Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Update on Connecticut Republicans and 2016 Caucuses

FHQ mentioned the Connecticut delegate selection situation in the earlier Rhode Island post, but it is something I've been meaning to revisit for a few weeks (and have not gotten around to yet).

At its most basic, earlier this year Republican state legislators in the Nutmeg state introduced legislation to move the late April presidential primary into the first week in March. That effort was stonewalled by majority Democrats who are differently motivated with respect to its presidential primary. A later primary in conjunction with primaries in two or more neighboring states would net the Connecticut Democratic Party two bonuses to its national convention delegation under DNC delegate selection rules. The race for the Democratic nomination is also not quite the competition the Republican nomination process appears to be. Democratic legislators, then, are not clamoring to move to earlier spots on the presidential primary calendar.

But Republicans in the state would rather have a say in the Republican nomination race rather than be stuck with a primary at a point on the calendar that is closer to where the last two Republican nominees clinched the nomination (as measured by the percentage of total delegates allocated). With no viable route to an earlier, potentially more consequential primary, Connecticut Republicans have considered shifting to a caucus/convention system that would give the state party the freedom to move around as they see fit.

Of course, state law is seemingly restrictive in terms of the leeway allowed state parties to determine whether it selects and allocates delegates to the national convention through a primary or caucuses. And it is. To just scratch the surface, the presidential primary law no longer includes a provision to allow for caucuses. That was repealed.

In reality, though, there is nothing to prevent Connecticut Republicans from conducting caucuses. The law just requires state parties to allocate delegates to the national conventions based on the results of the presidential primary. That statute does this in a couple of ways. First, the primary law lays out the guidelines for how a state party must inform the secretary of state of which delegate selection/allocation plan they will use. Secondly, the available formulas for allocating delegates are specified in the law. Taken alone this second part could open the door to Connecticut Republicans holding caucuses and a presumably later presidential primary but heading to the Cleveland convention having allocated delegates based on the results of the earlier caucuses. But that requirement of a written notification eliminates that possibility or at least complicates it.

Let's step back for a moment, though. FHQ, when discussing this possible Connecticut Republican primary/caucuses switch before, said that the party "would be on firm ground legally" if it wanted to make the switch. That may obscure a larger point here. Yes, the courts tend to defer to the parties in determining how to run their own nominations. However, tends to is not the same as a sure thing. Additionally, Connecticut Republicans would have to make a decision on the feasibility of having to 1) pay for the caucuses and 2) having to initiate and pay for a court challenge to the law. Scheduling caucuses early enough to matter -- however you want to define that -- may be deemed important, but is it important enough to shell out party money on both of the aforementioned fronts in the lead up to an election year?

That is the big question that faces Connecticut Republicans now. They feel pretty good about their chances of challenging the law and ultimately holding caucuses, but are they willing to pay for it?

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