select delegates to the national convention, when the funding mechanism moves from the state parties to the state government, the state government typically takes on the date-setting function as well. State parties can opt out of that set up and fund their own separate primary or caucuses, but few give up what amounts to "free money". South Carolina is an exception to that rule. When the funding crossed over to state governmental hands, the date-setting role stayed with the parties. That was a very obvious nod to the position the Palmetto state plays in the presidential nomination process; preserving its first in the South status.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Utah's Stake on the First in the Nation Presidential Primary a Casualty on Final Legislative Day

Memories will fade [quickly] and all that most will remember is that the efforts in Utah these past few weeks to challenge New Hampshire and Iowa at the head of the presidential primary calendar died on the last day of the 2014 legislative session. The record, however, indicates a richer story.

Again, as FHQ described earlier, the idea in Utah was novel. The state would not only have granted the lieutenant governor the authority to set the date of the primary -- assuming legislative funding -- but it would have required them to set the primary before Iowa, New Hampshire or any other state. The first part isn't unique. New Hampshire's secretary of state has had that ability since 1976, the Georgia General Assembly granted similar power to its secretary of state in 2011 and Arizona gives the governor the ability to set the primary for a date earlier than called for by state law. The intent in each is to empower an individual with the task rather than a partisan body susceptible to gridlock, and thus, slow to react. Only New Hampshire state law requires that individual -- the secretary of state -- with ensuring that the contest is first in the nation. But the Utah bill mimicked that provision, requiring also that the lieutenant governor set the presidential primary in the Beehive state first on the calendar.

The Utah bill, then, addressed the pace of response problem that most states face (and New Hampshire does not). Additionally however, the legislation also struck at the other advantage New Hampshire has in the process: the pace of implementation. The rationale of the secretary of state office in the Granite state -- or part of it anyway -- has always been that other states may challenge or vie for first in the nation status, but we can wait them out with an ability to deploy the election administrative troops in a shorter period of time than anyone else.

Utah's innovation? By shifting the voting online, there would be no concern about New Hampshire waiting the state out. Utah could logistically respond/adapt accordingly and quickly.1

That vision passed the Utah House on Monday and was expedited along with a raft of other legislation in the state Senate on Wednesday. But the Thursday final session day did not see the bill that would threaten the carve-out states, not to mention defy the national party rules, simply die as the clock ran out.

No, instead, the Senate floor sponsor, Senator Curtis Bramble (R-16th, Utah, Wasatch), provided yet another rather forward-thinking twist. In this case, forward thinking meant anticipatory maneuver with the thought of future showdowns with New Hampshire (a la Nevada Republicans in 2011) or the national committee of either party. The proposed, Senate-amended bill sought to provide Utah in that scenario with some additional leverage. It called for the same actions -- giving date-setting authority to the lieutenant governor and shifting to online voting -- but added an "unless" rider. In other words, Utah would be first unless certain conditions were met. Those conditions were that Utah would be or would challenge for first unless at least two other western states joined Utah in the type of Western States Presidential Primary called for in state law (but which has never fully come to fruition as intended).

How is that leverage?

Assuming such a bill had passed and was signed into law, Utah first could threaten to or maybe even actually set a date in, say, 2015 in order to force New Hampshire's and the national parties' hands. The threat likely would have been enough to get the national parties involved in if not pressuring other western states, then at least inquiring about their openness to moving their contests to a [less problematic/early or compliant] date concurrent with the Utah primary.

The bottom line intent there is simple: Utah wants to be first to gain attention. If we can't be first, then we can still get attention so long as there is at least subregional primary of neighboring western states along with Arizona, Colorado and/or Nevada, for instance. One of the unintended consequences of these types of attempted negotiations is that, legislatively, states rarely provide themselves with the options necessary to get even some of what they want if the first option -- going first on the calendar in this case -- falls through. Often, states are forced to go the all-or-nothing route and can end up worse off (especially if a legislature is still required to set the date but is not in session).

This was, then, a new wrinkle to the proceedings. As the day went on yesterday, though, and time ran out on a Utah state legislature with a full agenda, the typical sine die day negotiations to get a number of things passed (including the primary bill) commenced. This horse trading produced a last ditch Senate proposal that included concessions of the most controversial portion of bill; the requirement that Utah be first in the nation. Left in the bill were the provisions shifting the date-setting authority from the legislature to the lieutenant governor and for online voting. Also gone was the "unless" rider to coax a real Western State Presidential Primary out of the process. While the language was less provocative, the lieutenant governor still would have had the ability to threaten the front of the calendar. The office just would not have had the requirement to do so under state law.

Yet, in the end, even that did not pass muster in the behind the scenes wrangling in the state Senate. The bill never came up for a vote, time ran out and it was returned to the House; dead.

There a few notes that should be made here before closing.

  1. Just because this issue is dead in 2014 does not mean that we will not see this return in Utah during the 2015 state legislative session.
  2. Relatedly, these sorts of (provocative) ideas are now out on the open market. Other states may consider them and strategically augment them in 2015.
  3. This notion of consideration and strategic negotiation sounds a lot like the sort of bartering that Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) did with the Arizona primary in 2011. Now, she did not ultimately threaten Iowa and New Hampshire, but she did win a Republican presidential debate out of it. ...all while still maintaining a non-compliant primary. Whether this sort of action will become the norm for aspiring rogue states remains to be seen. But Utah is evidence that the idea is spreading, even if on a limited basis for now.

1 Now, the question still remains whether candidates and campaigns would throw the known of New Hampshire by the wayside for an unknown process with unknown consequences in Utah. FHQ has its doubts.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Missouri House Passes Bill to Move Presidential Primary to March

During its morning session today, the Missouri House of Representatives passed the committee substitute to HB 1902. After clearing a procedural hurdle Tuesday -- with no additional amendments tacked on -- and receiving a thumbs up from the Committee on Fiscal Review today, the legislation was brought to the floor and passed by an announced margin of 97-48 along party lines in the chamber.

The bill, which would shift the Show Me state presidential primary from February to March, now moves to the Senate where a similar piece of legislation -- SB 892 -- is still in committee. It should be noted that both bills initially called for moving the date of the Missouri presidential primary from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February to the the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April. The state Senate bill is still in that form. The state House bill is not. At the committee stage, that April date was revised to the first Tuesday after the second Monday in March.

That would be March 15 during the 2016 cycle. That is also the first date on which states may hold true winner-take-all contests under the Republican delegate selection rules. The change from April to March was presumably made to line the Missouri primary -- a traditionally winner-take-all contest -- with the change in the Republican rules shifting the proportionality window into March. It remains to be seen whether the Missouri Senate will act on its own bill or shunt it to the side to deal with the House bill.

As FHQ has described, inter-chamber disputes have derailed similar presidential primary moves in the past.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

As Spiker Goes, So Goes the Ames Straw Poll?

FHQ must admit, we had a different reaction to news over the weekend that Republican Party of Iowa chairman, AJ Spiker, had opted to step down from his post. Well, FHQ had a different reaction relative to the impact the change will have on the future of the Iowa caucuses or the Ames Straw Poll. On the latter, it has been reported for months that Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) has recommended suspending the event altogether. And that forces in the state/party aligned with the governor were able to overrun precinct caucuses earlier in the year and county conventions this past weekend -- combined with Spiker's resignation -- could indicate that the end is nigh.


However, in FHQ's mind, one question emerges: Was this recommendation/proposal -- to end the straw poll -- a reaction to the perceived structural problems the event represents (see 2011) or a function of intra-party opposition to the liberty movement-aligned leadership in the state party?

Time may or may not provide us with an accurate answer to this question. Yet, I am puzzled by the notion that a mainstream/establishment faction within the Republican Party of Iowa would demonstrate in 2014 the organizational wherewithal necessary to wrest control of the state party back from the liberty movement faction -- one that out-organized them in 2012 -- only to unilaterally surrender a big, quadrennial fund-raising event in 2015. [They couldn't organize a "better" straw poll?] The argument all along has been that straw poll participants/caucusgoers in Iowa skew rightward ideologically. Furthermore, [and this is an argument, not FHQ's position] the contention has been that the Spiker chairmanship would only exacerbate that issue, making Iowa a less attractive option at the front of the 2016 presidential primary calendar.

But if the more mainstream faction within the party can flex its organizational muscle in midterm caucuses and perhaps elect one of their own as chairman, does this remain an issue? I don't know. But there is at least some reason to doubt that the Ames Straw Poll is going anywhere in 2015.

Postscript: And allow me to dismiss outright this idea that the RNC can still change its rules and that Iowa's first in the nation status is somehow at risk. Yes, the RNC can still change its rules any time before August 30. However, so long as the Democratic National Committee keeps Iowa up front -- and there is no indication that the DNC will make any changes to the carve-outs on its side -- the motivation for the RNC to make any changes is greatly diminished.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Bill Moving Utah Presidential Primary to First on the Calendar Passes State House

Bryan Schott at Utah Policy sends this along:
"[HB 410] just passed the House. Now heads to the Senate."
Indeed. The bill that would move the Utah presidential primary ahead of New Hampshire -- or at least seeks to -- passed the state House by a 58-14 vote and now heads to the Senate.


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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Update: 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar (3/9/14)

Missouri and Utah have legislation active in their respective legislatures that would affect the timing of their presidential primaries.

[Find the calendar's permanent home here. There is a link to the 2016 calendar in the upper left corner of the page as well.]

  • The Utah House is considering a bill that would take voting in the presidential primary online and move the contest ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire.
  • Missouri has new legislation before its General Assembly to move back the date of its primaries.
  • The map has also added a new shading element to account for the options available to some states that may be at the beginning of the calendar (see footnotes on Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina and Utah below) and where that is likely to force the carve-out states. 
Why are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (and North Carolina as well) where they are on the calendar below? The FHQ 2016 presidential primary calendar now reflects the best case scenario calendar given where state law currently positions states and past precedent for how the carve-out states have reacted to provocative maneuvers in potentially rogue states. Importantly, this current best case scenario assumes the following: 
[a] Both Colorado parties opt for the March 1 caucuses date instead of the February 2 date. Both are allowed by state law. 
[b] Minnesota parties agree to a compliant caucus date before March 1, 2015, thus avoiding an automatic scheduling of the caucuses for the first Tuesday in February 2016. 
[c] The Missouri General Assembly actually changes the first Tuesday in February date of the presidential primary in the Show Me state, or barring that [again], the state parties opt into compliant caucuses as Missouri Republicans did in 2012. 
[d] The Utah legislature either decides not to fund the first Tuesday in February presidential primary or shifts back that date in the statute. (See also efforts to push the primary ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire)
[e] South Carolina parties maintain their desire for a seven day buffer between their primaries and the contest(s) in any other southern state. 
That means Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Utah are not threats (yet). They are out of the way as far as the carve-out states are concerned. However, considering the new law regarding the North Carolina presidential primary, North Carolina would then violate the terms of the fifth (South Carolina) assumption above. With South Carolina typically choosing a Saturday primary date, a North Carolina primary on the Tuesday just three days later would not pass muster with the parties in its neighbor to the south.

As has been mentioned in this space previously, the South Carolina parties would have some tools to utilize; especially on the Republican side. According to the current RNC rules, all four carve-out states have the month prior to the next earliest contest in which to schedule their own delegate selection events. But the North Carolina law anchors the North Carolina primary to the scheduling of the South Carolina primary. To some extent that does tie the hands of the state party decision makers in the Palmetto state. Those same primary date decision makers -- again, on the Republican side but with possible implications for South Carolina Democrats -- could also hide behind the new protections nestled in the Republican delegate selection rules: the super penalty. That leads to the final assumption:
[f] South Carolina would schedule its primary for a date that would automatically trigger the super penalty on North Carolina if the law in the Tarheel state remains unchanged or the state parties there do not opt into a caucus/convention system as Missouri Republicans did in 2012. 
To accomplish that, the South Carolina parties could schedule their primaries for as late as Saturday, February 13, 2016. That would position the North Carolina primary on Tuesday, February 16, a date open to the super penalty under Republican rules. Please note that Tuesday, February 23 is not a date affected by the super penalty. That is the last penalty-free point of the calendar currently and why the Arizona and Michigan primaries are very unlikely to move from their state law-mandated positions. South Carolina could opt for Saturday, February 20, but there would be no penalty on North Carolina for a primary three days later. Such a move does not help decision makers in South Carolina. 

If South Carolina falls on February 13, then:
[a] The Nevada caucuses would or could be a week earlier on Saturday, February 6
[b] New Hampshire would then fall in line on the next earliest Tuesday that would give the state/secretary of state the seven days necessary to comply with state law ("seven days before any other similar contest"). The primary in the Granite state could not be scheduled for Tuesday, February 2 as that is only four days before the Nevada caucuses. These states had a similar dispute in 2011. The next earliest and compliant date for New Hampshire, then, is Tuesday, January 26
[c] And all of that means the Iowa caucuses would have enough calendar space to precede New Hampshire by its customary eight days, unlike in both 2008 and 2012. That places Iowa on Monday, January 18
In all, then, the North Carolina action only pushed the starting point in the best case scenario calendar up by a week since the last FHQ calendar update in June

Now, if any or all of the states (Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and/or Utah) fail to act as assumed above, then the best case scenario becomes the worst case scenario outlined in June:
  • Saturday, January 2: Iowa caucuses
  • Tuesday, January 5: New Hampshire primary
  • Saturday, January 16: Nevada caucuses
  • Saturday, January 23: South Carolina primary
  • Tuesday, January 26: North Carolina primary
  • Tuesday, February 2: Colorado caucuses, Minnesota caucuses, Missouri primary, Utah primary
And that scenario puts the national parties right back to the square one they have attempted to avoid since 2008.

Reading the Map:
As was the case with the maps from past cycles, the earlier a contest is scheduled in 2012, the darker the color in which the state is shaded. Arizona, for instance, is a much deeper shade of blue in February than California is in June. There are, however, some differences between the earlier maps and the one that appears above.
  1. Several caucus states have yet to select a date for the first step of their delegate selection processes in 2016. Until a decision is made by state parties in those states, they will appear in gray on the map.
  2. The states where legislation to move the presidential primary is active are two-toned with wide, diagonal stripes. One color indicates the timing of the primary according to the current law whereas the second color is meant to highlight the month to which the primary could be moved. For example, a bill currently being considered in Massachusetts would move the presidential primary from its current position in March to a new spot on the calendar in June. 
  3. Other states -- the carve-out states and states with state laws providing guidance for setting a primary or caucuses date but no specific date or multiple specified dates -- are also two-toned with narrow, horizontal stripes. In this case, one color (gray) represents the uncertainty of the primary or caucuses date now while the other color (or colors) highlight the options available to states or the most likely date for a contest in that state given the information we currently have. So, in Iowa, for instance, we know that the state parties in the Hawkeye state will want to protect the first in the nation status they have enjoyed in the past. To maintain that position alone, Iowa could now conduct its precinct caucuses as late as January 18, 2016. In a state like Utah, the primary itself is dependent on the state legislature allocating funds for that purpose. Should legislators in the Beehive state follow through on that action for 2016, the primary would be in early February. That explains the color in both instances. 
  4. States that are bisected vertically are states where the state parties have different dates for their caucuses and/or primaries. The left hand section is shaded to reflect the state Democratic Party's scheduling while the right is for the state Republican Party's decision on the timing of its delegate selection event (see Nebraska). This holds true for states -- typically caucus states -- with a history of different dates across parties but which also have not yet chosen a contest date.
Reading the calendar:
  1. Note that if you click on the state name in the calendar below, the link will take you to the relevant section of the state's law or party's bylaws covering the date of the primary or caucus.
  2. Links to discussions of 2013 or 2014 state-level legislation addressing the dates of future presidential primaries have also been added (see 2013/2014 Legislation in the calendar).
  3. Markers have also been added indicating whether legislation has become law or has died at some point in the legislative process. 

2016 Presidential Primary Calendar

Monday, January 18:
Iowa caucuses1 (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, January 26: 
New Hampshire (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, February 2:
    (2013 Legislation: March primary: House/SenateApril primary -- all Died in Committee)
    (2014 Legislation: March primary, April primary)
    (2013 Legislation: Primary funding -- Signed into Law)
    (2014 Legislation: Primary before Iowa/New Hampshire)

Saturday, February 6:
Nevada caucuses (***tentative given current information***)

Saturday, February 13:
South Carolina (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, February 16: 
North Carolina (***tentative given current information***)

Tuesday, February 23:
Tuesday, March 1:
    (2013 Legislation: March primary -- Died in CommitteePrimary on first unpenalized date -- 
    Signed into Law)
    (2013 legislation: June primary)
    (2013 Legislation: Saturday primaryFebruary primary -- all Died in Committee)

Tuesday, March 8:

Tuesday, March 15:

Saturday, March 19:

Tuesday, April 5:
Washington, DC 
    (2013 Legislation: June primary)

Tuesday, April 26:

Tuesday, May 3:

Tuesday, May 10:

Tuesday, May 17:

Tuesday, May 24:

Tuesday, June 7:
    (2013 Legislation: May primary -- Died in Committee)

Primary states with no specified date:
    (2013 Legislation: establish primary -- Died in Committee)
    (2013 Legislation: January primary -- Died in Committee)
New Hampshire
South Carolina

1 This date does conflict with the Martin Luther King Day holiday in 2016. As John Deeth points out in the comments section that is an issue that was a source of some discontent among Iowa Democrats when the caucuses and holiday overlapped in 2004. If that is an issue again in 2016, it may affect the date of the caucuses above. Moving it up further would perhaps push the envelope a bit too much, but the state parties may opt to hold the caucuses on a Tuesday -- a week before New Hampshire on January 19 -- as they did in 2012. 
2 The state parties have the option of choosing either the first Tuesday in March date called for in the statute or moving up to the first Tuesday in February.
3 The state parties must agree on a date on which to hold caucuses by March 1 in the year prior to a presidential election. If no agreement is reached, the caucuses are set for the first Tuesday in February.
4 The Western States Presidential Primary in Utah is scheduled for the first Tuesday in February, but the contest will only be held on that date if the state legislature decides to allocate funds for the primary. (See also efforts to push the primary ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire)
5 Democratic-sponsored legislation would establish a specific date for the Florida presidential primary; the second Tuesday in March. 
6 See definition of "Spring primary" for clause dealing with the timing of the presidential primary.
7 Kansas has not held a presidential primary since 1992. Funds have not been appropriated by the legislature for the primary since that time. That said, there are laws in place providing for a presidential preference primary. Assuming funding, the Kansas secretary of state has the option of choosing a date -- on or before November 1 in the year preceding the presidential election -- that either coincides with at least 5 other states' delegate selection events or is on the first Tuesday in April or before.
8 A Republican-sponsored bill during the 2013 session of the Nevada legislature would create a consolidated primary (presidential primary together with state primaries) and move the contest from June to January.
9 The North Carolina primary is now scheduled for the Tuesday following the South Carolina primary if the South Carolina contest is prior to March 15. Given the protected status South Carolina enjoys with the national parties, a primary prior to March 15 is a certainty for both parties in the Palmetto state. The link to the North Carolina statute does not yet reflect the change made to the presidential primary law. Language laying out the parameters for the primary can be found in the bill (HB 589) recently signed into law.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bills to Move Presidential Primary Back Inch Forward in Missouri

The two bills that would shift the Missouri presidential primary back into compliance with the national party delegate selection rules both moved forward this week.

On the Senate side, SB 892, got referred to the Financial and Government Organizations and Elections Committee on Thursday and will be part of the committee's Monday hearing. The House bill -- HB 1902 -- got the thumbs up from the House Rules Committee on Thursday and is on the House calendar (for perfection) this coming Monday.

As FHQ mentioned in describing these bills recently, both initially sought to push the presidential primary in the Show Me state from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in February back to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April. The paths of both pieces of legislation diverged when the House bill was amended in Committee on Elections. Instead of April, the House committee substitute bill now calls for the presidential primary to occur on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in March. That is the move that the full House will consider on Monday.

As we head into the new legislative week in the Missouri General Assembly, then, there are a few things to eye. First, what kind of reception will the House committee substitute bill receive on the floor and how easily does it pass (or not)? Second, to what extent does the Senate (Financial and Government Organizations and Elections Committee) reconcile the timing of the primary in their version of the bill with that of the House? If the Senate committee sends their version on with no changes, then there will be a conflict between its bill and the House bill when and if the House bill moves over to the Senate side for consideration there.

Again, these types of inter-chamber disputes have derailed efforts to move the Missouri presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules since the late summer of 2011. Will history repeat itself or is Missouri ready to move back?

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Bill Gardner Responds to Utah Presidential Primary Bill

"...and I wish they wouldn't."
-- New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner on the bill making its way through the Utah state House to move the Beehive state presidential primary to first in the nation.
FHQ was wondering if and when a response from Secretary Gardner was going to come on this Utah presidential primary bill. We now have an answer to that question. And it was not an atypical response from the secretary. He is compelled by New Hampshire state law to keep the presidential primary in the Granite state first in the nation. Let the record show that he is batting 1.000 in that effort since 1976. Threats may come and go, but New Hampshire (and Iowa) remain at the head of the queue. There really is no reason to think that that will change in 2016.

...even if the Utah bill contains a novel threat: online voting that offers the Beehive state the sort of potential ease of movement (on the calendar) that New Hampshire has.


Well, Gardner is right to trumpet the Granite state tradition of going first. Everyone knows what they've got in New Hampshire -- for better or worse. There is certainty in that knowledge from the national parties' perspectives and from the candidates' and campaigns' perspectives. In a system that contains a great deal of uncertainty, that one little bit of certainty helps. That is why in the days before Florida was threatening the early states on the calendar -- and the national parties frowned on that type of leapfrogging rogue behavior -- New Hampshire was able to essentially blackmail candidates into coming to the Granite state rather than heading off to rival states (such as Delaware in 1996).

In other words, come here or pay the price.

Here, again, is where that certainty of New Hampshire being first reenters the picture. That certainty usually translates into candidates spending a lot of time, money and effort there in the year before the presidential election year; knowing that New Hampshire will be first. Few campaigns are willing to cut bait on all that effort to go to another state and basically start over. That is especially true if they know -- or think they know -- that New Hampshire is going to jump right back to the top at presumably the last minute anyway.

This is Gardner's trump card. He pulled it on Nevada Republicans in 2012, and he will continue to use it until state-level actors learn threatening New Hampshire is futile.1 The only thing is that this lesson has to be relearned over and over again.

Recall that there are only four days left in the legislative session in Utah. HB 410 has to pass the House and carve an expedited path through the state Senate before next Thursday (March 13). Recall also, that even if it passes the legislature, it still has to be signed into law. Should it pass, expect to see another RNC delegation make its way to the office of Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R). That is what happened last year when a bill in Arizona threatened to anchor the Grand Canyon state presidential primary to the Iowa caucuses. That isn't to suggest that the RNC would be attempting to intimidate Utah into complying with the RNC delegate selection rules. Rather, it is more likely an effort to explain the nature and seriousness of the severe penalties associated with a timing violation.

Both Secretary Gardner and the RNC have the luxury of sitting back to watch the final week of the Utah state legislature first. Then they can move on to the next step if necessary.

1 Keep in mind that it is even more difficult for potential rivals now that the national parties have codified the calendar positions of the carve-out states. That doesn't operate as a decree on high that keeps states in line so much as it is an added layer of protection that New Hampshire and the other carve-out states can use in their defense of their positions.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

An SEC Primary in 2016? Not so fast… (Part II)

A couple of weeks ago FHQ examined the likelihood that the states most closely associated with Secretary of State Brian Kemp's (R-GA) southeastern regional primary proposal would be able to implement a presidential primary move. That was more of an internal look at what may affect the calculus in each state. The post touched on outside factors that may affect that decision-making process, but only in passing. Obviously, there are other matters that may intervene to complicate things.

There is some history here. The idea of a southern regional primary is not a new one. Barely a year after the reformed presidential nomination process got its first trial run in 1972, Jimmy Carter was out laying the groundwork for a nomination bid on the Democratic side in 1976 but was also trumpeting the strategic virtues of holding a collective southern regional primary. The benefits seemed clear. The South would speak with one voice and propel a more moderate-to-conservative candidate to the Democratic nomination who could, in turn, better compete in the general election.

As it turned out, it took the states of the South a decade and a half to coordinate this, bringing the idea to fruition. It took some cajoling from the Carter folks ahead of the 1980 renomination run against Ted Kennedy to convince legislators in Florida to hold pat in March and legislators in Alabama and Georgia to move up to coincide with the primary in the Sunshine state. That subregional primary was to serve as a counterweight to the delegate gains Kennedy was likely to win in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.1

Four years later, several southern and border states adopted caucuses for the competitive Democratic nomination race, joining Alabama, Florida and Georgia in March, though not all on the same date. Only the Oklahoma Democratic caucuses were on that same second Tuesday in March date. Caucuses in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina followed later in the month. Collectively the South spoke with something approximating a single voice, but the result was not support for a more moderate candidate.2 Rather, it was support for Walter Mondale.

There was, then, no alignment between the notion of a strong, unified regional voice in the process and a homegrown, southern, moderate-to-conservative candidate. The former seemed more likely with a southern bloc of contests, but that did not happen until the 1988 invisible primary. Even then -- with everything lined up -- the South did not speak with one voice in the 1988 Democratic primary. The unintended consequence was that three Democratic candidates emerged from the Southern Super Tuesday with a claim to victory -- Dukakis in the populous South (Florida and Texas), Gore in the peripheral South and Jackson in the Deep South -- all while George HW Bush used a sweep of the region on Super Tuesday to consolidate his hold on the Republican nomination.

The dynamics of any given nomination race matter and it is difficult to gauge ahead of time -- as a decision-maker on the state level -- what those dynamics will look like in, say, two years time. That is the cautionary tale for those thinking of coordinating primaries in 2016. That past repeated itself to some degree in 2008 on the Democratic side (though not in a regional sense). Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton roughly split the logjam of national contests on Super Tuesday while John McCain significantly stretched the delegate lead he had established during the January contests.

What are the dynamics FHQ is talking about?

The candidates who run combined with the sequence of primaries and caucuses and the rules of delegate allocation are basics. And all are unknown at this point in time to those state-level decision-makers. There is a baseline calendar for 2016, but the question is how state actors view that terrain in light of the national party rules on (national convention) delegate selection. Actually, this constitutes several questions:
  1. Do we want to move our delegate selection contest up (to an earlier point on the calendar)?
  2. Does a new position mean incurring a penalty from one or both national parties?
  3. Does a new position mean conducting an election on the same day as a number of other regional partners?
  4. Does a new position mean conducting an election on the same day as a number of other states with no one dominant region? 
  5. Does moving to a new position to create a regional primary (question #3) mean that other states (or regions -- see question #4) will herd toward that date; typically in the post-reform era, the first date allowed by both national parties (the first Tuesday in March in 2016)?
Now, there is no indication that state-level decision makers actually consider these matters this deeply. Rather, in most cases, state legislators (collectively) see, on its surface, a good idea -- a regional primary -- and run with it. In the process, however, there is little evaluation of the unintended consequences.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. These decisions to move a primary or caucuses are not independent of one another. The answer to question #1 depends on the willingness and ability of the state to move based on structural factors. FHQ has already discussed that for the states potentially involved in this retro-southern regional primary concept proposed by Georgia Secretary of State Kemp. Nothing in that proposal suggests that any of the southern go rogue, so the states of the South will avoid penalty so long as the Democratic National Committee retains a similar calendar to the Republican National Committee.

But there is something to questions #3-5 posed above. Partnering with other states in a region has its advantages, but it seems that that exercise has diminishing returns for the states involved as more states sign on. This needs a deeper examination, but one could argue that the most successful regional primaries have been subregional primaries; smaller clusters of contests at a point on the calendar that provides that group of states with the spotlight and is also earlier than the point at which 50% plus one of the delegates has been allocated to one candidate (effectively ending the nomination race). Contrast the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday with the 2008 Potomac Primary (Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC), for example.

The former was a mega-primary that allowed candidates to pick and choose their spots (as on the Democratic side in 1988). One could also just as easily see such a contest giving advantage to an unintended beneficiary (as on the Republican side in 1988). That is, someone of the party opposite the dominant partisanship of the region or a front-running candidate with the resources to compete in such a large number of states. Alternatively, the latter, if shrewdly scheduled (in this case a week after a rush of more than 25 contests in 2008), can draw candidates into a small area of competition with similar issues. Again, that was true in 2008 with the Potomac Primary, but one could also consider the Alabama/Mississippi cluster the week after Super Tuesday in 2012 another of these. Many have argued that those contests were evidence of Romney's poor showings in the South, but while the former Massachusetts governor lost in both, he emerged at near parity with Santorum and Gingrich in the delegate count in each. In other words, it was competitive; something a subregional cluster would desire.

This is actually an idea that the DNC attempted to nurture in 2012: clusters of primaries. Neighboring groups of three or more states that held concurrent primaries in or after April on the calendar a 15% delegate bonus. That was viewed as a way of matching up state and candidate interests but also for giving incentive to later primary and caucuses dates.

Broadly speaking, though, this is an hypothesis that needs some additional research. Is there at point of diminishing returns in terms of what states and candidates get out of a Super Tuesday pile up of contests. Smaller, distinct (date and regional proximity) clusters may be better able to accomplish this. That seemed to be part of the lesson that states seemed to have learned after 2008. Part of the motivation many states had in moving back was a change in national party rules (the February to March transition of the post-carve-out window), but the other part was that a number of states herded to Super Tuesday in 2008 and got nothing out of it.

Those are the competing interests facing those states willing to move around for the 2016 cycle: 1) Learn the lesson of 2008 and attempt to pick and choose a spot on the calendar (either alone or as a small cluster of subregional states) or 2) Move en masse to the earliest date allowed by the parties -- the first Tuesday in March.3 Those two options are not mutually exclusive. It could be that a group of southern states, for instance, cluster on March 1 (fulfilling the first option with the exception maybe of the small cluster) and that has the effect of triggering a rush on the date by other states. That reactionary group of states would be operating under the rationale -- as was the case before 2008 -- that if they do not move they will run the risk of falling after the point in the races where enough of the delegates have been allocated to have singled out a presumptive nominee.

There may also be the added layer of indirect involvement from the national parties as well; coaxing some states to move around. And this goes both ways; not Democratic and Republican so much as moving up and back. In 2012, there was some talk about national Democrats urging some states to move back to negatively affect the Republican process. Northeastern states would move back, making the front half of the calendar more southern and conservative. That would, in turn, hypothetically hurt Romney. The result was something of a mixed bag. Romney had a somewhat rough path to the nomination, but that was not a function of a conservative first half of the calendar. There was a good regional mix of early contests even if a group of mid-Atlantic/northeastern states moved back into late April. The real culprit for the drawn out Republican contest was the dispersion of contests across the entire calendar.

Assuming we witness some movement on Secretary Kemp's southern regional primary on March 1, we could see Republicans (nationally or the RNC quietly) urge just the opposite of what Democrats wanted in 2012. The idea of a southern regional primary isn't new as discussed above, but neither is the idea of a regional primary in this cycle. It was just last November that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was talking about a midwestern regional primary. If contests in the South begin moving up to March 1, there could very quickly be a quiet yet concerted effort to find a group of contests to serve as a counterbalance on the Republican calendar either on March 1 or not long after. Ohio is already scheduled for that week after Super Tuesday.

States once were slow to react to primary/caucuses movement in other states. A move in one cycle was met with a move in a the next subsequent cycle (if a state was compelled to move at all). That process has sped up over the last several presidential election cycles and reaction time had decreased. Since California moved its presidential primary from June to March in the 1996 cycle -- shifting with it the center of gravity in terms of the balance of delegates allocated over time across the primary calendar -- states have begun reacting within cycle. In other words, moving to a date that looks ripe for the taking now does not necessarily mean that that same date will not be jam packed with a number of other contests in the near future.

This hypothesis fits well in the policy diffusion literature. It also is something that FHQ has explored to some extent in a regional context. If one state moves its primary or caucuses, does that increase the likelihood that a neighboring state moves as well? What we found across a limited dataset -- the 2004 and 2008 cycles -- was the exact opposite: That if a neighboring state moved up, it decreased movement in surrounding states. At this point, FHQ is willing to chalk that up to a limited number of observations in just primary states across just a couple of cycles. It bears further research.

Again, it is easy to look at the surface issues here and move on if you are a state-level actor. Move up, bring along some regional partners, get more attention and affect the nomination. Under that surface, though, there is a lot to think through. It can quickly become a complicated series of unknowns. The changes to the Republican delegate selection rules have limited the world of possibilities by adding some penalties with teeth, but that does not mean that there are not 50 states -- some with multiple actors involved -- that are attempting to reduce uncertainty, game the system and gain an advantage for themselves (in terms of gaining attention and influencing the process). One move by a state or a series of states can set off any number of possibilities in reaction.

That's the take home message in this jumbled mess: unintended consequences. One move begets another move that may negate your original move. And there usually is not a rejoinder to the response. There isn't time.

1 As it turned out, Carter won New Hampshire and all three southern states in the 1980 primaries and it was not until later in the calendar that Kennedy began to close the delegate gap. Even that was too little too late.

2 Jesse Jackson's win in South Carolina and Gary Hart's in Oklahoma were the only two holes in an otherwise unified South. Those exceptions were early (March) contests and undercut the idea of the South collectively influencing the process by backing one candidate.

3 There is a third option as well. States could simply hold their ground and stay where current state law has the primary scheduled. Many states will do this as well.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

From Utah, a Bill to Potentially Disrupt the 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar

Buckle up. This is an interesting one.

With just a little more than a week left in the Utah state legislative session, the state House is considering a bill that would shake up elections in the state. No, FHQ is not talking about the legislation that would alter the caucuses/convention process that provided so much drama during the Lee-Bennett Republican Senate nomination race. Instead, HB 410, (sponsored by Rep. Jon Cox (R-58th, Ephraim)), if passed and signed into law, could potentially overturn the applecart that is the carefully constructed 2016 presidential primary calendar.


First, FHQ should note that everything here -- whether the bill passes or not -- is contingent on the Utah legislature appropriating funds for the presidential primary election; something the body did not do for 2012. But let's assume for the a moment that the legislative body in the Beehive state provides funds in the 2016 budget -- which it will have to pass during the winter session in 2015 -- for the 2016 presidential primary. How does this bill change that?

In arguably the most provocative change, HB 410 would require the Utah lieutenant governor to schedule the Utah "Western States Presidential Primary" on a date "that is earlier than the scheduled date for any meeting, caucus, primary, vote, or other method used in any other state or territory of the United States that constitutes the first determining stage of selecting a presidential nominee."1 Compounding that is an additional provision in the bill empowering the Utah state legislature with the ability to declare by resolution that the presidential primary vote be conducted as part of an online/electronic voting pilot program.

Structurally, then, this bill has to not only pass both chambers of the Utah state legislature, but it has to be signed into law by the governor. Then, assuming all of that occurs, the state legislature has to separately appropriate funds for the election and also pass a resolution qualifying the presidential primary election for the online voting pilot program. That may or may not be a high bar, but at a minimum, that is an awful lot of legislative process. And it is all sequential. If there is an impasse at any point in that chain, everything falls apart. Keep in mind also that Utah has very short legislative sessions. That further reduces the probability of all of this coming together prior to 2016.

This remains a possibility and nothing more.

But assuming all the above benchmarks are hit, what impact would that/Utah have on the 2016 presidential primary calendar?

The main impact would be that the Utah primary would be first in the nation. The lieutenant governor would be tasked by law with scheduling the Western States Presidential Primary for a date earlier than any other contest; Iowa and New Hampshire included. We have played this game of chicken before, however. Remember that bill in Arizona last year that anchored the primary in the Grand Canyon state to the date of the caucuses in Iowa? This sort of action would likely trigger a game of chicken that advantages Iowa and New Hampshire. In the Arizona case, as long as Iowa could outlast the drop dead point at which Arizona had to set a date -- a point that would provide the state with enough lead time to prepare to conduct an election -- then they (Iowa) win.2

...and leave Arizona in the lurch in terms of when to actually set the date.

In other words, as long as Iowa and New Hampshire can wait out a state attempting to encroach on their early turf, they can retain their positions at the front of the queue. And because none of the (failed) proposals to anchor primaries or caucuses to either Iowa and/or New Hampshire or before them have contingencies in place in the very likely event that the two earliest states wait them out, those states are even further disadvantaged. There would be no guidance from state law as to when the primary should be scheduled.

Yet, the Utah proposal offers a new twist: online voting. If part of if not the main problem of successfully challenging Iowa's and New Hampshire's positions is that they have a competitive advantage in being able to more quickly organize caucuses or a primary, respectively, then why not reduce those costs? The Utah proposal in HB 410 does that on two fronts. First, online voting is cheaper. A separate presidential primary would have cost Utah up to $3 million in 2012. According to the fiscal note tied to HB 410, the infrastructure for secure online voting would cost $1.6 million up front. One would imagine that maintenance would also be required in subsequent years, but would/could be less than the original start up costs. That reduces costs relative to the flat -- yet increasing with inflation -- budget appropriation for an election with physical polling locations.

Second, the costs associated with attempting to play the brinksmanship game with Iowa and New Hampshire would be reduced to almost nil. It is much easier to move around the date of an online election than it is an election that requires reserving polling locations, organizing and paying poll workers, and reimbursing counties and/or local political units.

This is not unprecedented in presidential primary elections. The Arizona Democratic Party utilized online voting in its 2000 presidential primary/caucuses. That was more an effort to try the format than challenge the earliest states. The voting took place in the first full week of March, during a window from Tuesday through Friday before the caucuses on Saturday, March 11. That was well after Iowa and New Hampshire that year. It should also be noted that Arizona Democrats did not retain the online voting procedure for the 2004 cycle.

But the potential Utah of 2016 is not Arizona in 2000. This plan has the effect of turning the screws on Iowa and New Hampshire in a way that the post-reform system has not witnessed. Sure, there have been challenges over the years, but none of them have been successful. And no states have employed a method that streamlines the process enough to quickly adapt to anything that Iowa and New Hampshire might do. Utah may not be there. Certainly the proposed system of online voting is adaptive, but the decision-making process is fraught with the potential for legislative roadblocks. The decision on the date of the primary is not centralized as it is in New Hampshire and Georgia (with the secretary of state).

Still, we're assuming that this actually comes to pass. If that is the case, then there is one more factor to layer into this.

What about the national party delegate selection rules? There is a new super penalty (in the Republican National Committee rules) that is supposed to deter states from queue jumping like this, isn't there? There is, but that rule may have a problem. By reducing states' delegations to just 12 delegates if they have more than 30 total delegates and 9 delegates if they have fewer than 30 total, penalized states may end up with the same reduced total in the end, but different rates of reduction. Stated differently, big states take a larger hit than smaller and medium states do. A reduction of 99 delegates to 12 is a lot different than 40 delegates to 12 delegates. Florida is the 99 and Utah is the 40. Is a 70% penalty really all that much different to Utah than the 50% penalty that existed in 2012? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, states on the smaller side of the median number of total delegates have an incentive to potentially gamble on this and that is exactly what is at stake in this Utah discussion.

It is an open question and at least one Utah legislator is of the opinion that the 70% penalty is not steep enough to deter him from introducing this bill. Time is running out in the Utah legislative session, but even if this plan goes nowhere, it may be a blueprint for future challenges to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Hat tip to Bryan Schott at Utah Policy for sending information on this bill FHQ's way.

1 This moniker is a relic of an effort by Utah and a number of other mostly Rocky Mountain states to hold a concurrent regional presidential primary in 2000. The tag has been a holdover in the state law referring to presidential primary since then. The primary is not conditioned on other states also holding delegate selection events on the same day as Utah.

2 The Arizona bill was bottled up in committee, but would have set a 90 buffer for elections administrators between when the date of the election was set and the election itself. Iowa Republicans set the date of their 2008 caucuses with under 80 days of time between that decision and the caucuses. Iowa Democrats left only about 65 days between those two points in 2008. Both Iowa Democrats and Republicans left similar windows in 2012. New Hampshire did even better in whittling down that window. Secretary of State Bill Gardner (NH-D) allow 69 days of preparation in 2012, but just 48 days in 2008.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Iowa. Still a Winnowing Contest. Clinton and everyone else.

The news stories about the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucuses are less deja vu these days than they are like the constant, repetitive backgrounds in cartoon chase scenes. The pattern is pretty clear at this point:
  1. Some combination of Hillary Clinton lost Iowa in 2008 and/or frontrunners often "stumble" there. 
  2. Iowa is terrible at picking nominees/presidents.
  3. A new poll is released showing Clinton up on any and all Democratic challengers.
  4. Wash, rinse, repeat. 
Presumably, this will continue until Iowa in 2016. Maybe the cycle will begin anew for 2020 shortly thereafter.

Mark Z. Baraback has the latest fuel for the fire that powers this perpetual motion machine; cautioning a prospective Clinton campaign about what might lie ahead in the Hawkeye state.  The problem is that there is little caution in there. The problem from a political science perspective is that we're dealing with a small N problem. There are so few observations -- competitive nomination races in the post-reform era (1972 and after) -- that it is difficult to make generalizations in a sea of idiosyncratic presidential election cycles we can chalk up to the dynamics/fundamentals of any given year.

The point is that it is relatively easy to find examples of frontrunners losing (relative to expectations) in Iowa. [That game can be played with New Hampshire too!] Within that group there are two subgroups: 1) those frontrunners who "lose" Iowa and go on to win the nomination and 2) those frontrunners who "lose" in Iowa and lose the nomination. The latter group is fairly limited and often leads to the conclusion in #2 above. [More on that momentarily] There are, though, other groups of cycles that often get short shrift in this discussion. Most people remember recounts in 2000, but understandably forget the two (mostly) cakewalk nomination races that year. Many also fail to include the favorite (regional/state) son phenomenon that hit Iowa in the 1988-1992 period when Gephardt, Dole and Harkin won the caucuses.

So, there are exceptions. Regardless, frontrunners are typically successful in their quests for nominations no matter if you quantify that -- being a frontrunner -- as a mixture of poll position and funds raised (Mayer) or as a combination of those two and endorsements from party elites/insiders (Cohen, et al).

[And keep in mind that no one in Iowa wants to say that Hillary Clinton is inevitable. As Richard Skinner has noted in response to Peter Hamby's story from Iowa, it hurts their bottom line -- encouraging interest in the (competitive) Iowa caucuses. It is same there as it is in newsrooms where writing "Clinton is inevitable" stories gets old quite fast.]

The logical follow up is to ask why Iowa is first when it is so bad a choosing nominees/presidents. But please don't do that. That's just keeping Fred and Barney running past that doorway and potted plant. Iowa just does not derail front-running candidates with any level of regularity. It tends to winnow the field, leaving the determinative job to some subsequent state or series of state contests. That is the cycle we should be paying attention to.

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