Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Utah Democrats Will Caucus on March 22

Late last week, the Utah Democratic Party posted its draft 2016 delegate selection plan just before the May 4 deadline to submit the plans to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.1 The plan confirmed the details that had already been circulating about the party's plans for 2016: that the party will select and allocated delegates through a caucuses/convention system that will commence with neighborhood meetings on Tuesday, March 22.

Both that calendar position and that Utah Democrats are partnering with Idaho and Arizona on March 22 means that Democrats in the Beehive state will be eligible for the 15% clustering bonus to its national convention delegation (as will Democrats in Arizona and Idaho). March 22 is the first date on which regional and subregional partners of three or more states can qualify for that bonus.

2012 witnessed a number of Democratic caucuses states shift to later positions on the primary calendar to take advantage of the newly instituted bonus.

1 The above link is to the plan from the Utah Democratic Party site. FHQ will also keep a version of the plan here.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Colorado Presidential Primary Bill Dies in Committee

So long, Colorado presidential primary. We hardly knew ye.

The Colorado legislature is wrapping up the business of its 2015 regular session. One of the items that has popped up in these waning days has been an effort to reestablish a presidential primary in the Centennial state for the first time since 2000. The high hopes that some had for SB 15-287 crested late last week as the Senate Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs gave the legislation the green light, passing the measure by a 4-1 vote.

But that committee passed the baton on to a Senate Appropriations Committee that did not look favorably on the move to trade out the caucuses/convention process for a presidential primary (especially one that allowed unaffiliated voters to participate). Republicans in control of the state Senate (and thus the Appropriations Committee) killed the bill on Monday, May 4, postponing it indefinitely. Attempts to send the bill to the Committee of the Whole (the Senate floor) failed on a narrow 4-3 vote.

John Frank at the Denver Post points out that part of the reasoning behind the move was financial. The primary would have cost the state $1.7 million with additional resources coming from the county and local level. But mainly, the death of the bill is a function of two related factors. First, it is difficult to change the status quo -- in this case a caucuses/convention system -- when there is staunch support with a party for it. Second, this is the battlefield on which Republicans on the state level(s) and nationally have internally fought on over the last several years.

It is not an uncommon battle. On one side, there are interests in the party that want to win elections. Those were the folks who supported the presidential primary idea in Colorado. The thought was that the primary would engage more voters, pulling them toward the Republicans as the nomination phase gave way to the general election phase of the presidential election cycle. But on the other side, there is a group of folks also interested in winning elections but only with the right kind of candidate; in this case, a conservative one.

Again, this pragmatism versus purism divide is not unique to the Republican Party. It is a phenomenon that arises from time to time in any party. It has in Colorado and the presidential primary idea was a casualty.

...of that intra-party dispute and a maintenance of the status quo nomination system. [That latter factor is really under appreciated sometimes.]

Hat tip to Don Means for passing news of this along to FHQ.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

DC Presidential Primary to June 14

The Washington, DC legislation shifting the presidential primary in the district from April to June cleared its final hurdle over the weekend.

B20-0265 passed the DC Council late in 2014 and was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier this year. However, the bill just made it through its formal congressional review period and has now become law. The DC presidential primary now moves from the first Tuesday in April to the second Tuesday in June. That new calendar position likely makes the vote in the district the last in the sequence of states on the 2016 presidential primary calendar.

On the Republican side, Washington, DC Republicans have traditionally allocated national convention delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. That winner-take-all contest for 19 delegates will now bring up the rear on the calendar. But don't read too much into that.  

Hat tip to Joe Wenzinger for passing news of this along to FHQ.

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Iowa: A Question Mark Among Carve-Outs

I was struck reading Jennifer Jacobs' piece in the Des Moines Register this morning by the fact that there are some interesting questions marks hovering around the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

The big take home is the obvious: Mathematically, the more candidates competing in the Iowa caucuses, the lower the likely winning share of the vote will be among the logjam of Republican candidates. FHQ is less concerned with that. Actually, I'm skeptical of the chaos theory; that all these candidates will claim chunk of the caucuses electorate and the winner will be below 20%. Jacobs mentions the prospect of one candidate breaking away from the pack late in the invisible primary, but it may also be that there is some herding around candidates; one candidate who represents each of the lanes to the nomination that so many are discussing. With the exception of 1976, the post-reform competitive Republican caucuses have tended to have four or five candidates above (or right at) the 10% mark.

But let's put that on the back burner for the moment.

The bigger question mark surrounding the 2016 Republican Iowa caucuses might be how the state party will allocate its delegates. We know that New Hampshire will have a proportional allocation of its delegates. State law calls for it. South Carolina Republicans are very likely to continue with the winner-take-most (winner-take-all by congressional district) method the party has used for years. And while the mode of allocation may change in Nevada -- trading out caucuses for a primary -- Republicans in the state have already voted in favor of a resolution to continue the proportional method of allocation it used in 2012.

But Iowa? We do not yet know what the plans are in Iowa. Traditionally, Iowa Republicans have held non-binding caucuses. But the RNC passed rules at its 2012 national convention in Tampa to require the binding of delegates based on the earliest, statewide election. It was that rule, after all, that gave Iowa Republicans pause concerning their quadrennial Straw Poll.

So what will Iowa Republicans do? Every possibility is open to the party actually. If you were reading carefully above, you may have thought to yourself, "Hey. Wait a minute. How can South Carolina have a winner-take-most primary before the proportionality window closes on March 14?" The answer is that it's because South Carolina is not in the proportionality window. None of the carve-out states are. The proportionality window only affects states with primaries or caucuses from March 1-14. The carve-out states are exempt.

That means that Iowa could hold a truly winner-take-all contest if Republicans in the state wanted. That would certainly raise the stakes in the Hawkeye state. But with so many possibilities (candidates), the RNC might frown on such a decision (even if there are no rules preventing it or penalties to deter such behavior). Of course, Iowa is in the business of keeping Iowa first. Going winner-take-all is perhaps not the proper course to chart if preservation of first in the nation status is the goal.

Fine. Iowa is unlikely to institute a truly winner-take-all plan. However, there are some interesting possibilities even if Iowa Republicans were to go proportional in 2016. For example, let's assume that Iowa Republicans opt to hold proportional caucuses that proportionally allocate at-large delegates bed on the statewide result and congressional district delegates based on the results in each of Iowa's four congressional districts. But if -- if -- the party also requires that a candidate receive 20% of the vote to be allocated any delegates (either statewide or in the congressional districts), then that could significantly limit the number of candidates who receive any delegates even in a proportional contests.1

If, for example, Scott Walker wins Iowa with 21% of the vote statewide, but no one else clears the 20% barrier. Well, Walker would win all of the at-large (and bonus) delegates allocated based on the statewide results. If Walker also wins three of the four congressional districts with above 20% of the vote there and no one else clears 20%, then Walker again wins all of the delegates from the congressional district. If Jeb Bush and Walker clear the 20% barrier in the one remaining congressional district, then they split those delegates.

But Walker emerges with an overwhelming win in the delegate count -- Yes, there are only 28 total delegates at stake in Iowa. -- despite a proportional allocation plan. More importantly, in this scenario only two candidates win any delegates.

There may be talk of finishing in the top six -- or whatever -- in the Iowa caucuses once the votes have been cast. But if only two of them get any delegates out of the deal, then the talking points coming out of the contest and heading into New Hampshire are a lot less chaotic than many are talking about now.

1 Republican National Committee delegate selection rules allow state parties to set a minimum threshold of the vote that a candidate must attain in order to receive any delegates. That threshold can be set as high as 20% (both statewide and on the congressional district level).

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Shorter Primary Calendars and Unintended Consequences

FHQ heard from Mark Murray at NBC News the other night. He said they were doing a story on the 2016 presidential primary calendar and its potential implications and wanted my take. [Thanks!] I responded with a lot of what has filled the pages here for the last several months: the calendar formation stuff is winding down (calmer than in past cycles), but we're still waiting on the Republican delegate allocation rules at the state level to be layered on top of the calendar order. Also, I briefly discussed some of the quirks covered in our recent three part proportionality rules series -- backdoor winner-take-all contests in the proportionality window and the important distinction between truly winner-take-all contests and everything else after the proportional mandate ends after March 14 (not all states are rushing to change to truly winner-take-all rules).

One thing FHQ did not discuss was the shortened primary calendar the RNC has seemingly successfully manufactured for the 2016 cycle. I did not bring that up because the compressed calendar is likely to speed the process up rather than slow it down, not likely adding to the chaos that some are expecting from the 2016 Republican presidential nomination process. This is something FHQ touched on over at Crystal Ball last month, piggybacking on something that John Sides and I wrote in the days before Rick Santorum suspended his campaign in 2012.

The one line in the First Read piece that troubled me most was this one:
But the unintended consequence of a shortened nominating calendar is that about 70% of the delegates might not be decided until May.
Wait a minute. Kevin Collins had this great tweet a few months ago that was essentially, "so much of social science research boils down to one question: 'compared to what?'" That applies here. Fine, 70% of the delegates might not be decided until May. Compared to what?

Well, first the line -- and I know I'm nitpicking here (That's what I do.) -- is a bit ambiguous. Does it mean that only 70% of the delegates will have been allocated by May or that 70% of delegates will be allocated in May? I think it is the former, but one could make the argument that delegate allocation does not happen until state conventions have formally selected them. Even if that is the case, because of the new binding rules in place in the Republican race in 2016, that formal selection of delegates will have no bearing on how they are allocated/bound to particular candidates.

But let's examine the idea that 70% of the delegates will be allocated by May in 2016. How does that stack up against other cycles? Once the caucuses states more than likely slot into March positions on the calendar, the likely 75% delegates allocated mark will be passed on the last Tuesday in April. That is a full month before the May 22 date on which the 2012 Republican nomination race surpassed the 75% delegates allocated mark; the week before the Texas primary when Romney passed 1144.

Again, that 75% mark will hit a full month earlier in 2016 than it did in 2012. It is counterintuitive to suggest that this will slow things down in 2016, invite more chaos, and lead to a brokered deadlocked convention. All the compressed calendar is, is all the January and February states crowding back into March. Only a few states are actually attempting to move into March from later dates. Texas is the big one of those, but did not really move. The only reason Texas was forced away from the first Tuesday in March date in 2012 was because of unresolved redistricting issues. The primary date shift was forced on the state by the courts.

This may not be the typical Republican presidential nomination cycle, but if history is our guide then things will run their course and have fallen into place somewhere in the window of time between when 50% of the delegates have been allocated and when 75% of the delegates have been allocated -- the 50-75% Rule. That falls roughly between March 8 and April 26.

...before May.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Colorado Bill to Reestablish Presidential Primary Introduced

On Wednesday, April 29, SB 15-287 was introduced in the Colorado state Senate. The bill would reestablish a presidential primary in the Centennial state for the first time since 2000. The details largely match the description that was leaked last week.

As FHQ said at the time, the interesting news in this is the process being created rather than the switch from a caucuses/convention system to a primary election. Under the provisions of the bill, the Colorado governor would have the power to set the date of the primary in a fairly tight window of time. Before September 1 of the year prior to a presidential election, the governor is called on to set a date for the presidential primary election the following year between:

  2. a point on the calendar NOT LATER THAN THE THIRD TUESDAY IN MARCH. 
In 2016, that would mean a small window of time on the calendar from March 1-15. However, the less date-specific front end of that constraint means that, should the national parties in the future allow for an earlier start point to the nomination process, the Colorado window would move with it (without having to return to the legislature for approval). Both that ambiguity and the ceding of the date-setting power to the governor are designed to provide the Colorado presidential primary with a little flexibility; a bit of mobility in the scheduling of the contest.

That a single individual would have the date-setting authority if this bill is passed and signed into law would make Colorado like Arizona was during the 2004-2012 period (when the governor could issue a proclamation to move the primary earlier), but also like New Hampshire and Georgia where the secretary of state holds the power to set the date. Colorado would have less flexibility than Georgia and much less than the carte blanche flexibility New Hampshire's secretary of state has to keep the Granite state presidential primary first.

One additional facet of this bill that should be mentioned is that the aforementioned ambiguity of the front end of the scheduling window does potentially create some uncertainty. Call this the Florida 2013 problem. Recall, that the original law change that brought the Florida presidential primary back into compliance with the national party rules had a similar "earliest point on the calendar in which a delegation won't be penalized" provision. If we were to count only the penalty that both parties levy for going too early, that earliest date a Colorado primary could be would be March 1. Yet, if Colorado Republicans opted for a winner-take-all method of allocation, it would shrink the window down to just March 15.

Fortunately, the last time Colorado Republicans had a primary -- and not non-binding caucuses -- the party allocated their national convention delegates on a proportional basis.

The final take home on this one is that it would transition Colorado from a closed caucuses system to a primary system opened to unaffiliated voters as well. As John Frank reported last week, this is a bipartisan move overall. There are 28 co-sponsors of the legislation across both chambers of the legislature. Two House Democrats join 17 majority Republicans and in the upper chamber where Democrats are in control, six Republicans combine with three Democratic sponsors. That is tilted toward the Republicans, but bipartisan nonetheless. Both parties appear ready to attempt to engage and battle over those unaffiliated voters in higher turnout election that would take place some time during the first half of March.

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Alabama House Committee Favorably Reports SEC Primary Bill

The plan to shift the Alabama presidential primary up a week to March 1 has moved a step closer to reality. The state House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee this week passed SB 240 on to the full body for its consideration.

The state Senate previously passed the measure with only three votes in opposition. And the odds of final passage must seem pretty good. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) is already hyping the SEC primary. Moving from March 8 up to March 1 would mean Alabama abandoning neighboring Mississippi for other regional partners like Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia as well as Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont.

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Washington State Senate Opens Special Session By Sending Presidential Primary Bill Back to the House

After adjourning the regular session last Friday, the Washington state legislature was back at work on Wednesday, April 29, starting a special session mainly focused on lingering budget differences between the divided chambers.

But one other unresolved issue -- among others -- that has some potential impact on the budget for fiscal year 2016 is whether the state will conduct a presidential primary. State Democrats have already committed to a caucuses/convention system for 2016. The question now is whether (and when) Washington will hold a presidential primary in 2016 and whether it is worth the $11.5 million price tag to hold a partially meaningful primary just for Republicans.1 The Republican-controlled state Senate provided the first move on the matter on the opening day of the special session, passing SB 5978 again -- by a vote of 31-13 -- and sending it back to the Democratic-controlled House for the lower chamber's consideration.

As was the case during the original Senate passage of SB 5978, there were a handful of Democrats who voted with Senate Republicans to hold a presidential primary in 2016 and schedule it for the second Tuesday in March (March 8). But the bigger issue now before the legislature is the budget and the $11.5 million for the presidential primary may serve as a bargaining chip, albeit small in the grand scheme of the budget, as that gets sorted out.

1 Washington Republicans in the past have split their delegate allocation nearly evening between the primary (when there is one) and caucuses.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Minnesota Republicans Considering Skipping Presidential Preference Vote at Next Year's Caucuses?

One of the stories that popped up over the last few months that FHQ thought was a really interesting story -- but just was not getting much national coverage -- is how Minnesota Republicans have been reacting to the new binding rules from the national party. The objective of the Republican National Committee coming out of the Tampa convention and in fact the 2012 presidential nomination process was to cut down on some of the perceived mischief that took place during the process.

One of those perceived problems was the unbound delegate issue that kept arising in one non-binding caucuses state after another. There were two problems that stemmed from those unbound precinct caucuses. First, that the delegates were not bound to candidates meant there was a lack of clarity in the delegate count. But second, it also opened the door to delegates for a candidate who did not win the early stages of the caucuses winning the majority of the delegation at the state convention. The Ron Paul contingent was able to pull this maneuver off in a number of states. 

The lack of clarity and delegates not reflecting the will of the greatest number of caucuses participants at the most participatory/precinct level triggered the rules change, requiring the binding of delegates to candidates based on the results of the earliest statewide election. 

But that change has not been greeted well across all of the country. In fact, in Minnesota, state Republicans have petitioned the RNC for a waiver from the new binding rules. Thus far the RNC has not seemed open to the request. That makes sense. The national party changed the rules and expects states to make the necessary adjustments unless, in the words of the RNC rules. "compliance is impossible". Impossible is a high bar, especially when binding delegates based on the results of statewide precinct caucuses is a matter that is completely within the control of the state party. It would be another matter altogether if state law governed the binding process and the Democratic Party held unified control of the state government. That would be impossible. Binding delegates is not. least not theoretically. 

But one option on the table for the Minnesota Republican Party if the last ditch effort at a waiver is unsuccessful is to skip the presidential preference vote at the precinct caucuses meetings. No vote, no binding. That would leave the decision on national convention delegates up to the altered state party rules and/or the state convention. As is, the state party rule contradicts the new national party rule.
Minnesota Republican Party bylaws -- Article VI (National Delegates)
No delegate to the Republican National Convention shall be bound by Party rules (unless bound by the State Convention pursuant to the State Party Constitution, Article 5, Section 3D) or by State law to cast his/her vote for a particular candidate on any ballot at the convention.
Rules of the Republican National Committee -- Rule 16(a)(1) (Binding and Allocation)Any statewide presidential preference vote that permits a choice among candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in a primary, caucuses, or a state convention must be used to allocate and bind the state’s delegation to the national convention in either a proportional or winner-take-all manner, except for delegates and alternate delegates who appear on a ballot in a statewide election and are elected directly by primary voters.
What is preventing any issuance of a waiver from the RNC is what is mentioned above (It just is not that difficult to comply.) and the fact that the national party rules trump the state party rules when and if there is a conflict (see Rule 16(b)).

Of course, that is not the only conflict this situation represents. Not hold a presidential preference vote violates Minnesota state law requiring a presidential preference vote at presidential year caucuses as Michael Brodkorb mentions. The one thing that may pull the state party back from the brink of employing a "take my ball and go home" strategy in reaction to forced binding is that some rank-and-file like the idea of hardwiring grassroots preferences into the process.

That was kind of the intent of the rules change.

Hat tip to Mike Taphorn for passing this news on to FHQ.

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Jeb Bush, Puerto Rico and Backdoor Winner-Take-All Delegate Allocation

It is not some mistake that Jeb Bush is in Puerto Rico this week for a fundraiser and town hall meeting.

According to law in the territory, there is to be a primary election next March; on the third Sunday in March unless that date conflicts with Easter or Palm Sunday.1 In 2016, it does. Instead of being on March 20, then, the Puerto Rico primary will fall on Sunday, March 13; just at the tail end of the proportionality window.

But why would a candidate make the effort to venture into Puerto Rico in April in the year before a presidential nomination race at the prospect of gaining some proportional share of the territory's 23 delegates? The answer is twofold. First, and Lesley Clark at McClatchy raises this, is that there are potential primary and general election ramifications in Florida's Puerto Rican community to making an appearance in and talking about issues important to folks on the island and in the continental United States.

That is true, but there are broader strategic implications at play here as well that piggyback on that Florida-Puerto Rico connection. The Florida primary is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15. Florida Republicans are also talking about a winner-take-all delegate allocation plan. However, it is unclear if those plans include a truly winner-take-all allocation method or the more-often-used (sans national party penalty) winner-take-most allocation. Let's assume here that it is the former (and FHQ thinks it will be).

The Puerto Rico primary is situated just a couple of days earlier, just inside the proportionality window on March 13. If the party utilizes the same type of allocation plan it used in 2012, then it has the potential to be a backdoor winner-take-all contest. There are no congressional districts in Puerto Rico, so there cannot be any differentiation between congressional district delegates and at-large delegates. All 23 are at-large delegates. That has the practical implication of making the Puerto Rico Republican delegate allocation either truly proportional or truly winner-take-all. Given, the date of the primary, it cannot be the latter.

Recall, however, that a party can include certain thresholds in its delegate allocation plan to guide the process (and still meet the proportionality requirements). In 2012, Puerto Rico Republicans required candidates to received at least 15% of the vote to be allocated any delegates, but if one candidate wins a majority of the vote, then that candidate is awarded all 23 delegates. The latter threshold was cleared by Mitt Romney in 2012 when the former Massachusetts governor won nearly 90% of the vote.

That backdoor winner-take-all scenario in Puerto Rico plus a win in winner-take-all Florida (outside the proportionality window) is a significant one-two punch (over 120 delegates). If a candidate can pull that off in what appears to be a protracted race (at that point), that is important. The key here is that there is less difference between a winner-take-most contest and a proportional contest than there is between a winner-take-all primary or caucuses and everything else. Not all states after March 14 are rushing to be winner-take-all. But some are, and if this race keeps going, targeting those winner-take-all states -- as John McCain did in 2008 -- is a big part of the puzzle in the race to 1235.

Jeb Bush is making that play.

1 Here is the text of that primary law:
Those primaries to be held pursuant to the provisions of this subtitle shall be held on the third Sunday of March of the year in which the general election is to be held, except if said Sunday is Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, in which case, the primaries shall be held on the second Sunday of March of the same year. Primaries shall be held on the first Sunday of March if the aforementioned holidays fall on the second and third Sunday. 
In the case of national primaries, these may be held on any date after the first Tuesday of March of the year in which the general election is to be held, up to June fifteenth (15th) of that same year, as determined by the local body of the national party.
The Republican Party in Puerto Rico used the second part of the law as its motivation for setting the date of its 2012 primary, but ended up scheduling it on the date called for in the first part -- the third Sunday in March (March 18, 2012).

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