Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nevada Republican Party Chairman Signals Support for Presidential Primary Over Caucuses in 2016

David Drucker at The Washington Examiner:
Republican leaders in Nevada are moving to junk their presidential caucuses and re-implement a standard primary election for 2016. 
There are two bills pending in the Republican-controlled legislature, including one in the Assembly carried by Speaker John Hambrick. If passed and signed by GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada Republicans voting in the 2016 primary would pull the lever at the polls as they do in a general election, rather than caucusing in groups similar to how the primary is conducted in Iowa. Republican insiders supportive of the legislation are expressing confidence that it will be enacted. 
"There are pros and cons to everything," Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald told the Washington Examiner on Friday. But McDonald said he is pushing for a normal primary because he and many other Silver State Republicans are unhappy with how the 2012 caucuses went down.
This is interesting.

It is interesting because it represents a reversal either at the top of the Nevada Republican Party or within the Nevada Republican Party. Drucker mentions that the chairman of the Republican Party in the Silver state supports the change and obviously the speaker of the state Assembly, who sponsored the Assembly legislation cited (AB 302), supports the change. Yet, the party vice chair, Jim DeGraffenreid, is on record (on behalf of the party) in opposition to that bill at its original hearing. Yes, that written testimony was against the original version of the legislation. At the time it called for a non-compliant January presidential primary (consolidated with the primaries for state and local offices). In his spoken testimony before the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, DeGraffenreid, as FHQ described it at the time, rejected the primary idea outright, saying that the state party could and would make the decision on its own and that the taxpayer expenditure for a presidential primary was not necessary.

When the same bill was introduced in the state Senate and later heard in committee, another representative from the Nevada Republican Party -- this time James Hindle, chairman of the Storey County Republican Party and like DeGraffenreid speaking on behalf of the state party -- voiced opposition to the presidential primary idea in the bill. This time the comments were more ominous with regard to how the Nevada Republican Party viewed the idea of trading in caucuses for a primary.  Hindle indicated that the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee had voted the previous weekend to hold caucuses (after having debated the two options).

Again, the Nevada Republican Party has already voted -- and quite recently -- to hold caucuses in 2016 instead of a primary. Now, that does not mean that the party cannot change its mind. Under different leadership during the 2012 cycle, the Nevada Republican Party set its caucuses date for February 18, 2012, then January 14 and then settled on February 4 after a showdown with New Hampshire.1

Nevada Republicans may pull the trigger on a switch, but that does raise a number of questions.
  1. Which version of the presidential primary legislation will make it through the legislature? One version -- the Assembly version -- now calls for a state party to request the secretary of state to call for a presidential primary. It only takes one party. If both make that request, then the state central committees have to confer on a working day in February. Absent an agreement, the secretary of state makes the decision. The state Senate bill calls for a consolidated presidential primary (with primaries for other state and local offices) on the last Tuesday in February. The date issue is not much of a conflict, but the consolidated primary means cost savings that a separate presidential primary cannot match. However, that consolidated primary means much earlier filing deadlines and general election campaigns for all other state and local candidates. In other words, there is still much to iron out on this one.
  2. If the Assembly bill cited by Drucker is the preferred option for Silver state Republicans, how receptive will Senate bill sponsor, Senator James Settlemeyer (R-17th, Minden), be to that option? He held quite a lot of sway over his bill getting out of committee.
  3. Speaking of parties opting into or requesting the presidential primary, Nevada Democrats, at least those on the committees hearing these two bills, continue to say that Nevada was originally chosen as a carve-out state specifically as a caucuses state. Those Democratic committee members have also voiced opposition to the primary measures because the DNC rules specify that Nevada is a caucuses state. Changing that would jeopardize carve-out status, they argue. [FHQ thinks that concern is perhaps overblown. Those same Democratic rules have called for specific dates on which Nevada's caucuses were to occur during the last two cycles. Nevada has yet to actually conduct a delegate selection event on those dates (because of the actions of other states). That has not led to a loss of the state party's privileged position on the calendar, much less a loss of any delegates. Yet, if the Nevada Democratic Party thinks there is a problem there, it affects how they approach these bills (and ultimately how willing they are to pick a primary over the caucuses the party tends to have.).]
  4. Is there disagreement in the Nevada Republican Party over the primary versus caucuses question?
  5. Finally, FHQ semi-jokingly said in response to a Jon Ralston tweet about the Nevada Republican Party having difficulty raising money that Nevada Republicans might be motivated to switch to a primary so that the state would pick up the tab for the election. That would save the party the trouble of having to raise the money necessary to pull of a caucuses/convention process that has already been rocky the last two cycles. How much is the fundraising shortfall affect the decision-making here?
Nevada Republicans may "junk" their embattled caucuses, but there is a lot of nuance to this situation that may make such a switch more difficult to achieve.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for bringing Drucker's story to FHQ's attention.

1 The typical protocol for the carve-out states has been to wait every other state out, setting the dates of their primaries and caucuses later and only after other states had chosen dates. Nevada Republicans did not follow that blueprint in 2010-11.

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