Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Nevada's Willing, but Will the Stars Align for a Push to an Earlier Point on the 2024 Calendar?

Nevada pushed back into the news again yesterday. Michelle L. Price at the Associated Press reported that movers and shakers in the Silver state are attempting to position a potential new presidential primary there as the first-in-the-nation contest for the 2024 cycle. That is nothing new. In fact, FHQ just last week discussed the contours of such a shift in the context of a January Washington Post article on the matter. 

But there were some other interesting nuggets in that story worth reflecting on that are new. Last week, FHQ was more abstract and speculative when talking about the possibility of a Nevada presidential primary. Then, the idea of a state legislative push to establish a presidential primary election was definitely that: speculative. However, Price reported that legislation (with supposed bipartisan support) is likely for a legislature that just gaveled in for the session on February 1. There is no bill yet.

And that seemingly settles (or at least starts to settle) a question FHQ posed in the previous post: which route will Nevada decision-makers take? The state parties could seize this one by the reins and hold a party-run primary, but appears that there is support across party lines in the state legislature to create a state-run/state-funded presidential primary option. 

Of course, that leaves some of the previous questions from last week unanswered. Establishing a primary election is one thing, but scheduling it is another. How will any forthcoming legislation deal with that question (especially in light of the fact that neither national party has finalized much less really started finalizing their respective 2024 delegate selection rules)? Will legislators punt on that decision and pass a later bill scheduling the 2024 contest? Will they follow the lead of both New Hampshire and Georgia and leave the date unset, ceding the date-setting authority to, say, the secretary of state? The latter would potentially maximize the Nevada's ability to move on the fly and respond to any potential move by New Hampshire's secretary of state to stay first. [For the record, Bill Gardner, the secretary of state in the Granite state nonchalantly responded to the Nevada speculation in the AP story by suggesting that it would all settle out in good time.]

Furthermore, it should be noted that Nevada is no stranger to these sorts of attempted maneuvers. A 2013 bill, one that ended up going nowhere, sought not only establish a primary in late January, but allowed the secretary of state to change that date to an even earlier position should one or more of a list of western states tried to move in on Nevada's first-in-the-west position carved out by the national parties. This bill was resurrected (but mostly as a placeholder) in 2015. That bill was ultimately significantly amended and became the legislation that died at the end of the legislative session (in part because Harry Reid intervened).

That intervention is an important sidebar. Nevada's position as a carve-out state on the Democratic side has it codified in national party rules as a caucus state. Switching to a primary could have in 2015 jeopardized the Silver state's early position in future cycles. However, in the time since, the terrain has shifted away from caucuses on the Democratic side. The combination of Nevada's willingness to adopt a presidential primary as the means of allocating national convention delegates and Iowa Democrats' problematic implementation of their 2020 caucuses may play to Nevada's advantage during the 2024 cycle. But part of that willingness -- at least this early -- is about making the change to a primary and likely not yet selecting the date on which it will occur. That remains to be seen as one awaits any legislation to be introduced on the subject in the coming days and weeks. 

Keeping the date as an unknown not only likely helps grease the wheels with the national party, but would also aid the state in any prospective calendar battle with New Hampshire (and maybe Iowa) in 2023.

Speaking of Iowa, the other tidbit worth flagging in Price's reporting for this story comes from the Hawkeye state. Earlier this week, FHQ wrote some about the standard operating procedure in Iowa with respect to protecting the caucuses' position. Typically, that means both state parties acting in concert with one another, banding together in defense of the caucuses. In the past that has worked. But there are signs of vulnerability on that front for the 2024 cycle. Republicans are there and so, too, is the newly elected Iowa Democratic Party chair. 

But there is dissension in the ranks of the Iowa Democratic state central committee about the prudence of protecting the caucuses this time around. After 2020, some on the committee view keeping the caucuses as an "uphill battle." And some in that camp see moving to a primary and focusing on "winning elections" in a state that became a deeper shade of red in the Trump era as a better path to take than clinging to the caucuses. 

That there is any division on the Democratic state committee on the matter of the caucuses is noteworthy. That division ultimately poses some trouble not only for Iowa Democrats in search of another cycle at the front of the primary calendar queue but potentially for Republicans as well. The interesting thing may be how carve-out state members of both the DNC and DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee work together (or if they do). Republicans from those states on the RNC are unified. Democrats may not be. And that speaks to the different priorities and incentives in both parties when it comes to the early 2024 calendar line up.

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