Though tempers flared, the GOP rules committee rejected the Ohio Plan which would have completely reworked the timing of presidential primaries and caucuses for the 2012 cycle and beyond. What was left in the wake was anger, finger-pointing at the McCain campaign and accusations of behind-the-scenes meddling. I was always skeptical that the GOP would do anything on this front, but I didn't expect that news to come out in this way. It isn't that I thought the GOP would drag its feet on curbing frontloading, but there was dissension within the party from the point at which the committee passed the plan for a hearing at the upcoming convention back in the spring. And as I said, back when I speculated on how McCain would have fared in this year's contests under the Ohio Plan, successful nominees just don't tinker with a system in which they were successful.
What does this decision mean? It means that if the Democrats win this election, there will be no difference between the 2008 cycle and 2012. Correction: There will probably be even more frontloading as the progression toward a national primary continues. If the Democrats are successful in November, they will not be seriously interested in changing things for 2012. 2016 maybe, but not 2012. Even if McCain wins in November, I suspect the Democrats won't do too much on their part simply because they won't have the cooperation of the GOP. To completely change things will require an effort on the part of both parties to rein in the partisanship that stems from state legislatures and state parties.
What the GOP did do in Minneapolis was to close the window on frontloading a bit. Like the Democrats, they too have stressed the importance of shifting the earliest possible date on which contests could be held to the first Tuesday in March. So let's go ahead and mark Tuesday March 6, 2012 on our calendars. There will be a lot of contests that day. It won't be just Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island in the spotlight that day like in 2008.
But one question remains: What are the sanctions for violation of the potential new timing rules? There are over a dozen states that permanently moved their primary elections through action in their state legislatures. That work will have to be redone. But what is motivating states to do that work? What will they gain by moving back and what will they lose if they don't? The answers to those questions will tell us in quick order whether the calendar of contests is going to be any different in 2012 than it was this past winter and spring. And there still isn't a good answer.
UPDATE: Here are the reactions on the move from New Hampshire and from Ohio.
The Democratic Convention Roll Call
The Electoral College Map (8/27/08)
The Links (8/27/08)