William March at Tampa Bay Online has a nice rundown of some of the Florida-based reactions to the monkeywrench Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) has thrown into the Sunshine state's effort to schedule the fifth presidential nominating contest. Obviously, Florida's efforts to squeeze a primary into a technically non-compliant, early March date -- March 1, 2 or 3 -- and securing a spot behind Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and just those four states is being complicated by Arizona's potential move to January 31.
That said, the funny thing -- and it is embedded right in the article linked above -- is that Arizona probably should have been viewed as a threat all along. William March correctly identifies the fact that Arizona has a presidential primary scheduled for February 28 and that the governor there is considering moving the primary to January 31.1 But missing is the very real fact that the legislature in the Grand Canyon state did nothing to address the presidential primary date during its already-adjourned session earlier this year and that essentially locked the state into at the latest that February 28 date.
February 28 is a date that is already ahead of the early March date Florida has been eying for the last several weeks.
To me, that is troubling. The Republican Party of Florida and the RNC should not have been caught off guard by this. Arizona has been sitting out there as a legitimate threat since the legislature adjourned in April. That threat has now grown with Governor Brewer considering a January 31 date for the Arizona primary. But we are all left wondering why it took last week's news to bring the position Arizona was in to the attention of everyone.
FHQ doesn't have an answer. However, it is important to look at the reactions from Florida. First of all, the quote from Brewer's spokesman is worth highlighting:
"It [the Arizona primary date] is not set in stone," Benson said, "but the governor is leaning toward Jan. 31."
That language is consistent with the negotiation angle FHQ speculated about last week; that Brewer was only throwing January 31 out there as an opening offer to get everyone's attention. Attention received, Arizona can negotiate with the RNC and Florida (and Michigan and Georgia, too perhaps) for an advantageous position on the calendar.
And that brings us back to what Florida may do in response to a hypothetical Arizona move to January 31:
In a news conference Wednesday, Florida GOP Chairman Dave Bitner said he and national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus are working to reach a "win-win" solution, but gave no hint what it might be."The fact that Arizona might move, I don't think will play a significant role," Bitner said, but didn't explain why.
Let me address that second point first. Arizona won't play a significant role mainly because Florida's Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee has the latitude to schedule the primary as early as January 3. That wouldn't be ideal for Florida given the recent news that the state was attempting to position itself in early March, but Arizona is not a threat to Florida going fifth. That is, as long as the powers-that-be in the Sunshine state are willing to pull the trigger on a move deeper into January.
This win-win solution that the RNC and Florida Republicans are working on is an interesting piece of information. Again, I have no inside knowledge of what is going on, but as FHQ mentioned last week, the RNC does not want any -- or any more -- calendar chaos. The party, furthermore, would probably like to avoid a scenario where Arizona forces the early four states as well as Florida, Arizona, Michigan and maybe Georgia into January. That leaves a big gap between the end of January and when contests are likely to pick back up again in March.
The RNC rules allow the Standing Committee on Rules to tighten the screws on states in violation of the RNC rules on delegates selection (Rule 16.e.3). The committee can go beyond the 50% delegation deduction in an effort to force compliance. And I strongly suspect the national party is utilizing that rule behind closed doors in an attempt to get what they want from Florida, Arizona and any other state that might throw the calendar into disarray. It is the only real weapon the national party has.
I don't want to rehash a previous post, but I do have a theory about what this "win-win solution" might be. In addition to the calendar chaos and February gap the national party may not desire, the list of rogue states wants a place at the table of early contests. If the RNC can broker a calendar between itself and the list of rogue states, the most ideal alignment would look something like this:
Monday, January 9, 2012: Iowa (but see comments below)Tuesday, January 17: New HampshireTuesday, January 24: South CarolinaSaturday, January 28: NevadaTuesday, January 31: FloridaTuesday, February 7: ColoradoTuesday, February 14: ArizonaTuesday, February 21 or 28: Michigan (and maybe Georgia on one of those dates)
No, the RNC does not want primaries and caucuses to begin on January 9, but if that is what it takes to keep the early four states out of 2011 and gives each of the potential rogue states a stand-alone chance to bask in the spotlight of a presidential nomination race, then that is probably the most appropriate course of action. It doesn't mean it won't be a bitter pill for the RNC to swallow and leaves completely up in the air the question of how the rogue states would be treated in terms of the penalties. It would be a dangerous precedent for the party to set if it chose not to penalize those rogue states in some way. However, if the national party is of a mind that they are going to more seriously address the rules for 2016 and fundamentally rewrite them in some way, the RNC may not care.
In any event, the 2012 calendar carousel continues to spin. When it stops or how it is resolved is anyone's guess at this point.
1 Governor Brewer can use the power of proclamation to move the date up, and only up, from the fourth Tuesday in February to a more advantageous, earlier position.