Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Katon Dawson, is that you? Iowa Republican Threatens Halloween 2023 Caucuses

Few likely will get the reference, but Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa chair, inadvertently or not, stepped into a time machine when he recently suggested moving the party's 2024 caucuses to Halloween 2023.

The players in 2007 were different, but the intent, then as now, was largely similar: to protect a privileged position in the early window of the presidential primary calendar. Then, in the face of Florida shifting its primary for the 2008 cycle into January, South Carolina Republican Party chair, Katon Dawson, gave a similar warning in signaling his desire to keep the status of the Republican primary in the Palmetto state first-in-the-South.

But Dawson's threat was nearly as hyperbolic as Kaufmann's is now. In neither case was (or is) it necessary to push a nominating contest into the year before the presidential election -- much less as far into it as Halloween -- to protect the carve-out status afforded either state. Of course, Dawson was trying to maintain the first slot granted a southern state, not the top overall spot on the calendar. And Florida's striking move was, in the end, the only such push by a rival southern state to South Carolina's position. 

Outside of that, however, the conditions are similar in Iowa now. In both cases there are (and were) separate Democratic and Republican contests run by the state parties and not the state government.1 And that is no small thing. It provides decision makers in similar states the latitude to move when the calendar rules of both national parties are not aligned or when threats arise from other states. 

South Carolina Republicans -- and Democrats, for that matter -- did not have to move ahead of all rogue or potentially rogue states in 2007. They just had to move to a slot ahead of the next earliest, southern state. And Florida, because of its early state legislative session, had made its move for 2008 by May 2007. That gave Republicans in the Palmetto state time to react and move accordingly. Now, 2007 was a particularly chaotic cycle in terms of how the primary calendar evolved and ultimately shook out. It was not completely clear after May whether the Florida threat would sustain itself (depending on what the national parties did in response) or if other states would crash the party as well. 

There were a lot of moving parts in 2007 that are not necessarily present in 2022-23. Democrats ahead of the 2004 cycle attempted to quicken the pace of the nomination process by moving the beginning of their window -- the window in which non-exempt states could hold contests -- from March to February. That was enough to get some states to shift into February for 2004, but the full onslaught did not occur until the next cycle. And that rush was so pronounced with active nomination races in both parties that some states -- Florida among them -- considered pushing even further ahead, contra national party rules. There was an abundance of chaos, sure, but there was even more uncertainty

So, while Dawson's threat was hyperbolic at the time, it also had the effect of laying down a marker for how far South Carolina Republicans were willing to go to protect their first-in-the-South status amid that uncertainty. 

One already knows Iowa Republicans would mount some effort to protect their position. The Republican National Committee has already enshrined Iowa as the first state in its rules for 2024. Kaufmann faces no such uncertainty in 2022-23. That is not to suggest that everything is crystal clear. It is not. However, there is no expected rush to the front of the 2024 queue (at this time). Look, the national parties have been here before. They sat through calendar chaos in 2007, and tweaked their rules (mostly on the Republican side) for 2012 only to see it happen again. Republicans upped their penalties for 2016. And Democrats strengthened their rules for 2024. Those wagons have been circled.

Yes, national Democrats are on the cusp of perhaps shuffling the early window on their primary calendar. That may affect Iowa Democrats, but that has no bearing on Iowa Republican's ability to stay first on the Republican presidential primary calendar (see above on separate scheduling). And Iowa Republicans will not have to push all the way to Halloween 2023 to do that. January maybe, but not 2023.

Even if the DNC gives the green light to Nevada to go first, the collateral damage will be pretty limited. The newly established presidential primary in the Silver state is currently slated for February 6. And if one assumes that the Republican secretary of state in New Hampshire shifts the Granite state primary to a week before that, in accordance with state law, then Iowa Republicans would only have to shift to the Monday eight days before that. 

That looks something like this (from the 2024 primary calendar as it exists at the time of this writing):

I get it. Kaufmann is trying to grab attention, lay down his marker and tweak state Democrats for not better protecting their status in the Democratic process. And he knows this. National Democrats are not playing a game of chicken with him and Iowa Republicans. The fact remains that Iowa Republicans just aren't that likely -- barring a massive unforeseen movement among state actors to go rogue -- to have to hold Halloween caucuses in order to protect their first position on the 2024 Republican presidential primary calendar. 

1 That has subsequently changed in South Carolina. The separate Democratic and Republican primaries are both funded and run by the state government. 


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