Sunday, June 28, 2009

Winner-Take-All Democratic Primaries?


Yes, this was an idea that made the rounds at the Democratic Change Commission meeting on Saturday. Commission member Suzi LeVine has an, and I can't stress this enough, awesome inside account of the events of the day. In terms of primary scheduling, she had this to say:
"From the sessions – one big point I took away was that having a single national primary day would not benefit our objectives – but that it’ll be very difficult without incentives to get the states to voluntarily change their dates, spread the map or move to a same day primary. Two ideas raised were: bonus delegates for later states and allow later states to do a winner take all strategy."
Bonus delegates obviously haven't worked. No state has moved back or stayed put as a means of gaining more delegates since Republicans started the practice in 2000. Those moves (or non-moves) have been a function of structural factors; most specifically whether a state traditionally holds its presidential primary concurrently with its primaries for state and local offices. That, very simply, has been a prohibitive factor.

But this winner-take-all idea is an interesting one. For the Democratic Party to even consider this is an acknowledgment of the sense of urgency behind reforming this process in some way, shape or form. The idea of allowing winner-take-all primaries is likely a hollow one though. The whole thing is predicated on there being a close contest coming down the stretch of a presidential nomination race. LeVine rightly points out that we don't know whether 2008 is the "new normal or a complete anomaly," but I strongly suspect it is the latter. And if that is the case and the nomination is wrapped up on Super Tuesday or soon thereafter, then what incentive is that to offer later states what they are going to get anyway: all their delegates going to the one remaining candidate? How is that an incentive?

"Here, move back and we'll make sure that your contest is winner-take-all. That way there will be some interest in your contest ... if there's still a race by that point. Otherwise, the few voters that show up to vote in your primary will vote for the one remaining viable candidate; our nominee."

That doesn't sound like much of an incentive. But let's assume that some nomination race down the road simulates 2008 all over again. In the event that there is another close nomination fight, though, a winner-take-all primary is an attractive incentive for states. That potentially makes a later state or group of later states into kingmakers.

Ah, but there's a catch: the states, in the case of primary states, have to change the primary dates in advance. And how do they know in advance which year's nomintation battle is going to be competitive, so they can begin the legislative process to change the date of the primary. One could argue that states acted in relative short order in 2007 to move their primaries in anticipation of 2008. They did, but that wasn't because the contest seemed like it was going to be close. Hillary Clinton had a sizable lead throughout 2007. States were motivated to move because they didn't want to get left behind in the way they were in 2004 after the Democrats opened their window (period of time in which all non-exempt contests can be held) to allow February contests. To go in March or later seemed like suicide at the time; something for divided state legislatures to quibble over.

So, as interesting as this idea is -- and it is something groundbreaking coming from Democrats -- it is another of those well-intentioned concepts riddled with unintended consequences.

Major hat tip to Matt at DemConWatch for tracking down LeVine's post on this matter.

Recent Posts:
DemRulz Liveblog of Democratic Change Commission Meeting

Is Next in Line a Myth?

On the Agenda at the Democratic Change Commission Meeting

1 comment:

Robert said...

An interesting twist!