Friday, January 11, 2019

Pair of Oregon Bills Would Move Primary to March, but with a Twist

In what may, in part, be the opening salvo in the 2019 legislation affecting the 2020 presidential primary calendar, Oregon has a couple of interesting bills prefiled and ready for when the legislature in the Beaver state convenes later this month.

Both bills seek to move the Oregon primary from the third Tuesday in May up to the second Tuesday in March not just in presidential election years but in all even-numbered years. This differs from when Oregon shifted in the past (for 1996) or when attempts were made in the recent past to move the primary (2007 and 2015). In those instances, the presidential primary was split from the May primary for other offices and moved (or proposed to be moved) to March or earlier dates. In 2019, the legislation proposes moving everything up to March, thus saving the expense of funding a new and stand-alone presidential primary.

However, both 2019 bills offer a twist on this scheduling.

HB 2107 calls for a move the second Tuesday in March, but also is a bit more provocative in giving the Oregon secretary of state the discretion to change the would-be standardized March date "if the date change will result in the primary election being held seven or more days after the date on which the first primary election held during that election cycle is held in any other state."

In other words, this is a bill that could threaten New Hampshire if it becomes law.

If the first primary -- New Hampshire's -- is seven or more days before the second Tuesday in March -- it always is -- then the Oregon secretary of state would have the discretion to move the primary and time before December 1 of the year prior to a presidential election. Ostensibly, the intention is for the secretary of state to have the discretion to move forward on the calendar, but he or she would also have the ability to move the primary back. That is not something -- at least in the introduced version of this legislation that is prohibited.

The second bill -- HB 2279 -- is similar but less provocative. At the request of the secretary of state, this legislation was introduced and would not only move the primary from May to the second Tuesday in March, but it would allow the secretary of state to join a regional primary if two or more states from among Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, or Washington wind up clustered on a date other than the second Tuesday in March. Nevada will be among the carve-out states in February and California already has a primary scheduled for the first Tuesday in March. But Idaho is is currently stationed on the second Tuesday in March and Washington has eyed that position in the past. Utah also has a primary option, but a date has not been settled on yet.

It look as though the second Tuesday in March could end up as post-California/Super Tuesday western states/PAC 12 regional primary spot.

But first the Oregon legislature has to act on this legislation and other pieces elsewhere have to fall into place. The Oregon part of the equation will become clearer when the legislature convenes on January 22.

The Oregon legislation will be added to the evolving FHQ 2020 Presidential Primary Calendar.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Primary Movement Starts with the State Legislatures

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first, when do their sessions end and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries? [More below the calendar.]

2019 State Legislative Session Calendar (sequential)
Date (Convene)StatesDate (Adjourn)
January 1, 2019Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
mid July
January 2Maine
New Hampshire
Washington, DC
June 19
late June
January 3Indiana
North Dakota1
April 29
April 26
January 4ColoradoMay 3
January 7California
September 13
early April
May 1
January 8Delaware
South Carolina
South Dakota
June 30
March 29
May 20
April 7
May 9
March 29
late April
May 27
early March
January 9Connecticut
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
West Virginia
June 3
year round2
April 8
May 17
June 6
year round2
year round2
mid July
mid May
March 10
March 9
January 14Arizona
Puerto Rico
Virgin Islands1
late April
March 14
early April
May 3
mid May
November 30
year round2
April 28
January 15Alaska1
New Mexico
April 14
March 16
January 16Hawaii1May 2
January 22OregonJune 30
January 28UtahMarch 14
February 4Nevada1
June 3
May 31
March 5Alabama
June 18
May 3
April 8LouisianaJune 6
1 States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
2 State legislatures whose session calendars have them meeting throughout the year.

2019 in the state legislatures
The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. With the schedule of state legislative sessions down, though, what impact will that have on the formation of the 2020 presidential primary calendar? The biggest thing is that 2020 is not 2016, but it is likely to share more similarities with 2016 than 2016 did with its immediately prior cycle, 2012. There are not nearly 20 states that have to make some form of scheduling change to comply with changes to the structure of the primary process at the national party level. In 2008 both parties allowed February contests. For 2012, both parties changed their minds and together informally constructed a calendar structure that had the carve-outs in February and all other states in March or later.

Right off the bat, then, the 2012 cycle had a tension between where state laws had various primaries scheduled (February or before) and what the national parties wanted in terms of the overall calendar for most states (March and later). That tension has already been greatly minimized. 2011 saw a significant amount of backward primary movement, and that process continued in 2013-14. Importantly for 2016, past rogue states like Florida, Michigan and Arizona moved back from the brink. That does not mean that there will not be other rogues out there, but 2016 demonstrated that the parties had -- at least for that cycle -- a workable mix of penalties and bonuses to keep states in line.

Will that hold in 2020? The early indications are yes, but 2019 will settle that score.

Here are a few things to look out for as state legislative session progress (mostly) over the first half of  2019 and into the latter half of the year.

Primary movement or primary movement?
A couple of states -- California and North Carolina -- made early moves on the 2020 calendar. Both shifted their contest dates to Super Tuesday in 2017 and 2018. That is atypical as most states tend to wait until the new legislatures convene in the year before the presidential election to settle on the timing of their presidential primaries. And while one can expect there to be additional movement up and down the calendar in the coming months, that is not the only type of movement witnessed either thus far or likely witnessed in the near future.

Yes, some states have changed primary dates, but others -- former caucus states -- have moved to primaries as the means allocating delegates for the 2020 cycle. This trend began in 2016 (Maine and Minnesota), continued in 2017 (Colorado and Utah), stretched into 2018 (Idaho and Nebraska), and could push into 2019 in states like Hawaii and Washington. The former saw legislation die during the 2018 session and the latter has a state-funded primary option, but the Democratic party in Washington has eschewed it in the post-reform era. Washington Democrats are set to finalize their plans by March/April.

But does the trend push beyond just that group? 2019 will answer those questions and in the state legislatures.

Likely Movers
The impetus to move for 2020 is different than it has been in the recent past. Republicans are idle at this time, so the motivation is less to move around because of an active nomination race and more to do so in order to potentially protect the renomination odds of the current president. There have been some discussion about South Carolina canceling its primary in favor of a caucus system for instance. But are there states more likely to move than others?

When one thinks about that, there are a few factors for which to account. FHQ will not be exhaustive here, but only point toward the most likely factors motivating primary movement. One is where the contests are currently scheduled. The movement seen so far for the 2020 cycle has been later states moving up, California most clearly.

But second, look to the partisan alignment of state legislatures. That has not been a significant factor in past iterations of my research, but in an increasingly polarized environment, may be becoming a more significant one. Democratic-controlled states, then, might be more inclined to seek out earlier dates. Look, in particular, at the group of mid-Atlantic/northeastern states with late April primary dates as of now. Each has moved pretty far back on the calendar over the last two cycles. Most also have some Democratic control. A wide open Democratic race may draw them to earlier dates for 2020.

Contrast that with the Republican-controlled state governments across the country. Their motivation is different. Protect the president? Then move back (and see the state party shift to a winner-take-all allocation method). Hurt the Democrats? Then move back and shift an important constituency concentrated in a particular region. Think about that SEC primary coalition from 2016. That could break up and push the votes of a valuable Democratic voting bloc -- African American -- to later in the calendar. That might affect some candidates more than others.

Regional primaries
Part of what drove some of those mid-Atlantic/northeastern states back in 2012 and 2016 was the allure of a regional primary clustering bonus from the Democratic National Committee. Neighboring states that hold their primaries together and late enough on the calendar are rewarded with additional delegates; more activists they can take to the convention. That is no small thing for a small state. While it potentially means a lesser voice in the primary process, it means a greater voice at the convention.

That bonus may hold less sway this time around with an active nomination race than it has in the two most recent cycles. Instead one may see attempts to replicate the SEC primary from 2016. There are elements of a Great Lakes primary already on March 10. California's move may prompt the formation of a PAC 12 primary (if California does not already represent that on its own). But there is reason to believe those clusters, if they occur, will fall earlier in the 2020 than in 2016 or 2012.

Anyway, as state legislatures begin to convene, they will be considering any number of things. Undoubtedly though, that will include primary calendar movement if not caucus to primary movement.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. One western state governor is headed to the first in the west caucus state. One seemingly likely 2020 candidate -- Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) -- is trekking to Nevada.

2. On the Sanders front, former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, will work in a different capacity in any presidential campaign the Vermont senator launches for 2020.

3. Speaking of Sanders, New Hampshire groups supportive of his candidacy will hold events this weekend across the Granite state.

4. New Hampshire will also welcome Elizabeth Warren this weekend.

5. Steyer opts to focus on impeaching Trump rather than seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Yes folks, #WinnowingWorks.

6. O'Rourke is more inclined to run than not at this point.

7. While Booker and Sanders are in South Carolina for MLK day, Harris will be back in Oakland to make her 2020 intentions, if not official, then clearer. ...and they have already been pretty clear if one has followed the signals.

8. Finally, ask and ye shall receive. The burning question on everyone's mind in early 2019: Will Jeb Bush run in 2020? Nope.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- California, Early Voting, and the 2020 Rules

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

As 2018 came to a close a second wave of folks seemed to be getting in their two cents about the impact of the three month shift of the California presidential primary on the 2020 calendar.1

And it is not a move that is without import. While California pairing with Texas (among others) on Super Tuesday is a new wrinkle for 2020, frontloaded primary calendars with California on the heels of the earliest states are not. California was part of the logjam on the first Tuesday in March in 2000, and similarly just a month behind Iowa kicking things off on the 2008 calendar.

Of course, the dynamics of each of those races were different. Each cycle is always different in some way from its predecessors.2 The 2000 cycle saw fields of candidates on both sides that were comparatively small. And in 2008, California was early on a de facto national primary date, but other states -- Florida and Michigan -- sought to push even more directly into the early calendar territory Iowa and New Hampshire.

But maybe 2020 is when the stars align for a California primary move to be of consequence. Perhaps, but 2019 has already witnessed no lack of 2020 candidate maneuvering. And the attention, at least to this point, seems to be in the usual directions: toward the earliest states.

Yes, there is still time for that to change.

In fact, the increase in early voting in the Golden state and the stretch of that window of convenience voting to a point on the calendar in line with the caucuses in Iowa may be enough to alter the equation. It is that reality that has driven much of the renewed discourse about the California primary and 2020.

Some have argued that the implications of the California primary move coupled with that Iowa-aligned early voting start means that the Golden state cannot be ignored. If that is even partly true, then it will likely serve as an extension of the frontloaded calendars cited above. To be successful, candidates have to have the resources to plan for a crowded Super Tuesday, and in 2020, an early vote GOTV effort in the state. Both have winnowing possibilities layered into them.

Still others have made the case that a largely unwinnowed, or lightly winnowed, field entering into a month-long California primary voting window may lead to a fractious split of a large cache of delegates, raising the likelihood of an inconclusive outcome to primary season.

FHQ would submit another scenario altogether, a rather counterintuitive one.

Those rooting most heavily for a still crowded field by the time California rolls around in 2020 are those with some nominal frontrunner status, those with some experience winning statewide in the Golden state, or those with some combination of the two. The more crowded it is, the less likely it is that some number of candidates clears the 15 percent threshold to qualify for delegates in (each of the 55 races for delegates in) California.3

The fewer candidates that crest above 15 percent, the greater the delegate prize California would be to those who do. Bear in mind that, despite the fact that winnowing was slow in 2016 in a crowded Republican nomination race, no primary or caucus saw any more than three candidates receive 15 percent or more of the vote.

And hey, if it is crowded enough in the California results, then California could become a very big prize indeed. If early voting is great enough and distributes the votes in a way that only one candidate clears that threshold (in all 53 jurisdictions), then California becomes a winner-take-all affair.

Advantage: winner.

But it is early yet and the winnowing has only really just begun.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Sanders is heading to the Palmetto state to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally.

2. Later this month Bloomberg will be in Virginia to speak to the Democratic Business Council. This one is more preaching to the choir than broadening any likely coalition of the former New York mayor's.

3. In Iowa today, Steyer is going to announce something. What can one announce in the Hawkeye state?

4. Speaking of announcements, Castro is building up to his own later this week. Yesterday he was in Iowa pledging to shun PAC money and in Nevada reaching out to the Latino community.

5. Meanwhile, Draft Beto stretches into Nevada and California with new hires in an attempt to pull the former Texas congressman into the 2020 race.

6. Finally, Harris has an entry for the 2020 Book Primary.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

1 Second wave because there was an initial round back in 2017 when the California legislature pushed the presidential primary in the Golden state up.

2 That is the reason that even small rules changes can yield large impacts (or alternatively, be amplified by differing dynamics).

3 There will be 55 contests for delegates nestled in the broader California primary. Allocations of at-large and party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates will be based on the statewide results, while the results in each of the 53 congressional districts will determine how the varying numbers of congressional district delegates will be allocated.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- On DNC Debate Requirements and Candidate Strategy

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

Recently, the Democratic National Committee announced a series of basically monthly primary debates that will start in June 2019 and run into primary season in 2020.

Although the qualifications for participation were left undetermined for the time being, the announcement was not without some important rules-related revelations. Most inventive among them was the plan to deal with an expected slew of candidates, a number likely to extend beyond what one debate stage could accommodate. Rather than repeat the Republican undercard/main event debate method from 2016, the DNC demonstrated it had learned some lessons and opted instead to randomize the participants across a doubleheader in each of at least the first two planned debates.

And the announcement has prompted another attempt at examining the importance primary debates on the candidates' fortunes.

But as news of the DNC debates considerations emerged over the course of fall 2018, FHQ returned to a constant drumbeat: No matter what decisions the party makes with respect to debates rules, there will be winnowing implications for candidates, potential candidates and candidates who opt to pass on officially running.

Mostly that is in reaction to the possible qualifications thresholds. But it is not clear that the DNC decision to not finalize those plans at this point in time is not also having some impact on [potential] candidate decision making.

All there is now from the DNC is a rough idea of what may be included in the qualifications, but not the specifics of the thresholds. We know polling. We know some measure of "grassroots fundraising". But we do not know the level of either. Nor do we know the balance between the two. Does polling count for more? Fundraising? Are they evenly counted?

Those are a lot of questions to answer if one is a candidate trying to find one's way in an overly crowded field. Now look, facing uncertainty is nothing new to presidential nomination politics, but this particular bit of uncertainty may be enough to freeze some candidates and to do so consequentially.

Let me explain.

Some candidates -- mostly the big names -- are planning early 2019 announcements. Warren is exploring already. Harris is supposed to be moving quickly. Biden is expected to make a decision by the end of January. The list goes on.

However, other candidates are planning later announcements. It was Jay Inslee's "by April" line on his decision-making calculus that prompted this line of thought.1 The question is why? Why would someone watch other candidates -- bigger names, more likely frontrunner-types -- emerge/announce and begin/continue laying the groundwork of a run while another candidate, seemingly further down the food chain, bides his or her time?

Part of the answer could be built on the idea that most 2016 candidates waited until slightly later into 2015 before officially throwing their hats in the ring. It also could be a decision spurred by a desire, like states on the primary calendar, to carve out a spot where a smaller scale candidate can draw some attention. None of that is implausible.

Yet, let's game out a debate rules scenario here. If you are, say, Eric Swalwell, then you are probably seeking an advantageous announcement time some time in the first half of the year in order to maximize the splashiness of the event. Part of that splashiness -- the timing of it anyway -- is very likely intended to influence the polling part of the debates qualifications equation. And the later the decision falls, the closer it is to the first debate. Such a delay helps that part of getting into the debates, but potentially hurt the grassroots fundraising part of it that will be more likely to rely on an extended period of fundraising (often helped along by an earlier announcement).

And that does not count a situation where a candidate banks on one part of the two-pronged qualifications to find out the other is weighted more.

In the end, the DNC is already on record that the initial thresholds for participation will be quite low. But the specifics of those debate rules matter. A delay until likely March for those specifics matters. Bigger candidates can more easily gloss over those things, while they remain consequential hurdles to longer shot candidates. In other words, those rules can affect decision-making within those campaigns more than others. They create more uncertainty.


What Will a "Grassroots Fundraising" Threshold for Entry to Democratic Primary Debates Look Like?

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. From Seth Market, what we know about 2020 and what we don't from the lessons of 2016. This one's going to be worth flagging now and returning to later as the invisible primary progresses.

2. This seems destined to be a line of demarcation in some way, shape, or form in the Democratic nomination process. Some candidates will approach Wall Street. Others will not.

3. O'Rourke is going to hit the "pop-in" circuit in the coming weeks. You say pop-in, I say listening tour. ...or could anyway.

4. More on Warren's trip to Iowa over the backdrop of what some potential Democratic caucusgoers in the Hawkeye state are looking for heading into 2020.

5. Five state legislatures came online for the 2019 session on January 7. There is not a lot of primary movement promise there.

6. Delaney has hired more staff in Iowa.

7. After a bunch of trips to Iowa, Swalwell is now heading to the Palmetto state.

8. McAuliffe saying his 2020 decision-making calculus is unaffected by Biden's moves and McAuliffe actually being unaffected by Biden are two different things. More importantly, expect a decision from the former Virginia governor in the first quarter of 2019.

9. And now it's time for something completely different: How about those Clemson Tigers!

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

1 Of course, Inslee looks to be fairly well organized despite the plan to possibly announce later.

Monday, January 7, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Trump's Reelection and the 2020 Delegate Game

As we head into 2019 and the heart of the invisible primary, FHQ is beginning a series to catalog some of the maneuvering going on among and between the various campaigns and candidates as they move from the nascent to the real. We have been doing this for some time on Twitter, but in an effort to protect against some of the activities disappearing into the ether, we'll archive them here. 

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

While the Republican National Committee had an opportunity in 2017 and stretching into the first three-quarters of 2018 to make changes to aspects of the presidential nomination process for 2020, the party largely left well enough alone. And that is in keeping with how parties have approached process questions when they occupy the White House. Candidates who have won not only nominations, but the presidency tend to like the process that got them there. As such, the parties under their direction more often than not will either make no changes at all or only minor changes.

Look at the DNC in the 2009-2010 period. There was a commission -- the Democratic Change Commission -- that examined the way in which the party nominated its presidential candidates, but once the recommendations had worked their way through the Rules and Bylaws Committee, the result was a just a handful of small changes. The clustering bonus, where neighboring states could schedule their contests together after a certain point on the calendar in order to net a 15 percent increase in their delegation, stands out. But the most consequential, although often overshadowed change, was the increase in the total number of base delegates from 3000 to 3700 in the convention call. That had the effect of diluting the impact of superdelegates, or would have if the 2012 Democratic nomination had been competitive. In reality, it rewarded more Democrats with a trip to the national convention.

But those are the sorts of changes that often come out of White House-occupying parties.

And the 2017-2018 Republicans were no different. They had an opportunity through the Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process to examine the rules for 2020 and make any recommendations for changes. And they did. But the only change that emerged was the elimination of a 2016 creation: the debates sanctioning committee.

Everything else was left untouched. And that included the Rule 40 threshold determining whose name can be placed in nomination at the national convention. That was left alone because only the convention can change it.

And though the low bar of that threshold remains as it was set in 2016 at the convention, it has been a topic of some discussion in recent weeks. But the efforts to change it -- to raise it -- are both too late and have been shot down by the Trump reelction effort.

The campaign will endeavor instead to protect itself by "dominating the delegate game," by focusing not on changes to the national rules governing delegate selection, but on state-level rules for selecting and allocating delegates (created in response to the national guidelines).

In that patchwork of state party rules opportunities exist for presidential candidates. Creating the most advantageous calendar, for example. Or altering the balance of winner-take-all or proportional states for another.

Actually, this is at least part of where we are likely to see some changes during 2019. State parties will finalize their delegate selection processes in both parties as 2019 wears on. And although it is a gamble -- because what appears advantageous now may not be in 2020 -- we may see an effort on the Republican side similar to what was witnessed on the Democratic side in 2011: a national party urging action on the part of the states.

If a state is viewed now as a strong Trump state in the nomination phase of the process, then why not move it to a point on the calendar where the number of Trump delegates could be maximized? Take Georgia. Traditionally the Peach state has been a Super Tuesday mainstay. And it may still be in 2020. However, the newly elected Republican secretary of state there may hear from the Trump campaign. So might the Georgia Republican Party. The former could set the date of the Georgia primary for some point after March 15 and that would allow the latter to set the allocation method for winner-take-all (without penalty).

The same could be said for other early primary states where there is some combination of Republicans control of state government and perception of Trump doing well there in 2020. If one wanted to massage the delegate game a bit in order to raise the number of Trump delegates at the national convention, then this would be the way to do it.

And bear in mind, any changes to the primary calendar that Republicans make affects the Democratic process too. While the Democrats of 2011 sought to potentially influence the 2012 Republican process, this 2019 Republican maneuvering adds an additional element: protecting the president.

Elsewhere over the weekend...

1. Elizabeth Warren had a pretty good roll out to her presidential campaign from exploratory committee announcement to the trickle of stories about staffing hires to her initial Iowa trek. She was in the news or steadily made it all week.

2. Castro has surround his January 12 announcement event with trips to all the early states but South Carolina.

3. Cory Booker won't be the first and won't be the last to visit the Palmetto state, but he'll speak there on MLK.

4. The Booker super PAC continues to take shape.

4. Biden continues to hold support at home.

5. And no one has passed his test to keep him out of the 2020 sweepstakes yet either.

6. California donors are willing to let the dust settle a bit on the Democratic nomination contest.

7. One can't do one of these without an O'Rourke mention. Draft Beto has moved into South Carolina.

8. According to his wife, Sherrod Brown is heading for an announcement "within the next two months".

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Trump and the 2020 Republican Delegate Selection Rules

Rule 40 is back.

Remember all that chatter from last cycle about a potentially crowded field of candidates vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and the possibility that the ensuing chaos would lead to a scenario where multiple (or no) candidates would control a majority of delegates from eight states and have all/none of their names placed in nomination at the convention, leading to even more chaos?

It is fine if you do not. But FHQ does. Vividly. It was all the rage from 2014 into 2016, peaking in April  of that year and gathering steam again in the lead up to the July convention.

Now, however, the 2016 chaos narrative is being replaced by a 2020 threat narrative, all with Rule 40 as the predicate.

The short version of the threat narrative is this:
The current RNC rules for the 2020 nomination process set a low bar for a potential challenger to President Trump. At Trump's own nominating convention in 2016, delegates adopted a revision to Rule 40 for 2020. Rather than requiring the control of the majority of delegates from eight states to have one's name placed in nomination, the 2020 process would require the control of a plurality of delegates from only five states. This was a reversion to the threshold from before 2016. By extension, the thinking goes that the lower threshold for 2020 means a greater potential threat to the president and that the threshold should be raised.

Of course, there is a rule for that. Well, rules anyway.

First, Rule 12, added at the 2012 convention for the 2016 cycle and carried over to 2020, allows for amendments to Rules 1-11 and Rules 13-25. Noticeably, that is a list of amendable rules that does not include Rule 40. And even if Rule 40 was among the amendable rules, amendments to the 2020 rules had to be adopted by September 30, 2018.

Second, there was a vehicle put in place to devise recommended amendments to the group of rules that could be changed. Rule 10(a)(10) created the Temporary Committee on the Presidential Nominating Process (TCPNP) whose charge was to make such recommendations by May 31, 2018 in order for them to be considered, adopted and/or rejected by the full Republican National Committee prior to the September deadline laid out in Rule 12. Although their discussions were wide-ranging, all the TCPNP recommended and the RNC adopted was the elimination of the debates sanctioning committee the RNC created for the 2016 cycle.

In other words, the window for making changes to the rules has passed and Rule 40 was not among the rules that could be changed anyway.

None of those realities have stopped some from suggesting that because the RNC is a private organization, it can change its rules at any time. Nor has it dissuaded (at least one) RNC member from raising the idea of a suspension of the rules in order to fix "loopholes" in the 2020 process.

Look, FHQ is skeptical of that. It is not that there are doubts because of some rules technicality that guards against changes. Those are outlined above. Rather, there is reason to be skeptical of a change in the rules at this point because of something I often told folks with respect to the rules discussion ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention: it is fine to talk about potential changes to any rule that any voting member finds unsavory for whatever reason. Yet, it is another thing altogether to devise an alternative that can win the support of the requisite number of voting members to make that change.

In other words, the devil is in the details.

And if the details include the RNC acting unilaterally to change the nomination rules for 2020 in a way unprecedented in the history of the party, then cobbling together winning coalition to make any change would likely be a very steep climb indeed. Morton Blackwell, the national committeeman from Virginia, spoke against a motion to create this very change during the Convention Rules Committee meeting the week before the party convened in Cleveland in 2016. That motion was withdrawn.

In the end, parties have these rules in place and keep them relatively constant for a reason. They create certainty, or if not that, then prevent chaos. A party that changes rules mid-cycle and outside of the process laid forth for making changes -- typically from the highest authority for both of the major US political parties, the national convention -- is a party with no rules. To make a change now sets the precedent that similarly-timed changes can be made in the future, potentially pitting the party organization against the convention itself (because the convention could change the rules back or to whatever a majority there could agree on). Recognition of constant, stable rules, like constant and stable law, is necessary.

Take the rule in question, Rule 40. The national committeeman from the Virgin Islands, Jevon Williams, suggests that the rules, and Rule 40 in particular, were adopted at a time when there was no thought toward how they may affect an incumbent running for renomination/reelection, creating "loopholes".

[NOTE: That is not the case for anyone who watched the proceedings of the Republican National Convention Rules Committee in the lead up to the convention.]

But even if that was true and there were "loopholes", the plan was to return to the way the Rule 40 looked prior to 2016. George W. Bush was renominated in 2004 under those same rules. Before that in the 1990s, the threshold was even lower, set at a plurality in just three states. And prior to that, there was no threshold in the early equivalent to Rule 40. Past Republican presidents, then, have been renominated and reelected under similar rules.1

So, it should be noted that the overarching rules of the process are being made the scapegoat here for a problem that is not rules-based. If a given president is popular enough, particularly among his or her primary electorate, then that tends to 1) ward off a primary challenge and by extension, 2) renders the rules-based issues at least nonexistent and at most a minor nuisance.

As a coda to all of this FHQ will say that rules tinkering is nothing new here. What is new in this instance in 2019 is the timing. The cycle is beyond the point at which national rules can be changed. The process is in the midst of another phase now. Yes, most will be paying the primary amount of attention in the coming days and weeks and months to candidate jumping in to the race and what they are up to.

However, behind all of that is a parallel process where past presidents have wielded some influence: the rules on the state level. Typically incumbent presidents are loathe to change the rules that got them the nomination in the first place and in turn the national parties typically hold pat with those overarching rules. Yet, on the state level, there are opportunities to make small scale changes that may benefit a particular candidate. State governments for years have changed the dates of their primaries and often to help out a favorite son or daughter. Illinois, for example, uprooted its traditional March primary for the 2008 cycle to ideally give Barack Obama a leg up on a crowded Super Tuesday.

But presidents do this too. The Carter reelection effort foresaw a 1980 challenge from Ted Kennedy and as a result sought to alter the playing field. Their prescription was not to change the national delegate rules, but to manage things at the state level, lobbying a cadre of southern states to hold a subregional primary early in the primary calendar. That Alabama-Florida-Georgia primary was seen as a potential positive response for Carter to any gains Kennedy might make in the earlier New Hampshire and Massachusetts primaries.

While that specific sort of maneuvering is not yet evident in the actions of those officials in the Trump reelection campaign, there is evidence that delegate slates are being built on the same level. That is far more fertile ground for advantageous changes than altering the national delegate process at this late stage. Don't look for changes to Rule 40. Look to the states and what Team Trump is doing there.

1 Actually, the reversion to the pre-2016 threshold was met joyously by the voting members of Convention Rules Committee in 2016. But the change in 2012 -- for the 2016 cycle -- raised the bar to a majority of delegates in eight states with an incumbent President Romney in mind. That is why Ben Ginsberg and Jon Sununu took so much flak coming out of Tampa. But the changes each time were made by the party's highest authority, the national convention.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Nebraska Democrats Opt to Move Back to Presidential Primary for 2020

Nebraska Democrats voted on December 8 during their quarterly State Central Committee meeting to conduct the state party's 2020 national delegate allocation process through a presidential primary.

This is a reversion to the mode of delegate selection Cornhusker state Democrats used prior to 2008. For that cycle and the succeeding two cycles, the party held caucuses. And the primary motivation for the switch from primary to caucus ahead of 2008 was to move to an earlier date on the presidential primary calendar. That allowed for (Saturday after Super Tuesday) February caucuses as opposed to the traditional May primary.

But that move never got rid of the primary. By Nebraska law, caucus or not, a party's candidates appear on the presidential primary ballot. And in both of the competitive Democratic presidential cycles of 2008 and 2016 the later primary added two turnout data points for comparison to the caucuses. Despite the later date of the non-binding primary contests, the turnout was higher than in the caucuses.

That has remained a sticking point in discussions in and out of the state party in Nebraska and has been a primary incentive to move back to a primary election currently scheduled for May.

Nebraska now becomes the sixth state to make a switch from a 2016 caucus to a 2020 presidential primary; joining ColoradoIdahoMaineMinnesota, and Utah.

The Nebraska change has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

Related Posts: 
Caucus or Primary? Nebraska Democrats Have the Decision Before Them

Nebraska Democratic Party Platform Committee Passes Caucus-to-Primary Resolution

Nebraska Democrats Signal Caucus-to-Primary Switch for 2020

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Caucus or Primary? Nebraska Democrats Have the Decision Before Them

Nebraska Democrats will convene this weekend to conduct their quarterly State Central Committee meeting. And on the agenda is the caucus or primary question as the group continues to consider the state party's draft delegate selection plan for 2020.

Yet, the party is not newly coming into this discussion. In fact, at its 2018 state convention this past June, Democratic delegates considered the matter as well. The state convention platform committee at the time ultimately passed a resolution calling for a switch to a primary from the caucus system the party has used to select and allocate national convention delegates from the Cornhusker state for each of the last three cycles (since 2008).

But news of the inner workings within the party on the caucus-to-primary question went quiet after that point. The convention resolution on the matter did not (and does not now) appear among the listed resolutions that were passed on the floor of the convention at the time.

However, it was listed among the passed resolutions in late June. Here's the language:
Why it disappeared from the passed resolutions was a mystery; one that was not settled later when I tried to reach out to the Nebraska Democratic Party (NDP) about it in July once I returned from vacation. Nor were they answered to any greater degree by the resolution's sponsor, Angela Thomas when FHQ reached out to her once news of the December State Central Committee meeting was reported toward the end of November.

Ultimately, this really is neither here nor there, but it was odd.

Regardless, the resolution would have been non-binding on the party. Additionally, the progression of the idea -- switching from a caucus to a primary -- has followed if not taken an expedited path as laid out by NDP Chair Jane Kleeb at the time of the state convention:
The party’s State Central Committee most likely won’t make a final decision until March, after the national Democratic Party issues guidance to the states, said Chairwoman Jane Kleeb.
The party has seemingly moved the consideration of caucus-to-primary up a quarter from March 2019 to December 2018 in order to incorporate the decision on mode of delegate selection into the party's draft delegate selection plan to be submitted to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee by early May.

Heading into the decisive State Central Committee meeting December 7-8, it should be noted that the resolution to eliminate the caucuses drew cheers back at the state convention when it was introduced in the platform committee and as of late November the idea of a caucus-to-primary shift was said by party Chair Kleeb to have held a three to one advantage among the party's grassroots.

Take that as internal momentum to change the state Democrats' mode of delegate selection for 2020. And that parallels the external momentum to move from caucuses to primaries in Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, and Utah that has already produced change in 2016-18.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In Wisconsin, Legislature Moves on Other Measures But Ends Effort at Earlier Presidential Primary

In the end, the price tag associated with creating an all-new and separate presidential primary election was too much for Wisconsin legislators. The Joint Finance Committee balked:
The plan to move the presidential primary was aimed at making sure conservative state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly is not up for election on the same day as the presidential primary in April 2020, when Republicans fear Democratic turnout will be high. 
Moving the primary to March would cost taxpayers nearly $7 million and municipal clerks warned it would be hard to conduct so many elections so close together. 
The committee didn't approve the legislation and leaders said they doubted it would come up on the floor of the Senate or Assembly.
SB 885 did not come up on the floor, and will end up a casualty of this brief legislative lame duck session. The idea of a March presidential primary likely ends there. First, Republicans in the legislature pushing the measure would face resistance from the same elections clerks in January but would also have to contend with a Democratic governor then. And even if they sought to move everything -- presidential primary and judicial election -- up to March, such a proposal would save on expenditures, but also likely continue to draw the ire of elections officials because of the quick turnaround from the February spring primary.

Obviously, any proposal to save the expenditure and move everything to March would additionally fail to lower the turnout on the judicial election. It would still be tethered to the presidential primary.

As described in an earlier post, this discussion of a primary move happened under unique circumstances in the Badger state, unique enough that it likely will not be repeated as the legislature convenes a new session in January. Often proposed primary shifts will come up on a recurring basis in state legislatures, but this one in Wisconsin is unlikely to follow that trend.

And all is not lost: that first Tuesday in April date would have Wisconsin -- as of now anyway -- all by itself in 2020.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Wisconsin Bill Would Shift Presidential Primary to March

Legislation has been introduced during the lame duck session of the Wisconsin legislature to create a separate presidential preference primary election. SB 885 would not only split the presidential primary off from the spring election -- typically tethered to judicial elections -- but would schedule the presidential contest for the second Tuesday in March.

Given the 2020 calendar layout, that would mean a shift up by four weeks for the Wisconsin primary, pushing it up in line with previously scheduled contests in Michigan and Ohio. Conceivably, the new Minnesota presidential primary could end up on that date as well. Parties there can decide on a date other than the first Tuesday in March. With Minnesota and Wisconsin on board, the second Tuesday in March would look like a Great Lakes/Big Ten primary on the heels of Super Tuesday.

UPDATE (12/4/18):
The potential primary move continues to draw the ire of elections administrators on both sides of the aisle in Wisconsin:
The bipartisan panel [the Wisconsin Election Commission] voted 6-0 on a motion to inform lawmakers of the difficulties of moving the election, which could cost as much as $6.8 million and which a top Republican leader has said is aimed at helping re-elect conservative state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly.
FHQ talked about some of that opposition here:
Find much more about the contours of the potential Wisconsin move here.

This legislation will also be added to the 2020 presidential primary calendar here.