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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