Thursday, April 13, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Primary Creep in Iowa and "Similar Elections"

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

So, New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan has weighed in on the proposed move toward an all-mail caucus on the part of Iowa Democrats, an idea that has been floating about for around a year now.

Many will continue to point the finger at and focus on what Iowa Democrats have said, are doing and will do for the 2024 cycle. But that misses something about the always-delicate Iowa/New Hampshire relationship surrounding the primary calendar: the role of the New Hampshire secretary of state, or more precisely, the secretary's ability to determine what does and does not constitute a "similar election" under New Hampshire law.

This is important because the secretary has wide latitude in making that determination. In fact, the simple binary -- primary or caucus -- that is being used in the current conversation around the calendar positioning of Iowa and New Hampshire in 2024 and this new caucus bill in Iowa has not always been so black and white. The goalposts have moved a bit over the years. 

It used to be that Iowa Republicans did not pose a threat to New Hampshire because the caucuses were not  binding. The voting that Hawkeye state Republicans did on caucus night did not actually allocate delegates directly to the candidates (for the national convention). There was a preference vote that was recorded and got reported, but it had no direct bearing on the process to select delegates to move on to the county conventions. That was a separate vote. 

But that changed in 2016 when new Republican National Committee (RNC) rules for that cycle required that any statewide vote -- like the preference vote at Republican precinct caucuses in Iowa -- had to be used to bind and allocate delegates to the national convention. 

The response from New Hampshire then? Not a similar election.  

Also, it used to be that Iowa Democrats got a pass from the New Hampshire secretary of state on their caucuses -- it was not a similar election -- because the party did not report percentages of the vote from caucus night. Instead, Hawkeye state Democrats reported state delegate equivalents. That changed in 2020 when Democratic National Committee rules mandated a clearer reflection of presidential preference in the allocation based on the first step in the process. In Iowa's case, that meant also reporting percentages that candidates got statewide and in congressional districts and "locking" allocation of national convention delegates from Iowa based on that.

The response from New Hampshire then? Also not a similar election. 

Now, it should be said that there is a new sheriff, uh, secretary in town. No longer is long-time Secretary of State Bill Gardner calling the shots. For the first time in the post-reform era (and in the life of the presidential primary law in the Granite state), there is someone new in charge. And David Scanalan has made a determination on Iowa Democrats' vote-by-mail caucus proposal. It would be considered a primary.  

All the changes above and now the Iowa Democrats' proposed process for 2024 all suggest a kind of slow creep ever-closer to a primary sort of process. Or a process that mirrors some aspects of New Hampshire's. But do those changes make Iowa's or Iowa Democrats' process a "similar election?" Now, that Scanlan has weighed in, probably yes. 

But are they similar? Again, in some respects, yes. But the Iowa proposal is all vote-by-mail. New Hampshire's process is not. In fact, the primary process in the Granite state is limited in its alternatives to in-person voting. Absentee voting is limited. There is no early voting. The reporting of the votes are similar across the two states, but that has not changed for 2024. Now, the Iowa proposal would likely increase participation in the "caucuses," but that is unlikely to increase the attention Iowa Democrats would gain. It is exceedingly unlikely that there is going to be much competition in the Democratic nomination race anyway. So that is not a threat to New Hampshire. 

If anything, switching to an all-mail process would arguably make the Iowa Democratic "caucuses" less like the process in New Hampshire, less a "similar election" than it was. 

But again, all the discussion around this Iowa bill and the Iowa/New Hampshire relationship really raises is the breakdown in communication between all parties concerned here. Iowans and New Hampshirites. Democrats and Republicans. State parties and secretaries of state. These are all folks who at one time had their eyes on the prize, the prize of protecting their positions atop the calendar. The DNC move to shunt Iowa Democrats to a later point on the calendar has made it an "everybody for themselves" proposition. And when unity among everyone in Iowa or New Hampshire is lacking, it only strengthens the hands the national parties can play in the long term. 

In the travel primary, Ron DeSantis is in Ohio today, and Vivek Ramaswamy is in New Hampshire to address the state Senate.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been doing a lot of the things that one would expect a likely presidential candidate to do. There is the campaign warchest busting at the seams. There are the hires of seasoned campaign operatives at an affiliated super PAC. There is the travel (see above). But nothing may be as indicative of a presidential run as reaching out to the remaining congresspeople from the Florida Republican delegation to the US House to either try to freeze them (in order to keep them from endorsing Trump) or win their endorsements outright for himself. And now a trip to the Capitol in DC is in the offing. 

Over at FHQ Plus...
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On this date... 1995, Rep. Bob Dornan (R-OH) entered the race for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. 2004, John Kerry won the Colorado caucuses, taking around two-thirds of the vote on his way to the Democratic nomination. 2015, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced his intentions to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. 


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