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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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A Glance at Where the 2024 Republican Delegate Selection Rules Stand

Much was made last summer during convention season when the Republican National Convention carried over the party's 2016 platform and adopted it with no changes at the scaled down 2020 convention in Charlotte. It was an atypical move.

And while it left questions about why the party would leave a party document unamended in the face four years of changes, it also raised issues about the process in other areas. Always keen to be on top of any potential delegate selection rules changes for the next cycle, FHQ watched with bated breath but ultimately to no avail. Reporting was light on the subject -- it is never really heavy -- and the convention came and went with no fanfare about 2024 rules. 

So did that mean that the Republican convention did with the party rules what it did with the platform, leaving them largely unchanged? Or were changes quietly pushed through that would shape and reshape how the process would work in this next cycle, forcing (prospective) candidates to adjust their and their campaigns' behavior along the way? 

The answer upon looking at the 2020 Rules of the Republican Party -- those that will govern the 2024 Republican presidential nomination process -- lean heavily, but not completely toward the former. 

Changes to the relevant sections of the rules coming out of the 2020 convention were minimal. 

Now, that does not mean that the process is locked in and codified for the 2024 cycle. For much of the post-reform era the Republican Party set its rules at the convention and that was that. Those were the rules that would provide guidance for the next cycle despite any need for changes that might arise in the intervening period. This differed from a Democratic Party that routinely reexamined and tinkered with its rules between cycles. 

But that protocol changed after 2008. Coming out of the St. Paul convention, Republicans charged a committee -- the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee -- with considering changes to certain aspects of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination process (the then-Rule 15 on the election, selection, allocation and binding of delegates). And from that effort the RNC adopted changes codifying the positions of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina at the beginning of the calendar and required (for the 2012 cycle) that states with contests before April 1 provide for a proportional allocation of their national convention delegates. [Although it did not formally end up in the rules, the RNC in 2011 added definitions for what constituted proportional allocation.]

That same basic operating procedure extended to the 2016 cycle, but it was formalized with the addition of Rule 12 that allowed the party to make changes to the rules governing the Republican National Committee and those that affect the convening of the next convention. Rule 12 gave the RNC Rules Committee the ability to make changes on a majority vote that then had to be approved by a three-quarters supermajority of the full RNC. Under the new rule, the RNC formally inserted the proportional allocation guidance (with some modification) from 2011 into the rules for the 2016 cycle and specified penalties for both allocation violations and timing violations

Rule 12 survived the 2016 convention in Cleveland, but the convention also adopted rules creating a specific Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process. Its only accomplishment ahead of the largely uncontested 2020 Republican presidential nomination process was eliminating a primary debates sanctioning committee.

History lessons aside, what does all of this mean for the rules package that emerged from the 2020 Republican National Convention? Again, the changes were minimal, but the main consideration here is whether Rule 12 survived intact to see another cycle. And the answer there is yes. The amendment rule carried over into the rules that will govern the 2024 process largely unchanged. And that was only a technical change, removing a date in 2018 and replacing with language that will work without amendment moving forward. [Instead of having the rules finalized before September 30, 2018, the party now has to make any changes on or before "September 30 two years prior to the year in which the next national convention is to be held."]

And that is really it. 

...for now.

There were no changes to Rule 16 (on the selection and allocation of delegates) or Rule 17 (on penalties for any Rule 16 violations). And in perhaps a mark of how hastily the 2020 convention rules were assembled, Rule 10(a)(10) remains as well. That is the rule creating the Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process, including how it should be empaneled in 2017 and complete its work by 2018. 

What we are all left with, then, is a baseline set of rules from which the RNC Rules Committee will operate under Rule 12 with 2024 in mind. With that rule still in place, there will very likely be changes made. But the question at this point is the extent to which the rules of the Republican Party will be changed from version 1.0. Will the process from 2020 largely carry over to 2024 with only technical changes to clean up items like the Rule 10(a)(10) issue above? Or will the committee and ultimately the party dig into Rules 16 and 17 and reconfigure the delegate allocation rules and their penalties? 

Again, they are working with a baseline set of rules and a considerable amount of room for some changes. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Nevada Legislation Would Establish January Presidential Primary, but it's Flawed

Often there are few secrets in politics. And at least a couple of things are quite clear in the Democratic maneuvering in the midst of the evolving 2024 invisible primary. 
  1. Within the broader Democratic Party coalition there is some dissatisfaction with Iowa and New Hampshire continuing to lead off the presidential primary calendar. How large that faction is and the level of pressure it can bring on decision makers over the next year and a half remains to be seen. But it is a position that was recently given voice (again) by former DNC Chair Tom Perez.
  2. Nevada -- both Democratic lawmakers and the state Democratic Party -- have made no secret that they will challenge the calendar status quo
Those two realities may or may not ever converge, but the latter took some shape yesterday with the introduction of the legislation in the Nevada Assembly -- the Silver state's lower chamber -- to create a separate presidential primary election and schedule it for the Tuesday before the last Tuesday in January of a presidential election year. [In 2024, that would fall on January 23.]

But here is the thing: AB 126 is a retread for the most part. It resurrects -- at least with respect to the scheduling aspects of the bill -- Republican-sponsored bills from the 2013 and 2015 state legislative sessions that went nowhere. And they went nowhere because both were materially the same and were equally as flawed. 

One could ask, "Flawed how?" But before diving in to that question, it is appropriate to explore what the goals are with each bill. The previous Republican bills that sought to create a January presidential primary for the 2016 cycle did not aim to be first on the calendar per se, but to be first in the West. The aim of the Democratic sponsors -- Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-8th, Clark), Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-27th, Washoe) and Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-5th, Clark) -- in 2021 is different. This latest attempt to jump into January is an attempt at being first, not first-in-the-West but first-in-the-nation.

That goal and this bill are not well aligned. 

As written, this bill certainly protects Nevada as the first state to hold a delegate selection event in the West. It even empowers the secretary of state to reschedule the newly established presidential primary for an even earlier date than the Tuesday preceding the last Tuesday in January if another western state plans to hold an event earlier than that. [The secretary of state in consultation with the Legislative Council could schedule the presidential primary for as early as January 2.] But that list of states does not include New Hampshire (or Iowa for that matter). 

If left unamended, this bill (if it becomes law) would leave the state of Nevada impotent in dealing with New Hampshire, impotent in its challenge to first-in-the-nation status. Yes, folks in the Granite state will raise the state law that requires the New Hampshire primary to be at least seven days before any other similar contest. But that requirement is next to useless without empowering an actor who can pull the trigger on a scheduling decision on a moment's notice. New Hampshire has been adept at staying first because the secretary of state makes the scheduling decision and not a state legislature. Bill Gardner, the New Hampshire secretary of state, can do what he always does with states seeking to threaten New Hampshire's status: Wait them out and schedule the New Hampshire primary at time when state legislatures often are not in session and late enough to make it difficult for said legislature to respond quickly enough and still manage a presidential primary election effectively. 

Gardner would have no problem waiting until mid- to late November 2023 to leapfrog Nevada into mid-January, all the while knowing the Nevada legislature would have no real recourse.

The other problem with this bill is likely its specificity in view of the national parties and their rules on delegate selection. Nevada holds a privileged position on the primary calendar, codified in both national parties' sets of delegate selection rules. This bill as currently written would violate those rules. No, neither party has finalized their rules for the 2024 nomination process, but a January primary set this early on runs the risk of drawing the ire of the national parties as they are in the process of settling on those rules. Setting a date for late January is a provocation. On the Democratic side would cost the Nevada Democratic Party half of its delegation and candidates who campaign there any share of those reduced delegates they have won in the rogue primary. In the Republican process, the Nevada Republican Party would be subject to the super penalty if it opted into a January presidential primary. That would reduce the Nevada Republican delegation to just six delegates.

But again, those national rules are not set yet. However, by forcing the issue and scheduling a January primary now (as this bill would do), any goodwill Nevada may have in either party may dissipate; any desire to change course at the front of the calendar may not disappear, but it may no longer include Nevada. 

Then what recourse does an aspiring first-in-the-nation state like Nevada have? 

Well, bear in mind that AB 126 is just the introduced version of this legislation. It can be amended. And if the state is going to successfully challenge New Hampshire for first-in-the-nation status it will have to be. 

First, it would likely prove fruitful in dealing with New Hampshire and the national parties to leave the date of the newly created primary unsettled for now. This is something FHQ raised in a recent piece. In other words, create the presidential primary, but do not set a date. At least on the Democratic side, that gets Nevada even further in the good graces of a national party that more and more values primaries over caucuses. But by not setting a date for the election, it also does not agitate the decision-makers in the national party as they are determining the rules for the next nomination process. Such a move demonstrates that the state is serious about a defining principle within the party now -- increased participation -- while also making it known that it may be a preferable first state. 

Second, in dealing with New Hampshire specifically, not setting a date is just common sense. If the legislature sets a date now, then New Hampshire is just going to jump that later at a time that is maximally convenient for the preservation of its own first-in-the-nation status. Ideally, Nevada would want to replicate what New Hampshire does: cede the date-setting authority to one actor who can more quickly and nimbly decide on a date for the presidential primary. Furthermore, if by that point in 2023, Nevada has the backing of the DNC to be the first state -- no sure thing -- then the secretary of state or whichever actor has been empowered by the hypothetical new law can set the date for the first position without fear of sanction from the national party. Those sights may at that time be turned on New Hampshire

Granted, there are a lot of ifs built into that timeline but it is by far a better course of action in challenging New Hampshire and making a case to be first-in-the-nation than this bill that the Assembly rolled out in Carson City a day ago. 

If you come for the king, you best not miss. And AB 126 misses as currently written. It comes nowhere close to meeting the goals that either the bill or the Democratic Party in Nevada has laid out.

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

Monday, February 15, 2021

Former DNC Chair Perez Calls the Calendar Status Quo "Unacceptable"

In a sit-down with The New York Times, former DNC Chair Tom Perez was asked about the case for continuing with Iowa and New Hampshire at the beginning of the Democratic presidential primary calendar. He painted an ominous picture for the two traditional two states on the calendar:
Q: Should Iowa and New Hampshire keep going first in the presidential nominating process?  
A: That will be up to the D.N.C.’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.  
Q: I’m aware. But what does the private citizen Tom Perez think? 
A: A diverse state or states need to be first. The difference between going first and going third is really important. We know the importance of momentum in Democratic primaries.  
Q: I’ll try one more time. Could you make a case for defending Iowa and New Hampshire going first?  
A: The status quo is clearly unacceptable. To simply say, “Let’s just continue doing this because this is how we’ve always done it,” well, Iowa started going as an early caucus state, I believe, in 1972. The world has changed a lot since 1972 to 2020 and 2024. And so the notion that we need to do it because this is how we’ve always done it is a woefully insufficient justification for going first again.  
This is the Democratic Party of 2020. It’s different from the Democratic Party in how we were in 1972. And we need to reflect that change. And so I am confident that the status quo is not going to survive.
As FHQ mentioned on Twitter a day ago, this is not revelatory from Perez. He discussed the wisdom in continuing to protect Iowa and New Hampshire just after the primary in the Granite state in 2020 and has regularly raised the importance of diversity early on in the nomination process. The former chair dipped back into both wells in his comments to the NYT. 

But a former national party chair is still a former national party chair. Folks of that ilk go on to do a lot of things, but directly influencing the formalizing of national party rules is not always among them. However, where Perez may have some influence is in continuing to give voice to this viewpoint that the status quo on the calendar is no longer acceptable. It is not as if the Iowa and New Hampshire question is going to disappear for Democrats. 

It is not. 

Yet, this keeps the issue salient in a time that is usually very quiet on the rules front (just after a presidential election year), but in a period in the lead up to an expected autopsy from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee on the 2020 process (due out by the end of March). Iowa and New Hampshire and their arguable lack of diversity will be components of that report. Of course, that will only be step one in the process of devising the 2024 delegate selection rules at the national party level. The real work by the DNCRBC will come after that. Talk of change is cheap, but actual change is not. 

But those obstacles are not insurmountable. And Perez's stewardship of the 2020 rules speaks to that. He constantly in introductory statements at Unity Reform Commission or DNCRBC meetings from 2017-18 -- and no doubt behind the scenes -- talked of the "north star" principles of the party. And one of those was participation. The party sought to increase participation in the nomination process by encouraging states to shift from caucuses to primaries and by easing the barriers to registration and voting. The former bore fruit in 2020. Caucus states decreased in number from 14 states in 2016 to three in 2020. [And the pandemic shifted Wyoming toward a mail-in process that did not ultimately qualify as the caucuses the state party intended to conduct.] The party also made efforts to reduce the role of superdelegates in the process -- another thorny issue that looked like a steep uphill climb to achieve -- on Perez's watch. 

That effort took a great deal of work and so, too, will any push to rejigger the beginning of the 2024 Democratic presidential primary calendar. Any constant drumbeat about such a change -- like these comments from Perez -- will only keep the pressure on those in the national party to make a change. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Nikki Haley and 2024

To say that Tim Alberta's pulling back of the curtain on a possible (probable?) Nikki Haley run for the Republican nomination in 2024 is thorough is an understatement. It is a great, if not opening salvo, then continuation of the filling out of her profile as the invisible primary trundles onward. 

Much is there to unpack, but FHQ will tease out a couple of things. 

First, Haley is checking the typical boxes of a prospective 2024 candidate. There is a book. The fundraising infrastructure is taking shape. But importantly, Alberta's profile also reveals that a loose campaign team is already coming into focus. Both Nick Ayers, formerly of Pawlenty's 2012 presidential bid, the Republican Governors Association and Vice President Pence's office, as well as pollster Jon Lerner seem to be in the Haley 2024 orbit. Both serve as an early marker in the staff primary that will come to define the emerging campaigns in 2022 and 2023. 

But the more interesting piece of the Haley 2024 puzzle is Alberta's narrative in general, painting the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador as straddling the with or against Trump fence. He poses a series of questions that get at the heart of what may confront Haley as a bid comes more into focus:
"First, Nikki Haley is going to run for president in 2024. Second, she doesn’t know which Nikki Haley will be on the ballot. Will it be the Haley who has proven so adaptive and so canny that she might accommodate herself to the dark realities of a Trump-dominated party? Will it be the Haley who is combative and confrontational and had a history of giving no quarter to xenophobes? Or will it be the Haley who refuses to choose between these characters, believing she can be everything to everyone?"
It is that last question that is evocative of past presidential runs. The split the difference and appeal to a wide swath of primary voters approach. It can work, but depending on how the rest of the field fills out and where the battle lines are drawn can also leave a candidate without a home. Not to jump back into "lanes," but that last option is awfully reminiscent of where Kamala Harris's 2020 run ended up. Trying to be just right -- and not too progressive or too moderate -- did not end up splitting the difference. It ended up leaving her in the middle of a primary electorate with what was perceived as an ill-defined message that instead of appealing to a wide swath only ended up reaching a small sliver of the 2020 Democratic primary electorate (before the voting actually began).

In any event, Haley looks like a go for a 2024 run. But how she navigates these questions will determine whether she is actually running in 2024.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Arizona Bill Would End Presidential Primary

Earlier this month, legislation was introduced in the Arizona Senate to eliminate the presidential preference election -- the presidential primary in the Grand Canyon state -- and replace it with caucuses run by the state parties. 

SB 1668, introduced by state Sen. Martin Quezada (D-29th, Phoenix), would not only shift the state's delegate allocation method from a primary to caucuses, but it would also cede some state authority over that process with one exception. The resulting caucuses would under the new law also have to be opened to independent and unaffiliated voters. 

Now, this legislation is interesting for a few reasons. First, Quezada is not only a Democrat but among the Democratic leadership in the state Senate. That is not unusual in and of itself, but as has been noted in this space over the last four or five years, the wind is not necessarily at Quezada's back on this issue within the broader Democratic Party coalition. Sure, allowing independents and unaffiliateds into the caucus process conforms to some of what the national party has advocated for (increased participation), but shifting away from a state-run presidential primary election does not. That that message has not made it into the thinking of the legislative leadership in Arizona is noteworthy, but not surprising in view of past legislative actions regarding presidential primaries. 

Moreover, the primary to caucus shift is atypical among Democrats. It does happen. And it tends to in Democratic-controlled states with presidential primaries in cycles in which a Democratic incumbent president is seeking renomination. The upcoming 2024 cycle may meet those conditions to some degree. But that does not change the fact that this has been a maneuver seen and/or attempted more on the Republican side for a variety of reasons. Yes, there were the cancelled primaries and caucuses for the 2020 cycle when it was Trump up for renomination, but it goes beyond that. Efforts like those in Oklahoma in 2009 or Missouri's currently have been Republican driven over the last decade or more.

And at least part of the reason why is budgetary in nature. A state can pass the expenditure for a delegate selection event on to the state parties by eliminating a presidential primary. In fact, that is the main explanation for why states nix primaries in years in which an incumbent presidential is running unopposed for renomination. Why unnecessarily shell out millions of dollars for a presidential primary when the money is going to a contest with no competition? That is what Washington Democrats did in 2012, for example.

Yet, there is a new spin on this financial bottom line angle. In response to the Missouri bill attempting to eliminate the presidential primary in the Show-Me state, FHQ received an email from a reader there. At least part of the impetus behind the Missouri legislation was the fact that Republicans in the state still had caucuses in 2020 to select delegates to the national convention. If that process is going to exist, then why not allocate delegates through that process and remove that presidential primary line from the state budget? It has the effect of shrinking the pool of participants in the process. 

Now, FHQ will not go so far as to say that cost savings are the motivating factor behind this Arizona bill, but it would be a byproduct of the move if that legislation becomes law. But as we said with the Missouri bill, primary bills are not often successful in years immediately after presidential election years. Moves to cancel primaries in that window are even more rare. 

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