This verges on the ludicrous, but last week I thought I would glance back at the state laws in place regarding the timing of presidential primaries for 2012. My intent was to see if the changes made for the 2008 cycle were permanent shifts or merely one and done changes for this past cycle.
This is certainly a fluid process and will change over the course of the next few years, but I thought it might be instructive to start with a baseline from which we can compare changes. As I have stated, there will likely be less frontloading in 2012 for a couple of reasons:
1) Most of the 2008 moves were permanent. What that means is that fewer states will have the ability to move to earlier dates if the rules regarding the timing of primaries and caucuses remain the same for 2012. Most are already at the earliest allowable date -- the first Tuesday in February.Regardless, here is how things look for 2012 more than three years away from the opening contests of the nomination campaign (All of the following are primaries unless otherwise noted.).
2) Barring a failed Obama presidency, the president-elect will not be challenged in the Democratic primaries. Only one party, then, will have an active contest for its nomination. And as the Maryland case demonstrated only yesterday, partisanship is a powerful potential factor in the frontloading equation. When both parties have a contested nomination, both parties within a state (or state legislature) can take an "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" approach to frontloading. In other words, if both parties are motivated to move forward, then where's the harm? This is why I've said that GOP-controlled states will be the most likely movers for 2012 holding all other factors equal. They face only token Democratic opposition to a move that could potentially help a Republican nominee. In Democratic-controlled states or competitive (evenly divided) states, that opposition is greater.
Take the Maryland example: The Maryland GOP is discussing a split to the their delegate allocation structure. Some delegates would be at stake in the party's February 2012 primary, but they want to establish a caucus that would jump Iowa and New Hampshire. So the first salvo has already kinda sorta been fired. And the thing is, Maryland's GOP is considering this because there's no way the Democratic-controlled legislature is going to go along with a plan to move the state's primary to an earlier date [especially when that could help a potential nominee build grassroots in the state and challenge Obama in the state. Yes, yes, I'm fully aware that Obama's efforts in South Carolina during the primary campaign didn't prove fruitful in November. But my point is that there is no way the Maryland legislature is going to pass off on such a move, much less the Democratic governor, if there is even a slightly chance that it would slightly help the Republican candidate.].
Monday, January 16, 2012: Iowa caucuses*
Tuesday, January 24: New Hampshire*
Saturday, January 28: Nevada caucuses*, South Carolina*
Tuesday, January 31: Florida
Tuesday, February 7 (Super Tuesday): Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah
Saturday, February 11: Louisiana primary
Tuesday, February 14: Maryland, Virginia
Tuesday, February 21: Wisconsin
Tuesday, February 28: Arizona**, Michigan***
Tuesday, March 6: Massachusetts***, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont
Tuesday, March 13: Mississippi
Tuesday, March 20: Colorado caucuses****
Tuesday, April 24: Pennsylvania
Tuesday, May 8: Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia
Tuesday, May 15: Nebraska, Oregon
Tuesday, May 22: Idaho, Kentucky
Tuesday, June 5: Montana, New Mexico***** and South Dakota
*New Hampshire law calls for the Granite state to hold a primary on the second Tuesday of March or seven days prior to any other similar election, whichever is earlier. Florida is first now, so New Hampshire would be a week earlier at the latest. Traditionally, Iowa has gone on the Monday a week prior to New Hampshire. For the time being we'll wedge Nevada and South Carolina in on the Saturday between New Hampshire and Florida, but these are just guesses at the moment. Any rogue states could cause a shift.
**In Arizona the governor can use his or her proclamation powers to move the state's primary to a date on which the event would have an impact on the nomination. In 2004 and 2008 the primary was moved to the first Tuesday in February.
***Massachusetts and Michigan are the only states that passed a frontloading bill prior to 2008 that was not permanent. The Bay state reverts to its first Tuesday in March date in 2012 while Michigan will fall back to the fourth Tuesday in February.
****The Colorado Democratic and Republican parties have the option to move their caucuses from the third Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February.
*****The law in New Mexico allows the parties to decide when to hold their nominating contests. The Democrats have gone in early February in the last two cycles, but the GOP has held steady in June. They have the option of moving however.
I've obviously added some caveats already, but there is one big one that I should note as well. On the surface this looks like a far less frontloaded calendar. However, it only accounts for a handful of caucuses -- the most predictable early ones and those that are controlled by state law. Montana and West Virginia Republicans in 2008, for instance, opted for caucuses as opposed to primaries and shifted them to Super Tuesday. That could certainly happen again. The other caucus states will be determined at a later date, as the states' delegate selection plans emerge in probably 2011.
Now that we have a baseline for comparison let the frontloading begin. You're on the clock Maryland.
Maryland GOP to Jump Iowa/New Hampshire in 2012?
FHQ Hasn't Disappeared...It Just Seems That Way
Live Blog and Open Thread: Georgia Senate Runoff