Friday, May 1, 2009

Are Clinton and Obama Still Fighting? The Texas Primary-Caucus is Back

Are big changes coming to the Democratic presidential nomination structure in the state that defines big?

Well, it depends on who you ask. On the one hand:
"There won't be anything dramatic," Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas (head of the Texas Democratic Party's committee looking into the issue), predicted.
On the other:
"I'm a taxpayer; I am paying for that primary," (committee member and Clinton-supporter, Linda) Burgess said. "I don't care if it's the Republican Party, Democratic Party or Polka-Dotted Party. I don't want any party to change the outcome of any election I'm paying for."
The argument here is over the controversial Texas Democratic primary-caucus system, or at least the caucus end of the structure. Advocates (and they seem to be Obama supporters) contend that the party building exercise that is the caucus is a worthwhile endeavor, but those with a negative view of the system (and they appear to be Clinton supporters) point toward the (un)representativeness of the caucus and the disproportionate impact in the delegate allocation.

Now, as I pointed out after last November's elections, the Texas Democratic Party was holding public hearings on the issue and the committee dealing with those is due to issue a report to the party's Executive Committee this summer. At that point a change may be made.

If I'm guessing, though, I'm going to have to side with Sen. West on this one. I just don't expect any fundamental changes. The longer caucus proponents -- and according to the Austin American-Statesman article there are plenty within the state party's power structure -- drag this thing out, the less salient an issue it becomes. Does anyone remember the tumult after Jesse Jackson beat 1988 Texas primary winner, Michael Dukakis, in the caucuses? The answer is no. Sure, that's because Jackson's win in the caucuses didn't overturn Dukakis' primary victory, but that actually strengthens the caucus proponents' argument here. That means that a close, almost tied nomination race is a requirement for this discrepancy to even be consequential. And we just don't see that happen that often.

The Texas Democratic Party is listening, but I don't think they'll do anything about the caucus. Let's be honest: Despite the talk about grassroots party building, the caucus was put in place -- much like the superdelegates at the national level -- to give the party a larger say in who got how many of the state's delegates. In the event, then, that there is a division between who the party wants as nominee and who the rank and file primary voters want, the party has a bit of an insurance policy. The party won't always win out, but if it is close enough the party will get its way.

All this draws on and expands upon a study I've cited in this space before. Scott Meinke, Jeffrey Staton and Steven Wuhs (gated) examined the effect the ideological convergence between state parties and potential primary/caucus voters has on how open a state's delegate selection event is. The idea, then is that the less those two groups converge ideologically, the less open the process will be (read: caucuses) and the more ideological overlap there is between citizens and state parties, the more open the process will be. Now, they were talking ideological convergence and what I'm discussing here is more candidate preference convergence. Yeah, those are pretty much the same thing, but in the case of Obama-Clinton, the underlying issue wasn't necessarily ideologically-based. That was a candidate-based division -- two candidates very similar ideologically.

So, will Texas Democrats make a change? I don't think so. If the party wants a caucus, the party will have a caucus. And it won't be a big deal in 2012 because Obama is likely going to be the only candidate on the ballot. In (uh, 1988, 2008), oh say, 2028 it might be a problem, but this Obama-Clinton thing will be ancient history by then.

Recent Posts:
Democracy for the People

More Party Switchers?

Open Thread: Specter Switch

No comments: