Monday, March 22, 2021

FHQ Turns 14

Today marks the beginning of FHQ's 15th year. Like any other period of time, it has been a span that has seen both ups and downs, none more challenging than this last year. But that is nothing unique to FHQ. We have all in various ways been pushed since the start of this pandemic.

They were humble beginnings. For a site that started out as nothing more than an attempt to gather information about how the 2008 presidential primary calendar was forming and share it as part of the (anecdotal) data gathering process for a doctoral dissertation, FHQ blossomed into something else. Over the years we have brought in many advocates and allies (and detractors too, I am sure), Democrats and Republicans, academics, practitioners and lay person alike with a simple goal: to inform the public about the complex process that both parties use to nominate presidential candidates and how that process has changed. 

Each hour, day, week, month spent during these last 14 years aiming for that goal have been extremely rewarding, but I want to close with a simple thank you to those of you new and old who have taken the time to read and take part in the conversations begun and continued here and on social media. So thank you. Thank you for being a part of this endeavor. I look forward to what the next year of FHQ brings.


Friday, March 19, 2021

Oregon Bill Would Shift Presidential Primary to Super Tuesday

Legislation introduced earlier this month in Oregon would push the Beaver state's typical mid-May primary up to the first Tuesday in March.

SB 785, authored by Sen. Lee Beyer (D-6th, Springfield) resembles in part a bill from the last legislative session in 2019 which would have similarly moved the presidential primary up to Super Tuesday. However, the 2021 bill would move the entire consolidated primary -- including those for other offices -- into March in presidential election years only. The measure would additionally shift back the date on which the legislative session would commence in those years from February to May. The latter change also differs from the 2019 bill and saves state legislators from campaigning or raising money during the legislative session.

While that issue was not raised in the public hearing for the failed 2019 Super Tuesday bill, it was among the shortcomings of the legislation. The committee that heard the testimony on that bill also balked at the costs of a separate presidential primary and the impact it would have on election administrators. 

SB 785 addresses those issues, but it remains to be seen whether it will be any more successful than its predecessor was. Neighboring states all hold March or earlier contests, but the year after a presidential election is not a time when this type of legislation tends to move. But it would align Oregon with its neighbors if signed into law.

A link to this legislation will be added to the 2024 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Circling of the Wagons for First-in-the-Nation in New Hampshire

One hesitates to suggest that the process is beginning, but political actors in New Hampshire are continuing the process of defending the Granite state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary for the 2024 cycle. Typically one of the few bipartisan items in some of the early calendar states is that the state parties are on the same page when it comes to preserving their early and privileged positions on the presidential primary calendar. 

That is why it has been so notable that there has not been unity on the topic in Iowa across parties much less within the Democratic Party of Iowa in particular. But in New Hampshire, how the state plays the game of primary defense is a bit different. For all of the talk of the state parties and what they may do in maintaining the status quo, the decision on the presidential primary date ultimately lies with Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D). State law places the presidential primary date-setting power squarely in Gardner's domain and he has been adept over the last nearly half century in waiting out all challengers and scheduling the Granite state primary at the front of the queue. 

But that does not mean that the state parties in New Hampshire have no recourse, no role to play. While Gardner has probably the most effective tool at his disposal, it is one that is typically wielded late in the invisible primary process. The state parties, on the other hand, fill a void earlier in the that sequence, serving as liaisons to the national parties. That process is happening anew for 2024 now. And to the extent the two state parties can act in concert (with respect to presidential primary positioning), the better the united front message will potentially play with the national parties, the player in all of this that crafts and sets the rules that guide the nomination process and how the states and state parties act within it. 

So, whereas Iowa may not be presenting the usual united front, it looks as if feelers are being sent out between the parties in New Hampshire in order to save first-in-the-nation status there for another cycle. At-large DNC member, Joanne Dowdell (NH) recently pledged to work with and within the DNC and with Granite state Republicans to keep the status quo as it has been for more than a century in New Hampshire. 

But there is a process to all of that. And although Dowdell in an address to the New Hampshire Democratic Party state committee recently noted that new DNC chair, Jaime Harrison, will choose members for the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee who will be ratified in a September national party meeting, that is not where the calendar machination begin for 2024. In fact, they began remotely coming out of the 2020 Democratic National Convention last August. It was there that a report on the 2020 nomination process was commissioned. And that report is due at the end of March. 

That report is likely key for how New Hampshire (and Iowa for that matter) will approach any attempted defense of their status for 2024. If the report calls for change at the beginning of the calendar in an effort to diversify the early calendar electorate to bring it more in line with the Democratic primary electorate, then the approach will be different than if the report is silent on the matter. New Hampshire (and Iowa) would react differently based on that. Representatives on the DNC from those states would interact differently with their fellow DNC members on the DNCRBC. Now yes, Chair Harrison does have some latitude with respect to who gets named to the RBC, but that is a second order concern at this point behind that 2020 autopsy. Membership on the RBC matters -- and Iowa and New Hampshire will have representation there -- but it will be colored by the forthcoming report.

For now, however, that New Hampshirites of both parties are continuing to band together in defense of first-in-the-nation status is not as surprising as it is typical. But it contrasts with what is happening in Iowa for now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

From Where Will the 2024 Delegate Rules Changes Come?

A few weeks back FHQ pulled back the curtain on the baseline set of rules the Republican National Committee has to work from as the 2024 presidential nomination cycle continues to evolve. But with that hanging out there and a report on the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination process due by the end of the month, it is fair to ask from where future rules changes will emanate. 

Among the most basic layers here is to consider the parties that typically tinker with their rules as a new nomination process approaches. Despite all the rumblings about Democratic rules changes that may stem from the national party's upcoming autopsy, it tends to be parties out of the White House that maneuver within their rules as a means of attempting to recapture the presidency. Now, it is debatable just how effective that is, but out-parties routinely make rules changes that it hopes will streamline the process and/or produce a nominee well-positioned to take on an incumbent in the opposition party. Although they were not rules changes, per se, the 2013 Growth and Opportunity Project report the Republican Party produced made broad recommendations about the direction of the party but also included a section on rules changes aimed at shrinking the window in which primaries and caucuses could occur on the calendar among other things. Many of those rules recommendations were instituted by the Republican National Committee while the party went the other way in the lead up to and after the 2016 election on a number of the other recommendations. 

By that measure, then, 2024 starts somewhat off-kilter. Again, it is early, but the rumblings about delegate selection rules changes are on the in-party side of the equation. Discussions about replacing Iowa and/or New Hampshire at the front fo the 2024 presidential primary calendar or completely replacing caucuses with primaries abound among the broader Democratic Party coalition and within the commentariat. 

But much of that difference -- the in-party versus out-party dynamic -- early in the 2024 may largely be a function of the priorities of both parties. The wishlist for changes to the Democratic presidential nomination system is mostly a continuation -- an extension -- of the work completed ahead of the 2020 process. Through that lens, adding diversity to the beginning of the calendar or expanding participation by valuing primaries over caucuses is just finishing the work started in 2017-2018. 

Yet, that begs the question: what are the (out-party) Republicans up to? 

Thus far, it has been all quiet on the western front from the Grand Old Party. However, it should be repeated that the priorities there are different than for Democrats. Replacing Iowa and New Hampshire does not appear to be as important nor does the caucus to primary shift (despite some chatter in 2018 about an incentive structure to facilitate such a change). But what are the 2024 priorities for Republicans? If consensus can be built among decision makers in the national party about what type of nominee the party wants, then there may be some more extensive tinkering than there was during Trump's 2020 nomination defense. That consensus may not come or may not be easy to come by as candidates and their proxies in power within the Republican National Committee jockey for position during the 2024 invisible primary. 

And like the 2020 platform, the national rules on the Republican side may very well carry over as is (or with minor corrections to reflect the change in cycle) to the 2024 cycle. Of course, that does not mean that there will not be rules changes for 2024 for the Republican process. It just means that it may not be coming from the national party. Instead, it may be the states and state parties where those changes take shape under the guidance of the national party rules. Although it has waned during recent cycles, Republican state parties still have more latitude to craft their own delegate selection and allocation processes under national party rules than do their Democratic state party counterparts. There very simply are fewer mandates from the national level on Republican state parties. 

Even in that scenario, however, state parties are still limited in what they can do. State governments in primary states are responsible for altering the date of the contest, but state parties do have some discretion on how to allocate delegates to candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses. And that could be where there is some movement on the Republican rules in 2023. Yet, if there is enough of a groundswell from the state parties up to the Republican National Committee to expand or revert those allocation rules to pre-2012 levels, then there could be some push to end the use of the proportionality window at the beginning of the calendar, requiring states to allocate delegates in a proportional manner during the first half of March. 

For now, however, all of this is speculative. The relative silence on the Republican side has made this all a mystery to this point in the cycle. The obvious "problem" areas once common across parties are not exactly problematic for Republicans. It could also be said that the perception of delegate selection rules problems is asymmetric across national parties. That may yet change as the cycle develops, but at this point bet on state-level changes over national-level rules changes until anything new bubbles up, something that also differs from how Democrats have handled things in their own rules change track up to now.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Nevada State Democratic Party Shake Up and 2024

The political landscape in Nevada shifted over the weekend. 

Judith Whitmer was elected state party chair of the Nevada Democratic Party which was quickly followed by a mass resignation of most of the state party apparatus. The particulars of the intra-party squabble are less important, however, than the impact the moves may have with respect to electoral politics in upcoming cycles. The elevation of a Bernie Sanders-aligned chair and subsequent loss of party infrastructure is only going to place more strain on the relationship between the state/state party and the Democratic National Committee. Sure, that will affect fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts in the near term, but Nevada Democrats -- in the state legislature and in the now-departing state party -- have come out of the 2024 gates with a brazen yet flawed vehicle to challenge Iowa and New Hampshire for first-in-the-nation status on the presidential primary calendar moving forward. 

The developments of this past weekend in the Silver state will only serve to further hamper that effort. 

Last month, FHQ asked whether the stars would align for Nevada to take over the spot at the front of the queue on the 2024 presidential primary calendar. A state and its decision makers can be willing to do something -- in this case establish a presidential primary to replace a caucus and schedule the contest early on the calendar -- but are those actors actually able to pull that maneuver off? I cannot speak to the current willingness within what will be a new state party structure, but each move thus far in Nevada in 2021 has made it less likely that the state will be able to successfully move up the calendar and displace Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Take a look at Iowa for a moment. It is a BIG deal that there are dissenting voices in the Hawkeye state these days, dissenting voices suggesting it is time for Iowa (Democrats) to give up their coveted early calendar position and shift away from a caucus/convention system to select and allocate national convention delegates. Part of what has made Iowa successful in keeping its slot at the front is that everyone there -- within the two major state parties, across the two parties and among elected officials -- was on the same page: do whatever it takes to stay first. Again, that there is some break in this is BIG deal. That does not mean that Iowa will lose its position at the top, but it will not help. 

And that is an effort to preserve something that Iowa has held for nearly half a century. Already on the defensive after 2020, Iowans may have some difficulty in continuing to make that case.

Now, go back to Nevada. Democrats in the legislature (and formerly of the state party) are not trying to preserve something, but to gain something. A bill to set a January date for a newly established presidential primary may only agitate the DNC and will certainly give New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner ample time to once again move ahead of any would-be interlopers on their first-in-the-nation status. Layer on top of that potential agitation a state party apparatus that does not as clearly see eye to eye with the national party and one has a recipe for disaster. Or if not disaster, then a (very) problematic path to first-in-the-nation status. 

Certainly, under these circumstances, the DNC would be inclined to continue pushing for a state government-run presidential primary rather than let a state party it is at odds with conduct caucuses early on the 2024 calendar. But even if that new party structure supports the presidential primary, it will not be in a good position to make the pitch that it should be first if is remains at loggerheads with the national party and backs an ineffective primary bill that really only stirs the pot. Other states will likely make these pitches too if the DNC entertains replacing Iowa and/or New Hampshire at the front of the line. And what once looked like a reasonable cross-section of the Democratic Party primary electorate in Nevada may look worse off -- like less of a safe bet -- for having provoked the national party. Other states may begin to look attractive as alternatives. 

And it could also be that the road of least resistance is just maintaining the status quo on the presidential primary calendar. Those first two states may not come off looking too good -- representative -- until one begins to consider what the alternatives are. 

...and more importantly what getting one of those alternatives there would entail. Talk of replacing Iowa and New Hampshire is easy. Replacing them is not. So far in 2021, Nevada has done itself no favors in its attempt to be that alternative.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

2020 Presidential Primary and Caucus Movement (Pre-pandemic)

[Scroll down for analysis below graphic]

For a site named for the phenomenon of states shifting their presidential primary and caucus dates to earlier periods on the calendar often clustered with a number of other states, there was not a significant change between 2016 and 2020. States moved, but it was much more muted in the lead up to 2020 than in other previous cycles like 2008

There were five fewer contests in 2020 than in 2016. That was a function of a number of states trading in caucuses for consolidated state government-run primaries. Part of that trade-in was about state parties abandoning caucuses on separate dates -- one for Democrats and one for Republicans -- for, in some cases, newly established primaries (see for example Utah and Washington).

Additionally, whereas 36 states (or state parties) moved contests in 2016, there were only 30 state moves out of 71 contests. [If both Democrats and Republicans used a primary or conducted caucuses on the same date, then those were counted as one contest (unless the moves from one party differed from the other within a state).]

States have largely learned their lesson about frontloading. That era seems to have come to a close after the 2008 cycle. Either they have shifted back to previously held later dates or they have ignored the potential for getting lost in the shuffle among a group of larger states. While there was movement forward on the 2020 presidential primary calendar -- see Arkansas and California -- the average shift among states that moved as the 2020 primaries approached was just -1.47 days, a backward move.

Most of what explains that is not the pandemic. The graphic above accounts for the movement on the calendar before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the calendar starting in mid-March 2020. Instead, what is driving the average negative movement is a group of Republican state parties either canceling primaries or opting out of them in favor of later caucuses and/or state conventions as the means of selecting and allocating national convention delegates. 

Finally, there were a handful of double moves. Both Arkansas and New York had 2016 primary laws expire at the end of 2016 which reverted each to their previous dates, Arkansas in May and New York in February. The DC Council also moved the primary in the district twice. The first change was to a date one week later on the calendar which the second reversed when the council shifted the contest up two weeks to the first Tuesday in June. On the graphic, the first move is always "underneath" the second and final move. 

NOTE: A separate post on post-pandemic movement is forthcoming.

Friday, February 26, 2021

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- CPAC 2021

Typically, FHQ does not put much stock in Conservative Political Action Conference, as it is one of the more visible mile markers during any invisible primary period on the Republican side. But it is one of those events that has a straw poll of the next presidential nomination race in the GOP for those who are interested in such things. Polls, straw or otherwise, have no real meaning this far out from the 2024 Republican nomination and a certain former president may have an inside track on winning this one of the straw variety in any event. 

However, that does not mean that the confab of conservatives in Orlando is without significance. It just means that there is probably none to be derived from that straw poll. But if one is trying to assess the invisible primary as it is developing, who is there at CPAC and who is not is noteworthy and at least something of an earlier indicator of who is running for and who might be running in 2024.

former President Donald Trump
Governor Ron DeSantis (FL)
Senator Ted Cruz (TX)
Senator Tom Cotton (AR)
Senator Rick Scott (FL)
Senator Josh Hawley (MO)
former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Governor Kristi Noem (SD)

Again, Trump is likely to dominate the event or at least much of the news coming out of it and overshadow all of the others. And that includes those who are not in attendance and/or speaking. Notable among that group are:
former Vice President Mike Pence
Senator Marco Rubio (FL)
former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Governor Larry Hogan (MD)
Surely there are others to list here, but that brief list of no-shows and the uninvited will suffice. They are the ones often discussed in the context of possible 2024 bids. 

Is CPAC the end all be all on the path to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination? Not in 2021 it isn't. But what it does represent is an opportunity to appeal to a particularly active constituency in the Republican primary electorate. And that is an opportunity that some candidates will have and others do not. And that is meaningful even with nearly three years until voters begin to cast votes for their presidential preferences. Will those voters remember CPAC 2021 then? Most likely not. But it may be a part of an aggregation of events and activities that candidates take part in to help form the candidates that they may become by 2023-2024.

The invisible primary marches on.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Nevada Senate Bill Would Establish Consolidated Presidential Primary in June

In one corner, there is the recent proposal from majority Democrats in the Nevada Assembly to not only establish a presidential primary in the Silver state, but to schedule it in late January in an effort to challenge for first-in-the-nation status on the presidential primary calendar.

But in the other now is a counterproposal of sorts from nearly the full Republican caucus (including all of the leadership) in the Nevada state Senate. However, instead of being early calendar provocative, the Republican bill introduced last week -- SB 130 -- would similarly establish a presidential primary, but tether it to the primary for state and local offices. That primary currently falls on the second Tuesday in June

On timing, then, these two measures could not place the presidential primary further away from one another. Democrats, who are not assured of having an active nomination race in 2024 with an incumbent in the White House, are pushing the envelope in Nevada on the front end of the calendar. But the Republican bill would schedule the new presidential primary -- consolidated with the other primaries -- near the back end of the primary calendar when the GOP may have an active nomination race. [No Democratic contest can be later than the second Tuesday in June, and no Republican primary or caucus can fall on a date after the second Saturday in June.]  

It is a stark contrast, one that breaks with how in-parties and out-parties behave between cycles with respect to their delegate selection rules (on both the national and state levels). The motivation for Republicans is clear. The countermeasure would create a presidential primary, but avoid the costs of funding an all new separate presidential primary election as the Democrats' proposal does. Yet, as with the Democratic bill in the Assembly, this latest bill can also be amended. But would Silver state legislators want to contend with anything other than a June primary for their own renomination contests (if the full consolidated primary was moved to any earlier date upon amendment)? Alternatively, would such a proposal meet the Democrats' wishes of a presidential primary but allow Silver state Republicans to stick with their caucuses for allocating national convention delegates? 

Regardless, Nevada Republicans are in the minority in both chambers of the state legislature, so it is not exactly clear how much leverage they bring to the discussion of the establishment and scheduling of a presidential primary. 

A link to this legislation has been added to the 2024 FHQ presidential primary calendar.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Running for 2024, but Running in 2024?

For years now, FHQ has trotted out a fairly simple question during the candidate emergence phase of the invisible primary. Increasingly that emergence occurs -- or more accurately can be seen occurring -- earlier and earlier. But then as now the parsimony of the question creates a powerful lens through which to view (prospective) presidential candidate activity long before primary voters begin to weigh in on just who each party's nominee will be.

Back in 2009, FHQ asked if anyone thought that Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) was not running for the 2012 Republican nomination and followed that up with another distinction. The former Minnesota governor could run for the 2012 nomination in 2009 but the question at that point was whether Pawlenty would actually be running in 2012.

As it turned out Pawlenty did formally announce a bid. But there was more: trips to Iowa, the formation of an exploratory committee, early biographical ads from aligned political action committees. And outside of the candidate's and his campaign's (direct) control there was early polling and general chatter in Republican circles about a Pawlenty bid.

But for all of that activity, Tim Pawlenty never made it to any of the primaries and caucuses in 2012. Instead, his run was derailed by a third place showing in the August 2011 Ames Straw Poll, an event made all the more important because the Pawlenty team had made the Hawkeye state make or break for the former governor. 

Now, why the reminiscence about Tim Pawlenty?

Well, aside from the origin story for the running for but not necessarily in maxim, it speaks to how one should observe the action of (prospective) candidates in the increasing visible but still invisible primary. Candidates run all of the time and many do not get as far or do as much as Tim Pawlenty once did from 2009-2011. Furthermore, candidates need not formally announce as Pawlenty did to have been considered a candidate running for a party's nomination. Take the journey of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2018-2019. There was never any announcement that he was going to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. But there was PAC activity, hiring and trips to the usual nomination haunts. There no doubt was other activity that happened more quietly, signals that Brown got from other elites (donors, DNC members, etc.) that did not see the light of day in any reporting. But Brown ran for the 2020 Democratic nomination before ultimately passing.

And there are already signs that this is happening already in the 2024 presidential nomination cycle. There has been no lack of questions about whether both President Biden and former President Trump will run in 2024. In fact, Dave Hopkins had a wonderful piece up just yesterday in response to a Washington Post article about Biden advisors "working under the assumption that he [Biden] will once again top the Democratic ticket in 2024."

As Hopkins said, of course he is. 

And that decision, formal or not, has implications for how other prospective candidates will behave. That is true on the Republican side with respect to what Trump might do. It is not, for example, a secret that former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, is running for the 2024 Republican nomination. It just is not. And while Haley may give speeches this and next year and work through her PAC toward electing Republicans across the country in the midterm elections in 2022, none of that guarantees that she will be running in 2024. And that may or may not be because Trump throws his hat back in the ring. 

Yet just because a candidate does not run in any contests does not mean that they did not run for the nomination in that cycle. It just means that roadblocks appeared in any number of forms during the invisible primary instead of voters directly rejecting that candidate in Iowa or New Hampshire or in some other state on down the line on the primary calendar

But yes, there are candidates who are running for 2024 even now, three years out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

If It Was So Easy to Change Then It Would Have Changed By Now

FHQ read with some interest the latest editorial from Michelle Cottle at The New York Times before the weekend hit. It was one of a genre the vintage of which one sees in the seemingly lazy days between presidential nomination cycles. One can call those of that ilk the "it's time for a change (to the presidential nomination process)." Sure, they are around every cycle, but they tend to most often arise in the midst of (or perhaps just before) a new round of presidential primaries and caucuses. 

In other words, they often come too late. So in Cottle's defense, at least her call for reform is coming at a time in which it may actually matter: before the national parties set their rules for the upcoming cycle. Granted, FHQ's defense of the piece only goes about that far. Much of it leans on a sort of Green Lantern theory of presidential nomination reform. If only the interested players tried a bit harder, then all the ills of the process would be gone. But that theory and this piece ignore the realities of reform. 

If it was as easy to change the process as it is made out there, then certainly things would have changed by now, nearly half a century into the post-reform era. But those rules do not change with ease. They are and the presidential nomination process is a tremendous collective action problem for the parties. And while consensus may (or may not) exist to make changes, agreeing to what those tweaks will be is a much more difficult enterprise when considering the mix of interests involved: the national parties, the state parties, the state governments, the candidates and their proxies on rules-making bodies. Getting enough of those groups on the same page is tough enough in the abstract, but the climb is steeper still when the politics of any given moment intersect with the process. 

Now may be one of those times when the moment is right for change. Iowa Democrats bungled their caucuses in 2020. Neither primary or caucus electorate in Iowa nor New Hampshire matches well with the current constituency of the broader Democratic Party coalition of the moment. And there seems to be a willing candidate to fill their void on the primary calendar. Maybe the stars will align. However, missteps may scuttle any potential for change. Nevada Democrats may be at some risk of overplaying their hand. The conditions are right, but the provocative nature of their January primary bill may complicate its efforts, riling up not only New Hampshire as Cottle points out, but also the national party.

And that is what often gets lost in these primary reform prescriptions that pop up every four years. They can raise the ills of any given process, but often fail in considering the process for bringing about such a change. 

Take Cottle's consideration of caucuses in 2020. Caucuses are not new, nor are the problems associated with them. She notes that "caucuses are a convoluted, vaguely anti-democratic way to pick a nominee," and that "the Democratic National Committee urged the state parties to shift to primaries." The DNC did and as Cottle mentioned, most states responded. This was quietly a big deal for the DNC. It was a rules change that worked and worked really well. It was not a new directive from the national party to hold primaries because some states -- Kansas, for example -- are controlled by the Republican Party on the state level and were not open to establishing a primary. In fact, after years of caucusing in the face of unfunded (and ultimately cancelled) primaries, Republicans in the Sunflower states eliminated the primary option once and for all in 2015.

But even most states in that bind adapted. Most adopted party-run primary systems that had early and mail-in options for those seeking to participate in the process. Sure, the national party would prefer state government-run primaries, but lacking that alternative in some states produced something of a laboratory for innovative party-run primary plans. Best practices derived from those states may serve as a call to action in states like Iowa where there, for now, continue to be caucuses. But Iowa is also a state where the Republican Party is calling the shots in state government. There is the delicate balance to tread with New Hampshire, but there are some success stories from the 2020 cycle that should be celebrated rather than barely mentioned. Often it is those incremental changes that prove the most consequential. 
In the end, however, other changes -- like those to the beginning of calendar -- are tougher. Not impossible, but difficult. And it will take more than "the national party seiz[ing] the opportunity to shake even harder, reforming a system that’s increasingly out of touch with voters." It will take the national party working with interests on the ground in the states to make it happen. And as the last fifty years have shown, that is easier said than done. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Week the Calendar Wars Heated Up

The week began with Nevada making the opening move in the 2024 presidential primary calendar wars, a move made on the foundation set by the Iowa caucuses debacle in 2020. David Siders and Elena Schneider at Politico had a well-reported piece that covered voices from all over the early calendar state terrain. 

Let's read a bit between the lines with an annotated look at some of the more interesting points in the article.

On Iowa:
As has been pointed out in other reporting, there seems to be dissension in the ranks among Iowa Democrats about the future of the caucuses. That comes out again in this Politico piece. Newly elected Iowa Democratic Party chair, Ross Wilburn toed the party line:
"In Iowa, the state’s Democratic Party chair, state Rep. Ross Wilburn, said he is 'prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Iowa first in the nation.'"
But there are some doubts:
"Nevada’s move this week intensified conversations among top Iowa and New Hampshire operatives and activists eager to prepare their defense, and privately, several Iowa Democrats acknowledged that their status was in serious jeopardy."
This will continue to be something worth tracking in Iowa. There is outright dissension on keeping the caucuses intact within the state party, but how widespread it is remains to be seen. In any event, signs of resignation or that 2024 might be different for Iowa Democrats are present in a form that really has not shown itself publicly in the post-reform era. This is probably the story with Iowa moving forward because the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee will not be blind to any other chinks in the armor in the Hawkeye state.

On Nevada's play for first:
"Nevada’s Democratic Assembly Speaker, Jason Frierson, suggested the bill was a starting point for a 'national conversation about what makes sense.'

"'It would not be ideal to just have a back-and-forth and just have a leapfrog exercise,' he said, 'so the hope is that we can coordinate with the national party as well as our states, and work something out.' Frierson said he 'certainly [is] not trying to start some dispute between states,' adding that 'this is the beginning of the conversation.'"
Frierson's comments here are enlightening. They reveal that Democrats in the Silver state are going to take an early and aggressive approach to the 2024 calendar. Viewed through that lens, this -- the introduction of the January presidential primary bill -- is a provocative action rather than one intended to lay the groundwork for a case to be first pitched to the national party. Instead, the legislation, a bill that is basically a replica of earlier Nevada Republican proposals, is an opening salvo meant to force the issue not only with other carve-out states, but with the national party. Again, as FHQ has pointed out, it is not clear how receptive the national party will be to such a maneuver.

On the DNC taking up the calendar issue:
"'It’s unclear when the Democratic National Committee will formally take up the calendar issue.' David Bergstein, a DNC spokesperson, said in an email that 'the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee will continue to evaluate all areas of our nominating process and make recommendations for any changes.'"
The calendar will come up. It always comes up. Always. And the calendar will definitely be a component of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee report on the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination process due out in March. Yes, this is expectations setting on the part of the DNC spokesperson. Change may or may not come to the beginning of the primary calendar, but the issue will be raised, and this is a fairly clear attempt at tamping down on the expectations of change to a part of the nomination process that is both thorny and difficult to alter. Otherwise, Iowa and New Hampshire would have been uprooted by now.

On Iowa and New Hampshire conducting unsanctioned contests in 2024:
"Iowa and New Hampshire could also choose to buck the party. States have done that before, as Florida and Michigan did with early primaries in 2008 in defiance of party rules. Asked whether Iowa could hold an unsanctioned caucus — daring candidates not to campaign there — Dave Nagle, the former congressmember and Iowa state Democratic Party chair, said, 'Sure.'"
While it is true that Iowa and/or New Hampshire (or any other state for that matter) could hold an unsanctioned primary or caucus, this fails to mention the penalties involved. Yes, Florida and Michigan ignored those penalties in the 2008 cycle and the first two states could do that in 2024 if the DNC does not give its blessing. But this scenario omits the Rule 21.C.1.b penalty levied against candidates who opt to campaign in rogue states. That would strip a violating candidate of any delegates won in a state in violation of the timing rules. We just do not know how candidates and their campaigns would behave in that eventuality. There is every reason to believe that candidates would flaunt the rules and campaign in hypothetically rogue Iowa and New Hampshire. They would be opportunities to gain attention. But there are also reasons to believe that candidates would avoid the states to focus on those that are sanctioned by the national party, are more diverse and have more delegates at stake.

On New Hampshire just doing what New Hampshire always does by leaping every challenger:
"For every state that has tried to move ahead of Iowa or New Hampshire, he [Dave Nagle] said, 'it generally does not have a happy ending. ... The one thing they’re ignoring, and it shows their inexperience out there [in Nevada], the one thing is Bill Gardner in New Hampshire. Bill will go to July of 2021 if he has to to keep the first primary.'"
Nagle is completely right here. There have been few happy endings in challenging the early states over the years. But how do things end if the DNC opts to change its rules at the beginning of the calendar and it is Iowa and New Hampshire that are staring down the prospect of the penalties being turned on them instead of others? That is the thing that is not being discussed enough in the context of New Hampshire in particular

On the DNC banning caucuses altogether:
"'The big question for Iowa Democrats, being talked about in sotto voce, is, does the DNC ban caucuses altogether?' said John Deeth, a Johnson County, Iowa, Democratic activist who supports eliminating the caucuses and replacing them with a primary. 'If they do that, Republicans, however, hold on to a trifecta of the legislature and the governor’s office [in Iowa], and they are not interested in passing a primary bill for Democrats … and that leaves us with only bad options.'"
FHQ does not get the sense that there is much of an appetite to outright ban caucuses, especially after the rules changes for 2020 encouraging primaries was such a success. In 2016, 14 states (not counting territories) conducted caucuses. Four years later after the rules changes that number was down to just three. And the pandemic pushed the Wyoming caucuses to a mail-in party-run primary model. So it was really just Iowa and Nevada that conducted caucuses in 2020. That is a successful rules change. Iowa may not have Democratic caucuses in 2024 and may get no help from state Republicans in pulling off a primary, but there are other options as demonstrated by a number of party-run primaries in 2020. 

All of this remains in flux, of course, but even in mid-February of 2021 the rules for 2024 are beginning to take shape and states are already attempting to position themselves on the calendar. 

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Early Signs: Nebraska Electoral Vote Allocation Likely to Stay the Same

Last week FHQ detailed new legislation in Nebraska that would shift the allocation of electoral college votes from a congressional district method back to the standard winner-take-all method used in 48 other states and Washington, DC.

And this latest effort to switch back to a winner-take-all format for the first time since 1988 looks to go down the same road the previous 16 over the years: nowhere. Martha Stoddard at the Omaha World-Herald reported that LB 76's hearing before the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee found more opposition than support in the comments brought before the panel. 

Only the bill's sponsor, Senator Julie Slama (R-1st, Peru) and Ryan Hamilton, the executive director of the Republican Party in the Cornhusker state, spoke in favor of the move back to a winner-take-all allocation. Slama called the current system "unfair" and that it places undue partisan pressure on lawmakers in the redistricting process. 

Both arguments received pushback from opponents of the bill, including the system's architect, former Senator DiAnna Schimek. Opposition argued that the current system at least potentially makes part of the state -- Omaha -- competitive during a presidential general elections and thus draws some attention to the state.

The bill is not dead, but the signal coming out of the initial hearing was not positive for those seeking a reversion to the winner-take-all system.

Why Can't Nevada Just Replicate New Hampshire's Calendar Strategy?

What's so complicated? 

That was the question that FHQ got in response to our recent rundown of the problems inherent in the Nevada bill introduced this week to challenge New Hampshire's (and Iowa's) entrenched primacy at the front of the queue on the presidential primary calendar.

And it is not an unreasonable proposition: amend the currently flawed bill that schedules the would-be newly established Nevada presidential primary for the next to last Tuesday in January, leaving the state vulnerable to a New Hampshire leapfrog with no recourse for the Silver state. That is indeed a simple addendum. And while it replicates part of the mechanism that New Hampshire has utilized with success over the years to protect its first in the nation status, it leaves in this case some unanswered questions in the Nevada context.

Let's assume for a moment that Nevada lawmakers do, in fact, amend AB 126, adding a provision like New Hampshire's that requires the Silver state presidential primary to be seven days before any other similar contest. Who or what makes that happen? Who implements that provision? In New Hampshire, that decision has been left to the discretion of the secretary of state since 1976. And Bill Gardner, the secretary of state in the Granite state during the whole interim period has proven adept at waiting other states out and then scheduling the state's presidential primary. That one person has that decision-making authority (and has protected New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation status so successfully time after time) is no small thing. As I discussed in my dissertation research, states may have the willingness to move a primary (or in this case challenge for first-in-the-nation status), but do they have the ability. New Hampshire has with its system. Nevada may if the legislature cedes the date-setting authority to its secretary of state. 

The state legislative route has proven a less fruitful path throughout the post-reform era. If the Nevada legislature retained the authority to set the date then it might run the risk in 2023 -- after a 2022 midterm election, for example -- of getting bogged down in a partisan clash over calendar positioning. That could even occur within any Democratic majority that may survive the midterms intact. And furthermore, it could be constrained by the time in which the legislature is in session. This is why states like Georgia and Colorado moved to empower their secretary of state or governor, respectively, to make the decision on where on the calendar the states' presidential primaries will be scheduled. 

So that question presents one complicating factor. 

Note that the above only considers an interstate conflict between Nevada and New Hampshire; one that includes both state governments and state parties as stakeholders. But those are not the exclusive stakeholders in the "who goes first?" conundrum. The national parties also have some say in this. And sure, folks in the Granite state will argue that no matter what the national parties dictate, New Hampshire is going to follow state law and set its primary -- compliant with national party rules or not -- at the beginning of the calendar. That has worked in the past even before the time in which the Iowa and New Hampshire were codified into the national parties' rules. New Hampshire would basically blackmail candidates, daring them to campaign in other rogue states encroaching on New Hampshire's position. Prospectively being dead in New Hampshire at the outset of a long and arduous campaign through a three to five month calendar of contests was enough to keep most candidates in line and protect New Hampshire. 

But times and conditions have changed. The national parties have only gotten more hands-on in their approach to the nominating process as it has increasingly nationalized and pushed more meaningfully into the invisible primary. New Hampshire may also dare the national parties to sanction them, but there really has not been a valid test of the hypothesis that New Hampshire has those national party penalties levied against the state. We do not know how candidates would react to that, especially in the context of a disputed claim to first-in-the-nation status. 

And Nevada may be in the process of laying a claim to that status. However, it is a somewhat ham-handed attempt. And would be even with a provision added to mimic the "seven days before any other similar contest" line in the New Hampshire law. FHQ says this because the bill is clearly intended as a provocation:
“It would not be ideal to just have a back-and-forth and just have a leapfrog exercise,” he [Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D)] said, “so the hope is that we can coordinate with the national party as well as our states, and work something out.” Frierson said he “certainly [is] not trying to start some dispute between states,” adding that “this is the beginning of the conversation.”
It is not clear that this starting point to the conversation is one that the Democratic National Committee endorses. Yes, the national party may want a change at the beginning of the calendar to demographically diversify the kickoff event so that it better aligns with the Democratic primary electorate, but it may want a more deft handling of the approach than the shot across the bow that Nevada has offered to this point. 

As an aside, I can still hear members of the DNC complaining about both Democratic legislators in Florida who voted for the bill to move the Sunshine state presidential primary into January for 2008 and even more about how "whiny" the state party was when the DNC sanctioned them and offered to help organize later caucuses that would be compliant. And those comments were four years later. 

By provoking a clash, Nevada Democrats in the state party and the state legislature may be inviting the ire of the DNC in a way that ultimately gets both Nevada and New Hampshire penalized and another state elevated to the first primary position (whether either state has a "seven days before any other similar contest" provision or not).

And it is not that Nevada has this completely wrong. The impulse to shift from a caucus to a primary is a shrewd one, one that potentially brings the state into the good graces of the national party at a time when the DNC seems more inclined than at almost any other point in the post-reform era make a change to the start of the calendar. But by predetermining the primary date and opening up a conflict with New Hampshire and breaking the unwritten compact between the carve-out states, Nevada may dash its own hopes before it even gives itself a chance to be considered for the top honor. 

The better approach is to switch to a primary and leave the date unsettled for now. [That is not unprecedented. Utah funded its new 2020 presidential primary in 2018 but did not set the date until 2019. But, of course, Utah did not do that as a means of making a claim on the first-in-the-nation primary.] That puts Nevada in a prime position to pitch itself to the DNC as a possible alternative to New Hampshire (and/or Iowa) before the national party finalizes its delegate selection rules next year. "Ready, willing, able and more diverse" is a better pitch than "Here we are. Deal with our provocation."

In the end, adding a replicating passage from New Hampshire law may get the ball rolling for Nevada, but there are other complications to consider. And they are complexities that involve other stakeholders in the process. And it is those stakeholders that make this a more delicate dance for Nevada than is often appreciated.

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