Showing posts with label FHQ Plus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FHQ Plus. Show all posts

Saturday, August 5, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] Newly adopted California Republican delegate allocation rules offer clear benefits

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 

But the plan is a gamble for Trump and the state party for different reasons:

Did FHQ not just discuss California delegate allocation rules?


But the California Republican Party executive committee jettisoned that widely circulated (and panned) plan in favor of an alternate version, a version that seemingly balances the party’s desire to draw candidates into the Golden state and the Trump campaign’s push to maximize its delegates in the contest next year. Those benefits are clear enough on the surface, but neither is guaranteed. 

And that means the revised delegate allocation scheme for 2024 is a gamble of sorts. For California Republicans and for Trump. Delegate allocation rules can be a zero sum game and the friction that developed in and around the Executive Committee meeting on Saturday, July 29 from multiple sides was evidence of the high stakes involved. 

What changes did the California Republican Party make? And what does that mean for the 2024 race for the Republican presidential nomination?

The adopted changes

The initially proposed changes offered by the California Republican Party set up a plan with a few notable features:

  • A proportional allocation of the 13 at-large (and automatic/party) delegates based on the statewide vote with no qualifying threshold and no winner-take-all trigger (should one candidate win a majority of the vote statewide)

  • A proportional allocation of the 3 delegates in each of the 52 congressional districts based on the results within each congressional district. The top finisher in a congressional district vote would receive two delegates and the runner-up would receive the remaining delegate. Like the allocation of the at-large delegates described above, there would be no winner-take-all trigger should one candidate win a majority of the vote within the district

That method differs from the system the state party utilized in 2020 and it is also different than the plan adopted on Saturday. The newly adopted plan — the allocation plan California Republicans will use in 2024 — shed the separate allocation scheme for at-large and congressional district delegates and returned to a system that resembles the 2020 plan with one big exception: there is no qualifying threshold. But exactly like the 2020 delegate allocation among Golden state Republicans, the 2024 system will have the following provisions:

  • All 169 delegates, including at-large, automatic/party and congressional district delegates, will be pooled (meaning they will all be allocated as one bloc). Again, that is just as it was for 2020.

  • All 169 delegates will be allocated proportionally based on the statewide results. That, too, is just the same as under the 2020 rules

  • If any candidate wins the California primary with more than 50 percent of the vote, then all 169 delegates will be allocated to that candidate. Just like the 2020 plan, California Republicans have included in their 2024 rules a winner-take-all trigger or winner-take-all threshold. 

However, unlike 2020, more candidates will likely be eligible for some share of the 169 delegates available because there will no longer be a 20 percent qualifying threshold, the highest bar allowed under Republican National Committee rules. That is a big difference. 

How big? 

The impact of 2020 versus 2024 rules

Pretty big.

Using the results from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary with the 2020 and 2024 California Republican Party allocation rules highlights the scale of the change.1

With no qualifying threshold, as under the 2024 rules, five additional candidates would have been allocated delegates as compared to the 2020 rules. And candidates with as little as two percent support would have claimed at least some share of the pool of 169 delegates.2 But importantly, the top two candidates — the only two who would have cleared the 20 percent threshold to qualify for delegates under the 2020 rules — would have lost a significant chunk of delegates in the transition from 2020 to 2024 rules. Sanders would have lost 34 and Biden, 26. 

Now, imagine that Sanders pulled in closer to half of the voters in the last California primary. Pretend Elizabeth Warren was not in the race and that the 13.2 percent the Massachusetts senator won went to Sanders instead. Under the 2020 California Republican allocation rules, Sanders would have won 108 delegates compared to 84 delegates according to the 2024 plan. What is clear is that Sanders would pay a price in delegates won without a qualifying threshold

FHQ raises the second scenario because Trump is currently hovering around the 50 percent mark in polling both nationally and in California. The penalty for not hitting the winner-take-all threshold, which is in the 2024 California Republican delegate allocation rules, would be significant, but it will be greater in the absence of a qualifying threshold. It makes strategic sense to secure the former threshold, but it is a gamble. 

If Trump does not hit it, then the price is steep and the net delegate advantage coming out of the California primary would likely differ very little from the original 2024 rules proposal that Republicans in the Golden state floated. However, if Trump does eclipse the 50 percent barrier and trips the winner-take-all trigger, then it is clearly close to a death knell for his opposition. A +169 is tough to overcome even if Super Tuesday’s results are mixed and states with truly winner-take-all rules lie ahead on the calendar. 

It is not that there are not advantages for Trump in this change (either relative to 2020 or the alternate 2024 proposal), but the new rules do place a great deal of pressure on the campaign to make it happen.


But why is there not a qualifying threshold?

That is the gamble the state party is making. 

If more candidates are eligible for delegates, then that may be enough of a carrot to lure candidates of all stripes into the state to campaign and spend money. In theory that makes sense. But in practice, the cost/benefit analysis may not work in the favor of California Republicans who are championing this revised plan. 

The candidates will go to California. They always do to raise money. But turning around and spending that money (in a variety of ways) in the Golden state may not offer as much bang for the candidates’ buck as it might in other states. Yes, California is the most delegate-rich state out there — and promises 169 delegates to anyone who can clear 50 percent in the primary — but it is also prohibitively expensive to reach voters and in turn win votes/delegates. And as long as Trump is threatening to hit the winner-take-all trigger, it may be enough to ward off concerted investment in the state. 

But where this plan is clever is in the fact that it potentially motivates all of the candidates. It draws the Trump campaign in to expend resources in the state to win all of the delegates. Yet, it potentially entices other candidates to take a risk to keep Trump under the majority mark and minimize the former president’s net delegate advantage coming out of California and Super Tuesday. 

And that is just it. Much of the above discusses California in isolation. But the California primary is not an isolated event. It falls on Super Tuesday when roughly a third of the total number of delegates will be allocated. Few may be able to run a truly national campaign leading up to March 5. And few may choose to incorporate California directly into their investments for Super Tuesday.3 The options may be better (and cheaper) elsewhere. 

Still, the Trump campaign is calling the change in California a win for them. And it may be. But only if the former president can win a majority. And that is not a sure thing.

1 FHQ is using the 2020 Democratic results because the California Democratic primary was both early (as the 2024 primary is) and competitive. The 2020 Republican primary in California was also on Super Tuesday but uncompetitive, and the 2016 Republican primary in the Golden state was later and fell after Donald Trump’s viable opposition had withdrawn from the race. 

2 That allocation outcome depends to some degree on how California Republicans choose to round. All fractional delegates are rounded up starting with the top vote-getter and progressing from there in descending order of vote share. Under different (and more conventional) rounding rules, even more candidates would have qualified for delegates (and with less than one percent support).

3 Candidates may choose to indirectly hit California through national ad buys instead.


Saturday, July 22, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] A second state-run primary option in New Hampshire?

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


Talk about burying the lede. This came in over the wires from NBC News this morning...
New Hampshire Republicans would prefer to keep their primary in late January, after Iowa, rather than see [New Hampshire Secretary of State David] Scanlan have to leapfrog Iowa because of Democrats’ maneuvering. Republican state Rep. Ross Berry, who chairs the House Election Law Committee, said he is considering “contingencies” that might prevent that.

Berry said he is considering introducing legislation that would allow Scanlan to set two different primary dates, one for each party. He called it a “last resort option” that would give Scanlan a new tool if he makes the determination that Iowa’s Democratic caucus is functionally the same as a primary.

“We don’t want to get caught flat-footed on it,” Berry said. “If the secretary of state says, ‘You know what, I’m cool with Iowa mailing in their stuff,’ we have no problem, I see no reason to change things,” he continued.
The rest of the piece is standard fare for stories covering the back and forth over the calendar between Iowa Democrats and the New Hampshire secretary of state. It builds up the tension that seemingly exists without getting too far down into the weeds to explain that there probably is not much tension there at all. As the piece notes, it is not unusual for New Hampshire to string this decision out. Long-time and former Secretary Gardner pulled the trigger on a choice for 2008 the day before Thanksgiving in 2007 and waited into November again in 2011. In both cases, a decision was made roughly two months before January primaries in both cycles. Regardless of the timing of a decision from Scanlan, the choice boils down to answering one simple question. And Iowa Democrats are not showing their cards at the moment (even if the state party's actions seem to tip their hand).

But still, even if the early state calendar tension is on a low simmer (at most), the notion that there is a proposal for an emergency legislative fix in the Granite state is newsworthy. Well, it is newsworthy on the surface anyway.

Digging in a bit, creating an option for the secretary of state to schedule a second presidential primary would bail out Democrats currently at odds with the national party over the DNC’s new calendar rules for the 2024 cycle. That New Hampshire Republicans would even consider that is enough to raise eyebrows. And that is without considering the costs associated with a second state-run presidential primary election. The state footing the bill for that is one thing that is almost unbelievable, but creating a carve-out for (what some perceive as) Democrats’ collective own-goal in a battleground state would seem to be a bridge to far for Republicans in control of the levers of power in the state.

But it also goes to show just how far at least one Republican is willing to go to preserve the first-in-the-nation tradition in the Granite state.

Of course, none of this appears necessary at the moment. There are questions surrounding the scheduling of the all-mail Iowa Democratic presidential preference vote. [The Democratic caucuses will be on January 15.] But why would Iowa Democrats go to the trouble of devising this bifurcated caucus/preference vote process in an incumbent cycle if they were just going to break the rules. The system is one that allows Iowa Democrats to have their cake and hopefully (from their perspective) eat it too. The caucuses will remain first (the same night as Iowa Republicans), but the delegate allocation (through the preference vote) can conclude later than that at a time that is either in the Democrats’ early window (with a waiver from the DNC) or on or after March 5. It is a system designed to preserve tradition and comply with DNC rules. It is also a system that allows Iowa Democrats to stay out of the way of business as usual in the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office.

So maybe NBC News did not bury the lede here. Maybe they just got an interesting quote from a legislator in New Hampshire with a proposal for a novel rip cord the state could pull in case of emergency. The only thing is that there does not appear to be an emergency in the near term or on the horizon.

All there actually is is an inability in the press to dig in on this story and describe what is happening between Iowa and New Hampshire. Less than meets the eye.


Saturday, June 24, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] The Georgia primary isn't really in "limbo"

The following is a cross-posted excerpt from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


FHQ always follows along with rules meetings when I have the time. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) meeting late last week from Minneapolis was no exception. It was a productive if not eventful meeting. Among other things, the panel extended the early calendar waiver for New Hampshire and took up 19 state delegate selection plans, clearing 15 of them as conditionally compliant. 

Much of it seemed straightforward enough. But then I read some of the recaps and kept asking myself if folks had watched the same meeting I had. Sure, rules can have their various interpretations, but these sorts of sessions — those where delegate selection plans are being reviewed — can be pretty technical, pretty black and white. Yet, that did not stop some folks from reading shades of gray into matters where there really is none. Or in the case of the New Hampshire waiver, seeing what they wanted to see.

The consideration of the Georgia presidential primary (and any waiver extension for it) at the DNCRBC meeting last week was one of those situations. Like New Hampshire, the presidential primary in the Peach state had a spot in the early window of the Democratic calendar reserved for it for 2024, but ran into resistance with Republican state officials back home. However, unlike the situation in New Hampshire, the date of the Georgia primary has been set by the secretary of state. That deal is done. 

And DNCRBC co-Chair Minyan Moore seemed to acknowledge that in her comments about what she and fellow co-Chair Jim Roosevelt would recommend to the committee. She conceded that, despite the efforts of Democrats in Georgia and nationally, Peach state Republicans would not budge. They would not cooperate with the proposed change. And though Moore did not acknowledge it, it was an entirely understandable position. Any Georgia primary in mid-February would have cost Peach state Republicans a sizable chunk of their delegation to the national convention in Milwaukee next summer. Their hands were tied. They always were with respect to a February 13 position under Republican National Committee rules. [There were, however, other early window options that may have worked.]

But after that explanation, Moore said…

“…it does not seem to make sense to extend the Georgia waiver at this point. Regardless, I think the foundation has been laid for 2028, and it is a discussion that we need to continue.”

The key phrase in that statement is the highlighted one, at this point. Its addition was enough for the Associated Press to say that the Georgia primary was in limbo, that the committee had “opted not to immediately offer such an extension to another battleground state, Georgia.”

Look, the at this point was in reference to 2024 in its entirety, not this particular point in the 2024 cycle. And the reference to 2028 should have driven that point home. There is no number of waivers that the DNCRBC could offer Georgia Democrats that could get the state-run primary out of that March 12 slot. None. It is not in limbo. It is set for 2024. And this discussion can continue. 

…for 2028.

But it should be noted that there is a loose thread in all of this. There still is no draft delegate selection plan from the Georgia Democratic Party. Its absence at this time could create enough uncertainty that one may be inclined to suggest that maybe a party-run primary of some sort is in the works. 


But if that was the case, then the DNCRBC would have granted an extension on the Georgia waiver last week. They did not. And they held back on that waiver extension because Georgia is done. The primary is set. 

The committee is set to address delegate selection plans from the southern region at its July meeting, so this all should clear up to some degree by then. 


Saturday, June 17, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] A glance inside one of the primary alternatives for Idaho Republicans

The following is a cross-posted excerpt from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


[NOTE: Earlier in 2023, the Idaho legislature eliminated the separate March presidential primary in the Gem state. And due to a drafting snafu did not reinsert the necessary language to consolidate the primary with the May nomination contests. That has put both parties in the state in a bind for 2024.]

Already, Idaho Democrats have called for a special session to restore the primary, scheduling it along with the primaries for other offices in May as was the intent of the bill that was initially brought before the state legislature earlier this year. But Gem state Democrats have also put forth a contingency plan for caucuses on Saturday, May 18 if the legislature does not act to fix the primary problem in time for 2024.

But what about Republicans in the Gem state? 

For Idaho Republicans both the demands and the contingency plans are different. In fact, there are two plans from which the Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee will choose at the summer meeting in Challis on June 23-24: a caucus plan and a convention plan.

Presidential Caucus Plan

Idaho Republicans do have some recent experience with the use of caucuses for allocating and selecting delegates. The party last used one in 2012. But the 2024 caucus plan proposed by Region 2 Chair Clinton Daniel strays from the vote-until-a-candidate-receives-a-majority, winner-take-all method the party used in the cycle when Mitt Romney won the caucuses. 

Instead, the Daniel’s proposal would provide for a more traditional caucus with a more conventional allocation scheme. First of all, the delegates would be pooled under the provisions of the plan. There would be just one allocation for the at-large, congressional district and automatic/party delegates combined. Additionally, there would be a winner-take-all trigger, where, if a candidate wins a majority of the caucus preference vote statewide, then that candidate would be awarded all of the Idaho delegates. Otherwise, delegates would be proportionally allocated with a 15 percent qualifying threshold. Any rounding would be to the nearest whole delegate with any unallocated delegate going to the winner. 

Again, all of that is fairly conventional. But there are a few unique provisions in the proposed caucus plan:

  1. The date: The proposed date for the presidential caucuses in this plan? Saturday, March 2, the same day as the Michigan Republican district caucuses. Basically, both of those contests would fall into a position on the calendar similar to that of the South Carolina Democratic primary in 2020, the Saturday before Super Tuesday.1 That is not the February date that Idaho Republican Party Chair Dorothy Moon talked about in the committee hearing that derailed the presidential primary fix, but it is close. 

  2. A conditional caucus: But there is a catch in the caucus plan. If the state legislature restores the presidential primary before the October 1 RNC deadline for delegate selection plans to be submitted to the national party, then the Idaho Republican Party would use the state-run primary. However, Idaho Republicans would only use the primary if the election is scheduled for the second Tuesday in March as it was before H 138 unintentionally eliminated it this past legislative session. [This seems unlikely. What drove the elimination of the separate presidential primary in the first place last winter was the cost savings associated with consolidating the presidential preference vote with other primary elections in May.]

  3. A two-tiered filing process: If the prime, March 2 date is not enough to draw candidates out to the Gem state to campaign and spend money, the system under which candidates will file to participate in the caucuses may. The baseline filing fee is set at $50,000 under the proposal. Candidates may choose not to campaign or spend money in the state, but the campaigns would have to fork over an exorbitant fee to the state party, a fee that may cushion that blow to Idaho Republicans of candidates skipping out on the state. But that is not the only filing option. The fee is cut in half if the candidate holds an event in the state sometime during January or February 2024. That is still a lofty fee and it has the benefit of bringing the candidates into the state. It is a clever twist that a state party can more easily pull off with a party-run process (than a state-run one, the parameters of which are defined by state law).


Saturday, June 10, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] Folks, the new caucus law in Iowa does not affect state Democrats' plans for 2024

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. Follow the link below.

There is a lot going on with the new caucus law in Iowa. Governor Kim Reynolds signed HF 716 on Thursday, June 1 and the measure requires in-person participation at precinct caucuses that select delegates as part of a presidential nominating process. That one fairly simple change has created a great deal of confusion as to the true nature of its effects for the two major parties in the state in 2024. But just because the new requirement fits into a complicated web of component parts does not mean that one cannot suss out what is going on here. 

Here is what is going on in the Hawkeye state now that the law has been changed.

1) This new law does not affect the delegate selection plans for 2024 that Iowa Democrats have previewed. It does not. Read the language of the change:

If the state central committee of a political party chooses to select its delegates as a part of the presidential nominating process at political party precinct caucuses on the date provided in subsection 1, the precinct caucuses shall take place in person among the participants physically present at the location of each precinct caucus.

Everything one needs to know about that entire section and how it interacts with the Iowa Democratic Party delegate selection plan is right there in that one highlighted word, select. The proposed vote-by-mail component of the Democrats’ defined “caucus” procedure has nothing to do with the process of selecting delegates. It has everything to do with the allocation of delegates. That all-mail presidential preference vote affects the allocation and not the selection process. As such, it is unaffected by what Governor Reynolds signed into law on Thursday. 

The selection process for delegates to the national convention will commence at the precinct caucuses, presumably on the same night for Democrats in Iowa as Republicans. According to the draft plan from Iowa Democrats, that part will be conducted in person. It would comply with the new law. 

2) Just because the provisions of the Iowa Democratic Party draft delegate selection plan for 2024 comply with the newly signed law does not mean the law is constitutional. Private political parties have the first amendment right to freely associate, to freely and independently determine the rules of how their members associate. The new law abridges that freedom to some degree by requiring in-person participation. 

Look, Democrats in Iowa may sue in an attempt to have this restriction rescinded, but that action would be taken because it infringes on the party’s broad first amendment rights and not because it affects the party’s plans for the 2024 presidential nominating process. It does not.

The big issue here is that actors in Iowa have blurred the lines on this for more than 50 years to protect the first-in-the-nation status of the caucuses. State government decision makers have legislated their way into political party business. And that works when everyone is on the same page, regardless of party. But when there is a split along partisan lines like there is in 2023, and one side attempts to further legislate to further insulate first-in-the-nation status, it raises red flags with respect to how much state law has crept into party business. That is what provoked this response from Iowa Democrats to the bill’s signing on Thursday:

"No political party can tell another political party how to conduct its party caucuses. Iowa Democrats will do what's best for Iowa, plain and simple," Hart said. "For many years, Iowa Democrats have worked in good faith with the Republicans to preserve our caucuses. This legislation ends decades of bipartisanship, and now Kim Reynolds has signed off on this attempt to meddle in Democratic party business."

Yet, that has nothing to do with Iowa Democratic Party plans for 2024.

3) One additional layer to all of this that FHQ should reiterate is that Iowa Democrats do everyone a disservice by continuing to call this new and newly bifurcated delegate selection process a “caucus.” It is not. There is a caucus component to it, the selection process. But overall, the whole thing is not a caucus. A traditional caucus process basically merges the beginning of the delegate selection process with the delegate allocation process. But under the plan, the precinct caucuses only affect the initial stages of the selection process. Again, the allocation process is separate and dictated by the results of the proposed vote-by-mail presidential preference vote. 

That is a long name. Let’s give it another one: party-run primary. The proposed preference vote is a party-run primary. It is that simple. Iowa Democrats’ plan for 2024 brings the party in line with the bifurcated process in nearly all state-run and party-run primary states. It is, in other words, completely normal. 

But Iowa Democrats continue to call this entire process a caucus. It is understandable why. There is a certain branding behind the caucuses as they have existed at the front of the presidential primary queue for half a century. Obviously that would be difficult to give up. And that is why Iowa Democrats have bent themselves into pretzels to satisfy both the national party and folks at home to whom being first matters. Thus, the caucus component of the process — the selection part, recall — will remain first in the nation and the party-run primary part will happen at a time that likely complies with DNC rules. All of this, of course, assumes the plan is approved by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee in the end. If it does not comply, then the plan will not be granted approval.

But let’s call a spade a spade. Iowa Democrats will have a party-run primary in 2024 if this plan is approved. They can call it what they want, but calling it a caucus only confuses things in the near term as all of this dust settles. 

4) Another point of confusion in the coverage of this new law is the how it affects the delicate relationship — one forged over half a century — between Iowa and New Hampshire. To repeat, this new law does not affect the plans Iowa Democrats have for their delegate selection process in 2024. By extension, then, it does not affect anything between Iowa and New Hampshire. 

The bottom line for New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scalan in all of this is simple. He is looking at one thing. One thing: the date on which the vote-by-mail preference vote concludes. Now, if that process were to wrap up on caucus night in early to mid-January, then yes, Secretary Scanlan would likely take issue with that move and act accordingly with respect to the scheduling of the presidential primary in the Granite state. He would, because of the law there, schedule the primary for before the end of the preference vote. 

But what if that preference vote ended not only after the precinct caucuses, but well after them? What if both that process concluded and the result were released some time in February (if a waiver was granted by the DNC to Iowa instead of Georgia and/or New Hampshire) or in March or later? Well, Secretary Scanlan would have little to worry about in that scenario. He could nudge the New Hampshire primary up beyond the South Carolina Democratic primary scheduled for February 3 and any other similar election that might slot into the calendar before that point. 

Iowa Democrats are angling for an early window slot on the Democratic primary calendar. That is the hold up right now. Once that date is known, the New Hampshire conflict will materialize and intensify or it will not. Iowa Democrats appear to be trying their darnedest to get back into the good graces of the national party after 2020, so the odds are very good that all of this supposed friction between Iowa and New Hampshire will melt away once the timing question is answered. 

But to reiterate, that supposed friction has nothing to do with this law. It has everything to do with the date of the preference vote being unknown. The two things are separate despite what the Republicans driving this change to the law in the Iowa legislature may suggest. That became clear when the bill was amended and passed the state House on May 1. Those changes to the initial bill gave Iowa Democrats the flexibility they needed to move forward with the delegate selection plan they unveiled two days later. The in-person requirement was window dressing for New Hampshire, but the real change was in the registration requirements the new law allows the parties to set. It is not specified but Iowa Republicans can institute the 70 day registration buffer that was stripped from the initial bill because of the broad discretion the new law affords the state party.

Is all of this complicated? 

Sure, there are a lot of component parts to it all. But those parts can be parsed out and that is what is missing in nearly all of the coverage of this new law in Iowa. There seems to be a lot of throw all of the information out there, let everyone figure it all out on their own and assume chaos. Hey, it gets clicks. But one does not have do dig too deeply or work too hard to put the puzzle pieces together. And that way chaos does not necessarily lie.


Saturday, May 27, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] The Trump Trial and the Primary Calendar

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


The former president's hush money payment trial in Manhattan is set to start in the sweet spot of the 2024 presidential primary calendar.

Former President Donald Trump beamed into a New York courtroom via video on Tuesday, May 23 for a hearing in which, among other things, the start date of the trial stemming from the 2016 hush money payments investigation was revealed. And the March 25, 2024 date falls right into the heart of the 2024 presidential primary calendar. It is not just that the trial will begin as March winds down following the opening of the (more) winner-take-all phase of the Republican presidential nomination process. 

Yes, the calendar of contests is still evolving, but the tentative start of the trial is a big deal for at least a couple of reasons based on where it looks as if the calendar will end up settling for 2024.

Sure, March 25 will be well after Iowa and New Hampshire have officially kicked off the voting phase of the Republican presidential nomination race. It will follow Super Tuesday. And it will hit right after the time on the calendar — March 15 — when states are allowed to allocate delegates to candidates in a winner-take-all fashion. But more importantly, March 25 falls in what is likely to be the decisive zone on the presidential primary calendar next year. 

In the last three competitive Republican presidential nomination cycles, the candidate who has held the delegate lead when 50 percent of the total number of delegates have been allocated has gone on to clinch the nomination around the point on the calendar when 75 percent of the delegates have been allocated. And in 2024, the 50 percent mark will likely fall somewhere between Super Tuesday on March 5 and the first round of winner-take-all-eligible primaries on March 19. Just two weeks later, on April 2, the 75 percent mark will likely be crossed with an anticipated subregional primary in the northeast and mid-Atlantic (with Wisconsin along for the ride).

March 25 is right in that window. 

But look at the 50-75 rule in the context of the last few competitive Republican cycles. 

  • In 2008, John McCain came out of Super Tuesday on February 5 with a sizable delegate lead that he did not relinquish down the stretch. Super Tuesday was the point on the calendar when the 50 percent mark was passed and McCain had wrapped up the nomination by early March when the 75 percent point came and went. 

  • Four years later, the calendar was different. Yes, Florida again pushed the earliest contests into January, but California was no longer in early February. The primary in Texas was no longer in early March. Instead, both delegate-rich states were toward the end of the calendar and that influenced where the 50-75 rule was activated in 2012. 50 percent of the Republican delegates had not been allocated that cycle until after 75 percent of them had been allocated in 2008. The 75 percent mark did not come in 2012 until the Texas primary at the end of May. That is a significant difference, but Mitt Romney was the delegate leader in late March and secured the requisite number of delegates to clinch the nomination in the Lone Star state in late May. 

  • In 2016, the calendar changed again, but the 50-75 rule remained fairly predictive. Donald Trump was the delegate leader when the 50 percent mark was crossed on March 15 and had a nearly insurmountable advantage after wins in the northeast and mid-Atlantic in late April, when the process pushed past the 75 percent point on the calendar. No, Trump did not clinch that day, but his last challengers withdrew a week later. 

The 2024 calendar is not shaping up to be like any of those examples exactly. 50 percent of the delegates will have been allocated around the same point on the calendar in 2024 as 2016, but the 75 percent mark will come in much quicker succession thereafter. Again, it comes just two weeks later. That is a rapid delegate distribution. It is not 2008 fast, but it is fast. And March 25 is right there, late enough in process, but right in that calendar sweet spot where nomination decisions tend to be made in the Republican process.

The Emerging April Gap

Fast forward to March 25, 2024. The 50 percent mark has been surpassed in terms of delegates allocated and a candidate has a clear advantage in the delegate count. That candidate is almost always the frontrunner heading into primary season. Not always, but often enough. At this point in time, seven months out from Iowa starting the voting phase, that frontrunner is Donald Trump. He may not be in seven or nine months time. 

Regardless, this big external event is plopped down right in the middle of primary season. And it will not be over and done with on March 25. That trial will last a little bit and draw a lot of attention in the process. It will additionally likely overlap with the April 2 round of primaries. 

Now, the calendar is not set yet. But April 2 is poised to grow its footprint on the 2024 process in the coming days and weeks. Officially, Wisconsin is the only contest on that date as of now. However, bills have been proposed to move the ConnecticutDelaware and Rhode Island primaries to that date. There are signals that legislation is forthcoming from New York to move the presidential primary in the Empire state to April 2 as well. And talk is ramping up that Pennsylvania’s primary may land there also. 

Yet, in moving, those states are pulling up tent posts in late April and shifting them to the beginning of the month. That is going to hollow out the rest of April on the Republican calendar after April 2. There will potentially be no contests scheduled for the rest of the month.

There will potentially be no primaries or caucuses again until the Indiana primary on May 7. 

That is a five week gap with no contests. That is a five week gap that will exert a tremendous amount of pressure on the candidates trailing in the delegate count to close up shop and call it a day. That is a five week gap into which a trial that starts on March 25 will potentially creep and suck up even more attention (potentially away from those trailing candidates who need it most). 

However, that trial, while possibly drawing attention away from the campaign trail, will also create uncertainty; uncertainty as to the viability of the potential frontrunner and delegate leader. And despite feeling pressure to drop out, that may have the effect of, as Julia Azari and Seth Masket recently pointed out, keeping candidates who may otherwise have dropped out in past cycles in this race longer. 

But the point here is that this emerging April gap in the calendar is at the very point in the process when this trial is set to be going on. And there will be no contests or results to divert attention after April 2. Trump could have the nomination close to wrapped up by that point, but other trailing candidates could still be hanging around even as there are no primaries and caucuses for weeks. 

Look, this is already a weird dynamic. But throwing a trial into this rapid succession of delegate allocation followed by a gap in the action right as someone potentially gets close to clinching would create a strange matrix of incentives for all players involved. And that has implications for how the Republican nomination process winds down and transitions into the convention phase typically set aside to bring the party together for a general election run. 


Saturday, May 20, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] The Quirks of Scheduling a South Carolina Presidential Primary

The following is a cross-posted excerpt from FHQ Plus, FHQ's new subscription service. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recently made the curious decision to schedule the presidential primary in the Peach state for March 12, a week after Super Tuesday. And the move not only ended the hopes of Georgia Democrats holding a primary in the pre-window on the 2024 presidential primary calendar, but it also highlighted why South Carolina got the nod from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to take over the lead off slot

The Raffensperger obstacle in Georgia, whether viewed through the lens of partisanship or not, is something with which decision makers in the Palmetto state do not have to contend. After all, like Georgia, the state of South Carolina foots the bill for the election. However, unlike Georgia, the it is the state parties in South Carolina that set the date of the contest. It is a unique power that grants the state’s primaries more scheduling mobility than the vast majority of the states and allows South Carolina to remain first-in-the-South (if not first-in-the-nation).

But that freedom in South Carolina is not without some fetters. 

Caitlin Byrd and Alexander Thompson had a nice “yes, South Carolina Democrats are actually having the first primary in 2024” story over the weekend. And complications with rogue New Hampshire (and the very likely resulting penalties from the DNC) aside, they are. South Carolina Democrats will have a February 3 primary next year. 

But as the piece notes, it is not all smooth sailing in the Palmetto state. 

But not everyone is convinced that a 2024 presidential primary would be a major financial or organizing boost. Former party chair Dick Harpootlian questioned the value of holding a potentially costly event for a predictable outcome.  

“The question is, do we have one if it’s the president versus nobody, because it costs a tremendous amount of money to do that,” he said.

Two Democrats so far have announced challenging Biden for the 2024 presidential nomination: Marianne Williamson and Robert Kennedy Jr., both widely viewed as long shots. 

Pressed if he would want a primary with the current field, Harpootlian replied, “I wouldn’t have it.”

Again, South Carolina Democrats are going to have that February 3 primary. But Harpootlian hints at some of the historical quirks in South Carolina, quirks that have taken new shape under state and national party changes. Yes, the parties have the freedom to set the date of the contest for anywhere on the calendar they wish, so long as it follows party rules. And in years past when incumbent presidents have run for reelection, those same state parties have had the freedom to cancel the contest and select delegates through a caucus/convention process. It is not some sinister plot to foil the plans of also-ran candidates. Instead, it is a nod to reality. If the president is going to be renominated, then why, in recent years since the state began funding the primaries, spend taxpayer money (or party money before that) to fund a beauty contest election? The answer is that those state parties have not. There was no big, first-in-the-South primary when Bill Clinton ran for reelection in 1996, or for George W. Bush in 2004, or Barack Obama in 2012 or Donald Trump in 2020. Caucuses and/or conventions were held instead. 

But South Carolina Democrats do not have that freedom for 2024. And no one seems to be lamenting that loss. Everyone is too busy celebrating the elevation of the primary to the first spot on the calendar instead. Well, perhaps not Dick Harpootlian. But he is not wrong, per se, nor is South Carolina alone. The primary is alone at the top, of course, but even other states or state parties that might otherwise go small in 2024 with a Democratic president running again have to go through the motions of a primary because of the Rule 2 encouragements layered into DNC rules for the 2020 cycle, the encouragements to hold the most open and accessible nominating contests as is feasible.

To be sure, folks at the DNC would push back against the notion that any state or state party is “going through the motions.” The argument from the national party would most certainly be that the party is creating the most open, inclusive and accessible process for Democratic primary voters. However, the trade-off, if one wants to call it that, is that the party loses out on the incumbent-cycle streamlining of the process. 

And that streamlining, scaling down from a primary to a caucus, is something that some, if not all of the folks, at the DNC would say is no real loss. While that may be in the eye of the beholder, it is also true that there are and have been limited opportunities to streamline anyway. State parties with party-run nominating events may downgrade — hold caucuses over a party-run primary or a convention over caucuses. And some state parties do opt out of state-run primaries in incumbent cycles. Arizona and South Carolina did on the Republican side in 2020. Democrats in Florida and Michigan did in 2012 to avoid non-compliant primaries that were scheduled too early. And Washington Democrats in the legislature canceled the primary there that cycle, a primary the party never used until 2020 (after the legislature brought it back). And there ends up being a handful of states each cycle that automatically cancel a primary if only one candidate is on the ballot. 

So, there are a few instances each cycle where contests are canceled, but South Carolina is unique among state-funded primary states in that Democrats and Republicans can choose, and have chosen, separate dates throughout the post-reform era. And since the state got into the primary funding business for 2008, just two of the four cycles have seen primary cancelations. But 2024 will be the first one where an incumbent is running and a primary is not canceled. It will be the first time the state of South Carolina has had to pay for a largely uncompetitive presidential primary involving an incumbent president.

Again, this is not the custom elsewhere. In all other primary states, there is one primary. A state party with an incumbent president may opt out, but on the whole primaries are held and delegates are allocated, typically based on lopsided results that hand the president the overwhelming majority if not all of the delegates. But the cost constraint in South Carolina represents a unique obstacle with the state parties holding primaries on separate dates. That is two separate elections to fund. 

And that brings this back to 2024. There will be two primaries. But this will be the first time the state has funded primaries when the incumbent president’s party is not opting out. No one is complaining. The legislature is not threatening the funding. It is spent in service of keeping South Carolina first-in-the-South. But as Byrd and Thompson noted in their article, Palmetto state Republicans used the costs as a justification for opting out in 2020. Democrats in the state are not doing that for 2024. 

The question is whether that action will be the only first in South Carolina for 2024. Separate Democratic and Republican primaries have been the norm. But they do not have to be on different dates. South Carolina Republicans could join Democrats on February 3, save the state the second expenditure and provide a little more room for Iowa and New Hampshire to maneuver in January. 

But that may be a bridge too far in a state with a number of quirks.



Saturday, May 13, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] About the California Republican Party Delegate Rules for 2024

The following is a cross-posted excerpt from FHQ Plus, FHQ's new subscription service. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


Seema Mehta at the LA Times had a nice piece up today on Republican delegate allocation in California for 2024. The premise was that the winner-take-all by congressional district rules would grant greater voice to the small number of Republican voters in large urban areas compared to the more conservative areas of the state.

And sure, under the Republican National Committee (RNC) delegate apportionment scheme every congressional district — red, blue or purple — counts the same: three delegates each. As Mehta put it:

It doesn’t matter if it’s former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco-based district, home to 29,150 registered Republicans, … or current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s district centered in Bakersfield, where 205,738 GOP voters live.

Mathematically speaking, it makes some strategic sense for campaigns to chase the districts with the smaller number of partisans. Very simply, the return on investment is greater. And there was some evidence of this in the 2016 race as FHQ noted in Invisible Primary: Visible earlier this year

But here is the thing: California will have a Super Tuesday primary next year. And that March 5 date is prior to March 15 when the winner-take-all prohibition under RNC rules ends. As a result, California Republicans utilizing a winner-take-all by congressional district delegate allocation method before March 15 would be in violation of those national party rules and cost the party half of their 169 delegates under Rule 17(a). 

How did it come to this? Is the California Republican Party deliberately flaunting RNC rules? It does not really look that way. 

To start, the baseline set of national convention delegate allocation rules is a winner-take-all by congressional district method. That has not changed in recent years. What did change in 2019 was that the party adopted a set of allocation rules that were more proportional for 2020 and complied with RNC rules for that cycle. But they sunset in 2021.1 That means that the baseline winner-take-all by congressional district rules are the rules for 2024. 

…for now.

But that will likely change and FHQ bases that on a couple of factors. First, nothing dealing with national convention delegates was even on the March state convention agenda with respect to bylaws changes. Of course, nothing had to be. There is a baseline set of allocation rules in place already that snapped back into action once the 2020 rules expired. 

Second, however, this is setting up just like 2019 when California Republicans faced the same dilemma heading into September ahead of their fall state convention that year. Staring down the prospect of RNC penalties if the party did not change the winner-take-most rules, California Republicans at the late September 2019 state convention adopted the proportional allocation scheme that sunset in 2021, a more proportional set of rules

And California Republicans have a September 2023 state convention lined up right before the RNC deadline to submit rules for the 2024 cycle to the national party on or before October 1. 

The question that emerges from this is why did the 2020 California allocation rules have to expire at all? It makes sense from the state party’s perspective to sunset the proportional rules if there is even an outside shot that the RNC would change its requirement for proportional rules during the early part of the calendar. But the RNC held steady and mostly carried over the same 2020 rules to the 2024 cycle when it finalized the rules package in April 2022. There is no evidence that the national party has subsequently made any additional changes (and could not after September 30, 2022 anyway under the restrictions on further rule amendments in Rule 12).

Look, San Francisco Republicans may dream of a bigger voice in 2024, but they are unlikely to get it if the state party wants to have its full voice at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in summer 2024.


Saturday, May 6, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] A Curious Decision on the Georgia Presidential Primary

The following is a cross-posted excerpt from FHQ Plus, FHQ's new subscription service. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


As mentioned earlier over at FHQ, it was reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today that Raffensperger had made his decision and that March 12 was the choice for the date on which to schedule the Georgia presidential primary for 2024. That instantly makes the Peach state the biggest draw on a day that includes primaries in Mississippi and Washington and Republican caucuses in Hawaii.

But it is a curious selection. Most outlets are treating the news as a denial of the proposed elevation of Georgia in the Democratic National Committee (DNC) calendar rules for next year. And it is, but that misses the point. First of all, the proposed February 13 date for the Georgia primary was never workable without either breaking the Republican National Committee (RNC) timing rules or splitting up the Democratic and Republican primaries and holding them on different dates.

That was clear last December when the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) first adopted the calendar rules. And it was even clearer when the full DNC followed suit this past February and when Raffensperger’s office drew a red line because of the aforementioned conflicts.
But what makes this curious and also is being missed is that there was a middle ground in this case that was never really considered. And it is not clear why. As FHQ has noted in February, the secretary could have scheduled the Georgia primary for March 1 or 2 and the move would have met the criteria set by his office. The contest would shift into the early window on the Democratic calendar, albeit later than February 13, would not violate RNC rules and would keep the two parties’ primaries together.

The only catch was that the Georgia Republican Party may have wanted to retain its winner-take-all by congressional district method of delegate allocation. That would potentially have kept the primary in the second half of March. But by selecting March 12, Raffensperger took that discretion away from Georgia Republicans. The party will be stuck with some version of proportional rules for the 2024 cycle.

Without that hitch — without Peach state Republicans insisting on winner-take-most allocation methods — there was no difference between March 1 and March 12. The winner-take-all prohibition treats both dates, and all dates before March 15, the same. But those dates, March 1 or 2 and March 12, are separated by miles in terms of potential impact. A solitary primary before Super Tuesday stands to carry a lot more weight than a primary, especially a proportional primary on the same date as other contests, a week after Super Tuesday. The former is a guaranteed impact, an influence on the Super Tuesday contests. The latter is influenced by Super Tuesday and may — MAY (It would be a gamble.) — put a candidate over the top in the delegate count or be enough to winnow the remaining viable challengers.

That point, however, is moot now. The Georgia presidential primary will fall on March 12. But that does not make it any less strange a decision.