Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Wisconsin Republicans Consider Lame Duck Push to Create a Separate March Presidential Primary for 2020

In the wake of the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans in Wisconsin are looking at a change to the scheduling of the 2020 presidential primary in the Badger state.

And in the scope of all post-reform shifts in the dates of presidential primary elections across the country, it is not a typical proposed move. To be more precise, the proposed move forward -- from an April position on the calendar to March -- is entirely within the norm. State actors began to consider pushing up primary dates for 1972 almost before the ink was dry on the McGovern-Fraser reforms and they were adopted. That is not what is atypical about the potential move in Wisconsin. 

Instead, it is the how, the why, and the when of the proposed shift in Wisconsin that deviates from how most states have gone about these changes in the past. 

First, the timing of this is unusual. Although it is not unheard of, it has historically been the case that most of the movement on the presidential primary calendar has taken place in the year before the presidential election. There are exceptions of course. Missouri legislators pushing the 2004 presidential primary in the Show-Me state up from March to February in 2002 comes to mind. But while there are exceptions, the year prior to a presidential has been the window in which states have tended to make these scheduling decisions. 

The reasoning is sound enough: That is when state actors the most up-to-date information (who is running, which parties have contested races, what other states are doing, etc.). It is also a time that occurs at the confluence of new legislatures being sworn in following midterms and when the urgency for a change of primary dates is at its highest (or at least when the timing is most on the radars of state legislators).

But by that mark, Wisconsin legislators are only slightly jumping the gun, right? After all, Texas legislators in 2010 prefiled legislation to move the primary in Lone Star state up for the 2012 cycle. However, Texas legislators introduced that legislation in anticipation of the start to the 2011-12 session. That is not what is happening in Wisconsin. Rather, legislators in the Badger state are considering these changes as part of a lame duck session as the bookend to unified Republican control of state government. 

That draws this back to the how and why of the proposal. 

Again, it is not atypical for states to move up the dates of their presidential primaries in post-reform era. In fact, Wisconsin has done this in the past: moving the spring election, including the presidential primary and the general election for judicial and other offices, from April to March for the 1996 cycle.1 And then for the 2004 cycle, legislators there bumped the presidential primary from the spring election in April to the spring primary in February. 

But in both of those cases the Wisconsin presidential primary move was either tethered to the move of a set of elections -- the whole spring election was moved -- or toggled from one pre-existing election (the April spring election) to another (the February spring primary). The distinction is subtle, perhaps, but meaningful. Those moves meant the budgetary requirements were close to neutral. 

Neither added to the budgetary bottom line in Wisconsin. 

Contrast that with the proposed shift for the 2020 cycle. The idea of the hypothetical bill -- and none has been introduced to this point -- would be to create an all-new and separate presidential primary to be scheduled in March 2020, between the February spring primary and the April spring election. That new election would cost the state at least $7 million (and mean a third election in consecutive months for election administrators).

But why not shift into that February position as legislators in Wisconsin did during the 2004 cycle? That is not a viable option to legislators in 2020. Whereas February contests (outside of Iowa and New Hampshire) were allowed by national party rules during 2004, they are not in 2020. Nor were they in either 2012 or 2016 when states faced penalties to their national convention delegations for timing violations. This is why the 2015 bill to once again move the Wisconsin primary from April to February went nowhere. It would have put the Wisconsin delegations to both parties' national conventions at risk of penalty.

Left with no realistic alternative among the elections already on the calendar (the costs of which are already accounted for), Wisconsin Republicans are focusing on separate March option. That option, if not the price tag, are additionally enticing to a party set to lose unified control of state government when Democrat Tony Evers is sworn in as governor because it would hypothetically separate a high-profile, high turnout presidential primary from the spring election for judicial offices. 

That would put the spring election at the close of a February-March-April election-a-thon (elect-a-thon?) in Wisconsin. That is not only difficult for election administrators and places a significant burden on voters as well. Turning out for three elections in three months runs the risk of driving up voter fatigue and driving down turnout. The latter is seen as potentially advantageous to Republicans in the state and those behind this proposed primary move being floated. 

And that makes the why of this unusual too. It counters the exact kind of maneuvering that FHQ mentioned just recently: that idle Republican legislators facing an at-this-point noncompetitive presidential renomination race would consider moving primaries back rather than forward. That, however, is more nationally-focused maneuvering. The proposed Wisconsin move is more locall-minded. Procedurally, it is aimed not at the national implications in either the Democratic or Republican presidential nomination races, but at a methodical severing of one high-profile election (presidential primary) from another election (the judicial election set to occur during the April spring election).

To the extent the scheduling of presidential primaries is localized like that, it almost always focuses on the costs (see the 2012 cycle in particular). It is rarer to see something as politically raw in its calculations as the proposal in Wisconsin. Although one could look on it as a logical, albeit localized, extension of a slippery slope one could trace to national Democratic maneuvering in the lead up to 2012.

Look, this is not one of those "on both sides" sorts of things, but as the 2020 cycle heads into 2019, these are the sorts of process tales that need to be told beyond the regular rhythms of primary movement in the post-reform era. 

1 That move for 1996 was part of an effort to create a Great Lakes regional primary that included Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Cross-Party Involvement in Presidential Nominations: 2020 Primary Calendar Scheduling

In the time since the midterms nearly two weeks ago, FHQ has been mulling over a morning after tweet from The National Journal's Hanna Trudo:
Yes, this is evidence of the Republican National Committee chipping away at a potential high-profile 2020 challenger to the sitting Republican president in a press release. That is not exactly uncommon. However, that email left me wondering about the extent to which either the RNC and/or the broader Republican Party would/will attempt to intervene in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and how overt those efforts might be.

After all, we seemingly are a long way from back channel comments attributed former President Bush about some of the candidates involved in the 2008 cycle. But that was more commentary than outright attempt to intervene. And Republicans had their own active nomination race that cycle anyway.

Yet, typically, parties will keep the other party's process at arms length. Sure, press releases and mass emails are always going to be a part of this exchange in the open market of the battle between parties. But as is our wont here at FHQ, we tend to put these things in the context of the mechanics of presidential nominations. And that is what I turned to upon reading Trudo's tweet.

Often we think of partisan actors in elective office behaving in a manner to best advantage their party's interests (if not the party). Think in particular about the lengths to which actors on the state legislative level have sought to position their presidential primaries in calendar positions over the years to have some impact on the presidential nomination process in their own party.

Southern Democratic leaders, for example, famously pined for a process that would yield a southern moderate-to-conservative nominee throughout the two cycles in the 1970s and into the 1980s. The idea was that that type of nominee would stand a better chance at winning a general election. And the stars aligned in 1988, at least procedurally. Fourteen southern states -- headed by Democratic-controlled state governments -- shifted to and coalesced on the second Tuesday in March; just on the heels of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Sometimes, however, the best laid plans go awry. And that was the case for southern Democrats in the 1988 cycle. Try as they might, the plan did not work. Rather than speaking with one regional voice, the results across the South were split on the Democratic side. Dukakis won the big states (Florida and Texas), Jackson the Deep South, and Gore the peripheral South. The plan backfired.

But what can be gleaned from that is how state actors have typically approached the calendar scheduling part of this process: To the extent they sough to have influence, it was either to give voters a larger voice in the process (by moving earlier) or to influence who the nominee was in the party of legislators making the decisions.

In other words, the impact was to be an intra-party positive for some candidate (favorite son) or some faction within the broader party coalition.

Yet, this logic was turned on its head in the 2012 cycle. No longer was the motivation for states to move forward on the calendar to have some positive impact. Instead, the negative incentive in the form of (flawed) national party penalties was to push states back in the process in an effort to create a later start to primary season, one not bumping up against the New Year's festivities.

States retained the ability to cluster on the earliest -- although theoretically later compared to 2008 -- date, but all of those February 2008 states shifted in a seemingly partisan manner. Those with Republican-controlled state governments tended to move their presidential primaries back less than those in Democratic-controlled states. And there was at least some (anecdotal) evidence that the Democratic side of the equation was a concerted effort; to shift more liberal states later in the process to draw out and stir up a hypothetical race that foresaw a Mitt Romney nomination. Now, the logic underlying that effort can certainly be questioned -- liberal states in the aggregate do not necessarily have moderate-to-liberal Republican primary electorates -- but the intervention is there.

And that is where at least some of the focus should be heading into 2019: how will states shift around on the 2020 calendar? Much of the spotlight has been on the impact the re-positioning of the California presidential primary will have on the Democratic nomination process. That is not wrong. It is a noteworthy shift. But it leans on a logic rooted in the past: partisan actors (Democrats in California) making positive, partisan decisions (to move the primary in the Golden state up).

How much can we expect Republican actors to act? Will Republican-controlled states sit idly by and maintain early calendar positions? Or will Republican states, say those involved in the SEC primary from 2016, proactively move to another position so as to have some impact on the Democratic nomination process? Those southern states moving back would mean the shift of an important bloc in the Democratic primary electorate: African Americans.

There are no clear answers to these questions at this point, but 2019 will begin to offer them as state legislatures begin to convene for their 2019 sessions and begin to weigh primary calendar moves.