Sunday, May 3, 2015

Iowa: A Question Mark Among Carve-Outs

I was struck reading Jennifer Jacobs' piece in the Des Moines Register this morning by the fact that there are some interesting questions marks hovering around the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

The big take home is the obvious: Mathematically, the more candidates competing in the Iowa caucuses, the lower the likely winning share of the vote will be among the logjam of Republican candidates. FHQ is less concerned with that. Actually, I'm skeptical of the chaos theory; that all these candidates will claim chunk of the caucuses electorate and the winner will be below 20%. Jacobs mentions the prospect of one candidate breaking away from the pack late in the invisible primary, but it may also be that there is some herding around candidates; one candidate who represents each of the lanes to the nomination that so many are discussing. With the exception of 1976, the post-reform competitive Republican caucuses have tended to have four or five candidates above (or right at) the 10% mark.

But let's put that on the back burner for the moment.

The bigger question mark surrounding the 2016 Republican Iowa caucuses might be how the state party will allocate its delegates. We know that New Hampshire will have a proportional allocation of its delegates. State law calls for it. South Carolina Republicans are very likely to continue with the winner-take-most (winner-take-all by congressional district) method the party has used for years. And while the mode of allocation may change in Nevada -- trading out caucuses for a primary -- Republicans in the state have already voted in favor of a resolution to continue the proportional method of allocation it used in 2012.

But Iowa? We do not yet know what the plans are in Iowa. Traditionally, Iowa Republicans have held non-binding caucuses. But the RNC passed rules at its 2012 national convention in Tampa to require the binding of delegates based on the earliest, statewide election. It was that rule, after all, that gave Iowa Republicans pause concerning their quadrennial Straw Poll.

So what will Iowa Republicans do? Every possibility is open to the party actually. If you were reading carefully above, you may have thought to yourself, "Hey. Wait a minute. How can South Carolina have a winner-take-most primary before the proportionality window closes on March 14?" The answer is that it's because South Carolina is not in the proportionality window. None of the carve-out states are. The proportionality window only affects states with primaries or caucuses from March 1-14. The carve-out states are exempt.

That means that Iowa could hold a truly winner-take-all contest if Republicans in the state wanted. That would certainly raise the stakes in the Hawkeye state. But with so many possibilities (candidates), the RNC might frown on such a decision (even if there are no rules preventing it or penalties to deter such behavior). Of course, Iowa is in the business of keeping Iowa first. Going winner-take-all is perhaps not the proper course to chart if preservation of first in the nation status is the goal.

Fine. Iowa is unlikely to institute a truly winner-take-all plan. However, there are some interesting possibilities even if Iowa Republicans were to go proportional in 2016. For example, let's assume that Iowa Republicans opt to hold proportional caucuses that proportionally allocate at-large delegates based on the statewide result and congressional district delegates based on the results in each of Iowa's four congressional districts. But if -- if -- the party also requires that a candidate receive 20% of the vote to be allocated any delegates (either statewide or in the congressional districts), then that could significantly limit the number of candidates who receive any delegates even in a proportional contests.1

If, for example, Scott Walker wins Iowa with 21% of the vote statewide, but no one else clears the 20% barrier. Well, Walker would win all of the at-large (and bonus) delegates allocated based on the statewide results. If Walker also wins three of the four congressional districts with above 20% of the vote there and no one else clears 20%, then Walker again wins all of the delegates from the congressional district. If Jeb Bush and Walker clear the 20% barrier in the one remaining congressional district, then they, depending on the rules crafted, split those delegates.

But Walker emerges with an overwhelming win in the delegate count -- Yes, there are only 30 total delegates at stake in Iowa. -- despite a proportional allocation plan. More importantly, in this scenario only two candidates win any delegates.

There may be talk of finishing in the top six -- or whatever -- in the Iowa caucuses once the votes have been cast. But if only two of them get any delegates out of the deal, then the talking points coming out of the contest and heading into New Hampshire are a lot less chaotic than many are talking about now.

1 Republican National Committee delegate selection rules allow state parties to set a minimum threshold of the vote that a candidate must attain in order to receive any delegates. That threshold can be set as high as 20% (both statewide and on the congressional district level).

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1 comment:

John said...

Any word on what Bill Gardner thinks about Iowa GOP allocating Delegates based on a hard vote count? Because us Iowa Dems have always had the idea that Gardner believes vote count plus binding delegates equals a primary which triggers NHs First Primary law. Which is why Iowa Dems refuse to release raw body counts.