Monday, March 30, 2015

Resolution Circulating at Republican County Conventions Calling on a Later North Carolina Presidential Primary

There was a flurry of reporting on the provocative positioning of the North Carolina presidential primary both here and elsewhere at the end of February, but it has been pretty quiet on that front in the month since. Most of the reactions in February were precipitated by the op-ed North Carolina Republican Party chairman, Claude Pope, wrote urging the North Carolina General Assembly to consider legislation pushing the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state back to March 1.

A wider, national discussion of the costs and benefits of a rogue North Carolina presidential primary was not the only byproduct of that call from Chairman Pope. Local Republican parties in reaction also began considering a resolution that also urged the General Assembly to move the primary back into compliance with the national party rules.1  Those efforts, in turn, triggered a more robust discussion of the primary's position on the calendar among Republicans across the state.

The resolution (see below) has apparently garnered support in Republican organizations across the state. That is, perhaps, less important than what changes it calls on the legislature to make. Layered into this is a request that the General Assembly not only move the primary back into compliance with the national party rules, but to consider both moving the North Carolina presidential primary to a position on the calendar that allows the North Carolina Republican Party maximum latitude in choosing how to allocate its delegates to the national convention and moving the primaries for state and local offices into the same position as the presidential primary. The former means a date on or after March 15, not the March 1 date that Chairman Pope outlined. The latter means cost savings to the taxpayers of North Carolina who would not have to foot the bill for multiple primaries and runoff elections with a presidential primary separated from the remaining nomination contests.

The concurrent primaries request is a no-brainer in a state that has traditionally held all of its primaries together on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May during much of the post-reform era. But opening the door to a possible winner-take-all primary in North Carolina is of greater note. North Carolina law calls for a proportional allocation of delegates to the national convention2, but Republican National Committee rules (see Rule 16(b) here) allow state parties to create their own rules (within the parameters of the national party rules) that supersede any state law should their be a conflict. North Carolina Republicans have generally followed the state law in past presidential election cycles, so a move to a winner-take-all allocation method would break with that tradition.

No, there are not any bills currently before the North Carolina state legislature, but there is external pressure being exerted on the body to make a change to the presidential primary date. And now, it appears to be more than national pressure, direct or otherwise. There looks to be a local component adding to the intricacy of the situation as well.

1 Below is the resolution as posted on the Greater Greensboro Republican Women's Club site:
Whereas:  North Carolina 2013 election law changed the date of the North Carolina Presidential Primary from mid-May to late February;

Whereas:  Republican National Committee (RNC) rule changes of January, 2014 require that only four states, Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada, be allowed to hold their presidential primaries before March 1;

Whereas:  RNC rules penalize any state holding its presidential primary prior to March 1 by drastically reducing that state’s number of allowable delegates to the National Republican Presidential Convention to no more than 12 delegates;

Whereas:  The North Carolina Republican Party will be allowed 72 delegates to the 2016 National Republican Presidential Convention if it complies with RNC rules;

Whereas:  Additionally, RNC rules dictate that states holding their presidential primary between the dates of March 1 and March 15 must allocate their delegates to the National Presidential Convention proportionally rather than having the option of proportionality versus winner-take-all allocation;

Whereas:  Previous North Carolina primaries in presidential years have been inclusive of presidential, state, and local races, rather than having a separate presidential primary and a state/local primary.

Whereas:  Creating separate dates for the North Carolina Presidential Primary and the North Carolina primary for state and local races increases the costs to the state and counties for the duplicate voting requirements.

Be it Resolved on this __th day of _____, 2015, that the _______________________:  (1)  Supports the NCGOP in selecting a presidential primary date that complies with RNC rules, and (2)  Encourages the NC General Assembly to change the North Carolina presidential primary date from one in February to one that will allow maximum Republican delegate allocation to the National Republican Presidential Convention while still giving North Carolina more influence in the selection of the Republican presidential candidate, and (3)  Encourages the NC General Assembly to specify that the primary for all NC national, state and local contests be the same date as the newly-selected NC presidential primary date, thereby eliminating the need for additional primary dates.
2 This is a function of delegate selection/allocation rules historically mandated by the Democratic Party. To comply with the rules requiring a proportional allocation of delegates, Democrats in control of the North Carolina General Assembly created the law requiring it. That law has been in place as it is currently written since 1983.

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Are Early States Losing Clout?

The usually sensible and always thorough Steve Peoples with the Associated Press missed the mark, FHQ thinks, in his weekend dispatch from New Hampshire.

The premise: Early states may be losing clout in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process because of the rise of super PACs (and their money) and changes to the Republican calendar/rules.

I don't know that FHQ can quite accept that. I can see the point. It makes sense, but I don't know that it is true. But the social scientist in me has a problem with the basic premise. The social scientist in me sees a research question and understandably asks for what data there is. What can we observe?

First the premise. The whole argument here is that 2016 will feature a compressed calendar (with a lot of primaries and caucuses in March) and a new avenue through which campaigns and their allies can receive and spend money that was not fully available four years ago at this time (super PACs). That apparently equals candidates, their campaigns and their allies looking beyond the very earliest states to spend their time and money.


But if we're talking about an influx of new resources through new channels, it seems that we would also be talking about a bigger pie. Does a bigger pie -- a larger pot of resources -- mean that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are losing something, clout or otherwise?1 It could also mean that other states are gaining something due to the new conditions in the 2016 cycle. If we're talking about an increase in the pot relative to 2012, then it is not really the same zero-sum game anymore. Just because March contest states are gaining doesn't mean that the carve-out states are losing. The two are not mutually exclusive in a changed environment.

Yet, I get it. A lot of Peoples' story is futurecasting. It is speculating on what will or may happen in 2016. But that is not a testable premise really. Sure, we can guess. We can speculate. But if we look at candidate behavior now or what they have been up to since January 1 through now, it still looks an awful lot like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina followed by everyone else when we look at candidate visits. The carve-outs lead the pack among the prospective (or announced) Republicans. Behind them are the other typical haunts for Republican presidential candidates: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Washington, DC. No, not all of those are red states or early states, but they are all stops that frequently pop up on the itinerary of anyone on the fundraising circuit.

One more thing and I'll let this one rest. It should not come as a surprise that campaign aides and veteran political operatives are cautioning us of the impending chaotic slugfest to come in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Those are precisely the folks who stand to gain the most from the race stretching out well into March if not beyond. And even if that does not happen, they can at least bide their time nurturing the illusion that this will go on and on and on...

As FHQ mentioned late in the 2012 Republican race, these things are over sooner rather than later. There is a point when even individuals who can afford to keep a candidate afloat decide that the effort is futile, that pouring more money into a cause that cannot win but might breed more chaos heading into a national convention is just not worth it.

Will we hit that point during or after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina? I don't know. But I do know that, despite how things look now, those contests will winnow the field of Republicans vying for the party's presidential nomination. That's what the carve-outs are: winnowing contests. They will still be that in 2016 when all this talk of lost clout will be just that.


[NOTE: Peoples' story also mentions that June 3 is the last date on which primaries and caucuses can be held in the Republican presidential nomination process. I don't know the origin of that information, but the RNC rules -- Rule 16(c)(1) -- specify that that cutoff is the second Saturday in June. That would be Saturday, June 11, 2016.]

1 Poor Nevada is just a redheaded stepchild in all of this from the looks of it. There are, I guess, consequences on the Republican side for reluctantly adding the Silver state caucuses (because the DNC already had), and then the state Republican Party having issues in their first two attempts at caucuses in the spotlight in 2008 and 2012.

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Vermont Tries a Different Tack in Challenging New Hampshire's First in the Nation Status

With legislation to move the Vermont presidential primary up to coincide with the New Hampshire primary stuck in neutral, a couple of Democratic legislators in the Green Mountain state are taking an alternate approach. Last week, Rep. David Deen (D-136th, Putney) and Rep. Michael Mrowicki (D-138th, Putney) introduced Joint (House) Resolution 11. The measure is a scaled back version of the previously filed bills in the state House and Senate. Instead of giving the power to set the date of the primary to the Vermont secretary of state, the proposed resolution would request that the office of the secretary of state study the feasibility of shifting into an earlier New Hampshire-aligned presidential primary election.

If the resolution is passed, the secretary of state's office would, again, be requested to complete the study before December 15, 2015. If the study takes that long -- completion in mid-December -- that would give the state a very small window in which to prepare for an earlier than usual primary for the 2016 cycle. And that depends on the Secretary of State Jim Condos actually going along with the plan. He was skeptical of the move to encroach on New Hampshire's first in the nation turf after the state Senate bill became public and said as much in the original committee hearing for the bill back in February.

The resolution/study route is not a unique one when it comes to presidential primary positioning. Indiana attempted to do something similar with its later (May) primary during its 2009 legislative session.

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Another "January" Presidential Primary Bill Out of Nevada

Early last week in the Nevada state Assembly, the Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections heard testimony on legislation to create a presidential primary in the Silver state and schedule it in January. Part of what came out of that hearing was that the bill -- AB 302 -- was, according to the sponsors, introduced on a deadline and that the true intention was never to schedule the primary in January. Rather, the purpose was to get legislation in the legislative pipeline in order to have the legislature consider and debate the utility of trading in the caucuses/convention system the state parties have used for selecting and allocating delegates to the national convention for a state-run and state-funded presidential primary.

Quietly, the day before that hearing on Monday, March 23, SB 421 was introduced. That bill is identical to the Assembly version -- AB 302. It calls for a January presidential primary consolidated with primaries for other offices in the state. And while that is provocative in its own right, the legislation appears to have been filed under similar circumstances with similar motives. Like the Assembly version, SB 421 got in just under the wire. The Assembly version was filed just before the deadline for individual legislators to introduce legislation. On the state Senate side, SB 421 was introduced by the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections on the final day for committees to file legislation.

Signs point toward this being another last minute filing intended to have the state Senate consider transitioning from caucuses to a primary. But this bill, like the one in the Assembly, is likely to face similar questions once it gets to the hearing stage.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Arkansas Senate Passes Bill to Create Separate March Presidential Primary

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that the Arkansas State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected a bill to position the presidential primary in the Natural state on the proposed SEC primary date.

Now, as FHQ has detailed, there are two bills to move the Arkansas primary into that position. One would create a separate presidential primary election and the other proposes moving the entire May preferential primary to the first Tuesday in March. It is not clear which one was "rejected" and there is no record of any rejection.1

Regardless of that midweek development, the aforementioned Arkansas state Senate committee yesterday slightly tweaked SB 389 -- the bill to create the separate presidential primary -- and recommended it pass the chamber.2 And during floor time today -- Friday, March 27 -- the Senate passed SB 389 by a 20-5 vote.

The measure now heads to the state House for its consideration.

SB 765, the other bill, is still on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs docket and may also be considered at some point. FHQ has discussed the trade-offs of creating a separate primary or moving everything up in the Arkansas case here.

1 It should be noted that this may or may not be an AP problem. It could be attributable to a less than user-friendly Arkansas legislature website not providing the information that sites in other states share more readily and easily.

2 The amendment had nothing to do with the date of the primary.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Michigan Democrats Opt In to March 8 Presidential Primary

The Michigan Democratic Party on Thursday, March 26 released for public comment a draft version of the party's 2016 delegate selection plan. Here's the press release from state party chairman, Lon Johnson:
RE: Michigan Democratic Party Makes 2016 Delegate Selection Plan available for Review
Date: Thursday, March 26, 2015 
The Michigan Democratic Party has completed its proposed Delegate Selection Plan for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The plan will be available for review for a thirty day public comment period on the MDP website at beginning today, March 26, 2015. After the comment period expires, the Plan will be submitted to the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee for final approval and further action with the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee. 
The Plan provides that Michigan will have a total of 152 delegates and 11 alternates, to be selected proportionately, based on the results of a government-run primary. This "first determining step" in the Michigan delegate selection process will occur on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016, to be held in conjunction with the Michigan GOP Presidential Primary. Further information can be found in the Plan itself. 
If there are any questions, comments or criticisms about the Plan, you may contact the Michigan Democratic Party.
The public comment period is standard operating procedure in the context of the Democratic nomination process. National party rules require state parties to draft these delegate selection plans, open them for a period for public comment and then submit the plans to the DNC/Rules and Bylaws Committee for approval usually by early May of the year preceding a presidential election (May 4, 2015 for this cycle).

More importantly, layered into both plan and Johnson press release that Michigan Democrats plan on opting into the presidential primary in lieu of caucusing in 2016. Michigan Democrats have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the presidential primary in the Great Lakes state over the years. The party caucused in 2012, but attempted to use the primary in 2008 (though that non-compliant January primary famously led to penalties from the DNC that cycle).

Michigan Democrats, then, seem to be headed for a March 8 presidential primary pending approval by the Michigan Democratic Party State Central Committee.

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Amended Oklahoma Presidential Primary Bill Stymied in Committee

The Oklahoma state House Committee on Elections and Ethics convened on Wednesday, March 25 to  consider several state Senate-passed bills. Among them was SB 233, the legislation proposing the Oklahoma presidential preference primary be shifted back three weeks on the primary calendar. The bill was originally requested by the Oklahoma Republican Party with the intention of it returning to a more winner-take-all method of delegate allocation (after one cycle of dabbling with a more proportional method required by Republican National Committee rules).1

Due to conflicts raised by elections administrators in the state, an amendment was offered in the committee to push the date of the primary back two additional weeks in order to have it coincide with an election date called for in state law. The state provides for an opportunity to hold various elections on the first Tuesday in March and the first Tuesday in April. Adding a third election in that window is a perceived burden on those elections officials.

That amendment -- to move the Oklahoma primary to the first Tuesday in April -- was unanimously accepted by the Elections and Ethics Committee.

However, the move back -- in general, not just the further push back into April -- raised some concerns. After passing the state Senate with only a handful of dissenting votes, SB 233 faced some backlash from not only House committee members but in public testimony as well. That back and forth between the House author of the bill, Rep. Gary Banz (R-101st, Midwest City), and members of the committee was instructive in highlighting the trade-offs involved in the potential move.

  1. ...staying in an earlier March position with potentially more candidate/media attention but at the price of having to proportionally allocate delegates, or...
  2. ...shifting back to a later (relative to the March position) April date that satisfies election administrators in the state and allows the Oklahoma Republican Party to allocate convention delegates on a winner-take-all basis, but at a cost of the primary falling after the point on the calendar at which someone has clinched the nomination (or is likely too far ahead to be caught in the remaining contests).
That really does neatly encapsulate the competing interests involved in these decisions: state parties, state governments, national parties (rules) and the voters themselves.

As for the Wednesday committee hearing, the bill was laid over for future consideration not so much because there was an impasse on SB 233, but because the full committee was not present and the no one from the Oklahoma Republican Party was on hand to (directly) offer their reasoning for the later primary date.

The clock is ticking on this. Oklahoma House committees have to have voted up or down on Senate-passed legislation by April 10. The provides the Elections and Ethics Committee only a couple of additional opportunities to tie up any loose ends with SB 233. If they cannot, Oklahoma will stay on March 1 and Republicans would be forced to proportionally allocate their national convention delegation to the various candidates.

For now, however, this one is on pause.

Hat tip to Randy Krehbiel at the Tulsa World whose story alerted FHQ to yesterday's hearing.

1 The modifiers are important on the types of allocation in this instance. Oklahoma Republicans have had a winner-take-all by congressional method of delegate allocation in the past, not a true winner-take-all distribution. In addition, the proportional method the party utilized in 2012 was conditionally winner-take-all by congressional district, but functionally proportional by congressional district. If no candidate received a majority of the vote either statewide or in the Sooner state's five congressional districts, then the allocation was proportional within those units (statewide and congressional district). That is not a truly proportional plan in the conventional sense.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kansas Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Repealing Presidential Primary

The Kansas state Senate unanimously passed SB 239 on Wednesday, March 25. By a vote of 39-0 the members of the Senate opted to repeal the presidential primary law in lieu of canceling the election for the sixth consecutive cycle in the Sunflower state.

The measure now moves on to the state House where the a similar bill is already being considered. Should either bill pass and be signed into law, it would permanently end the possibility of a state-funded presidential primary option in Kansas (unless a future legislature reverses course). In the absence of a primary election since 1992, Kansas state parties have selected and allocated delegates to the national conventions through a state party-run and funded caucuses/convention process.

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Amended Kansas Senate Bill Would Now Eliminate Presidential Primary Altogether

Last week both efforts to cancel at least the 2016 presidential primary in Kansas pushed forward. However, a divergence between the two chambers' respective bills emerged in the process. The House version was amended in committee to not just eliminate the 2016 primary, but to repeal the presidential primary portion of the Kansas statutes, killing the primary altogether. On the Senate side, the committee passed the original version of its bill, which stuck to the quadrennial protocol that has defined the presidential primary election in the Sunflower state over the last two plus decades. Basically, that has entailed canceling the primary every four years, kicking the can down the road and leaving the door open to the possibility of the state funding a primary option and the state parties utilizing it.

That door now appears to be closing. The Senate, in considering SB 239 on Tuesday, March 24, amended its version, syncing it with the House version. This would alter the standard operating procedure described above. It would cancel the primary for good barring another subsequent act of the legislature to reverse course and reestablish a presidential primary election.

The Senate Committee on the Whole -- the floor consideration of the bill -- recommended that the bill pass the chamber as amended. That clears the way for a final vote that, at this stage, seems nothing more than a formality.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nevada Won't Have a January Presidential Primary in 2016

However, AB 302 will live on in a different form.

The Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened on Tuesday, March 24 to conduct a hearing a handful of bills. Among them was AB 302, the legislation introduced by Assembly Speaker John Hambrick (R-2nd, Clark) to revamp the nominations process in the Silver state. That bill called for, among other things, the creation of a presidential primary option in Nevada and the coupling of it with the primaries for other offices in January of a presidential election year.

Suffice it to say, those provisions alone held some fairly significant ramifications for not only Nevada but the general order of the national presidential nomination process as well.

Most of the problem areas appear to have been shed or are about to be shed from the bill.

January primary? Out.

Coupling of the two sets of primary elections (in January)? Out.

Creation of a presidential primary? Still in.

And that -- the possible creation of a presidential primary -- was the crux of the hearing.

Daniel Stewart from Speaker Hambrick's office provided a rough sketch of the details that would be in the bill after he described to the committee what was going to be amended out. But first he mentioned that the original bill was nothing more than a placeholder, introduced to beat the March 16 deadline for individual legislators to introduce legislation for the 2015 session. The intention, then, was never to attempt to create a Nevada presidential primary and move it into January.

The bill now seems -- and it is still "seems" because the amended version of the bill was not available to the committee during the hearing and is not online at this point -- to create a presidential primary option for a single date in February for the state parties in Nevada to opt into at their choosing. In other words, the state parties could opt for either party-run caucuses or a hypothetical state-run primary. There was no discussion about how a date would be chosen. Jointly by the two major parties? By, say, the secretary of state? That is a matter that will have to be ironed out in the amended version of the bill.

In reaction to the proposed changes, the members of the committee fell into to two basic camps: 1) receptive if not supportive of a switch from caucuses to a primary and 2) those concerned such a switch would endanger Nevada's first in the West status protection in the national parties' delegate selection rules.

Committee chairman, Lynn Stewart (R-22nd, Clark) and Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman (R-34th, Clark) both liked that a prospective primary would likely have the effect of increasing participation in the presidential nomination process and that a primary would have the potential impact of tamping down on some of the confusion that plagued the Nevada caucuses process on the Republican side (particularly in 2008 and 2012).

However, Democrats, Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D-15th, Clark) and Assemblyman James Ohrenschall (D-12th, Clark) worried aloud that trading in the caucuses for a primary, specifically when the Democratic National Committee rules protect the Nevada caucuses, might negatively affect the privileged position Nevadans have enjoyed since the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee added Nevada as a carve-out state in 2006.1

The subsequent testimony from interested parties for, against and neutral offered more of the same in terms of reactions. The exception was the commentary from Nevada Republican Party Vice Chair Jim DeGraffenreid, who came out against both the original bill and the amended version more fully discussed in the hearing. He rejected the primary idea outright, saying that the state party could and would make the decision on its own and that the taxpayer expenditure for a presidential primary was not necessary. [This is an issue that has come up in other states as well.] And in response to the question of whether the Nevada Republican Party was against the bill, he said that was the party position.

The hearing on AB 302 basically posed more new questions than answered any. It opens up the conflict that is not foreign to other states: more participation in a state-funded, state-run primary or a party's right to freely associate with voters of its choosing in a process of its choosing. This bill may or may not move in its amended form -- the devil's in the details -- but even if it does, one party in the state (Republican) seems intent on sticking with caucuses and the other one (Democrats) may too due to the conflict a primary option may pose in the face of DNC delegate selection rules. The parties will likely have input on this and that likely produces a spectrum of outcomes ranging from a Utah-like system where state parties have an opt-in but a primary depends on (possibly uncertain) state funding to the bill getting bottled up in committee because neither party intends to participate.

This one is unsettle but for one thing: There will not be a January presidential primary in Nevada next year.

1 That decision had the effect of forcing on national Republicans an early Nevada caucus that they did not necessarily want, but that they, nonetheless, reluctantly added to the mix in 2008.

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