Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There Won't Be a Stampede to the Front of the 2012 Presidential Primary Calendar

Alex Burns at Politico had a slightly different take on the news that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is open to the idea of following Florida to an earlier date if the Sunshine state bends the RNC rules for delegate selection. Said Burns:

The 2012 primary calendar was designed in large part to prevent a 2008-style race to the front of the line, where a whole crush of states move their primaries early in the year to maximize their impact on the process. That's why the RNC wants Florida to move its primary from Jan. 31 to after March 6, the first rule-sanctioned date when Florida could vote.

And as Georgia's secretary of state showed today, there's still the possibility of a calendar stampede if Florida gets to bend the rules.

I disagree with several points here. First of all, the 2012 primary calendar is in the process of being designed. States (governments) and state parties set those dates. They operate within a set of rules from the national parties -- something that was actually informally coordinated for 2012. It is those rules that are in danger of being broken. Now, it is true that the parties had a vision for what the calendar should look like, but as we saw with Florida and Michigan in 2008, states don't always have to go along with those rules. They pay a price, but some states are willing to take the penalty in order to have an influence over the nomination process.

Where I can't disagree with Burns more is on his comparison of what's happening in 2012 to the development of the calendar in 2008. There is no comparison and what is happening ahead of the 2012 cycle. That parties, as he said, wanted to "prevent a 2008-style race to the front of the line". The parties have succeeded in that endeavor. Of the states that have moved their delegate selection contests for the 2012 cycle, two have moved forward (Colorado and Idaho). And Colorado moved its caucuses up two weeks to March 6 (in compliance with national party rules) and Idaho moved up a week in May (also in compliance). All the other states that have moved (10 states), or will move (an additional 10 states), have moved back to comply with the national parties' rules.

Georgia and Florida have moved into limbo, having given the decision over to decision-makers outside of the state legislature. Michigan has active legislation before its legislature to move to January 31, and Republicans in the state will decide in August whether they will urged the Republican-controlled legislature to move on that plan. Arizona is technically locked into a February 28 primary and with its legislature adjourned can't move back. The Grand Canyon state is a candidate to potentially move up, though. Governor Jan Brewer, like Governor Janet Napolitano in 2004 and 2008, can move the primary up to an earlier date using the governor's power of proclamation. How open Governor Brewer is to that idea is unknown, but at the very least Arizona is scheduled for a date that is not compliant with the national parties' delegate selection rules. And then there's the Minnesota caucuses on February 7 that are compliant with RNC rules because that first step is non-binding on delegate selection (It starts a process of delegate selection rather than directly selecting delegates to go to the convention.).

That's five states (out of 25 that will have moved not including the four early states). And none of them have moved forward as of yet. It is still possible -- likely FHQ would argue -- that those states will all go later than they did in 2008. In fact, the safe bet is that the RNC "allows" these states to go throughout February, pushing Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina into January. Now, that wouldn't be the ideal calendar for the RNC -- at least not relative to the rules they laid out for the process -- but it will produce a far less frontloaded calendar than in 2008. The process may start just as early or maybe a hair less early in 2012 than in 2008, but that's really the only similarity between the two cycles. There will be no stampede. There may be a handful of states that push the issue, but it won't open up the floodgates. In fact, for the first time since 1996 or even earlier, there will be a fairly good distribution of primaries and caucuses across every month from January through June (assuming my prediction comes to pass). 2008, on the other hand, saw a mad rush at the beginning and then a trickle of contests from March until June.

The RNC won't get what it wants, but it won't have another 2008 on its hands either.

No comments: