Monday, March 30, 2015

Are Early States Losing Clout?

The usually sensible and always thorough Steve Peoples with the Associated Press missed the mark, FHQ thinks, in his weekend dispatch from New Hampshire.

The premise: Early states may be losing clout in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process because of the rise of super PACs (and their money) and changes to the Republican calendar/rules.

I don't know that FHQ can quite accept that. I can see the point. It makes sense, but I don't know that it is true. But the social scientist in me has a problem with the basic premise. The social scientist in me sees a research question and understandably asks for what data there is. What can we observe?

First the premise. The whole argument here is that 2016 will feature a compressed calendar (with a lot of primaries and caucuses in March) and a new avenue through which campaigns and their allies can receive and spend money that was not fully available four years ago at this time (super PACs). That apparently equals candidates, their campaigns and their allies looking beyond the very earliest states to spend their time and money.


But if we're talking about an influx of new resources through new channels, it seems that we would also be talking about a bigger pie. Does a bigger pie -- a larger pot of resources -- mean that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are losing something, clout or otherwise?1 It could also mean that other states are gaining something due to the new conditions in the 2016 cycle. If we're talking about an increase in the pot relative to 2012, then it is not really the same zero-sum game anymore. Just because March contest states are gaining doesn't mean that the carve-out states are losing. The two are not mutually exclusive in a changed environment.

Yet, I get it. A lot of Peoples' story is futurecasting. It is speculating on what will or may happen in 2016. But that is not a testable premise really. Sure, we can guess. We can speculate. But if we look at candidate behavior now or what they have been up to since January 1 through now, it still looks an awful lot like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina followed by everyone else when we look at candidate visits. The carve-outs lead the pack among the prospective (or announced) Republicans. Behind them are the other typical haunts for Republican presidential candidates: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Washington, DC. No, not all of those are red states or early states, but they are all stops that frequently pop up on the itinerary of anyone on the fundraising circuit.

One more thing and I'll let this one rest. It should not come as a surprise that campaign aides and veteran political operatives are cautioning us of the impending chaotic slugfest to come in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Those are precisely the folks who stand to gain the most from the race stretching out well into March if not beyond. And even if that does not happen, they can at least bide their time nurturing the illusion that this will go on and on and on...

As FHQ mentioned late in the 2012 Republican race, these things are over sooner rather than later. There is a point when even individuals who can afford to keep a candidate afloat decide that the effort is futile, that pouring more money into a cause that cannot win but might breed more chaos heading into a national convention is just not worth it.

Will we hit that point during or after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina? I don't know. But I do know that, despite how things look now, those contests will winnow the field of Republicans vying for the party's presidential nomination. That's what the carve-outs are: winnowing contests. They will still be that in 2016 when all this talk of lost clout will be just that.


[NOTE: Peoples' story also mentions that June 3 is the last date on which primaries and caucuses can be held in the Republican presidential nomination process. I don't know the origin of that information, but the RNC rules -- Rule 16(c)(1) -- specify that that cutoff is the second Saturday in June. That would be Saturday, June 11, 2016.]

1 Poor Nevada is just a redheaded stepchild in all of this from the looks of it. There are, I guess, consequences on the Republican side for reluctantly adding the Silver state caucuses (because the DNC already had), and then the state Republican Party having issues in their first two attempts at caucuses in the spotlight in 2008 and 2012.

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