Thursday, May 17, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Utah Will Have a Presidential Primary Option in 2020

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

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For much of the post-2016 period, FHQ, in looking ahead to the 2020 cycle, has often raised the caucus-to-primary shifts in Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota. All three formerly caucus states in various ways laid the groundwork in 2016 for 2020 presidential primaries. But that trio of states is not alone in the switch.

In its 2017 session, the Utah state legislature passed legislation -- which was ultimately signed into law -- to provide for a state-funded and run presidential primary option in the Beehive state for the 2020 cycle. And the motivation for HB 204 was borne out of the chaotic Utah caucuses of 2016 the turnout of which overwhelmed both parties in the state. Both the primary sponsor of the bill -- Representative Patrice Arent (D-36th, Millcreek) -- and others providing testimony in committee hearings for the legislation recounted stories of long lines, lack of parking, and understaffed caucus locations in both parties' processes. That prompted Rep. Arent to introduce the bill to "leave running elections to the experts -- our state elections office and the county clerks. Because political parties should be in the business of winning elections, not run[ning] them."

While that sentiment was not exactly shared by the two political parties in the state, both the chairs of the Utah Republican Party, James Evans, and the Utah Democratic Party, Peter Carroon, voiced support for the move. Evans, in particular, supported the state providing for a presidential primary election, but leaving it up to the state parties to opt into using the election as a means of allocating national convention delegates.

The state did not fund a presidential primary in either of the 2012 or 2016 cycles. It did for 2012 give parties the option of using the June state primary for expressing presidential preference to allocate delegates. The Utah Republican Party opted into in that June primary in 2012, but its late June date was non-compliant (too late) with both parties timing rules in 2016. A failed effort to move (from February to March) and fund a separate presidential primary in 2016 occurred in the same winter/spring 2015 time period that the Utah Republican Party was signaling an inclination to conduct the delegate allocation/selection process through a caucus/convention system.

For 2020, Utah Republicans, with it uncertain to unlikely that President Trump will face any competition for the Republican presidential nomination, will retain the ability to hold caucuses. However, both state parties will have the ability to avoid the caucus chaos of 2016 with an option of a state-run 2020 presidential primary. The state will put up some funds for the primary, but local/county  governments will seemingly bear the brunt of most of the costs.

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What is and was left unclear in 2017 effort to fund a 2020 presidential primary is when that primary will be held. Currently, state parties have two options on that front. The Western States Presidential Primary is scheduled for the first Tuesday in February. If and only if that option is not funded by the state -- and it was not in either 2012 or 2016 -- then the state parties can opt into the late June state primary. But neither date fits into the window -- first Tuesday in March to mid-June (different June cutoffs for both parties) -- allowed by the national parties for states to conduct their delegate selection events.

That means that with the funding now there, the Utah legislature will have to revise the date of the 2020 presidential primary during its 2019 session.

It should be noted that the legislation -- HB 204 -- signed into law funds/requires a "presidential primary", but not the Western States Presidential Primary specifically. Now, that requirement does appear in the Western State Presidential Primary section of the Utah Code, but is not exactly a requirement for that February contest. FHQ raises this uncertainty with respect to its treatment of the Utah presidential primary on the 2020 presidential primary calendar. The Utah legislature will set the date in 2019, and for now, FHQ is categorizing the primary in the Beehive state as having no date (due to the lack of clarity in the code). It is a fine distinction, but FHQ categorizes Utah as in need of setting a date and not in need of changing a non-compliant date.


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The Utah law has been added to the FHQ 2020 presidential primary calendar.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

[2017-18 State Legislative Review: Proposed Primary Movement] Washington, DC Eases Back a Week on the Calendar

This post is part of a series examining efforts -- both attempted and successful -- to move presidential primary election dates for 2020 during the now-adjourning 2017-2018 state legislative sessions in capitols across the country. While shifts tend to be rare in sessions immediately following a presidential election, introduced legislation is more common albeit unsuccessful more often than not.

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During the spring of 2017, legislation was introduced in the Washington, DC Council to shift the date on which future primary elections in the district would be held. The impetus behind Councilmember Charles Allen's (D-Ward 6) B22-0197 was multifaceted.

Primarily, shifting local primaries out of September (to where the elections had been returned in 2014) was intended to ease pressure on district compliance with the federal MOVE act. The timeline of the certification for September primary winners threatened to overlap with the 45 day window required by the federal law to distribute general election ballots to military and other officials registered in a jurisdiction but abroad during an election year.

But motivated by cost-savings, Allen also sought to consolidate those local elections with the the presidential election. And the legislation threaded another needle by scheduling the concurrent primaries a week later than the 2016 presidential primary -- the third Tuesday in June rather than the second Tuesday in June. That maneuver helped the primary avoid conflicting with school calendars. Schools are where most of the elections are conducted and will be out for the year by that point in June. Additionally, the shift guarantees that the opening of the early voting window before the primary will not push into the Memorial Day weekend.

It all works out perfectly.

Perfectly except for the fact that in two years, that third Tuesday in June date for the 2020 presidential primary will be non-compliant with national party rules. The window in which states can hold primaries and caucuses closes on the second Saturday in June in the Republican process (Rule 16(c)(1)) and on the second Tuesday in June on the Democratic side (the would-be Rule 12.A.1; Rule 11.A.1 in 2016).

District Republicans had to shift to a party-run (and funded) caucus in March 2016 while Democrats in the district occupied the last date available in the 2016 Democratic National Committee process.

This issue was raised in the public testimony during the committee hearing for B22-0197. While the Lars Hydle from the DC Republican Party voiced party support for the 2018 primary move, he urged the committee to consult with the parties on the 2020 primary.

That is something both DC parties will prefer if they want to avoid national party penalties, the need to apply for waivers, or having to provide for an alternate and earlier (likely party-funded) contest in the 2020 presidential nomination process.

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Democrats Chart Out 2020 Pre-Window Primary Calendar in Draft Delegate Rules


This past week as the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) reconvened to begin adopting a draft of the 2020 delegate selection rules, it quietly tackled the basic structure of the primary calendar. Seemingly, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Even at the time the RBC was considering Rule 12 (Timing of the Delegate Selection Process), FHQ remarked on how the privileged positions of the carve-out states, a controversial topic at RBC meetings in past cycles, took a backseat to a proposed amendment to another section of the rule.

After a reading of the full text of the short rule, then, the committee moved into a discussion that had little to do with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. But the language of the adopted Rule 12.A is worth some time.

The calendar above depicts this, but here is the text of the draft Rule 12.A:
No meetings, caucuses, conventions or primaries which constitute the first determining stage in the presidential nomination process (the date of the primary in primary states, and the date of the first tier caucus in caucus states) may be held prior to the first Tuesday in March or after the second Tuesday in June in the calendar year of the national convention. Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 17 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 10 days before the first Tuesday in March.
There are a few things of note here:

1. First, if you are from New Hampshire, then you probably picked up on this when you saw the calendar at the top. A Nevada caucus just four days after the New Hampshire primary -- if Nevada Democrats opt to hold their precinct caucuses as early as the rule allows -- is a potential violation of the New Hampshire law requiring the Granite state primary to be at least seven days before any similar contest.

Now, I hear you. Who cares about New Hampshire's state law? Well, Granite state residents in general and Secretary of State Bill Gardner in particular care.1 And the latter would likely act in accordance with the law to protect the seven or more day buffer between New Hampshire and any other state (with a similar contest).

That is what Secretary Gardner has done since the primary scheduling responsibility was granted to the New Hampshire secretary of state's office in 1976.


2. While any looming New Hampshire versus Nevada showdown over 2020 primary and caucus scheduling gives FHQ flashbacks to October 2011 -- the last gasp of 2012 calendar chaos -- it does not mean a similar fracas will break out in 2019.

At this point it all hinges on at least a couple of different inputs; one similar to the 2012 cycle and one different.

The similar condition is that one phrase tucked away in the operative clause in the New Hampshire state law:
The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier...
While there were efforts to further clarify the similar election phrase back in 2010, they did not go anywhere in the legislature. And that left in place a law that affords the secretary of state some latitude in defining and determining what a similar contest is. Is a caucus a similar election? Technically, yes, but over the years some distinction has been made about delegate selection. In fact, the proposed change to the law in 2010 defined that distinction, exempting from inclusion as a similar contest any caucus or contest that (directly) selects delegates to the national convention.

But that only gives some insight into the thinking of some in the Granite state, not where it matters. The secretary of state ultimately makes that determination, and Gardner has always played it close to the vest where the primary date is concerned. Was Nevada a similar contest in 2012? The secretary certainly implied as much in the game of brinksmanship with the Nevada GOP.

But Gardner was taking advantage of a power almost unique to New Hampshire. There is one decision maker behind the primary date, and he or she can wait and has waited longer than any other state to settle on a date when conflicts arise with other states. Gardner knows this. The national parties know this. That was part of the reason why it was the Nevada Republican Party that got pressure from the Republican National Committee to back down from the the 2011 fight and opt for a date not just four days after the New Hampshire primary.

Note, however, that in the 2020 context, it is the Democratic National Committee and not Nevada Democrats potentially behind any such conflict between New Hampshire and Nevada. The national party is the actor setting the parameters for contest date selection.

Of course, the DNC has clearly regarded Nevada as a dissimilar contest to the New Hampshire primary all along. For 2008, the cycle in which Nevada and South Carolina were added to the pre-window period in the Democratic process, the similar section of the then-Rule 11 placed the Nevada caucuses before New Hampshire. The Democratic calendar that year was supposed to look like this according to the rule:
Monday, January 14, 2008: Iowa caucuses
Saturday, January 19, 2008: Nevada caucuses
Tuesday, January 22, 2008: New Hampshire primary
Tuesday, January 29, 2008: South Carolina primary
In the dust-up with Florida and Michigan that cycle, New Hampshire pushed up more than Nevada did to defend its first-in-the-nation turf. Nevada Democrats were not willing to move up and actually followed the Rule 11. Of the four carve-out states, Nevada was the only one on the list that ended up on the date described in the rules-based calendar outline above.

Four years later, the DNC made adjustments to that calendar outline. Not only did the party push back the pre-window portion of the calendar from January to February, but also flipped Nevada and New Hampshire in the 2012 version of the then-Rule 11 relative to 2008.
Monday, February 6, 2012: Iowa caucuses
Tuesday, February 14, 2012: New Hampshire primary
Saturday, February 18, 2012: Nevada caucuses
Tuesday, February 28, 2012: South Carolina primary
That calendar should look familiar. Other than the South Carolina part, this is the exact spacing between the first three contests as is proposed for 2020. Nevada was supposed to have been just four days after the New Hampshire primary. Again, however, Florida, as it had in 2008, upset the applecart for 2012. When the Sunshine state scheduled its primary for January 31 that did not leave enough calendar space in which to schedule all four carve-out state contests 1) with the spacing state actors in those states preferred, 2) on the preferred days those four state customary hold contests, or 3) in line with the DNC calendar rubric above.

But what 2012 did produce was a rough model for the DNC to follow for 2016.2 Basically, Iowa, then New Hampshire eight days later (as prescribed by Iowa law), followed by Nevada on a Saturday outside of New Hampshire's seven day buffer (again as prescribed by New Hampshire law) and with South Carolina bringing up the rear a week later than Nevada, also on its typical Saturday.


3. So what is driving the change to that 2016 model for 2020? What changed? Why change anything if the spacing is just right for the carve-out states?

The short answer is that that spacing is not just right for the four carve-out states.

To explain this scroll back up to the adopted Rule 12.A above and give it another glance.

Got it?

The DNC, then,  codifies the positions of the pre-window states by tethering them to the point on the calendar when the window opens; the earliest point when all the other states can begin holding their primaries and caucuses. First is Iowa, 29 days before the first Tuesday in March. That is unchanged relative to 2016. New Hampshire is next, allowed to hold its primary no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March. That, too, is the same as it was in 2016.

But while Iowa and New Hampshire retain the same positions on the 2020 calendar relative to both the (same) opening of the window and 2016, Nevada and South Carolina do not. Both of the other two carve-out states saw their positions relative to those two points -- the (same) opening of the window and 2016 -- move up by a week. Rather than holding its caucuses ten days prior to the first Tuesday in March (as was true in 2016), Nevada can now schedule its first determining step as early as 17 days before that point on the 2020 calendar.

Similarly, South Carolina in 2016 was allowed to schedule its primary up to three days before the first Tuesday in March. But for 2020, Democrats in the Palmetto state can hold its primary up to ten days before that point on the calendar.

What gives?

Before looking at it too closely, FHQ just assumed that the change was based on a different combination of days and dates in 2020. But that was not it. There are four Tuesdays and four Saturdays in February; enough to allow a repeat in the spacing from 2016. That was not the driving force in the change, and that means that there was an active push within the RBC to make a change.

To sandwich all four carve-out states into February and give each of the four the space they prefer from each other, one then ends up with something like 2016. But that clearly was not satisfactory to all those involved. While the four early states were provided enough of a buffer between themselves, the last contest -- South Carolina -- was not getting much space between it and the next round of contests; typically a big cluster at the point on the calendar where the window opens.

And this point has been clearly, although implicitly, made throughout the RBC meetings this year. Former DNC chair and South Carolina member on the RBC, Don Fowler, has raised the California primary moving from June to March at nearly every RBC meeting in 2018. And typically Mr. Fowler's comments have hinted at doing something about that; about California (and all of its delegates) being so early. And California is not alone on that date. This is not the first time that California will have been so early on the calendar, but it will be the first time that the primary in the largest state in the country has coincided with the primary in the second largest state Texas. The list does not stop there either. Already there are eight states with contests on March 3, 2020 and with the two most delegate-rich states among them, that group is likely to expand.

If you are an actor at the state level who wants your early contest to have maximum impact, then having a contest just three days prior to a likely huge cluster of contests is no way to do it. That is a good position if you want candidates to spend little time and even less money in your state before running for the nearest airport to jet off to some other state with more delegates at stake. That is why New Hampshire insists on the seven days between it and the next contest (not the preceding one): to maximize the impact of the contest on the shape of the race, but also to ensure that the candidates and their campaigns are not tempted to skip (or more likely minimize) the Granite state primary in favor of greener more delegate-rich pastures.

However, in giving South Carolina its own buffer, the DNC is potentially encroaching on another state's insulation. Nevada has gotten pushed into New Hampshire's territory on the calendar, and the question remains, do actors in the Granite state -- specifically the secretary of state there -- see Nevada in that position as a similar contest?

The DNC clearly does not see Nevada as a similar election. But if 2011 is any guide, then New Hampshire secretary of state Gardner is likely to see things differently than the DNC. Although, what is likely to be different in 2019 than it was in 2011 is that the calendar is unlikely to see any states outside of the four carve-out states force those states into January, much less close to pushing into late 2019. That potentially greatly reduces the pressure at the beginning of the calendar. New Hampshire may not threaten a move into 2019 in its own defense -- it would not have to -- but it could move up a week to give itself the at least seven days state law requires or two or three weeks if Iowa has already laid the groundwork for February 3 caucuses.

Regardless, this general outline of a calendar from the DNC puts all eyes squarely on New Hampshire. What else is new?

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FHQ's 2020 presidential primary calendar has been updated to account for this proposed calendar. Tentative dates have been added for the four early states.


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1 Yes, Gardner is facing a challenge in his bid to retain the secretary of state position this year, but Gardner or not in 2019, whoever is in that position is likely to do the same thing: keep the primary at least seven days ahead of the next contest.

2 FHQ says rough because Iowa was pushed to a Tuesday caucus in 2012 since it was forced up against the New Year's holiday. That meant Iowa was just a week before New Hampshire rather than the eight days it has preferred.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Tweaks Delegate Allocation Formula

...at the margins.

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On Tuesday, May 8, the Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) reconvened for its fourth series of public meetings of 2018. This meeting -- at this particular point in the cycle -- is typically the mark-up meeting. The RBC starts going through the delegate selection rules in sequence, offering proposed amendments along the way.

The session on Tuesday pushed through much of the rule book that fits under the purview of the mission at FHQ. For example, while the RBC punted on the substance of the superdelegates question of the cycle -- the actual reduction of the role of the unpledged delegates -- but laid the groundwork for a change. It added a new rule, creating a new class of automatic delegates by breaking that group off from the broader group of unpledged delegates formalized in the old Rule 9.

Additionally, the RBC retained the same basic framework of the primary calendar from 2016, adjusting it to dates falling on different days in 2020 than 2016.1 Under the new Rule 12 Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will keep their positions in February and other states will continue to have a window from the first Tuesday in March through the second Tuesday in June to conduct their respective delegate selection processes.2

But there was an innovation to the DNC delegate allocation formula the RBC adopted yesterday that deserves some attention. It is not that the change will have significant effects -- FHQ is skeptical of that -- but that it is a change to a formula that has been quite uniform across all states in the Democratic nomination process for years.

How did the formula change?

The RBC was on the verge of quickly dispensing with the new Rule 14 when co-chair Jim Roosevelt interjected to inquire if the committee was behind leaving the qualifying threshold described in Rule 14.F in place. Now, typically the threshold for qualifying for delegates is set at 15 percent. Those provisions for district delegates (Rule 14.B) and at-large and party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegates (Rule 14.E) are unchanged.

Rule 14.F lays out the threshold in the event that no one gets a share of the vote at or above 15 percent. That has been set at within 10 percent of the frontrunner in past iterations of the rule.3 In other words, if the frontrunner receives 14 percent of the vote statewide, then all candidates who received between four and 14 percent of the vote qualify for a proportional share of the delegates allocated based on the statewide results.

As Roosevelt pointed out, this has not tended to be an issue, but in the case of a potentially large field of candidates, it is more likely that the vote gets split into small slivers and no candidate crests to or above 15 percent. And depending on what share of support the "frontrunner" receives, a lot of candidates from a large field could end up within 10 percent of the "frontrunner" and eligible for a proportional share of delegates.4

To mitigate some of the associated issues attendant to the formula in combination with a large field, the RBC devised an elegant solution. Under the 2016 Rule 13.F, there was a fixed 10 percent qualifying window under the share of the top votegetter. But the change for 2020 in Rule 14.F would make that qualifying window in the event that no candidate receives at least 15 percent of the vote more dynamic.

The old fixed 10 percent window will become a bit more elastic, conditioned by what share under 15 percent the "frontrunner" gets. If the leading candidate wins, for instance, 12 percent of the vote, then all those candidates within six percent -- half -- of the top finisher would qualify for delegates. If the winner got eight percent, then all those within four percent -- those between four and eight percent -- would qualify for delegates.

Again, while this is a fun little tweak that grabs the attention of delegate nerds, the change is very likely to have only marginal effects in a race with even a large field.

Why?

Winnowing is going to happen with or without this change and the bulk of that process will take place in February during the pre-window period in which Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will hold contests. That quartet is not a series of delegate contests, where accruing and counting up delegates is the goal for campaigns. Rather than delegate contests, the four early carve-out states are momentum contests in which winning is the metric that separates the wheat from the chaff.

Even if the early states were delegate contests, there just are not all that many delegates at stake. Couple that with the fact that all of a state's delegates are not pooled and allocated together and it minimizes the impact of the allocation formula change even further. In other words, there is not one collection of delegates in a state allocated as a group based on the statewide results. Delegates are split into smaller subunits: at-large delegates, party leader and elected official delegates, and district delegates. These smaller, early states, then, already have small pools of delegates, but splitting their allocation up means that a proportional share of a subset of an already small share of delegates does not amount to all that much.

Take New Hampshire, for example.

There were 24 pledged delegates in the Granite state in 2016: five at-large delegates, three party leaders and elected official delegates, and eight congressional district delegates in each of the two congressional districts (16 total). Even if multiple candidates receive more than the typical 15 percent to qualify for delegates, there are only so many ways five at-large delegates can be proportionally allocated. After all, there are only so many delegates to go around. That principle is still true under the revised formula.

However, where this altered allocation formula can be of some concern is in the event that there is significant clustering among candidates in the results in early states. How can winning be assessed if, say, ten candidates are all clustered not only under 15 percent, but within a few percentage points of each other? In that scenario, this new rule ends up being pretty arbitrary in its now more dynamic line of demarcation between who gets delegates and who does not.

Truthfully, clustering or not, arbitrary or not, the order of finish will matter, and the next contest with come barreling down the pike to confirm in whole or in part the results from the previous contest of contests.

This is probably entirely too much of a treatise on such a small rules change. In the end, the matter is the change of just a few words in one rule in a big book of rules. However, as an aside, something should be said about the action here on the part of the RBC. First, co-chair Roosevelt exhibited the power of suggestion that the chair can have in these proceedings. Again, the committee was seemingly ready to affirm the new Rule 14 and move on. But Roosevelt raised the issue and the can of worms was opened, and more importantly a rule was altered.

That is neither necessarily good or bad. But it should be noted that it breaks the Democratic rules-making process from a pattern of fighting the last battle in which out-parties -- having just lost a presidential election if not the White House -- often find themselves. Instead, this small maneuver was forward looking; planning for the conditions of the next cycle rather than fixing the perceived problems of the last. That is no small thing, but in view of the 2020 rules making thus far, it is exception rather than rule.


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1 What was interesting about the calendar discussion -- and particularly the controversial issue of the protected status of the four carve-out states -- was that no one raised the Iowa/New Hampshire question. In fact, section B of the new Rule 12 drew more of a discussion than section A, which deals with scheduling. Section B has required of states in the past that they begin and complete all steps of their delegate selection events in the calendar year of the presidential election. The rule specifically cites presidential candidate filing as an activity that falls into the delegate selection process. But that is also an activity that has stretched beyond the calendar year into the year before the presidential election. Functionally, that required of those states where that activity pushed out of the calendar year to petition the RBC for a waiver.

In the new draft rules for 2020, there was a proposed change to the calendar year requirement that granted states the latitude to make those decisions without the worry of going through a waiver process. However, the members of the RBC balked at that change, questioning whether it gave incentive to states to push activities into the year prior the presidential election. Rather than go down that road, the RBC opted to return to the original language. In turn, that kept the calendar year requirement in place and continued to necessitate a waiver from states where state law deadlines may violate the rule. The intent of the change -- of alleviating the burden -- was more focused more on the RBC than the states. But the desire to avoid motivating states to make changes that pushed parts of their delegate selection events into the year prior to the presidential election outweighed the need to relieve any undue administrative burden on the RBC. The scope of states required to petition for a waiver for this purpose was not particularly widespread anyway.

2 The new description should clarified. That does not mean that a completely new rule was created. That did happen with the new automatic delegate rule, but in the rest of the cases above where new is used it means new numbering relative to how the rules were numbered in 2016. The insertion of the automatic delegate rule bumped all subsequent rules down a slot in the sequence. The 2016 Rule 11 on timing, for example, became the new Rule 12 for 2020.

3 "Frontrunner" in this case refers to the candidate who has received the most votes; the top votegetter statewide and/or in a district.

4 And if the top candidate garners 10 percent or less of the vote, then everyone who received a vote would qualify for delegates. There would be no effective threshold in that case.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Protecting the President? RNC Eliminates Primary Debates Committee

Just fours after it created the committee to sanction presidential primary debates, the Republican National Committee this past week at its 2018 spring meeting voted to strike the rule from its rulebook.

There are a couple of points that FHQ would raise both in reaction to the rules change and the coverage it has garnered.

On the rules change itself, some context is in order. Often FHQ talks of the national parties fighting the last battle when it comes to fashioning their delegate selection rules for a coming presidential nomination cycle. Indeed, the modus operandi of the national parties has tended to be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," which is necessarily backward looking. The national parties look back to the most recent evidence they have on how well or how poorly the system is working and attempt to make corrections to address any shortcomings for future cycles.

The Democrats' efforts in assembling their rules for the 2020 cycle are littered with examples of this. But it should also be said that the very creation of Rule 10(a)(10) -- the 2014 rule then known as Rule 10(h) that created the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary debates -- also fits this mold.   Coming off a 2012 cycle that saw 20 debates, the Republican National Committee was intent on reining in not only the number of primary debates but also in creating some oversight for state party/media partnerships for those debates. The solution was the creation of a national party entity to sanction official Republican Party debates.

Again, that action fits the pattern. Fixing a perceived 2012 problem for the 2016 cycle.

However, the vote at the 2018 RNC spring meeting to eliminate the debates committee broke with that pattern. Rather than fixing a problem from 2016, the RNC is seeking instead to proactively plan for the 2020 renomination of an incumbent Republican president. And the rationale is simple enough:  Why have a debates-sanctioning committee when the party is lined up behind the current occupant of the White House?

At least that is part of the rationale. Another is that this has been widely viewed as an effort by the Republican National Committee to protect President Trump from would-be 2020 Republican challengers. This, too, is something a break from the norm. The predominant pattern for nomination rules creation in the post-reform era has been for parties out of the White House to attempt to tinker their way back in; to put together a process that ideally will produce a candidate well-equipped to defeat the incumbent president.

That leaves the party in the White House to, more often than not, rest on their laurels when it comes to its nomination rules. The motivation -- the urgency -- just does not exist in the same way that it does for the out-party. First, presidents, in a position over their national parties, tend to like the process that nominated them in the first place. But the typical inactivity or minimal activity from in-parties is also a function of the fact that incumbent presidents do not often see challenges to their renomination.

And when those challenges have materialized, there has not been much evidence of the parties maneuvering to protect their presidents at the rules-making stage of the cycle. Republicans at the 1988 Republican National Convention, for example, were not planning ahead for a future that included a 1992 Pat Buchanan challenge to the presidential candidate they were nominating. The party's concern then was more about lining up behind Vice President Bush. Bear in mind that at that point in time Republicans set their rules for the subsequent cycle at the preceding convention. There was no rules-making infrastructure in place then to amend the Republican rules of the nomination process outside the convention.

Nor do we see much evidence of the Democratic National Committee moving to protect President Carter ahead of the 1980 cycle. That is the only other time in the post-reform era where a sitting president had either persistent chatter about a challenge to his nomination or an actual challenge.

Now, there were rules changes that the Democratic Party made for the 1980 cycle, but the motivation behind those rules changes was not exactly to protect the president from a prospective Kennedy challenge. This was the cycle where the DNC formally added a threshold for candidates to qualify for delegates. Four years early, in 1976, the party had allowed states to add a qualifying threshold of up to 15 percent of the vote in a primary or caucus. Candidates who received less than 15 percent of the vote in those states (and the congressional districts therein) that set thresholds did not qualify for delegates. For 1980, the party made this a requirement. States were mandated to have some threshold, but had some latitude in setting it. Primary states could establish a threshold up to 25 percent, and caucus states could set a threshold as low as 15 percent, but no higher than 20 percent.

On the surface, that looks like an attempt to protect President Carter. Yet, a threshold that low functionally only rewards an incumbent by warding off a minor challenge; nuisance challenges. Such a threshold potentially becomes beneficial to an incumbent in the case of multiple challengers as well. The more candidates who run increases the likelihood of candidates not qualifying for delegates. In the case of one major challenger, the threshold becomes a non-issue. One strong candidate is likely to meet that threshold anyway.

1980 was also the cycle that saw the innovation of the "window rule" in the Democratic nomination process. The intent was geared more toward keeping frontloading at bay and the calendar formation orderly by setting a second Tuesday in March through the second Tuesday in June "window" for states to conduct their primaries and caucuses. While the goal was focused more on state-level actions and protecting exempt Iowa and New Hampshire, a secondary motivation behind the window rule was to tamp down on the resources a prolonged process required the candidates and the party at all levels to expend. This rules change did not clearly benefit Carter in 1980.

Finally, 1980 was also the cycle that witnessed the DNC banning the use of loophole primaries, where delegates are included on the primary ballot and directly elected (as opposed to being selected through caucus/convention processes with candidate input). That cycle stands out as the only exception during the early part of the post-reform era (the first 20 years) when the loophole primary process was permitted. Although insider candidates tend to be the beneficiaries in such systems, their usage at the state level in the early post-reform era was not widespread. It would not have affected things much more than at the margins. Both Carter and Kennedy could lay claim to being insiders in 1980 anyway and went on to basically split those contests.

While the sum total of all of these 1980 cycle Democratic rules moves gives the impression of helping Carter in retrospect, in reality the maneuvering was consistent with those of a party in search of the "ideal" rules in or out of the White House. And during the early post-reform era, the Democrats were out more than they were in.

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Given that context, the focus can shift back to the present and the Republican rules for 2020. FHQ's reaction to the news that the RNC intended to drop the debates committee was less about that than it was to the idea that change was intended to protect the president. In fairness to those reporting on the 2018 spring meeting, there were members of the RNC would provided "protection" as at least part of the rationale for the move.  Randy Evans, the Republican National Committeeman from Georgia, came right out and said, "Obviously this is intended to dissuade a primary challenge to the president."

FHQ will not dispute that. The move certainly continues to send a clear signal that the Republican National Committee remains in lockstep with the president. Reminders of the clarity of that point emerge every time during the Trump era that the RNC has gathered for one of its seasonal meetings.  But whether eliminating this committee protects the president is predicated almost entirely on the premise that President Trump would participate in any hypothetical primary debates. As with many things concerning this president, there is a great deal of uncertainty around that idea. We do not know whether Trump would opt into such a debate. In fact, there is a pretty good argument to be made that he would sit out any such event, not allowing the platform to any would-be challengers.

If one falls on the Trump would not participate in primary debates anyway side of things, then eliminating this primary debates committee does not really accomplish all that much. If anything, it protects the Republican National Committee. It saves this standing committee from the obligation of NOT sanctioning any debates in the event of a challenge to the president.

Imagine a time in 2019 after Republicans have hypothetically lost control of one or both houses of Congress, the Russia investigation has persisted (and Democratic oversight of the administration in that area and others has intensified), and a challenger to Trump's renomination -- let's call him John Kasich -- has emerged. Now imagine that this debates committee still exists, but the president has no interest in debating his hypothetical challenger. That committee is, by rule, supposed to sanction debates with input from the various campaigns. If one campaign wants to debate and another does not, then what is the committee -- the RNC -- to do?

A party in such a position might be inclined to side with the incumbent president in that case and not sanction any debates. But it would have to turn a blind eye to the other campaign(s) and any following/resistance (to the president) both within the RNC and among rank-and-file Republicans to do that. That would be handing to that group the type of structural grievance that Bernie Sanders and his supporters used against the DNC throughout the 2016 process and into the 2020 cycle for that matter.

Instead of going down that road, the RNC opted to get out of the debate-sanctioning business altogether for the time being.1 Again, that move continues to send a signal that the national party is behind the president, but the elimination of the debates committee is protecting the RNC more than it is the president. It eliminates a potential problem down the road before it materializes. And yes, in fairness, that may never have materialized anyway. But the RNC has that cover now regardless.


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1 One alternative option the party could have pursued was a minor edit to Rule 10(a)(10). The standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates could have been left in place but would only be activated in years in which there is no incumbent Republican in the White House (seeking renomination) or little or no competition for the nomination. Of course, those are tricky concepts to define that may end up slippery slopes back to the same sorts of problems the RNC would have in 2020 if the committee had survived. Eliminating the committee with the option of bringing something like it back at the discretion of the RNC chair should conditions change is the cleanest option.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

March Presidential Primary Bill Dies as Nebraska Legislature Adjourns

As expected, a bill that would have established a separate and earlier presidential primary in Nebraska quietly died when the legislature in the Cornhusker state adjourned in mid-April.

While the bill -- LB 1032 -- received a hearing in committee, it failed to gain traction just as a similar effort did in 2016.

The push in Nebraska is yet another primary movement casualty during the 2017-18 legislative sessions across the country. To this point, only California has successfully shifted the date of its presidential primary for the 2020 cycle. Every other bill in other states failed at some point in the legislative process. While the pace of 2020 primary movement has been slow thus far in the cycle, that is fairly common. Most of that activity continues to take place in the year before the presidential election year. Shifts happen during the other three years in a cycle, but it tends to be exception rather than rule.

Monday, April 16, 2018

#InvisiblePrimary 2020: Uh oh Biden?

Over at Politico, Charlie Mahtesian has this to say about a prospective Biden candidacy for 2020:
"Joe Biden, who leads the Democratic 2020 presidential field in early polls, has all the markings of a front-runner. He possesses a sterling résumé, access to a donor base, name recognition and eight years of loyal service to a president who’s loved by the party base. There’s just one problem: He’s also a deeply flawed candidate who’s out of step with the mood of his party." [Emphasis is FHQ's]
That is just the opening, but Mahtesian goes on to count off the issues Biden may encounter in the lead up to and during 2020. The usual suspects are in there: age, some pre-#MeToo moment indiscretions that may look different in the current context, and a host of past Senate votes that may again spell trouble now that conditions are different in 2018-20. 

And that all makes sense. Any or all of those things could derail a Biden run before it starts or some time after it is launched. But Mahtesian is potentially overstating the case here by not exactly detailing where it is that Biden could be in trouble. First, he aggregates the potential roadblocks, toggling back and forth between primary phase problems and general election setbacks. This is compounded by imperfect comparisons to 2016 and Hillary Clinton's troubles throughout that cycle (in both phases).

Age, for example, could be a problem for Biden in the primary phase. It is shaping up to be a crowded field with a number of younger alternatives. But millennials did not have trouble supporting an older candidate in 2016. Much of that had to do with the binary choice that most Democratic primary voters and caucusgoers had during the last cycle. Both options were older. That does not appear to be an issue for 2020. And candidate age may not be what is driving the decision-making of younger voters in the Democratic primary electorate. 

During the general election phase, as Mahtesian notes, the age issue would be at least somewhat neutralized compared to another septuagenarian like Trump. 

A similar dynamic exists across election phases when the focus shifts to how pre-#MeToo actions are perceived in a post-#MeToo world. That may affect Biden during a competitive Democratic nomination race, but compared to what? Compared to whom in the Democratic field? Additionally, perception of those actions is something that may resonate with a significant segment of the Democratic primary electorate: women. Female voters may opt for someone other than Biden because of that. They already have more options in 2018 than they did in 2014.

But again, during the general election phase, those perceptions of pre-#MeToo actions look different when compared to Trump, his past behavior, and past and present comments. Does that neutralize the issue? Is it a recipe for potentially depressing turnout to some degree among women (something that is much more likely to disproportionately affect Biden)? 

In those two areas, Biden would potentially suffer more in the nominations phase. However, when Mahtesian shifts gears and begins to focus on Biden's past Senate votes on a number of issues, the exact nature of where -- primary or general -- the pain is felt fades into the ether. Each of those issues -- whether the 2005 bankruptcy bill or the 1994 crime bill -- affects specific constituencies within the Democratic primary electorate. Biden's positions were compared to Clinton's in 2016, but neither stood in the way of the latter claiming the Democratic nomination during the last cycle. Again, however, the field will be different -- more robust -- in 2020 than it was in 2016. Similar positioning by Biden for 2020 may affect his odds of winning the nomination, but, depending on how the large field winnows and who survives, the effects could vary from great to minimal. 

Moreover, the contours of 2020 winnowing extend to the Connor Lamb-like "personally against but politically for" positioning on abortion rights when Mahtesian substitutes Tim Kaine for Hillary Clinton as the point of comparison to Biden. That may or may not be an issue for the former vice president. That depends upon to whom exactly he is compared. Across all of those issues, it may be a problem in the primaries, but less so in the general election. 

Look, based on name recognition alone, Biden is at the top of list of potential 2020 Democratic nominees at the moment. That may change. It may not. Given how relatively early it is in the cycle and that the far too early to be meaningful polls are the most data-rich metric at this time, things are apt to change. Visits will be made to 2018 battlegrounds and 2020 early states. Campaign teams will be built. But any propensity for who is in that pole position to morph hinges on to whom Biden is compared. If one is to carry much of Mahtesian's comparison of between Clinton and Biden to its logical end -- Biden as the 2020 stand-in -- it will not be just Bernie Sanders on the other side this time. There will be others involved who will split the nascent Democratic primary electorate differently than in 2016 and impact the direction of that race through the invisible primary in much different ways. 

That competition may undermine Biden's candidacy. But it may also be that it is too early to cast Biden as this cycle's Jeb Bush. There are warning signs there; similarities, sure. Yet it is not clear just how those "deep flaws" will filter through the patchwork of processes that determine presidential nominees. That gauntlet tends to produce broadly acceptable general election candidates, even ones with flaws. 

But at this stage there are more questions than answers as to how another Biden foray into presidential nomination politics will play out. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pair of Presidential Primary Bills Fails to Gain Traction in Hawaii

Contest type -- whether primary or caucus -- has been a topic of discussion in and out of national party rules-making circles in the time since 2016. That Sanders saw successes in that format and Clinton problems essentially forced mode of allocation into rules discussions on the Democratic side. And even Republicans have ventured into talks about potentially providing incentives to states with primaries rather than caucuses for 2020.

But most of the action thus far on this front has been on the state level. Maine and Minnesota have both adopted through the legislative process presidential primaries to replace the caucus format for 2020. And Colorado arrived at the same endpoint but via ballot initiative in 2016. In a mark of the type of energy exists behind efforts to shift from caucuses to primaries in the presidential nomination process, two bills have been even been introduced in Hawaii.

Now, the Aloha state has traditionally held caucuses rather than a presidential primary. For much of the post-reform era, the two state parties settled into a regular pattern every four years on the presidential primary calendar: Hawaii Republicans started their process with precinct meetings in late January and their Democratic counterparts on the islands followed suit in late February or early March. The regularity with which that pattern occurred developed despite a [state] constitutional provision -- Article II, section 9 -- allowing the addition of a presidential preference primary election.

And over the last two decades at least, no legislation has been proposed to add such an election. That changed during the 2018 legislative session. Bills were introduced to establish a presidential preference primary on the second Saturday in May (SB 2584) and one to create a study committee to examine the switch from caucuses to a primary (SB 2249).

No, neither bill has gone anywhere, nor are they likely to. Both are bottled up in committee, basically dead after missing legislative deadlines to move the legislation along before the 2018 session adjourns in early May. To some extent that is not exactly evidence of "energy" behind a caucus-to-primary change in Hawaii. However, most of the changes of this sort tend to occur not during midterm election years, but in the year before a presidential election year. Additionally, that anything was proposed at all is worth noting in the case of Hawaii. Again, a regular pattern had developed around caucuses and caucus scheduling, and breaking long-standing traditions is not a goal that is easily attained in the presidential nomination process.

Whether that changes in Hawaii in particular is a question for 2019. But this is a phenomenon -- caucus-to-primary shifts -- that is happening at the state level even without a national party prompt at this point in the cycle.

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More: 2020 Presidential Primary Calendar

Monday, March 19, 2018

Bill to Move Nebraska Presidential Primary to March Shelved

Similar to a 2016 push, legislation to establish a separate presidential primary has stalled in the Nebraska legislature. Same sponsor, same intent, same opposition.

Senator John Murante (49th, Gretna) introduced legislation -- LB 1032 -- to create a new statewide presidential primary election, severe it from the consolidated May primary, and shift the new election into March. The 2018 legislation is basically the same as the bill from 2016, but rather than move the new election to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March, the 2018 version would schedule the primary for the second Tuesday in March.

In a late February hearing on the bill in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, Murante, via the Lincoln Journal Star, argued for an earlier Nebraska role in the nomination process:
"Trump won Indiana and Cruz withdrew from the race and that ended Nebraska's opportunity to have a voice," Murante said. 
An early presidential primary election would provide that opportunity, he said.
The reasoning for the move is the same as it was two years ago even before Nebraskans had cast their 2016 primary votes. It was additionally a goal of the sponsor to entice Nebraska Democrats -- already with an earlier caucus -- to opt into the earlier primary with the potential for increased participation.

However, the reasoning against was similarly as consistent in 2018 as it was in 2016. The costs of primaries in the Cornhusker state are laid on the shoulders of the counties, and county officials in the committee hearing again balked at the $1.6 million price tag.

State actors often have the willingness to make these moves to earlier dates, but do not always have an ability to bring such a change to fruition. Often the ability portion of the equation -- especially when it is lacking -- comes down to the hit such a move would have on the budget. If the costs are too high, a primary stays where it is.

LB 1032 according to the Journal Star failed to gain priority and will see no further legislative action in 2018. Most primary moves occur in the year before the presidential primary.

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More: 2020 Presidential Primary Calendar

Monday, March 12, 2018

Superdelegates and the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee: A Different Perspective After the Winter Meeting

The Democratic National Committee is coming off its 2018 winter meeting, a meeting that culminated with the acceptance of an interim report on the 2020 rules. That report followed continued discussions by the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) in conjunction with the winter meeting and a previous preparatory RBC meeting just a week before. FHQ tuned in to both rounds of RBC discussions and continues to be struck by the framing of the rules discussions in media accounts. By far the most dominant lens through which those rules discussions are being viewed is the lingering Clinton-Sanders tensions in the broader party coalition.

And it is not that those depictions are wrong. Rather, it is that they are overly simplistic and have missed some important developments along the way that run against that frame. This phenomenon is at its most stark with respect to the party's efforts on superdelegates, the unpledged elected officials and party leaders that have periodically been controversial in Democratic presidential nomination politics.

On the surface, there is a group that wants to see superdelegates go and an opposing group that wants to maintain the status quo. And there also exists the aforementioned Clinton-Sanders divide left over from the 2016 race. These two cleavages in the party are often treated as reinforcing in the context of these 2020 rules discussions. And that is an easy conclusion at which to arrive: the Clinton/establishment faction wants to keep the current superdelegate system intact while the Sanders group would like to see them go.

However, there is growing evidence that that is just not the case; that those two divides do not buttress each other nearly so completely as is often described. For starters, for all of the chatter about the purge of loosely Sanders-aligned members of the RBC by DNC chair, Tom Perez, during and after the 2017 DNC fall meeting in Las Vegas, the committee has not exactly moved against the interests of the Sanders faction in the context of the 2020 rules discussions. The fear within that faction at the time and since was and has been that the RBC would ignore or dilute the recommendations of the Unity Reform Commission.

On the matter of superdelegates, neither has been the case. In fact, the RBC interim report to the DNC stated that the committee "agrees [with the Unity Reform Commission] that the Party must revise the role and reduce the perceived influence that automatic unpledged delegates have in the presidential nominating process." Furthermore, David McDonald, RBC member from Washington, summed up the committee work to this point quite well in observing that there is consensus on the RBC to make a change -- revise and reduce -- but not on the nature of the influence superdelegates have on the nomination process. In other words, at the very least, there is a perception problem with the current superdelegate system. That, too, was voiced by other members of the committee during the RBC session on superdelegates at the winter meeting.

Rather than a keep superdelegates/get rid of superdelegates divide, then, there is within the RBC a perception problem surrounding superdelegates. And that is less about stay or go or Clinton-Sanders and more about how to reduce the perceived role of those unpledged delegates in the Democratic nomination process.

That "how" question, and particularly the options that have been developed to address that how, cross-cut both of the other cleavages as well. Working from the Unity Reform Commission recommendations, the RBC hit something of a wall. This is something that has been missed in nearly all of the accounts of the two early March RBC meetings. Neither the pooled vote option nor the alternate vote option recommended by the Unity Reform Commission have been viewed by the RBC as wholly acceptable answers to the superdelegate problem.

The alternate vote option drew fire from state party chairs on the RBC for overly complicating the roles of both them and their parties in administering the delegate selection process. Another issue that arose from the discussion of the alternate vote option was the potential for forcing abstentions from superdelegates bound to candidates they do not support.

And the pooled vote option, while perhaps a more elegant option, saw pushback from members of the RBC over its automatic transmission of superdelegate votes to the state tally sheet, removing the need for an actual human to fill the delegate slot. As RBC member Elaine Kamarck remarked, if the party moves in that direction "why even have a convention at all."

Together, those criticisms moved the discussion in a different direction: eliminate the superdelegate votes on the first ballot for the presidential nomination. Elimination is a simpler solution relative to the intricacies of the alternate vote option. Additionally, it is, perhaps, a logical if not justifiable (to some) step beyond the pooled vote option. Eliminating superdelegate votes on the first ballot circumvents the non-voting problem for some but not all superdelegates by applying it to all superdelegates on a vote -- the first ballot -- that has settled every Democratic nomination since 1952.

Now, there are arguments on the merits against the elimination option, but FHQ will save that for a separate post. Suffice it to say, however, there are three main options that are before the RBC that can be roughly arranged from complicated (alternate vote option) to easy to explain. The need for the latter was made apparent during a nearly hourlong back and forth around the three ideas at the winter meeting RBC gathering. There is some desire within the group to not only devise a set of rules to address the superdelegate perception problem, but one that is easy to describe/more easily understood by the rank-and-file of the party.

And that is a different discussion than Clinton-Sanders. It involves that divide; it is influenced by it. But it is not the same cleavage. As this process moves forward, it might be best to bear that in mind. There are really three main cleavages to consider:

    1) Clinton-Sanders (internal v. external):
Yes, the Clinton-Sanders divide remains a part of this discussion, but it is more a function of external pressure -- outside of the RBC1 -- weighing on the decisions of the group.

    2) perception problem/status quo (balancing process v. legitimacy):
It is evident the RBC sees a perception problem and is seeking to deal with that. And it should be noted that past iterations of the group have dealt with similar assaults on the superdelegate system. There was a more robust defense of the system following its maiden voyage in 1984 that, nonetheless, led to alterations thereafter. And after the close 2008 nomination race, the committee also moved to revise the role of superdelegates.2 But the same perception problem existed throughout, bringing, at its worst, the legitimacy of their inclusion and the process into question. The RBC has been sensitive to those questions in its past tinkering. Yet, that superdelegates can but have not overturned the will of the primary/caucus voters through the era of their inclusion fuels the discontent with them even further. The RBC, then, seems willing to test the system with fewer unpledged delegates in 2020 than at any time since before 1984. That seems to be the consensus on the RBC and does not necessarily match the divide described in #1 above; not exactly in any event

    3) options: eliminate on first vote, pooled vote, alternative vote (easy to complicated):
Finally, it is worth drilling down and focusing on the options the committee is considering. That way lies the functioning lines of demarcation on the RBC. This, too, overlaps some with both #1 and #2 above, but again, not perfectly. The bottom line here is over whether the answer to a complex problem can or should be parsimonious or demand further complex rules-making.

As the RBC, and ultimately the DNC, continue to work toward a resolution on superdelegate and other rules for the 2020 process, the above frames all should be considered and combine to give us a better picture of what is going on than repeatedly dipping back into the Clinton-Sanders well of explanations.

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1 This is outside the RBC in terms of outside groups but also members of the DNC (those not on the RBC) who nonetheless want to see a curbing of if not end to the superdelegate role.

2 Add-on superdelegates were moved from unpledged to pledged and the total base number of delegates was raised from 3000 to 3700, reducing the percentage of superdelegates in the process.