Monday, March 13, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Blue States Matter in the Republican Nomination Process, but so do Blue Districts

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Alan Greenblatt has a good reminder up at Governing about the role blue states play in the Republican presidential nomination process. But while there are also delegates to chase in Democratic states, the underlying math offers some interesting twists. 

Take California. The Golden state, as Greenblatt notes, is a solidly blue state but remains the largest delegate prize in the Republican process. Yet, how California Republicans decide to divvy up all of those delegates matters. More often than not, California has been a winner-take-all by congressional district state, meaning that, not only do the results statewide matter, but so too do the results in each of the state's 50-plus congressional districts. A candidate would need either a big win statewide or a win fairly evenly dispersed across all of those districts to sweep all or most them.

Of course, one difference between the Republican and Democratic delegate apportionment -- how the national parties distribute delegates to the states -- is in how each treats congressional district delegates. The Republican National Committee (RNC) apportions three delegates to every congressional district while Democrats weight them. The more Democratic a district has been (in terms of past voting), the more delegates it receives. Democratic districts -- where the Democrats are -- mean more in the math for candidates. But that is not true on the Republican side. They are all the same. Overwhelmingly Republican districts are the same as supermajority Democratic districts. As such, the relatively small number of Republicans in those solidly Democratic districts carry a bit more weight than a larger number of them packed into a Republican-leaning district. 

And there is an efficiency to all of this as well. Many of those Democratic districts are clustered in urban areas that can be reached more easily in person and/or on the air. There was some evidence of this in metro Atlanta in the 2016 Republican race. Marco Rubio was able to peel off a few Democratic districts there to gain some delegates. As that example illustrates, however, focusing solely on Democratic districts is no substitute for doing well in Republican areas as well (not unless there are a number of evenly matched candidates). But, as always, the rules matter.

[Incidentally, California Republicans dropped the allocation method described above for the 2020 cycle. An earlier primary forced the state party to abandon the winner-take-all by congressional district method because it would not have been compliant under RNC rules. But the change made minimized the congressional district and at-large delegate distinction. All of the delegates were pooled and all allocated based on the statewide results. If no candidate received a majority of the vote statewide, then the delegates were proportionally allocated. With majority support a candidate would win all of the delegates. But again, the rules matter.]

Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein has one on the current time of choosing for Republicans. The possible indictments former President Donald Trump faces means that Republicans are going to have to stake out positions on the matter one way or the other. And that has consequences for the 2024 invisible primary. On one end of the spectrum, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R), who is considering a White House bid of his own, has already suggested that Trump should drop out if he is indicted. And while it is not necessarily indictment-related, Mike Pence continues to break with Trump and more forcefully now. Other candidates will have decisions to make as this story develops.

Speaking of Trump, the former president drops in on Iowa today for the first time since announcing his third presidential run.

The political science literature tells us that the impact of political advertising is small and short-lived. But that has stopped super PAC spending on ads promoting President Biden's economic accomplishments. Yes, this is more of an attempt to frame the matter than to sway votes still 20 months away. ...but still, it is early.

On this date... 1984, it was Super Tuesday, a date that saw Walter Mondale and Gary Hart split contests in the Democratic presidential nomination race. Like 1992, the Super Tuesday of 1984 paled in comparison to the southern-dominated Super Tuesday of 1988. But the break in support in 1984 foreshadowed the pattern that would repeat itself to some degree in 1988. Mondale took contests in the Deep South while Hart took Florida and the two primaries in the northeast. But while Mondale rode those victories in Alabama and Georgia to the nomination, in 1988 Michael Dukakis filled the Hart role while, winning the peripheral South and the northeast as Jesse Jackson and Al Gore split the bulk of the former confederacy. 2012, it was the day of the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, two contests Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich needed in their longer term efforts to keep Mitt Romney from reaching the magic number of delegates to claim the Republican nomination. Romney was kept out of the winner's circle in each, but the delegate splits among the three candidates did not provide his challengers with the net delegate advantages they needed. This series of contests also garnered some attention because of Romney's "cheesy grits" comments. 2019, Miramar mayor Wayne Messam (D) formed an exploratory committee for a presidential run. Messam formally joined the race later in the month, but withdrew before primary season and ultimately received no votes in the process. 

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