Friday, January 27, 2023

The RNC Presidential Primary Debates Committee is Back for 2024

Lost in all the recent talk of the Republican National Committee (RNC) reaching out to a diversity of networks during the planning stages for presidential debates to come later this year was the fact that behind it all is a national party committee. 

The on-again-off-again presidential primary debates committee is back on again for the 2024 cycle. First written into RNC rules in 2014 for the 2016 cycle as the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, the rule and the committee were scrapped for 2020. And both moves made sense at the times those decisions were made. With a wide open and competitive nomination race to replace a term-limited (Democratic) president on the horizon, it was sensible and shrewd for the RNC in 2014 to devise formal rules to dictate the direction of its primary debates, an increasingly visible if not important component of the invisible primary, for the 2016 cycle. But with an incumbent president seeking renomination in 2020, the standing committee became less necessary with only token opposition lining up to contest President Trump's grip on the nomination.
 
Yet, with the conditions of 2024 more likely to resemble those of 2016 than 2020, the necessity of a debates committee became apparent once again. There were not many changes to the rules adopted by the 2020 Republican National Committee before Rule 12 cut off the ability to amend them before last September. There were some. And one of them was to bring back the presidential primary debates committee for 2024. 

...with some important differences from the previous iteration

Here is a look at both rules side by side (from the Rules of the Republican Party):

2016 
[originally Rule 10(h), but later reordered as Rule 10(a)(10) for 2020 before being eliminated]
There shall be a Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, which shall be composed of thirteen (13) members of the Republican National Committee, five (5) of whom shall be appointed by the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and each of the four (4) regions shall elect two (2) members, one man and one woman, at its regional caucus at the RNC Summer Meeting in each even-numbered year in which no Presidential election is held. The chairman of the Republican National Committee shall appoint the chairman of the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates from among the members thereof. The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, and the best interests of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” Any presidential candidate who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates.
2024
[the new Rule 10(a)(11)]
If appointed pursuant to subsection (c) of this Rule, the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, candidate qualifications, and the best interest of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Temporary Committee on Presidential Debates shall be known as a “Sanctioned Debate.” All presidential primary candidates shall also agree in writing to appear in only sanctioned Primary and General Election debates. Any presidential primary candidate who does not agree in writing or who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates. 
[emphasis FHQ's]
[1] The subsection (c) clause that now begins the rule refers to the RNC chair's power to form committees. That is a significant substitution because it rids the national party of the need to constantly tweak the rules every cycle dependent upon whether an incumbent Republican president is seeking reelection. If the chair has the discretion to create committees, then there is no need to continually craft and re-craft rules to deal with what will inevitably be a recurring issue. To wit...

[2] In addition, the committee in future versions will be temporary (if formed under the chair's discretion at all) and not a standing committee as it was in its previous iteration during the 2016 cycle. There is no need for a standing committee, but there is some regular and recurring need for a committee to deal with this subject.

[3] The next difference between the 2016 and 2024 versions of the rule is notable. The list of criteria the committee will consider before finalizing rules governing the presidential primary debates process has been enhanced to include candidate qualifications. While a polling threshold was used in 2016 to differentiate between those candidates who qualified for the main event debate and those relegated to the secondary debate, that was something that was not a formal part of the rule for the 2016 cycle. The standing committee (and the RNC itself) at the time filled in that detail. However, by formally adding candidate qualifications to the calculus, the RNC process comes more in line with how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) handled things under competitive conditions for the 2020 cycle. Granted, what constitutes "candidate qualifications" remains undefined as of now (and will remain so in the rules), but the temporary committee will no doubt again fill in that detail.

[4] Another facet of the 2024 rule that is new also borrows from the 2020 DNC process. Only, the Republican rule for 2024 takes it a step further. Republican candidates, by rule, will have to sign a pledge to participate in only debates "sanctioned" by the committee. Like the 2020 DNC process, that applies to presidential primary debates. Unlike the Democrats four years ago -- or Republicans eight years ago, for that matter -- that pledge will also apply to the eventual nominee and his or her participation in general election debates. Following the RNC's 2022 split with the Commission on Presidential Debates, there is some question as to whether the party will, absent some negotiation, participate in general election presidential debates. The temporary committee now has the power to sanction (or not) those debates. And candidates who sign the aforementioned pledge will presumably have to abide by that in the fall of 2024. Of course, the eventual nominee will likely have some significant say in whether he or she participates in those debates in the same way that a presumptive nominee has a say in his or her convention. 

[5] Finally, there is a whole section on selection of the committee in the 2016 version of the debates committee rule that has been stricken from the 2024 version. Ultimately, the chair has discretion over the creation of the committee, but under the current rule, there are no clear parameters concerning the size and selection of the membership of the temporary committee. In 2016, the RNC chair had five selections of thirteen with the remaining eight given to the four regions into which the RNC divides states and territories. Now, not only does the chair have the power to form the committee, but also has the ability to select its entire membership. This likely means little for the remainder of the 2024 cycle. The committee has already been chosen and has begun acting, reaching out to media outlets and considering borrowing DNC-type thresholds. Of course, there could be a new RNC chair after the 2023 RNC winter meeting, but it is unlikely that a new chair would disband the current panel and re-form it with the new chair's stamp. It would be unlikely but not impossible since the rule is silent on any transition to a new chair. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Michigan Senate Passes February Presidential Primary Bill

After being introduced two weeks ago, SB 13 -- the legislation to shift the Michigan presidential primary to the fourth Tuesday in February -- sat awaiting placement on the Michigan state Senate calendar for consideration on the floor by the full body.

Thursday was that day. 

This bill is a vehicle for a change in the scheduling of the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state that aligns it with the newly adopted 2024 calendar proposal by national Democrats. The new Democratic majority in the Michigan Senate supported the measure. 

Republicans in the chamber did not. 

Senator Jim Rundestad (R-23rd), the lone dissenting vote from similar (Republican-sponsored) legislation in December, urged senators again to vote no. "Colleagues, join me in voting no on this big Gretch 2024 bill," he said, referring to the possibility of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024. Senator Edward McBroom (R-38th) was equally blunt: "When is the last time Michigan picked a winner in the primary? We pick losers. Been doing it for a while."

However, considering a version of this bill was passed by the Republican-controlled state Senate at the conclusion of the 2021-22 session, there were a number of members who voted for the February primary move before they voted against it. All 18 Republicans stood against SB 13.

All 20 Democrats, however, moved the legislation forward, pushing it into the state House where the lower chamber is already consider its version of the (exact same) legislation.

The vote today along with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee noting in its meeting last night that Michigan had "completed their waiver requirements to our (DNCRBC) satisfaction," should quiet for now some of the local Michigan stories about the state potentially not meeting the February 1 DNC deadline.



Related:

Companion Super Tuesday Bill Introduced in Hawaii House

Another bill to establish a presidential primary in Hawaii and schedule it for Super Tuesday in 2024 has been introduced in the state House in the Aloha state. 

Speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki (D-25th, Ala Moana), filed HB 1444, legislation with the same language as SB 1005. That this bill has the backing of the speaker says something about how seriously the legislature is likely approaching legislation to shift from caucuses to using a primary for allocating national convention delegates in the presidential nomination process. It is not a sure thing, in other words, but has more robust support than the similar efforts in 2018.

But again, Hawaii is small enough, Democratic enough and far enough away from the mainland that it will be difficult to garner much attention from presidential candidates anyway. But even lost in a sea of more delegate-rich contests on Super Tuesday, a primary there would at least insure that more Hawaiians from both major parties have the opportunity to weigh in with their presidential preferences before the race is (likely to be) effectively over in a May position. Depending on how these two bills progress (and another proposing a May primary), however, these are the sorts of ideas that the Hawaii legislature will consider when scrutinizing these two bills. 


--
This legislation has been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Extends Waiver Compliance Window for Georgia and New Hampshire

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) met remotely on Wednesday, January 25 to consider extensions for Georgia and New Hampshire to comply with the national party's proposed calendar for 2024. In order to attain waivers to appear in the early calendar slots reserved for them, Democrats in Georgia and New Hampshire must either complete the requirements put before them by the DNCRBC or show provable, positive steps toward their completion by June 3, 2023.

In Georgia's case, Peach state Democrats must get some buy-in from Republicans in the state who control the scheduling of the presidential primary. There are ways of getting there with Republican help -- the Georgia secretary of state's office has set the criteria -- but it will likely take the DNCRBC bending a little on the president's vision for the calendar adopted in December.

But Georgia did not come up much in the context of the conversation among DNCRBC members. Instead, much of the period in which the floor was open for comment was dominated by the roadblocks obstructing New Hampshire's path to compliance with the waiver mandates and the reaction in the Granite state to the DNCRBC's adoption of the calendar proposal. DNCRBC member from New Hampshire, Joanne Dowdell, delivered the familiar arguments that have made the rounds over the last month from the Granite state. Her's was a simple recitation of the facts. Basically: New Hampshire Democrats are stuck; stuck between a state law that places the decision on the presidential primary's date in the hands of the secretary of state and a Republican-controlled state government with a demonstrated lack of interest in changing either the primary scheduling law or adding no-excuse absentee voting. Folks outside of the New Hampshire Democratic Party organization in the state may be more agitated and use more inflammatory arguments as this process continues, but the state party itself will likely continue along the above lines. 

What is likely to be the dug-in position of the DNCRBC, if not the DNC, with regard to the ongoing New Hampshire situation is something voiced by DC DNCRBC member, Mo Elleithee. His contention was that New Hampshire has not over the course of the last five decades been the first contest in the primary calendar order. In fact, the Granite state has been second and has had that position protected by the DNC (explicitly starting in 1984). The current plan continues to protect that (second) position and asks that New Hampshire share the space with Nevada. 

Of course, that is the crux of the problem. New Hampshire Democrats cannot comply with that. ...if they intend to operate under the state law. Unmentioned by Dowdell was any potential alternate course the state party could take to select/allocate delegates and come into compliance with a calendar plan that will not be fully adopted until June at the earliest. The DNCRBC may be trying to nudge New Hampshire Democrats in that direction, but they may not find a receptive audience. To move to an alternative is to undermine the very state law that protects the New Hampshire primary. The incentives just may not be there to move Democrats in the Granite state from that position.

But they and Georgia Democrats -- and the DNCRBC -- now have until June to figure all of that out. 


--
The DNCRBC unanimously adopted the Georgia and New Hampshire extensions with all 25 members present on the call in support. That means that these two waiver extensions extend past when initial draft delegate selection plans are due to the DNCRBC for review on May 3. Additionally, the new June 3 deadline for Georgia and New Hampshire to comply is around nine months later in the cycle than when the DNC has in the past finalized the calendar rules/waivers. That is not exactly time lost for the 55 other states and territories to prepare and finalize their plans (with DNCRBC approval), but it does leave some important particulars about the Georgia and New Hampshire primaries -- their dates -- unresolved. That affects state-level preparation for those contests but also impacts the candidates. 

Now that means little if President Biden opts to seek reelection and runs largely unopposed. But this process could bleed over into the Republican nomination race. It will not affect Republicans in New Hampshire. The secretary of state will schedule the presidential primary for some time seven or more days before any other contest that is not Iowa. Likely sometime in January 2024. Yet, if Georgia can be slipped into the end of the pre-window (and that takes a while to play out on the Democratic side) that could affect Republican candidates' preparation for a pre-Super Tuesday primary in the Peach state if not a soon-to-follow Super Tuesday. Granted, that is likely to factor into Republican decision makers' thinking on helping Democrats out with this plan.  

The bottom line is that the DNCRBC took a rather unprecedented step -- leaving this unresolved until the late spring of the year prior to the presidential election -- but that underscores how serious the panel is about finalizing the president's calendar plan as close to its initially presented form as possible. 

Delaware as a Pre-Window Calendar Stand-in on Standby? On Threats, Substitutes and Calendar Shake-Ups

It was reported in the time after January 5 that Delaware was being used as a cudgel to help the DNC/White House nudge New Hampshire Democrats closer to compliance with the president's primary calendar plan adopted by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) in December. As Jake Luhut wrote at The Daily Beast then: 
"The proposal? Not only should South Carolina go first, but if New Hampshire won’t acquiesce to the Democratic National Committee’s demands, Biden’s home state of Delaware should also leapfrog New Hampshire as further punishment."
Well, Delaware "leapfrogging" New Hampshire into the pre-window of the Democratic primary calendar would not exactly be "further punishment." January 5, after all, was the deadline that South Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Michigan -- the states granted contingent waivers to go early in 2024 at the December 2 DNCRBC meeting -- were given to show progress on state-specific goals toward the calendar changes called for in the adopted proposal. New Hampshire was obviously given a list of requirements that were, to put it mildly, a tall order considering Republicans control the levers of power in the state (and thus the ability to change anything to do with the first-in-the-nation primary). The Delaware threat was less a threat and more a reality. If New Hampshire Democrats cannot meet the requirements for the waiver they were conditionally given in December, then they will not have a waiver at all under DNC rules for 2024. Delaware is not the "further punishment." New Hampshire Democrats not getting a waiver like every other year following the 1980 cycle is. Actually, that is the punishment. "Further punishment" will likely come from the DNCRBC should 1) the DNC adopt some version of the president's calendar proposal at its February winter meeting and 2) New Hampshire Democrats continue to strike a defiant pose on the first-in-the-nation primary thereafter.


--
But why Delaware? 

Yes, it is President Biden's home state. And while that may be part of the calculus for those in the White House, it is not the only part or even the main part of the thinking. 

Like New Hampshire, Delaware is small. Retail politics would be just as possible there as they are in the Granite state. 

Both states lag the national average on the Census Bureau's diversity index (61.1%), but Delaware (59.6%) is less than two points shy while New Hampshire (23.6%) falls nearly 40 points short. 

However, unlike New Hampshire, Delaware is no presidential battleground in the general election. There are some tradeoffs on that front in view of campaign advertising/spending. Swapping Boston media market buys to advertise in New Hampshire for Philadelphia buys to target First state primary voters is an interesting exchange. The former has the benefit of priming New Hampshire primary voters with the general election in mind, but the latter would hit voter not only Delaware voters but Pennsylvania voters ahead of a primary in the Keystone state and a fight for more electoral votes (relative to New Hampshire) in the general election there as well. 

Plus, what Delaware lacks in general election competitiveness relative to the Granite state, it makes up for in feasibility of movement. New Hampshire cannot comply with the likely DNC rules and may or may not try to find alternatives in the end. A Democratic-controlled state government in Dover can and likely very happily would bend over backwards to work toward a pre-window presidential primary if granted a waiver by the DNCRBC. 

But FHQ tends to agree with the anonymous Democratic strategist who questioned the optics of an earlier Delaware primary in the Daily Beast piece:
“I don’t know what value that adds. It’s not a demographically diverse state, it’s not a significantly cheaper media market,” the strategist said. 
“I don’t know if the University of Delaware is gonna become the new Saint Anselm, which is probably the best analogy, but I just don’t see the point,” they continued. “There’s nothing to this that makes this more valuable, and the tourism argument for early primary states is overblown. The TV one is the strongest, because it’s the most sustained form of revenue for these states.”
All of that aside, DNCRBC member, Elaine Kamarck, said it better this past summer after the panel had heard the early primary pitch from the Delaware delegation. Basically, a president has nothing to gain and everything to lose in a home state contest that is first in the order. At best (for the incumbent president), no one shows up as with Tom Harkin in Iowa in 1992. In that case, Delaware would be little more than a beauty contest first primary that most candidates would skip. At worst (again, for the incumbent president), other candidates do show up and either win outright or relative to what would be low expectations. In that case, Delaware would win, but the president would not. 

Of course, Kamarck's comments were about Delaware as the first contest to which Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), as a part of the state's delegation before the DNCRBC, countered that Delaware was not vying only for the first spot, but for any one of the available slots in the pre-window. And maybe Kamarck's rules apply in that situation -- a slightly later early Delaware presidential primary -- or maybe they do not. It could also be that President Biden, with or without a pre-window Delaware primary, runs largely unopposed in 2024 and that this whole effort is not to secure his renomination but geared more toward a paradigm shift in how the pre-window part of the calendar is devised every four years. 


--
And that is kind of the thing. Viewed through the lens of a White House seeking renomination in an environment where it is largely unopposed is the sort of confluence of conditions a national party would need in place to make any big change to the beginning of the presidential primary calendar. 

Well, that and said national party would have to be willing to take on Iowa and New Hampshire. The DNCRBC, before the president weighed in, seemed willing to shunt Iowa out of the pre-window. But the president's input added New Hampshire to that mix. Both directly and indirectly.1 Again, the DNCRBC set a difficult set of criteria before New Hampshire Democrats. But they have a chance at an early window waiver (just not one in the position they want or that they could comply with, they would argue). They could give an inch, but have not. Yet. And New Hampshire Democrats may concede nothing. They seem willing at this point to let this play out, take their punishment (if the DNC can enforce it), and try to live to see another cycle in 2028 with a new membership on the DNCRBC.

But all of this -- pushing South Carolina to the first spot, nixing Iowa, trying to bend New Hampshire to the calendar change, substituting Delaware (or Iowa back) into the pre-window, or even adding Georgia and Michigan -- comes with trade-offs. That gets lost in all the post-January 5 chatter about New Hampshire. 

Yes, there is something to be gained by opening up the pre-window to any state that wants to pitch their virtues to the DNCRBC every four years. That gives the national party the flexibility to add and subtract states based on the criteria the DNCRBC has leaned on this cycle. If Nevada, for example, becomes less competitive in general elections, then add Arizona. If Georgia elects more Democrats to statewide office (like secretary of state), then replace South Carolina with the Peach state. If New Hampshire becomes more diverse (in addition to being a battleground), then keep it around or officially add it back. That flexibility is, in the abstract, a good thing for the national party. ...if it can overcome the start-up costs and establish it in the first place.  

However, there is something lost in that transition and it is not just tradition. The continuity of Iowa and New Hampshire every cycle was (and is in the Republican process) arguably a good thing as well for the national parties and for the candidates. There has been certainty there, and with that certainty comes knowledge, or if not knowledge, then an understanding about the rhythms of the nomination system; how it works. And that is true even when the first two states are not well aligned with the overall constituency of a party's primary electorate. 

The path of least resistance for the DNCRBC this cycle would have been to leave well enough alone -- as has almost always been the case for national parties with incumbent presidents seeking reelection -- and just add Michigan to the end of the four state lineup that has existed in the Democratic presidential nomination process since 2008. Iowa and New Hampshire are not perfect fits for the party, but they have the infrastructure in place to dependably go first. Well, maybe not Iowa after 2020. But even after that, there would have been an even greater asterisk placed by Iowa and would continue to place one on New Hampshire. Again, as FHQ has argued elsewhere in this space, the results in those two contests are discounted in the Democratic process. Voters know they are not representative of the broader party. The media knows it and discusses the results in that context and that affects how candidates approach and, afterward, talk about those two contests.

And Raymond Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, even talked about a version of this in his recent conversation with Politico, saying basically that New Hampshire winnows the field and sets up a state like South Carolina to be decisive. That has not been untrue. And if that is the case, then why mess with a system that, on some level, works?

Mainly, the answer lies in the fact that the current system with the same old calendar was no longer tenable to the president, major parts of the DNCRBC and likely DNC. The DNCRBC did adopt the calendar proposal with just two dissenting votes -- the two members from Iowa and New Hampshire. And the reactions from folks of color on the panel, from members to the DNC chair, spoke volumes about the meaning of the proposed change. 

That is why some version of the president's plan will be adopted next month in Philadelphia. It has been a process that has involved trade-offs with the same old calendar and will likely have some more as the DNCRBC and the rest of the party seeks to fill out the rest of the pre-window lineup should there be vacancies created by a rogue New Hampshire. Perhaps that will be Delaware. ...or perhaps not. Maybe Georgia cannot get there. Maybe it can. Things remain in flux as the party heads into its winter meeting.


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1 The president's proposal directly hit New Hampshire by not placing the presidential primary in the Granite in the first position on the calendar. But it indirectly knocked the state by erecting a significant set of barriers for New Hampshire Democrats to successfully win a pre-window waiver.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Legislation to Alter Electoral Vote Allocation Introduced in Nebraska

Nebraska shifted away from a winner-take-all allocation of electoral college votes for the 1992 cycle and efforts have been continually mounted ever since to return to that method. None of them have been successful, including legislation from the 2021 legislative session that died in committee. 

But that has not stopped another bill from coming forward in 2023. Senator Loren Lippincott (34th, Central City) has become the latest to attempt to tackle the issue following a cycle in which the Cornhusker state again split its electoral college allocation between Democratic and Republican slates. LB 764 strikes all language from current law that references any distinction between at-large and congressional district electors. It further compels electors -- all five of them -- to cast their electoral votes for the presidential and vice presidential candidates with the highest number of votes statewide.

In eight presidential election cycles since the institution of the congressional district allocation, Nebraska electors have split just twice with the second congressional district around Omaha going for the Democratic candidate in 2008 and again in 2020. That frequency has been enough of an issue for similar legislation to have come up now at least six times, but not enough of a problem for the state to move back to a winner-take-all allocation. 

Perhaps 2023 will be different. LB 764 awaits action in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Hawaii Senate Bill Proposes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary

The Hawaii state legislature gaveled in just last week, but already there is movement on establishing a presidential primary in the lone state with unified Democratic control without one. 

The political parties of the Aloha state have traditionally utilized a caucus/convention system for allocating and selecting delegates to the national conventions. But that began to change in 2020 when Hawaii Democrats shifted to a party-run primary and things look to incrementally progress even further during the 2024 cycle. Last week, new legislation was introduced in the Hawaii state House to establish a presidential primary in May and conduct a feasibility study to best optimize such a shift (presumably in subsequent cycles). 

Now, senators in the upper chamber are presenting their own presidential primary proposal. A trio of Democrats, Senator Karl Rhoads (D-13th, Dowsett Highlands), Senator Stanley Chang (D-9th, Hawai'i Kai) and Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran (D-5th, Wailuku), have filed SB 1005. It scraps the feasibility study of the House bill and creates a presidential primary scheduled for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. In most cycles, that would fall on Super Tuesday. It would also potentially stand a better chance of luring Hawaii Republicans into using the primary (not to mention supporting the bill). On Super Tuesday, the proposed state-run presidential primary would better align with where Republicans in the Aloha state have recently held the initial precinct caucuses, the second Tuesday in March. 

Hawaii is small enough, Democratic enough and far enough away from the mainland that it will be difficult to garner much attention from presidential candidates anyway. But even lost in a sea of more delegate-rich contests on Super Tuesday, a primary there would at least insure that Hawaiians from both major parties have the opportunity to weigh in with their presidential preferences before the race is (likely to be) effectively over in a May position. Depending on how these two bills progress, however, these are the sorts of ideas that the Hawaii legislature will consider when scrutinizing these two bills. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

On "The People of New Hampshire vs. Joe Biden"

Politico's Ryan Lizza recently sat down with Ray Buckley, the longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, for a conversation about the fallout in the Granite state since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted President Biden's presidential primary calendar proposal back in December.

This is a really fascinating conversation with a few items that were new to me in the context of this brewing back and forth between New Hampshire Democrats and the national party. But it was a conversation that, given who was on the other end of the line, was focused on one side of that back and forth. That is both understandable and fine. 

What was perhaps less so was the number of times Lizza dipped into the well to use phrases like "Biden screwed you" or "Democrats betrayed New Hampshire." There was nothing in this conversation that backed those notions up, even with a New Hampshire-centric focus. And I get it. This is an important story. Well, FHQ thinks so anyway. But primary calendar stories are inevitably not clickbait. Trust me, they are not. So Lizza tried a bit too hard to play to his audience -- Buckley -- and/or to spice up a story that, again, while important, lacks a natural spice. 

Again, I get it. 

And fortunately, Buckley, for his part, never took that "betrayal/screwed" bait. In fact, the story Buckley told about the period leading up to the DNCRBC decision on the calendar proposal underlined that. He described to Lizza how the New Hampshire congressional delegation had met with Biden on the Monday before the president's letter to the DNCRBC members -- the one first revealing the calendar proposal -- on Wednesday. Buckley said that Biden on that Monday thanked the four members of the all-Democratic New Hampshire delegation for their points (on the Granite state primary and the 2024 calendar) and gave no indication of what was coming. He did not, in other words, thank them for their points defending the first-in-the-nation primary and make any promises that that would continue. 

Now, FHQ will argue, as it had elsewhere in this space, that what set expectations high for New Hampshire dodging the bullet again in 2024 was that the conventional wisdom that had developed before December 1 was that the Iowa caucuses would be nixed and all the other pre-window states -- New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in that order -- would move up and room would be made in late February for a midwestern alternative (Michigan) before Super Tuesday in early March. That was the reporting. Basically, that New Hampshire would shift into the very first position, not just the first primary position. But that was the reporting without one major component: the president had not weighed in. Biden ultimately did provide input on the eve of the DNCRBC meeting on December 2. One will excuse New Hampshirites for suffering from whiplash after going from thinking the primary was safe one day and knowing they were in for a battle with the president/DNC the next. 

But seemingly no assurances were made that New Hampshire would retain its position in the primary calendar order. It is just that the president held his input on the calendar until the very end. But betrayal? Screwed? The record really does not reflect that.

However, that is small(er) potatoes in the full context of what is actually going on between the White House/DNC and New Hampshire Democrats on the issue of the Granite state's 2024 presidential primary. The biggest shortcoming throughout the whole conversation was the omission of the rules as they will exist with respect to punishments in the 2024 cycle. Lizza and Buckley continually cited part of the rules with respect to rogue state contests. That, in New Hampshire's case, if Democrats in the Granite state conduct a primary before the February 6 slot set aside for them in the newly adopted calendar proposal, then the party would lose delegates to the national convention.1 That ground has been covered both in this conversation and elsewhere. 

But neither Lizza nor Buckley made mention of the penalties for candidates who campaign in states with rogue contests. The same DNC rules that have been enhanced for the 2024 cycle. That those candidate penalties were ignored was particularly glaring in light of the emphasis Buckley placed on advanced planning by past Democratic incumbent presidents. The chair made a point in his conversation with Lizza to link how both Bill Clinton (in 1995) and Barack Obama (in 2011) set up shop in New Hampshire in August before the primary and the subsequent success New Hampshire Democrats had in general elections in those cycles. It is a valid point. 

Yet, under the newly adopted rules -- rules that have been finalized for 2024 other than the calendar portion of them -- candidates cannot campaign in a state with a rogue contest. Otherwise, such a candidate would forfeit any delegates won in that primary or caucus. Under those rules, candidate Biden cannot campaign in New Hampshire in or ahead of 2024 if the presidential primary in the Granite state is not on February 6. The broadened definition of campaigning in the 2024 DNC rules includes setting up shop in New Hampshire in the way Buckley described. That also answers 1) why Biden cannot file to appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot -- that is "campaigning" too under the definition -- and 2) why Biden could not appear/campaign in the state until after the primary (whenever it may be).

Those are important facts about the contours of the current divide between New Hampshire Democrats and the White House/national party that never came up in the conversation. And again, it is a glaring omission. More so, when one considers the hypothesis that dawned on Lizza midway through one of his questions late in the conversation: that it would be better for New Hampshire if Biden ultimately did not seek reelection. In other words, there would be an open and competitive Democratic nomination race in 2024 that would early and often bring candidates back into the Granite state. 

Not necessarily. 

Now, there are not a lot of delegates at stake in New Hampshire, a reality Lizza raised at least once. Are candidates going to care that they may lose out on a handful of delegates that would only have gotten them a tiny fraction of the way toward the total needed to continue to be competitive for, much less clinch, the nomination? Would the potential win -- even a win in a "state-sponsored public opinion poll," even in a state where the results on the Democratic side are already heavily discounted because of demography in the state in the best of times -- outweigh those delegate penalties on candidates? 

In the case where Biden is running for renomination and is an advocate of a change at the top of the calendar? Yes. Yes, candidate Biden would care. If this DNCRBC-adopted calendar proposal is successfully adopted by the full DNC in early February, then the president will not be in the Granite state to organize for November 2024 until sometime after the likely January 2024 New Hampshire primary. Those will be the rules. The president will follow them. ...whether some "mechanic from Arkansas or Oklahoma" runs and wins in New Hampshire or not.

However, perhaps things look different if Biden does not seek reelection in 2024 and a bunch a prospective candidates mull whether to campaign (in violation of the rules) in a rogue New Hampshire. Maybe. But that way peril lies for prospective candidates. Take the case of Michigan in 2008 under a set of DNC rules where national party had the option to strip candidates of any delegates won in a rogue contest. Some candidates like Hillary Clinton decided to stay on the ballot of the Michigan primary. Others, like Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson, opted to remove their names from the ballot. The Florida and Michigan situation was already messy in 2008 without that wrinkle.  Having to determine an equitable way to allocate delegates after the fact in a rogue contest where some candidates were on the ballot and others were not was not easy, and New Hampshire Democrats would be signing up for that role in a cycle where DNC rules now require the stripping of those delegates from candidates. Memories of Florida and Michigan in 2007-08 alone may be enough to deter some candidates in an open Democratic presidential nomination race in New Hampshire in 2023-24. And that is without considering that the New Hampshire results are already discounted in the press and by the Democratic primary electorate because of its lack of diversity. 

Folks, this is not a slam dunk for New Hampshire. Things may be better for Democrats in the state if Biden opts not to run, but they will not necessarily be markedly better. Candidates running against the national party may be more inclined to take a chance. But what does that get them? A feather in the cap that may work with anti-establishment voters in subsequent states. Who fits that profile when voting starts in 2024 may be a majority of the Democratic primary electorate, but it is not now. 

Look, this calendar shake up remains a gamble for Biden and the DNC for the reasons Buckley cited. But New Hampshire Democrats are gambling too, gambling that the old rules of thumb will once again apply in 2024. And it just is not clear that that is the case in a cycle when New Hampshire, for the first time since 1980, is likely not directly protected by DNC rules.

Again, this is a great conversation between Lizza and Buckley. If you are interested in the 2024 calendar machinations like FHQ is, then you should listen to it. But take it with a grain of salt. Take it with a grain of salt because it is 1) understandably New Hampshire-centric and 2) it does not fully account for the rules as they will exist for the 2024 cycle. 

And those rules should be given some attention. 


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1 And yes, the delegate reduction is something that would happen outside of the control of New Hampshire Democrats. The state party is in control of neither the governor's mansion nor the General Court -- the legislature -- in Concord. Of course, neither Lizza nor Buckley spent any time discussing alternate routes New Hampshire Democrats could take to comply with the proposed DNC rules outside of utilizing the presidential primary option. But again, that is understandable given the framing of the story/conversation.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Alternative Bill Would Schedule New York Presidential Primary for April

An alternative proposal for scheduling the 2024 presidential primary has been introduced in the New York state Assembly. 

Rather than merge the presidential primary in late June with the primaries for other state offices, A 1720, offered by Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R-150th, Jamestown), would keep the two sets of primaries distinct. The new legislation would push the primaries for state office to the second Tuesday in August, consolidating them with the congressional primaries. The presidential primary, on the other hand, would shift into a position that has become customary for New York in recent cycles, the fourth Tuesday in April. With the exception of the 2016 cycle, the presidential primary in the Empire state has ended up, or was before the pandemic, initially planned for the fourth Tuesday in April as part of a contiguous group of contests for the last three cycles.1 

Like the other legislation, A 1720 would reduce the number of primaries in New York in presidential years from three to two. But unlike the other proposal, Goodell's consolidates two sets of primaries that can go a little later in the electoral cycle, the congressional primary and those for state offices. Moreover, the presidential primary is scheduled for April, a point on the calendar that is within the national party rules-defined window. The other active legislation this session would place the New York presidential primary in late June, out of compliance with the rules. 

Again, the regular protocol in New York over the last several cycles has been for the state parties to consult with legislators and devise legislation later in the spring (of the year prior to the presidential election) that outlines not only the date of the presidential primary but how delegates will be allocated in both parties' processes. One of the three bills introduced thus far in 2023 may or may not ultimately be a vehicle for legislation that fits in with the previous pattern. But only this most recent bill is compliant with national party rules in its introduced form. 

Note: Goodell sponsored similar legislation during the 2021-22 session. That legislation died in committee at the conclusion of 2022.


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This legislation has been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


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1 And in 2016, the New York presidential primary was just a week earlier on April 19, a date on which it was the only contest. No, that is not a significantly different position on the calendar, but the primary was not a part of the northeastern/mid-Atlantic regional primary that developed in 2012 and has been a part of every calendar since.


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Friday, January 20, 2023

New Hampshire Senate Moves to Further Protect First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary with Constitutional Amendment

In a move to further legally enshrine the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the New Hampshire state Senate has introduced a concurrent resolution to create a constitutional amendment.

The end goal of CACR 9 is to take the language of the existing statute -- "the secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election" -- and elevate it to being a part of the Granite state's constitution. All 14 Senate Republicans and one Democratic representative have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

This all makes perfect sense. There is little more actors in New Hampshire state government can do to protect the status the presidential primary in the Granite state. To a person, each elected official in the state already leans heavily on the current state law in any dispute with other states or most recently with national parties when they arise. A constitutional amendment provides a bit more symbolic heft, but in the grand scheme of things, state amendments can be overturned by federal courts just as state laws can be. As such, this exercise is one that is intended to give a New Hampshire audience the reassurance that something is being done to further buttress the state's first-in-the-nation status in the face of a recent threat. 

But the interesting thing about this proposed amendment is that the question of the first-in-the-nation protection would have to go before the voters of New Hampshire and the matter would not appear on the ballot until the November 2024 general election. 

The proposed Yes/No question to be on the ballot:
“Are you in favor of amending the second part of the constitution by inserting after article 68 a new article to read as follows: 
[Art.] 68-a [Presidential Primary Elections.] The secretary of state shall ensure that the presidential primary election be held seven or more days immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election.”
That this measure is being held until the November 2024 general election -- a presidential election year -- as opposed to some off-year election or primary, maximizes turnout. But that could be viewed as something of a gamble. There is, no doubt, majority support in New Hampshire for keeping the presidential primary first in the order under state law (or state constitution). One would assume that anyway. 

However, for this measure to ultimately be written into the New Hampshire constitution, it would not just have to attain a bare majority of support, it would have to hit a supermajority of two-thirds.1 Maybe that is a shoo-in. Or perhaps, after a prolonged battle over the primary's position with the Democratic National Committee, waged across two calendar years, enough of the electorate in the Granite state in November 2024 has had enough and opts "No," keeping the protection out of the constitution.

Alternatively, voters could be looking to not only punish President Biden, should he be the Democrats' standard bearer in 2024, for the calendar shake up but further protect the primary. That is definitely closer to where the New Hampshire legislators behind this measure see this going. And honestly, it is probably closer to where this would truly end up. But we do not know that for sure this far out from the 2024 election and with a host of other actions likely to take place between now and then. 


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This legislation has been added to the updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


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1 To be clear, this is a two-thirds majority of those voters who fill in an answer to the first-in-the-nation ballot question and not two-thirds of all voters who cast a ballot in November 2024. There may be some ballot roll-off from, say, the presidential line at the top of the ballot to the constitutional amendment further down. 


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Hawaii Bill Would Establish a Presidential Primary

The Hawaii state legislature convened earlier this week for its 2023 session and wasted little time in prefiling legislation to create a presidential primary in the Aloha state. 

Rep. John Mizuno (D-29th, Kamehameha Heights) sponsored HB 342 which would establish a presidential primary in Hawaii for the first time and schedule it for the second Saturday in May. Additionally the measure calls for the chief elections officer, the chairperson of the Hawaii Elections Commission, to conduct a feasibility study to ascertain among other things how other states have made the transition from caucuses to a primary system of allocating national convention delegates. 

This current legislation echoes a pair of bills that were active and failed during the 2018 session. It is not clear how much the sentiment has changed if at all among Aloha state legislators in the intervening years. However, Hawaii is one of the last caucus states in the Democratic presidential nomination process and the only fully Democratic-controlled state without a state-run presidential primary option for 2024. Hawaii Democrats did hold a party-run presidential primary in 2020, an April contest that shifted to an all-mail process once the Covid-19 pandemic hit. 

The intent of the attendant feasibility study is understandable, but the timeline for change overall is less apparent. There is, for example, no deadline by which the study is to be completed. This suggests that the presidential primary may be established for the 2024 cycle on the second Saturday in May and that the study would recommend changes -- date, process for accommodating a Democratic primary and Republican caucuses, etc. -- for the 2028 cycle and beyond. Otherwise, it would potentially be a quick turnaround to conduct the feasibility study, report it back to the legislature and have the state House and Senate make any tweaks to the newly established primary for 2024 before the Hawaii legislative session wraps up its business in May. 

Granted, the legislative process will also have something to say about whether, how and in what state this bill becomes law in 2023.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

State House Companion Bill Would Also Push Michigan Presidential Primary to February 27

The recently introduced state Senate bill to move the Michigan presidential primary to the fourth Tuesday in February now has a companion in the state House. 

Rep. Noah Arbit (D-20th, West Bloomfield) and 24 Democratic co-sponsors filed HB 4029, a duplicate of the Senate legislation, on Wednesday. Like the Senate bill, this legislation would also shift the Michigan presidential primary into a position on February 27 that is in line with the calendar proposal adopted by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) in December. 

A key procedural difference on the House side is that HB 4029 was referred to the Elections Committee. That seems to indicate a more normal legislative process ahead. The state Senate took a seemingly more streamlined path in skipping the committee referral for its version of the legislation and immediately pushing it to consideration by the Committee on the Whole. Regardless, both chambers will need to quickly consider the move and pass it on to Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) for her signature in order to meet the DNCRBC-imposed February 1 deadline.

Notably also, there were no Republican co-sponsors of the legislation. But due to legislative rules in Michigan, Republicans are more necessary on the Senate side of this process than in the House where Democrats hold a one seat majority. 


Wednesday, January 18, 2023

How Do New Hampshirites Really Feel About 2024 and the Presidential Primary Calendar?

FHQ will admit it. We almost took the bait. 

...again. 

Another group of New Hampshire Democrats are voicing their displeasure with President Biden's proposed shake up to the 2024 presidential primary calendar. And once again, it looks like a doubling -- or tripling -- down on the same arguments that Democrats in the Granite state have used in defense of their first-in-the-nation presidential primary since the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) adopted the proposed calendar in December. And these Democrats are equally as justified in making that defense directly to the president as others have been over the last month or more. The calendar decision has not been finalized and will not be until the February DNC winter meeting at the earliest. 

But the national media keeps treating this as a national story. And it is! In that national story, New Hampshire Democrats keep digging in, seemingly making the situation worse with national Democrats. In that game it would behoove New Hampshire Democrats to quietly defer to the state law that requires the secretary of state in the Granite state to schedule the presidential primary there at least seven days before any other similar contest. That decision, after all, is out of their hands. So, too, are the changes to state law that the DNCRBC has requested New Hampshire Democrats push for with Republicans in control of the levers of power in the state. 

What continues to be in the control of New Hampshire Democrats is how they push for those changes. Elected Democrats in the New Hampshire General Court can propose legislation to change the date of the primary and to add no-excuse absentee voting. One Democrat has already proposed an expansion of absentee voting conditions (even if those changes likely fall short of what national Democrats have in mind).

Granted, the incentives are just not there to push for changes to the presidential primary date or to propose some alternative method of selecting and allocating national convention delegates. Those are both well within the power of New Hampshire Democrats to do, but to cede any ground -- any -- on first-in-the-nation status is to undermine the whole institution. And Democrats in the Granite state are not going to do that, especially before the decision has been finalized at the national level. 

So we are all left with this constant back and forth of bad optics for New Hampshire Democrats in the national media. A decision still has not been made and the vacuum keeps getting filled by the constant, yet natural, drip of New Hampshire Democrats lobbying the president or the DNCRBC in the lead up to when the calendar decision is to be made.

But rather than continue on that feedback loop where a new communication from Concord to Washington begets yet another national story about New Hampshire Democrats digging their hole even deeper with national Democrats, the focus should perhaps be elsewhere. 

Why is it that New Hampshire Democrats are doing this? Yes, yes. Defense of the presidential primary. Everyone gets that. But why are they doing this in this way when continued defiance only hurts them with the national party -- when it only seemingly brings the state party inescapably closer to sanctions from the national party? 

Much of this has to do with the fact that New Hampshire Democrats have two audiences to which they have to play. Every facet of the above story is about how the decisions state Democrats are making are playing with the national party audience (whether the national party as an organization or Democrats nationally). But how do these decisions play at home? In New Hampshire? 

No, FHQ is not talking about the DNC proposal. The vocalized response thus far seems to be against the changes called for the in the calendar plan adopted by the DNCRBC (but not yet finalized by the DNC). But how do New Hampshirites feel about the defense the Democratic Party in the Granite state is waging? 

Do they feel it is adequate? 

Do they feel it is even necessary? 

This strikes FHQ as a missing link in all the reporting on the New Hampshire Democratic Party response to the DNCRBC decision. The public reaction to the DNCRBC decision has been covered but feelings about the NHDP response have not. And that is important. It is important because NHDP continues to raise the negative ramifications of the national-level process and decision on electoral prospects for Democrats up and down the ballot in the Granite state. 

If New Hampshire Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in the electorate are of the opinion that the NHDP response to the national party is adequate, then it may not hurt Democrats in races other than the presidential race in 2024 or only affect them at the margins. [Yes, those margins can matter.] 

If those same folks in New Hampshire feel like the response from NHDP is unnecessary -- that New Hampshire is going to do what New Hampshire is going to do and go first anyway -- then it may not hurt Democrats at all in 2024. Republicans in the state are just screaming into the wind to no avail when raising the issue as a potential wedge. 

But we do not know those things. They are not part of the national narrative on this story. [And the New Hampshire press has incentives to tell this story as a defense of the primary and that alone.] So this story keeps getting told the same way every time it is revealed that some New Hampshire Democrat or group of them is making another pitch to some national Democrat or the DNCRBC. 

And it is not that FHQ is demanding a poll be commissioned. We do not even really have this information anecdotally. We are just being made to take a variety of New Hampshire Democrats' words for it that this calendar move -- whether New Hampshire Democrats defy it or not -- will be injurious to Democrats in 2024. 

Will it? There are ways to answer that and no one is really getting at them. ...at least not yet.