Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Date of 2016 Colorado Republican Caucuses Remains Unsettled

With New York officially moving back into compliance with national party delegate selection rules and North Carolina inching in that direction too, Colorado is the only state with any ties to a February primary/caucus position that is not also a carve-out state. Under Colorado state law, parties can call caucuses in a presidential primary year for either the first Tuesday in February or the first Tuesday in March. Democrats in the Centennial state have already staked a claim to the March 1 date, but on the Republican side, the choice is still unclear.

According to Colorado Republican Party chief of staff, Tyler Hart, that decision likely will not be made until late September (just prior to the October 1 Republican National Committee deadline by which state parties are required to have finalized delegate selection plans). The Colorado Republican Party Executive Committee will meet to discuss the options in a late August meeting and then the full State Central Committee will vote on the date as well as the method of delegate allocation.

All of this hinges on whether the party votes to hold a straw poll (to determine presidential preference). If the State Central Committee opts against a straw poll, then the caucuses are likely to be scheduled on the first Tuesday in February date; February 2 (the day after the proposed February 1 Iowa caucuses). Recall that in 2012, Colorado Republicans held early February caucuses, but conducted a non-binding straw poll that Rick Santorum won. Any straw poll vote like that -- concurrent with precinct caucuses -- in 2016 would bind any subsequent delegate allocation in the state based on rules changes that came out of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The rules change was partially motivated by contests like those in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri that had beauty contest votes that had little or no bearing on the simultaneous and subsequent delegate selection process (through precinct caucuses to county/district caucuses to the state convention).

Attempting to thread that needle -- early caucuses with no direct presidential preference vote1 -- echoes to some degree the experience Minnesota Republicans earlier this year. Minnesota was in a similar boat with Colorado in 2012 as alluded to above. Both state parties held early February caucuses and both parties allowed caucus participants to vote on their presidential preference in meaningless straw poll votes. However, both now face a cycle that will operate under a set of rules that prohibit a repeat of the non-binding straw polls at caucuses.

Minnesota Republicans, after agreeing with Democrats in the Gopher state to hold caucuses on March 1 next year, petitioned the RNC to allow its delegation to remain unbound heading to the national convention in Cleveland next July as has been the custom in Minnesota throughout the post-reform era. The party even considered skipping its own straw poll (with the March 1 caucuses) as a means of circumventing the new binding rules. Minnesota Republicans technically could not have gotten away with the maneuver since the state law requires a straw poll vote. Regardless, the RNC denied the request to allow the Minnesota delegation to remain unbound heading into the national convention. According to reports out the state at the time, that ruling did not address the potential for not holding a straw poll vote.

This is what Colorado Republicans are also considering now. And it is likely something that the RNC will have to address if the state party votes to go forward with a plan to forgo the straw poll. As the caucuses are likely to indirectly affect the delegate selection process (who the delegates are and are aligned with), the likelihood of it ending up like Minnesota -- request denied -- is high.

But the Colorado Republican Party could avoid all of that by choosing the March option for its 2016 caucuses. That decision will not (officially) come until September though.

1 Instead caucusgoers would be voting on delegate candidates (likely) aligned with particular candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Delegates would be selected/elected from that pool of (aligned) delegate candidates to move on to the next step of the caucus/convention process.

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