Showing posts with label region (South). Show all posts
Showing posts with label region (South). Show all posts

Thursday, March 3, 2016

On a Revisionist History of the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday

This overly retweeted tweet made its way into the FHQ Twitter feed yesterday, and it really strikes me as #wrong.
This is a pretty blatant revision of this history of how the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday came to be.

The idea of shifting some or all of the southern states to the front of the Democratic Party window -- the period in which the now-so-called carve-out states -- was something that was making the rounds in political circles across the South as early as the early 1970s. Jimmy Carter discussed the idea of a southern regional primary in the infancy of his initial presidential nomination bid just after he completed his stint as Georgia governor. That is not very far into the post-reform era. And it also pre-dates any Jesse Jackson run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Carter was also tangentially involved in the positioning of the Florida presidential primary for the 1976 cycle. Legislators in the Sunshine state were going to move the Florida primary to a later date, but the Carter team worked their connections in Florida -- connections forged in his time as governor of Georgia -- to request that the primary be kept in March. That primary was a de facto southern elimination round as Carter's win there over George Wallace virtually ended Wallace's chances and further propelled Carter's run to the nomination. It goes without saying that this, too, was before Jesse Jackson's run in 1984.

Facing a prospective challenge from Ted Kennedy in 1980, the Carter White House also made similar entreaties with legislators in both Alabama and Georgia to move their primaries to coincide with the Florida primary in 1980. That was viewed by the Carter campaign as an early counterweight to perceived potential victories by Kennedy in earlier New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The picture that emerges is more of an organic build toward a southern regional primary, and, again, this was before Jesse Jackson's run.

The southern regional primary idea was still around in the lead up to 1984. Several southern states shifted to early caucuses that cycle and began to make the front end of the calendar even more southern-flavored. Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina Democrats all shifted their contests into March, joining Alabama, Florida and Georgia on the 1984 primary calendar. The decisions in those states also pre-dated the time period when it was clear that Jesse Jackson was going to run for the Democratic nomination that cycle.

Before the timeline even gets to 1985 when the decisions on 1988 presidential primary dates started coming out of southern state legislatures, then, there is already ample evidence that the movement toward a southern regional primary was in the works. It had happened already; organically and before Jackson.

But this is also only the tip of the iceberg for what is missed in Jilani's revisionist -- or perhaps context-less -- account of the 1988 calendar.

The notion that southern state legislators "frontloaded red states" borders on preposterous. First, the red state/blue state construct dates most specifically to the 2000 election cycle; three cycles after 1988. Southern legislators, who were overwhelmingly Democratic at the time, moved those contests for 1988 attempting to, in the aggregate, influence the nomination. Dating back to the early 1970s, the idea was that the South would speak with one voice behind a more moderate candidate who would, in their way of thinking, make those southern states Democratic in the fall general election campaign. With Jimmy Carter's 1976 run as the example, the idea was to win some southern states in the fall. To do that they needed a southern or more moderate/conservative candidate. Those were the dominoes in all of this. And that way of thinking survived to and through both of Bill Clinton's runs for the White House. During a period in which Democrats struggled to win the White House, the only success the party had in winning was in nominating a southerner who could peel off some southern states in the general election.

Yes, the Democratic Leadership Council was involved on the periphery of the effort in the lead up to 1988, but Jilani is assigning to them, and the state governments that made the decisions to shift primaries on the calendar, a level of sophistication that just did not exist at the time. His thesis is without context. If they were sophisticated enough to attempt to counter Jackson, then surely they would have realized after Jackson's success with African American voters in 1984 that they -- southern decision makers -- were actually setting Jackson up for success in the Deep South where African American voters comprised a significant portion of the Democratic primary electorate.

That level of sophistication did not exist. Southern political actors were surprised by the results in the 1988 primaries and in many states opted to drop out of the calendar coalition for 1992. Jesse Jackson may have been on the minds of those making the decisions on primary dates for 1988 in 1985-87, but he was not the motivation for moving those states up. The movement was afoot before Jackson and actually benefited him in 1988. Those states just were not "red" in the eyes of those making those decisions. The hope was that they would turn at least some of those states Democratic in the fall.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Coda on Mississippi and the SEC Primary or Sometimes Moving Up Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

FHQ has been meaning to get to Geoff Pender's autopsy of Mississippi's failed attempt to join the SEC primary all week. The crux of it that internal Republican politics played some role in dooming the legislation to move the presidential primary in the Magnolia state.

Though it is a fun read, FHQ is less interested in the rivalry between Mississippi Lieutenant Governor  Tate Reeves (R) and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (R). What is of more use for our purposes here is the argument each is making either to move the presidential primary or to keep it where it is on March 8.

Hosemann, a proponent of Mississippi joining the SEC primary coalition made the case to Pender this way:
Hosemann says moving Mississippi's primary from March 8 to March 1 and joining with Georgia, Texas and other Southern states would force presidential candidates "to come to the South and to Mississippi and tell us their views" and listen to ours. 
He said it would also be an economic boon, forcing campaigns to hire staff, travel and buy advertising, food and accommodations.
That economic stimulus message is one that is being used in neighboring Alabama in its SEC primary discussion in the legislature.

But Reeves countered with this argument:
Reeves said Mississippi joining would have opposite the desired effect: Mississippi would be ignored in favor of the larger states. 
"Texas has more electoral votes in the San Antonio media market than we do in our entire state," Reeves said. "That's not including Dallas, Houston … same thing with Atlanta. Where do you think a candidate is going to go … if they have to choose between Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Atlanta or Hattiesburg?" 
As it stands now, Reeves said, Louisiana's will be the Saturday before Mississippi's Tuesday primary and Florida's a week after. He said this is more likely to precipitate stops in Mississippi. 
Reeves noted that in 2012, GOP candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all campaigned in Mississippi despite its late primary. Romney notoriously said how much he liked Mississippi "cheesy grits."
That cheesy grits comment and more importantly the substance of the debate between Hosemann and Reeves were matters that FHQ discussed in depth back in December before the legislative season revved up. [Reeves and/or Pender must have done their homework. FHQ was not consulted as a part of Pender's piece.] Here's how I concluded that post, singling Alabama and Mississippi out:
That raises questions if not red flags for a move for 2016 for those latter couple of states. Does a move away from a date that still finds Alabama and Mississippi dominant and to a date shared by a number of larger southern states net more or fewer visits in 2016 over 2012? If Ohio vacates March 8 to join a later March midwestern primary protect a more winner-take-all allocation plan, would it not be more beneficial to stick with a date you dominate versus a date shared with others? Is a visit to Texas -- a regional visit -- the same as a candidate visit in Alabama or Mississippi? 
These are tough questions to answer for state actors who have a limited state legislative session window in which to act in the spring of the year before the primary. And these folks tend to be risk-averse. Alabama and Mississippi would only gain by sticking with a later date is the nomination races are ongoing once they get to the second Tuesday in March. The field may be winnowed too much by then dropping the number of visits to either. 
This is the mindset that has dominated the frontloading era. Move up or get left behind. But it isn't clear in this instance that states in the South will receive the attention they crave. In the meantime, decision makers in both Alabama and Mississippi seem to have forgotten what they gained in 2012 with their sub-regional coalition. Surely "cheesy grits" would have proven more memorable to elected officials in the Deep South. [Emphasis and edits are FHQ's.]
The skepticism of moving away from March 8 there echoes Reeves' (or vice versa). The benefits of moving to March 1 are not clear. There is more to this than merely earlier equals economic gains.

Some states value relevance in the presidential nomination process more than others. But if you are a state legislator or some other actor with a part to play in moving the date of a delegate selection event there is a great deal to weigh when making such a decision. Being relevant depends on a number of things for which decision-makers cannot account. One thing state-level actors can control is the date. The later a contest -- primary or caucuses -- is held, the more a state is gambling (on just how relevant the contest will be in the process). Again, that entails something like move up or get left behind.

If every state, or at least the majority that are/have been willing and able to move earlier on the calendar, then the outcome is the sort of Super Tuesday herding of contests typical of calendars like 2008 or 2000. That sort of logjam highlights the fact that all states are not equal when it comes to delegate-richness or ease and convenience of access (to the states) for candidates and the media. When given a choice, rationally-acting candidates tend to opt for bigger states over smaller states.

Yes, those campaigns are chasing delegates, but it is also true that there are only a finite number of candidate visits that can be paid to states. If the herding of contests is large enough, that forces candidates on the air in lieu of visits to some states, usually smaller ones. This is what makes the regional primary idea so attractive. It can somewhat circumvent that problem, offering a reduced geography (and a potential homogeneity of issues) to cover as a means of attracting visits and spending.

Yet, depending on which states are involved -- how much intra-regional herding is taking place -- the same dynamic as above may still play out but on a smaller scale. That is the argument being made by Reeves in and about Mississippi moving forward a week on the 2016 presidential primary calendar. The campaigns can see the delegates available. Do you go to Georgia that has just a handful of delegates fewer than Alabama and Mississippi combined or do you fit in trips to Alabama and Mississippi, too? Furthermore, is a visit to Georgia or Texas or Tennessee a regional visit, playing as well in Georgia (in person and in resulting news coverage) and Alabama and Mississippi? In other words, is a regional proxy visit enough?

What may be "good" for the campaigns may not end up paying the dividends that folks in Alabama or Arkansas or Mississippi think they will.

If I was advising Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi (and FHQ is not), I would suggest a two-tiered regional primary. Texas and Tennessee have already staked a claim to March 1. State laws in both have provided for those dates since the last presidential election cycle. Georgia will more than likely join them on March 1. Those three are the three most delegate-rich states on March 1. Let them have it. They are going to take the attention anyway.

Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi should form an SEC Light primary. Separate, they cannot curry much favor. The same is true if they were to share a date with the big boys on March 1. But if all three go together on a date a week later (March 8), that likely yields some attention from the candidates. Collectively, the three together would also be more delegate-rich than the states they would be competing with on March 8 (Idaho, Hawaii and Michigan). That two-tiered regional primary -- three tiers if one wants to consider the Louisiana primary scheduled between the two Tuesdays -- may serve to maximize regional influence, particularly if it solidifies/ratifies the decision made in those earlier southern contests. That, in turn, slingshots some candidate into the post-proportionality window part of the calendar (...or Florida) a week later on March 15.

Small states can only get so much out of this process. Not every state is Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Given that reality, if you can't beat the big boys, go a week later (if the state's you'd be competing with are alone and geographically dispersed). That is the sweet spot that is available to Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi. But it only works if they are together. If Mississippi is the lone southern state on March 8, then Secretary Hosemann is probably right to be taken aback by Reeves' suggestion that Mississippi would fare better.

In truth, it probably would not matter much either way. Mississippi would be ignored.

...unless they had some regional partners.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

State Legislatures Move Most Presidential Primaries. ...But They Have to Change State Law First

Don Gonyea had a good background piece on the possibility/formation of an SEC primary this morning on NPR's Morning Edition.

However, Mr. Gonyea lost FHQ when he began to place odds on which southern states would join the potential southern regional presidential primary on March 1 of next year. Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi were deemed "sure things" while it was mentioned that the "lineup could include" Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Florida. This not correct.

It was a small section in an otherwise solid story, but it is misleading about how the presidential primary calendar forms from cycle to cycle. Some states are constant date-tweakers. New Hampshire, for instance, has to be able to change the date of the presidential primary there to stay at the front of the queue every presidential election year. They move dates every cycle. But the majority of states are not like New Hampshire: They stay in the same position if not every cycle, then for multiple cycles. Indiana has held its presidential primary on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of May for the entire post-reform era (1972-2012), for example.

Part of the reason why is that the motivation is not always present in a given state to move the date on which a presidential primary is held. The benefits are not readily apparent. And even when the benefits of added attention and candidate spending are somewhat clear, the decision still has to filter through two chambers of a state legislature and garner a governor's signature. That introduces the layer of state-level partisanship and possible partisan gridlock (which FHQ discussed in some detail recently).

But here's the thing: When a state legislature cannot pass legislation moving the date of the presidential primary or has not passed legislation the default position of such a contest is the position described in state law. That very definitely affects the odds of a state joining a proposed regional primary or in moving a primary to an earlier date as has been the fashion for much of the post-McGovern-Fraser reform era.

State laws in Tennessee, Texas and maybe Florida currently indicate that those states are "sure things" for March 1. There is nothing fluid about that. There are no discussions in any of those states about changing the state laws concerning the dates of presidential primaries.1

Arkansas may join the SEC primary, but it could be tough. In any event, the calculus is different in the Natural state than it is in any of the other states on the SEC primary list.

There is unified Republican control of the state governments in both Alabama and Mississippi and appears to be support for the idea of bumping the primaries up a week in each state. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann indicated to his Georgia counterpart, Brian Kemp (who is behind the SEC primary concept), that everyone in the Magnolia state is "on board".

Georgia is unique in that the legislature does not factor into the presidential primary date-setting decision. Like New Hampshire, the secretary of state sets the date of the primary in the Peach state. That streamlines the decision-making process and mean that Georgia is only a formal declaration away from a March 1 primary date next year.

But again, if we're trying to place odds on which states will be involved in this southern regional primary, then look to the state laws first. Tennessee and Texas are the sure things. State laws in each say so. There's still work to be done -- and potential roadblocks -- in the other states (though there does not seem to be much resistance to moving up in most of those states).

Here are some related posts on the intricacies of the formation of the SEC primary:
Why is Florida on March 1 and Not March 15?

Will a Calendar Bump Up Mean More Candidate Visits in SEC Primary States?

Why Getting Arkansas into an SEC Primary is More Difficult

But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

1 There may be a discussion in Florida at some point about clarifying the law, but the state legislature does not convene in the Sunshine state until March.

Recent Posts:
Oklahoma Bill Would Move Presidential Primary Back Three Weeks

Oregon Bill Would Split Presidential, Other Primaries

Has the RNC Set a Later Starting Date for the First Primaries and Caucuses?

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Will a Calendar Bump Up Mean More Candidate Visits in SEC Primary States?

Just this morning Alabama Secretary of State-elect, John Merrill (R) clearly added his voice to the chorus of SEC presidential primary supporters in an op-ed at Yellowhammer News. He repeated a variation of the refrain that has become one of the go-to lines during the frontloading wave of the post-McGovern-Fraser reforms era:
"The main goal of this effort is to create an environment that forces candidates to appeal to the an even larger and more complete constituency than they currently do. Southerners, and more specifically Alabamians, represent a largely conservative, working class group of voters, but because of the timing of our primary elections, our calls for more conservative candidates have gone unheard."
"As your Secretary of State and Chief Elections Official, I will do all that I can to help position the South — and more specifically Alabama — as a place that all Presidential candidates will make an effort to visit and meet our remarkable people." [Emphasis is FHQ's.]
This echoes what Merrill's counterpart in neighboring Mississippi, Delbert Hosemann, has said:
"With Georgia, and Tennessee and Arkansas and Louisiana we are putting together a group where we would have a super SEC Tuesday where basically the candidates would have to come through Mississippi before they got elected president of the United States. Both Democrats and Republicans." [Again, emphasis is FHQ's.]
But would moves by Alabama or Mississippi or Arkansas to earlier dates on the 2016 presidential primary calendar do anything to really improve the lot of southern states in terms of attention paid them by the various presidential candidates in 2016? That remains to be seen. Such moves have not been a cure-all for states in the South or elsewhere in the past. Both Merrill and Hosemann seem to be talking about this as an increase in visits/attention. That may be the case, but it could also be that these states are merely splitting up a finite number of visits -- or visits within a rather finite window of time -- and aren't necessarily gaining attention to issues of, say, the Deep South. Is a visit to Texas or Tennessee a proxy visit to Alabama or Mississippi, for example?

If the focus shifts to a micro-examination of just those states looking to move to March 1 to be a part of the so-called SEC primary the advantages -- as measured by candidate visits -- are not all that clear.

Total Presidential Candidate Visits by SEC Primary States (2000-2012)
1 Data from Ridout and Rottinghaus (2008). The 2000 data are via the Washington Post; gathered from October 1, 1999-primary season 2000. Hotline provided the 2004 data; gathered from June 1, 2003-primary season 2004.
2 Data from Frontloading HQ via Map the Candidates visits tracker.
3 Data from the Washington Post Campaign 2012 Republican Primary Tracker; gathered from June 2011-primary season 2012.
* For the calendar dates of the contests in these from 2000-2012 click on the year.

Clearly earlier is better (see Ridout and Rottinghaus 2008; Mayer and Busch 2003). Alabama and Arkansas were lodged in June and late May primaries respectively in 2000 and 2004 while Georgia and Mississippi were in March in those years. Georgia benefited. Mississippi did not. Georgia has consistently been scheduled on the earliest date allowed by the national parties during this period (save 2004) and was delegate-rich enough to draw attention from the candidates despite being on dates shared by a large number of states.

In 2008, all of the above states were scheduled on the first Tuesday in February with the exception of Mississippi which as a month later on the second Tuesday in March. All gained over the previous couple of cycles.1 Mississippi was later on the calendar but took advantage of the fact that it was the lone contest on its date in the midst of a tightly contested two-candidate race for the Democratic nomination.

As we look toward 2016, however, 2012 may be not only a decent guide but a cautionary tale for this. Arkansas was both late and after the point at which most of the Republican candidates had dropped out of the Republican nomination race.2 The Natural state got one lone visit from Herman Cain. The other states potentially moving to a March 1 SEC primary for 2016 were earlier on the 2012 calendar. Georgia incrementally gained over 2008 despite just one party having a contested nomination race and sharing the most crowded date on the calendar with 11 other states; the earliest date allowed by the national party delegate selection rules.

Alabama and Mississippi were together a week later. The Deep South duo's power in 2012 may have been their sub-regional contiguity and that together the two dominated a day that also included caucuses in Hawaii and the American Samoa (neither large draws).

That raises questions if not red flags for a move for 2016 for those latter couple of states. Does a move away from a date that still finds Alabama and Mississippi dominant and to a date shared by a number of larger southern states (Florida, Georgia and Texas among them) net more or fewer visits in 2016 over 2012? If Ohio vacates March 8 to join a later March midwestern primary, would it not be more beneficial to stick with a date you dominate versus a date shared with others? Is a visit to Texas -- a regional visit -- the same as a candidate visit in Alabama or Mississippi?

These are tough questions to answer for state actors who have a limited state legislative session window in which to act in the spring of the year before the primary. And these folks tend to be risk-averse. Alabama and Mississippi would only gain by sticking with a later date is the nomination races are ongoing once they get to the second Tuesday in March. The field may be winnowed too much by then dropping the number of visits to either.

This is the mindset that has dominated the frontloading era. Move up or get left behind. But it isn't clear in this instance that states in the South will receive the attention they crave. In the meantime, decision makers in both Alabama and Mississippi seem to have forgotten what they gained in 2012 with their sub-regional coalition. Surely "cheesy grits" would have proven more memorable to elected officials in the Deep South.

1 Some of that has to do with how and when the visits data was gathered, but some of that also has a great deal to do with how many parties had contested/competitive campaigns and how many candidates were involved in the race at the time of the primaries in these states.

2 Romney had not clinched enough delegates to assume the mantle of presumptive nominee, but was approaching that mark with only Ron Paul actively running in the later primary states.

Recent Posts:
Why Getting Arkansas into an SEC Primary is More Difficult

But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Getting Arkansas into an SEC Primary is More Difficult

As the 2015 state legislative sessions draw nearer, primary movement for the 2016 cycle is back on the radar. Lately, much of that discussion has centered on the possibility of a southern regional primary forming on the first date allowed by the national parties, March 1. As FHQ has mentioned previously, this effort is being spearheaded by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R). Secretary Kemp has reached out to his counterparts in a number of other SEC states to gauge their interest in their states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi -- joining Georgia (and a number of other southern and border states) on March 1.

Louisiana has already bumped their primary up in 2014 and is not necessarily eager to shift -- even if only slightly -- again.

Alabama and Mississippi coordinated their primary dates on the second Tuesday in March for 2012. Neither state would seemingly face too much resistance to moving up another week for 2016.

In Georgia, the power to set the presidential primary date lies with the secretary of state and Kemp seems more than inclined to keep Georgia on the first Tuesday in March for a second straight cycle.

There is also some interest in Arkansas, but the decision-making calculus on moving the presidential primary is different in the Natural state than it is in the other states. That is true for a few reasons:

When the Arkansas presidential primary was shifted up for the 1988 and 2008 cycles, the decision was made to create an all new and separate presidential primary election at an earlier point on the calendar. Traditionally, the majority of Arkansas primary elections have been consolidated in mid- to late May. In 1988 and 2008, everything but the presidential primary stayed in May while a presidential primary was created and moved into March and February, respectively.

Relatedly, to do that again, Arkansas state legislators would have to consider whether to incur the costs associated with a separate presidential primary as has been the case in the past. In 2008, that meant an extra $1.7 million to conduct that additional election. The alternative is to do what Alabama and Mississippi have done: consolidate all primary elections on the earlier presidential primary date. Mississippi has been doing this for years, but Alabama shifted both its presidential primary from February to March and its other primaries from June to March in 2008.

Arkansas could follow suit. But there is one catch that was raised in 2009 when Arkansas legislators were considering (and ultimately deciding on) eliminating the presidential primary and consolidating it with the other 2012 primaries. A constitutional amendment was passed by Arkansas voters in 2008 that moved the state legislatures sessions from biennially to annually. Annual sessions meant that the possibility existed for campaigning and fundraising to take place (for state legislators) during the state legislative session, violating a self-imposed rule (for those activities not to overlap). A March 1 [consolidated] primary would fall in the midst of the 2016 state legislative session.

So, in Arkansas it is a decision between the financial costs of creating and scheduling an earlier presidential primary or breaking the norm of state legislators campaigning/fundraising during their legislative session. The former has been the (less cost-effective) precedent in Arkansas in the past while the latter will potentially serve as a deterrent to moving up. Every additional roadblock makes moving a presidential primary forward and joining the proposed SEC primary that much more difficult, and Arkansas has a list of obstacles that other southern states involved do not have. That does not mean the presidential primary in the Natural state will not end up on March 1. Rather, it does indicate a more difficult path to that end.

Recent Posts:
But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

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Monday, December 29, 2014

But Southern States Will Have to Be Proportional

Throughout 2014 the idea of a southern regional primary has gathered some steam. Thanks to the efforts of Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp (R), that has taken hold among a handful of secretaries of state across the Deep South and gotten some scrutiny in the media as well. Most of that examination tends to focus on the Republican side of the looming 2016 presidential nomination contest. The partisan focus in combination with the likely March 1 date for the proposed SEC presidential primary comes with the typical caveats about the Republican National Committee requirement for a proportional allocation of delegates for any contest held before March 15.

In other words, southern states are going to potentially cluster their contests on the earliest date allowed by the major parties, but with the implication that they will have to dilute the significance of the primaries by allocating delegates in a proportional manner; not winner-take-all.

But here's the thing (actually two things, but bear with me): 2012 showed that that dilution was not all that strong in the first place. That has something to do with the dispersion of primaries and caucuses across the calendar, but also is a function of the RNC definition of "proportional". Proportional does not mean proportional in the mathematical sense. Rather, it means that one candidate cannot receive all of a state's bound delegates (unless that candidate receives a majority of the statewide vote in a given primary, for example). Proportional simply means not winner-take-all.

For southern states considering a shift up to March 1 to be a part of this SEC primary, though, there is another important layer to add: They were all "proportional" in 2012. With the exception of Arkansas, North Carolina and Texas, every southern state had a primary or caucuses before April 1.1 And regardless of timing, all southern states either already had or transitioned an allocation plan with the necessary proportional element for 2012. Alabama was proportional. Georgia was proportional. Mississippi was proportional. Arkansas was funky, but it was proportional too (...even in late May).

There may be some revisions to those plans by state Republican parties in 2015, but across the states that are a part of this proposed SEC primary, the allocation plans are already proportional.

Will that dilute the power of the South on March 1, 2016? Perhaps, but recall that Democratic contests during the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday were proportional also. That fact did not hurt the southern states then as much as the diversity of winners of contests on that second Tuesday in March in 1988.

1 April 1 was the threshold before which states had to allocate delegates proportionally in 2012. That was shifted up to March 15 by the RNC for 2016.

Recent Posts:
Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

Nebraska Democrats Commit to Caucuses for 2016

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Louisiana not inclined to join 'SEC' presidential primary day in 2016

The story from the Times-Picayune.

A couple of notes:
1. Louisiana, as the story notes, has already moved its presidential primary for the 2016 cycle. Moving again would be fairly atypical. States, if they move at all, usually only move once per cycle. Double moves happen, but they are rare and recent occurrences. Both California and New Jersey moved twice ahead of 2008.1

2. This would likely be a wise move on Louisiana's part. A Saturday, March 5 primary would be proximate enough -- regionally and on the calendar -- to the proposed SEC primary on March 1 to benefit from the regional attention. However, being on a separate date means that Louisiana would be less likely to be lost in the shuffle among larger neighboring states (with more delegates) on March 1. During the following week, March 8 is also a point on the calendar that is sparsely populated with contests. That is particularly true if Alabama and Mississippi move up a week; leaving only Ohio and the Hawaii Republican caucuses. Such a line up is unlikely to pull the campaign immediately out of the South following March 1.

1 California moved from March to June before moving into February. New Jersey first moved up to late February before bumping the Garden state primary up a few more weeks to early February.

Recent Posts:
A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

Nebraska Democrats Commit to Caucuses for 2016

Michigan Presidential Primary Move Bottled Up in State House Until After Christmas

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Couple of Reasons the 2016 Texas Presidential Primary Isn't Going Anywhere

There's been a nice call and response between James Hohmann at Politico and Patrick Svitek at the Houston Chronicle over the 2016 presidential primary in Texas the last few days.

Hohmann's deep dive on the proposed SEC primary sharing a date with primaries in Texas and Florida included this side note:
Some GOP insiders believe that Florida and Texas will opt to push back their primaries until later in March. Under the new RNC rules, states that wait until March 15 can have “winner take all” primaries, with the candidate receiving the most votes collecting all of a state’s delegates. The potential presidential candidates from Florida and Texas are likely to prefer that.
The response from Texas Republicans was a mix of "meh" and "we're not moving' (from March 1)".

FHQ tends to agree with Texas Republicans for a few reasons. I don't know who the GOP (RNC?) insiders Hohmann spoke to, but the proportionality rule has not played out at all as an enticement to larger states moving back to later dates on the primary calendar. [The statement seems more like wishful thinking than theory of presidential primary movement.] State-level actors have not reacted by both moving back and adopting winner-take-all allocation rules. States may shift the dates of their primaries and caucuses around. However, most state parties tend to choose the path of least resistance when it comes to their method of delegate allocation. Most of the time that translates to states not changing the rules they used the last time unless they are forced to.

States that move back are not forced to adopt a winner-take-all allocation method. Those states do, however, have that option. They just tend to stick with what they had allocation-wise the previous cycle, though.

Look no further than Texas in 2012. Had the redistricting process not gotten bogged down in the courts, the Texas presidential primary would have been the first Tuesday in March (as called for by Texas law). Since the redistricting battle dragged into 2012, the Texas primary got forced back into May. The shift did not come with a switch to winner-take-all rules. In fact, Texas Republicans kept the true proportional method of allocation the party passed in late 2011. Once that change was made, Texas Republicans were resistant to changing it, mainly because the state party rules prevented them from making a change outside of a state convention setting.1

Of course, Texas delegate allocation methods are not the only area of the delegate selection rules where Texans have been slow to react over the years. This also extends to the state government moving the primary date around. This is something that Texas Republican National Committeeman, Robin Armstrong in Stivek's piece seems to be projecting onto states that are part of the SEC primary proposal: state legislatures derailing a potential move. Texas moved its primary to the second Tuesday in March for the 1988 cycle -- the Southern Super Tuesday. That was the date used for the presidential primary in the Lone Star state through the 2004 cycle. Then, when other states were moving up into February -- when it was still allowed by both parties -- for 2004 and 2008, the Texas legislature managed to bump the primary up to the only the first Tuesday in March; just a week earlier.2

So, FHQ is not of the opinion that the Texas presidential primary is going anywhere in 2016. No one has been eager to jump back on the calendar in order to get winner-take-all rules and Texas has had a history of resisting these sorts of changes (calendar and delegate allocation).

There is also an additional reason, but I'll save a discussion of that for a separate post in the next week or so.

Let me also weigh in on Armstrong's theory that only a couple of states will move into this SEC primary slot on March 1. That has always been likely. Georgia has the flexibility to move there because the secretary of state in the Peach state sets the date. Additionally, Alabama and Mississippi seem likely to move as well. Arkansas has conflicts as FHQ has discussed previously and Louisiana has already shifted its primary up to an earlier Saturday in March than it used in 2012. The Pelican state is unlikely to move again.

1 There is an exception for emergencies, but a switch to winner-take-all rules is not necessarily an emergency.

2 The move to that date had been made before and for the 2004 cycle, but redistricting kept that from coming to fruition for 2004. 2008 was the first cycle that law was implemented. Redistricting then pushed the primary date back to May during 2012.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

An SEC Primary in 2016? Not so fast… (Part II)

A couple of weeks ago FHQ examined the likelihood that the states most closely associated with Secretary of State Brian Kemp's (R-GA) southeastern regional primary proposal would be able to implement a presidential primary move. That was more of an internal look at what may affect the calculus in each state. The post touched on outside factors that may affect that decision-making process, but only in passing. Obviously, there are other matters that may intervene to complicate things.

There is some history here. The idea of a southern regional primary is not a new one. Barely a year after the reformed presidential nomination process got its first trial run in 1972, Jimmy Carter was out laying the groundwork for a nomination bid on the Democratic side in 1976 but was also trumpeting the strategic virtues of holding a collective southern regional primary. The benefits seemed clear. The South would speak with one voice and propel a more moderate-to-conservative candidate to the Democratic nomination who could, in turn, better compete in the general election.

As it turned out, it took the states of the South a decade and a half to coordinate this, bringing the idea to fruition. It took some cajoling from the Carter folks ahead of the 1980 renomination run against Ted Kennedy to convince legislators in Florida to hold pat in March and legislators in Alabama and Georgia to move up to coincide with the primary in the Sunshine state. That subregional primary was to serve as a counterweight to the delegate gains Kennedy was likely to win in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.1

Four years later, several southern and border states adopted caucuses for the competitive Democratic nomination race, joining Alabama, Florida and Georgia in March, though not all on the same date. Only the Oklahoma Democratic caucuses were on that same second Tuesday in March date. Caucuses in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina followed later in the month. Collectively the South spoke with something approximating a single voice, but the result was not support for a more moderate candidate.2 Rather, it was support for Walter Mondale.

There was, then, no alignment between the notion of a strong, unified regional voice in the process and a homegrown, southern, moderate-to-conservative candidate. The former seemed more likely with a southern bloc of contests, but that did not happen until the 1988 invisible primary. Even then -- with everything lined up -- the South did not speak with one voice in the 1988 Democratic primary. The unintended consequence was that three Democratic candidates emerged from the Southern Super Tuesday with a claim to victory -- Dukakis in the populous South (Florida and Texas), Gore in the peripheral South and Jackson in the Deep South -- all while George HW Bush used a sweep of the region on Super Tuesday to consolidate his hold on the Republican nomination.

The dynamics of any given nomination race matter and it is difficult to gauge ahead of time -- as a decision-maker on the state level -- what those dynamics will look like in, say, two years time. That is the cautionary tale for those thinking of coordinating primaries in 2016. That past repeated itself to some degree in 2008 on the Democratic side (though not in a regional sense). Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton roughly split the logjam of national contests on Super Tuesday while John McCain significantly stretched the delegate lead he had established during the January contests.

What are the dynamics FHQ is talking about?

The candidates who run combined with the sequence of primaries and caucuses and the rules of delegate allocation are basics. And all are unknown at this point in time to those state-level decision-makers. There is a baseline calendar for 2016, but the question is how state actors view that terrain in light of the national party rules on (national convention) delegate selection. Actually, this constitutes several questions:
  1. Do we want to move our delegate selection contest up (to an earlier point on the calendar)?
  2. Does a new position mean incurring a penalty from one or both national parties?
  3. Does a new position mean conducting an election on the same day as a number of other regional partners?
  4. Does a new position mean conducting an election on the same day as a number of other states with no one dominant region? 
  5. Does moving to a new position to create a regional primary (question #3) mean that other states (or regions -- see question #4) will herd toward that date; typically in the post-reform era, the first date allowed by both national parties (the first Tuesday in March in 2016)?
Now, there is no indication that state-level decision makers actually consider these matters this deeply. Rather, in most cases, state legislators (collectively) see, on its surface, a good idea -- a regional primary -- and run with it. In the process, however, there is little evaluation of the unintended consequences.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. These decisions to move a primary or caucuses are not independent of one another. The answer to question #1 depends on the willingness and ability of the state to move based on structural factors. FHQ has already discussed that for the states potentially involved in this retro-southern regional primary concept proposed by Georgia Secretary of State Kemp. Nothing in that proposal suggests that any of the southern go rogue, so the states of the South will avoid penalty so long as the Democratic National Committee retains a similar calendar to the Republican National Committee.

But there is something to questions #3-5 posed above. Partnering with other states in a region has its advantages, but it seems that that exercise has diminishing returns for the states involved as more states sign on. This needs a deeper examination, but one could argue that the most successful regional primaries have been subregional primaries; smaller clusters of contests at a point on the calendar that provides that group of states with the spotlight and is also earlier than the point at which 50% plus one of the delegates has been allocated to one candidate (effectively ending the nomination race). Contrast the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday with the 2008 Potomac Primary (Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC), for example.

The former was a mega-primary that allowed candidates to pick and choose their spots (as on the Democratic side in 1988). One could also just as easily see such a contest giving advantage to an unintended beneficiary (as on the Republican side in 1988). That is, someone of the party opposite the dominant partisanship of the region or a front-running candidate with the resources to compete in such a large number of states. Alternatively, the latter, if shrewdly scheduled (in this case a week after a rush of more than 25 contests in 2008), can draw candidates into a small area of competition with similar issues. Again, that was true in 2008 with the Potomac Primary, but one could also consider the Alabama/Mississippi cluster the week after Super Tuesday in 2012 another of these. Many have argued that those contests were evidence of Romney's poor showings in the South, but while the former Massachusetts governor lost in both, he emerged at near parity with Santorum and Gingrich in the delegate count in each. In other words, it was competitive; something a subregional cluster would desire.

This is actually an idea that the DNC attempted to nurture in 2012: clusters of primaries. Neighboring groups of three or more states that held concurrent primaries in or after April on the calendar a 15% delegate bonus. That was viewed as a way of matching up state and candidate interests but also for giving incentive to later primary and caucuses dates.

Broadly speaking, though, this is an hypothesis that needs some additional research. Is there at point of diminishing returns in terms of what states and candidates get out of a Super Tuesday pile up of contests. Smaller, distinct (date and regional proximity) clusters may be better able to accomplish this. That seemed to be part of the lesson that states seemed to have learned after 2008. Part of the motivation many states had in moving back was a change in national party rules (the February to March transition of the post-carve-out window), but the other part was that a number of states herded to Super Tuesday in 2008 and got nothing out of it.

Those are the competing interests facing those states willing to move around for the 2016 cycle: 1) Learn the lesson of 2008 and attempt to pick and choose a spot on the calendar (either alone or as a small cluster of subregional states) or 2) Move en masse to the earliest date allowed by the parties -- the first Tuesday in March.3 Those two options are not mutually exclusive. It could be that a group of southern states, for instance, cluster on March 1 (fulfilling the first option with the exception maybe of the small cluster) and that has the effect of triggering a rush on the date by other states. That reactionary group of states would be operating under the rationale -- as was the case before 2008 -- that if they do not move they will run the risk of falling after the point in the races where enough of the delegates have been allocated to have singled out a presumptive nominee.

There may also be the added layer of indirect involvement from the national parties as well; coaxing some states to move around. And this goes both ways; not Democratic and Republican so much as moving up and back. In 2012, there was some talk about national Democrats urging some states to move back to negatively affect the Republican process. Northeastern states would move back, making the front half of the calendar more southern and conservative. That would, in turn, hypothetically hurt Romney. The result was something of a mixed bag. Romney had a somewhat rough path to the nomination, but that was not a function of a conservative first half of the calendar. There was a good regional mix of early contests even if a group of mid-Atlantic/northeastern states moved back into late April. The real culprit for the drawn out Republican contest was the dispersion of contests across the entire calendar.

Assuming we witness some movement on Secretary Kemp's southern regional primary on March 1, we could see Republicans (nationally or the RNC quietly) urge just the opposite of what Democrats wanted in 2012. The idea of a southern regional primary isn't new as discussed above, but neither is the idea of a regional primary in this cycle. It was just last November that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus was talking about a midwestern regional primary. If contests in the South begin moving up to March 1, there could very quickly be a quiet yet concerted effort to find a group of contests to serve as a counterbalance on the Republican calendar either on March 1 or not long after. Ohio is already scheduled for that week after Super Tuesday.

States once were slow to react to primary/caucuses movement in other states. A move in one cycle was met with a move in a the next subsequent cycle (if a state was compelled to move at all). That process has sped up over the last several presidential election cycles and reaction time had decreased. Since California moved its presidential primary from June to March in the 1996 cycle -- shifting with it the center of gravity in terms of the balance of delegates allocated over time across the primary calendar -- states have begun reacting within cycle. In other words, moving to a date that looks ripe for the taking now does not necessarily mean that that same date will not be jam packed with a number of other contests in the near future.

This hypothesis fits well in the policy diffusion literature. It also is something that FHQ has explored to some extent in a regional context. If one state moves its primary or caucuses, does that increase the likelihood that a neighboring state moves as well? What we found across a limited dataset -- the 2004 and 2008 cycles -- was the exact opposite: That if a neighboring state moved up, it decreased movement in surrounding states. At this point, FHQ is willing to chalk that up to a limited number of observations in just primary states across just a couple of cycles. It bears further research.

Again, it is easy to look at the surface issues here and move on if you are a state-level actor. Move up, bring along some regional partners, get more attention and affect the nomination. Under that surface, though, there is a lot to think through. It can quickly become a complicated series of unknowns. The changes to the Republican delegate selection rules have limited the world of possibilities by adding some penalties with teeth, but that does not mean that there are not 50 states -- some with multiple actors involved -- that are attempting to reduce uncertainty, game the system and gain an advantage for themselves (in terms of gaining attention and influencing the process). One move by a state or a series of states can set off any number of possibilities in reaction.

That's the take home message in this jumbled mess: unintended consequences. One move begets another move that may negate your original move. And there usually is not a rejoinder to the response. There isn't time.

1 As it turned out, Carter won New Hampshire and all three southern states in the 1980 primaries and it was not until later in the calendar that Kennedy began to close the delegate gap. Even that was too little too late.

2 Jesse Jackson's win in South Carolina and Gary Hart's in Oklahoma were the only two holes in an otherwise unified South. Those exceptions were early (March) contests and undercut the idea of the South collectively influencing the process by backing one candidate.

3 There is a third option as well. States could simply hold their ground and stay where current state law has the primary scheduled. Many states will do this as well.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

An SEC Primary in 2016? Not so fast… (Part I)

Last week at the National Association of Secretaries of State meeting in Washington, Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp (R), rolled out a proposal for the alignment of southern presidential primaries on the first Tuesday in March in 2016. And Secretary Kemp has gotten some "positive feedback" on the plan from others in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.1

That's all well and good, but let's have a bit of a look under the hood on this thing. In the first part, FHQ will look at those states named above that have expressed an interest in the possibility of a southeastern regional primary.

The date that Secretary Kemp has proposed for what has been affectionately called the SEC primary is March 1. That is the first date on which states other than the four carve-outs -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- can hold delegate selection events under the actual (RNC) or expected (DNC) rules. In other words, that may be an attractive landing point for any number of states (see Super Tuesday on February 5, 2008). As of now, March 1 already has a southern flavor. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are scheduled for that date according to current state laws in each. Adding Georgia to the mix gives the South the clearest and strongest regional voice on that date. That would make five out of the eight states southern with Massachusetts and Vermont serving as only a token regional counterweight.

But what is the likelihood that others (from the South) join those four (or five if one counts Georgia) on March 1?

Georgia is unique in that the state legislature ceded the authority to set the date of the Peach state presidential primary to the secretary of state in 2011. That makes Georgia like New Hampshire in that regard. Basically what that transfer of power means is that Georgia, like New Hampshire, is better able to move its presidential primary around without the potential for gridlock or just inaction on the part of a state legislature. Getting Georgia to March 1, then, is an easier task than it will be for other states.

And there will be something of a dilemma in the other states to whom that Secretary Kemp has reached out. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi will have push a date change through their legislatures. Secretaries of state in each of those states can (attempt to) initiate the legislative process on such moves, but that is no guarantee that there will actually be any shifting. The reason there is no guarantee is that such a proposal raises questions about the expected utility of a move. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are already in March.

What difference does it make to move up a week (as is the case in Alabama and Mississippi) or two-ish (for Louisiana's now customary Saturday primary)?

In Alabama and Mississippi, the expected cost or benefit of a move may or may not be financial. Both are already in March, so the trade-off is more a matter of going with a larger group of southern states and risking getting lost in the shuffle or sticking with a smaller subregional primary on a date a week later when they may collectively and effectively counterbalance the Ohio primary on the same date. That is a tougher question to answer when both dates -- the first and second Tuesday in March -- are potentially attractive landing points on the calendar for a number of states. Getting lost in the shuffle may be a foregone conclusion when it is all said and done and the calendar is finalized in late 2015.

The gamble is similar in Louisiana in that the internal debate is a function of choosing between a date where they may have a greater share of the spotlight later on (if the nomination races are still going in late March) and a date when many other southern states hold their contests; a proposition the nets the Pelican state some regional clout but not necessarily direct attention from the candidates. The situation in Louisiana is complicated by the fact that the state has utilized a Saturday primary the last two cycles. Part of that is designed to reserve a spot on the presidential primary stage where Louisiana stands alone or with other smaller and/or caucuses states. The spotlight favors them.

Legislators in Arkansas face a slightly different calculus. First of all, the new RNC rules almost force Arkansas to consider moving up. Currently scheduled for the next to last Tuesday in May, the Arkansas primary falls at a point on the calendar after the cutoff for when primaries will need to be held to accommodate a late June or early to mid-July Republican convention. But that only adds to the classic late state dilemma: move everything up (presidential primary, state and local primaries and all) or create a separate presidential primary that is easier to move around (but also costs the state additional election funds)? Arkansas has twice gone the latter route (1988 and 2008) and twice has gotten essentially no bang for its buck, the extra expenditure got the state nothing in the way of advertising dollars or candidate attention. How ready and willing is Arkansas going to be to repeat that pattern? The alternative -- moving a consolidated set of primaries to an earlier date -- has its own pitfalls. Such a move impacts state legislators tasked with making the move in the first place. Moving a consolidated primary up lengthens a state legislators general election campaign. It also potentially means that the primary campaign overlaps with the state legislative sessions which means the primary phase campaigning will be happening during the state legislative session. Both potentially make legislators' decisions that much more difficult.

Despite officials being open to the idea of a regional primary in the southeast, that does not necessarily mean that it will be enough to overcome the questions that will be raised during state legislative efforts to move primary dates for 2016 around. Those questions represent potential roadblocks in the legislative process that could derail movement to earlier positions on the primary calendar.

Of course, that is not all that complicates the potential effectiveness of this proposal or its intended implementation. FHQ will examine the other issues attendant to this proposal that may pop up in the intervening period between now and 2016 in part two.

1 Below is the press release from Secretary Kemp's office yesterday:

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Newt's Challenge & Problem: Becoming Huckabee+

On the heels of the South Carolina primary, FHQ speculated that one of the main questions that emerged from the Gingrich win/Romney loss was the Southern question. Romney did not win the South Carolina primary and even if could win in Florida -- It is something of a foregone conclusion at this point that the former Massachusetts governor will win tonight in the Sunshine state. -- and use that as a springboard to wins in contests in hospitable areas in February, that Southern question remains. Romney will not have another opportunity to win in the South until March 6.

[Sidenote follow up to that Southern question:
The way that post seemed to be interpreted by those that built off it was that FHQ was saying Romney couldn't wrap things up until that point at the earliest. I suppose that is part of it, but it is deeper than that. What I meant was that Gingrich and Santorum could use that as a rallying point for voters and more importantly donors. But that has a shelf life. If Romney wins in the South -- and he's guaranteed at least one win in Virginia where only Paul is on the ballot opposite him 1 -- then that argument disappears. Support and contributions to the campaign also likely disappear or at the very least begin to drop off at that point. And keep in mind, FHQ is discussing this without accounting for any intra-party pressure on the candidates to drop out. In the past, those three things -- waning support, lower fundraising totals and pressure from the party -- often happen nearly simultaneously. That may happen this time as well. But it isn't about Romney wrapping things up so much as the way in which the others start to drop out, or arguments to stay in begin to disappear.]

The Gingrich campaign is mindful of this Southern question. In fact, the memo the campaign circulated on Monday about how a protracted primary battle might look was very heavy on the former Speaker doing well in the upcoming March contests in the region. And therein lies the trouble for the Gingrich campaign. Their hope is that a series of wins across the South evens the delegate total heading out of the contests. That may happen, but if that is the case, the Gingrich folks are going to run full on in a stiff wind. How is that any different than the strategy Mike Huckabee had in 2008? The former Arkansas governor came close to sweeping the region in 2008 and that got him nowhere. It had him out of the race in early March when McCain won on Huckabee's turf in Texas and in the process crossed the 50% plus one delegate threshold to become the presumptive nominee.

Now sure, the Gingrich folks would counter that the calendar is vastly different in 2012 than it was in 2008. There is no mammoth Super Tuesday a week from today's Florida primary like there was four years ago. However, Gingrich is going to have to find a way to win in a Romney state to effectively brush off the Huckabee comparison. February's line up of contests does not seem to offer too many opportunities for Gingrich and if Romney sweeps them all, the pressure is going to increase on the non-Romneys in that scenario to consider bowing out ( the face of the Southern question for Romney).

If we are trying to game this out moving forward look for Gingrich wins in Romney states (as a signal of a protracted battle) and Romney wins in the South (as a signal that the process is winding down). As it is, Romney is playing the McCain part from 2008 and if the South is the only thing standing in the way, it won't be enough to stop a Romney nomination. The goal for Gingrich is to become Huckabee, but Huckabee plus.

1 This will be an interesting test case of the Romney/not-Romney theory that has been floated around about this Republican nomination race. If there is a significant protest/anti-Romney movement within the Republican primary electorate, and the field has not winnowed anymore by that point, then that two-person Virginia primary becomes the best possible test.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Musings on the Republican Nomination Race, Post-South Carolina

Where do we go from here?

Following the Gingrich victory in South Carolina, the race for the Republican presidential nomination has taken yet another turn. And this time, for the first time since probably early December, the contest is lodged in the gray area between being a momentum contest1 and a delegate counting contest.2 Truth be told, the line is often blurred between those two distinctions. Most nominations in the post-reform era have tended to be momentum contests with a frontrunner -- having been established in the invisible primary -- winning early and often and using those early wins as  springboard into a Super Tuesday series of contests to build a seemingly insurmountable lead (both in momentum and in delegates).

Due to the way the primary calendar is set up in 2012 and the current fits and starts nature of the dynamic in the race, however, this cycle is shaping up differently. The notion of Mitt Romney sweeping or nearly sweeping the January contests and putting the nomination race to rest are gone -- even with a Florida win. But the idea of a momentum contest -- one that will typically develop behind the frontrunner, no matter how nominal -- is not completely dead.  Romney remains the frontrunner. The former Massachusetts governor is viewed as the establishment choice and is the only candidate to this point to have placed in the top two in each of the first three contests. He is still the favorite to build a consensus around his candidacy -- just not as much as he was in the five days or so after the New Hampshire primary.

But the question remains just how will Romney, or any other candidate for that matter, build a consensus and win the nomination. There are two main avenues from FHQ's perspective; one narrow and one fairly broad. The narrow path to the nomination is that Mitt Romney bounces back from the South Carolina primary, wins Florida, uses his organizational advantage over Gingrich and Santorum in the February caucus states, and then wins in Arizona and Michigan. The broader path is one that devolves into a contest-by-contest struggle; a battle for delegates the end game of which is the point where one candidate has a wide enough delegate margin that cannot be overcome given the number of delegates to be allocated remaining. [See Norrander, 2000]

FHQ is conservative in how we approach these things. Our basic rules of thumb are: 1) No option is off the table until it is off the table. 2) Past precedent tells us that the frontrunner usually ends up the nominee. [See, Mayer 2003] Now, past is not necessarily prologue, especially when the dynamics, calendars and rules differ across such a comparatively small number of observations in the post-reform era. But in this case, FHQ sees the narrow path described above as the likely outcome; more likely than the delegate counting route.

The hold that has on our thinking, though, is very tenuous indeed. It is not far-fetched to see Romney rebounding from South Carolina to win in Florida on January 31. It is not far-fetched to foresee the former governor parlay that win into wins in the remaining February contests -- though that mid-February gap in the calendar is a great unknown in terms of these calculations. Previously, FHQ has argued that that February period with no contests would put significant strain on candidates financially. That view was predicated on a Romney (near-)sweep in January forcing amped up pressure on the remaining candidates to drop out. Gingrich's South Carolina win alleviates some of that potential pressure. A win allows a non-frontrunner candidate in these early stages to get his or her foot in the door for arguing viability. Romney, then, would have a more difficult time shutting the door on Gingrich and to some extent Santorum (if he can survive that long). [Ron Paul is in it for the long haul. That is why this discussion is light on the Texas congressman.]

But even a February sweep -- if we are constraining our view to the narrow path to the nomination -- is  likely not enough to close this out for Romney or more to the point, to force the others from the race. There is one lingering question coming out of South Carolina that cannot be answered until Super Tuesday/March 6 at the earliest. Even if Romney wins all of the February contests he is still vulnerable to the charge that he has not won in the South; a core constituency within the Republican Party.3 Now, that is not to suggest that Romney as the Republican nominee would struggle in the South in the general election. Yet, not winning in the reddest region of the country in the primary phase does signal that the part of the core of the party is not on board with the former Massachusetts governor's nomination. That may or may not be enough to "veto" a Romney nomination, but it does provide his opponents with a solid argument for staying in -- particularly if it is the same candidate (presumably Gingrich) winning there.

The other layer to this -- the one about which FHQ has received the most inquiries since Saturday -- how the rules for delegate allocation begin to affect all of this. To reiterate an earlier point, the rules are the exact same as they were in 2008 in each of the states with contests prior to March. To the extent we witness differences, it will be due to the dynamics of the race and not the delegate allocation rules. The changes brought about because of the new "proportionality" requirement on the Republican side begin to kick in once the calendar flips to March. Now, it is still too early to tell what impact those rules will have. Mainly, that is due to the fact that we just don't know which candidates -- or how many candidates, really -- will still be alive at that point. The modal response from the states to the RNC proportionality rule was to make the allocation of delegates conditional on a certain threshold of the vote. If a candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, then the allocation is winner-take-all (or the at-large delegate allocation is winner-take-all). But if no candidate crosses that bar, the allocation is proportional (overall or for just the at-large delegates). The more candidates that survive, in other words, the more likely it is that the allocation is proportional. It would be more difficult for one candidate to receive 50% of the vote. The double-edged sword of proportional allocation is that while it may make it harder -- take longer -- for the leading candidate to reach 1144 delegates (if triggered), it also makes it more difficult for those attempting to catch the leader as well. The margin (of delegates) for the winners is often not that large.

Taken together, the South questions and the proportionality requirement jumble the outlook for this race. Romney may or may not be required to win in the South to win the nomination. But winning there would go a long way toward forcing other candidates from the race and preventing the nomination from falling into a delegate count. The problem is that those two things -- the race turning South again and the potential proportionality kicking in -- hit at the same point. And that leaves us with any number of permutations for directions in which the race could go, whether taking the narrow path or broad path.

Will the rules matter? They always do, but they will really matter when and if Romney is unable to rebound and run off a series of February wins. That is what we should be looking at now.

1 Defined by a candidate sweeping or nearly sweeping the early contests to overwhelm his or her opponents.

2 Defined by a candidate at some point beyond the first handful of contests either crosses the 50% plus one delegate threshold or develops a big enough lead to force his or her opponents from the race at some point outside of the first handful of contests.

3 There are no southern primaries or caucuses after South Carolina until a series of contests on March 6.

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