I spent the weekend (at least in terms of this blog) looking at the potential presidential nomination reform plans that are being considered by both of the parties. The one plan that has some traction for the moment, is the Ohio Plan that the Republican Party Rules Committee passed last month. Next stop? St. Paul, where the plan will face increased scrutiny this summer at the GOP convention. And it may even face a hostile group of delegates if it reaches the floor for broad consideration. No, not because of those Ron Paul delegates. The Ohio Plan could encounter resistance from McCain delegates. Why, you ask? Well, victorious nominees rarely back plans that change the rules under which they won their nomination, especially if that means they (or someone similar to them) wouldn't have won. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And at a McCain-centered convention, delegates may be more willing to yield to their standard bearer on the issue.
Plus, let's remember that the GOP won't have the benefit of hindsight. Unlike the Democrats, the GOP can only alter its rules for presidential nomination during the preceding national convention. The Republicans then, won't know if having McCain wrap up their nomination three months prior to the Democrats will have an effect on the general election outcome (though they'll likely have a good idea whether the Democrats are indeed divided as a result of their longer process).
The question then, is would McCain have won the Republican nomination under the rules outlined in the Ohio Plan? First, let's glance at that map again:
Next, we'll have to willingly suspend our disbelief that such a plan could ever be put in place (and if you've been reading, you know FHQ has a laundry list of disbeliefs that will have to be suspended here). Let's also assume that if a candidate won a contest in 2008 under the current rules, they would have won the same contest under the Ohio Plan rules (at least among the competitive group of Republican contests--anything from Iowa to Texas/Ohio). According to the Ohio Plan rules, the same four states that led off the process under the current rules, would have kicked off primary season (Sorry Wyoming, Michigan and Florida). Iowa would have been followed by New Hampshire which would have been followed by South Carolina and Nevada. That wouldn't change any of the results we've seen under the current rules (but it would change the timing of the contests. None of these states would have been allowed to go prior to the beginning of February). Huckabee would have won Iowa. McCain still would have won New Hampshire and South Carolina and Romney would have won the Nevada caucuses.
Instead of Florida coming next, though, the process would shift from the "early 4" to a grouping of the least populous states (in teal above). In the process, McCain would have lost the advantage of that Florida win; a win that propelled him to the showing he had the next week on Super Tuesday. By the same token, Romney would have lost the influence of Michigan and Wyoming; wins that kept him viable heading into the next, contest-heavy week. With three different winners of four contests, there would be no clear favorite heading into the small state primary (Dare I call it Tiny Tuesday?) during the third week of February.
Among these 12 states' contests, McCain would have won one (Vermont), Huckabee would have won one (West Virginia) and Romney would have won five (Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Maine and Wyoming). The remaining five states (Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Dakota) are states that have yet to hold contests during this cycle, so we don't know how those outcomes would have looked in a competitive environment.
What are the most likely directions those contests would have gone, though? Given Romney's success in the Prairie and Rocky Mountain states, the temptation is there to allocate him the wins in both Idaho and South Dakota. The difference is that the wins he actually got in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming were all caucus victories (Romney seems to have approached the 2008 primary season in much the same way that Barack Obama and his campaign did. They both focused on organization in those small, caucus states.). Idaho and South Dakota have primary systems in place and it is unclear how Romney would have fared in such a scenario in those states. Southern Idaho looks a lot like Utah, where Romney did very will on Super Tuesday and it is likely he would have won Gem state. South Dakota is bordered by six states, four of which Romney won, so I'll lump it in with the other Romney wins. That gives him seven wins out of those 12 small states.
As for the other three unknown states, McCain's home state advantage would likely have stretched into New Mexico, but Hawaii and Nebraska are tough ones to figure out. Nebraska likely would have been a Romney/Huckabee battle given the strength both had in the region. I'll be generous and throw Huckabee a bone on this one. Hawaii would have been a far away caucus; a set of circumstances that would have favored Romney. Of the 12 small states, Romney would have been a winner (or in good shape) in eight, while McCain and Huckabee each would have managed two wins.
That's a pretty significant win for Romney heading into the big states. Do those eight wins equal what Florida did for McCain, though? That's a tough question to answer. Romney looked good in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada before the actual primary season got underway in 2008, and though he had several foreseeable paths to the GOP nomination, just couldn't come through in the end. Projecting Romney's potential success in the early states of the Ohio Plan to the rest of the country, then, is not automatic, but nine wins in sixteen early contests is nothing to sneeze at either. He clearly would have had an advantage in money and delegates prior to the three "pods" of big state contests. That could have pitted McCain and Huckabee in a one-on-one battle for the number two position behind Romney instead of the Romney/Huckabee fight for the same distinction behind front-runner McCain that we actually witnessed. And that is a position Romney did not find himself in in 2008.
Under the Ohio Plan then, McCain would have been in trouble instead of being in control after the first month of the process. Would McCain give his blessing at (or before) the convention to a plan that would have potentially cost him the 2008 nomination had it been in place? That, too, is a tough one to answer. McCain is a maverick (or so they tell me), so he may be willing to buck conventional wisdom. The only recent precedent is the Bush convention in 2000. That convention discussed the Delaware Plan (minus the New Hampshire/Iowa exemption) but it ultimately failed. And even in a season of change, the Ohio Plan will likely face similar resistance at the St. Paul convention (whether McCain endorses it or not).
Tales from the Kennedy School Symposium on Presidential Primaries
The Delegate Race: Is Obama There Yet?
ABC News: Obama Now Leads in Superdelegates