Wednesday, August 3, 2011

RNC Chair Makes Clear Rules Will Be Enforced on Early, Non-Compliant Primary/Caucus States

Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, made quite plain in a Tampa press conference this morning that the RNC plans to stick to the enforcement of its 2012 delegate selection rules. More specifically this applied to the group of rogue states considering early and non-compliant primaries and caucuses.

“There is a pretty big desire by the committee to make sure rules are enforced,” he [Reince Priebus] said at a Tampa press conference this morning.
FHQ, as we have mentioned recently, has a different way of thinking about the environment in which the 2012 presidential primary is in at the current moment. The above statement from Priebus is nothing observers watching this process should not expect anyway. Of course the chair of the Republican Party is going to maintain a line in which he touts the rules the party has set for delegate selection in next year's presidential nomination race. That 50% delegate deduction is the only real weapon the national party has against potentially rogue states.

Priebus is going to flex whatever muscle he has on this issue, then. But it is still an open question if leaning on that penalty in public -- and in private possibly the fact that the party can stiffen the penalties on states in violation (Rule 16.e.3) -- will be enough to get states in line with the rules. In FHQ's estimation, that is not a possibility at this point with Florida, Arizona, Michigan and maybe Georgia and Colorado. The objective of the national party now is to prevent those rogue states from becoming "too rogue".

As we have maintained here at FHQ since the Arizona-to-January-31 possibility came to light, the 2012 calendar is in murky territory now. Most states have moved already or are on a path to moving into compliance with the national parties' rules. However, there are a handful of free agents where the aim is not clear; not publicly anyway. But that free agent status allows these states a freedom and flexibility unlike most other states. The Floridas, Michigans, Arizonas and Georgias of the world can wait later to decide on dates and that puts them in a position to negotiate with the national parties -- in this case the Republican Party -- for a prime spot on the calendar. And they can hold the possibility of calendar chaos over the national party's head as a bargaining chip.

That is what we are seeing now. Arizona, Florida, Michigan and others are threatening the calendar and the national party is responding. The response isn't any different from the Republican perspective than it was in 2008 and that did not and does not apparently wield enough power to outweigh these rogue states' willingness to defy the rules in order to have an impact over the nomination contest. Comments from Arizona governor, Jan Brewer's (R), spokesman, Matthew Benson, highlight the balance at the heart of a rogue state's decision making (via Mary Quinn O'Connor at Fox News):
"She is leaning towards January 31, a date that would put Arizona toward the front of the primary schedule," Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson told "She thinks it would be appropriate for voters in this state to really have an opportunity to weigh in on the selection of nominees for president."

"More than anything, she wants to make certain Arizona plays a central role in the nomination process... that they have the ability to see presidential candidates and sell their platforms," said Benson.

"There are consequences to moving in advance of March 6, but it is important to keep in mind that our state law gives the governor unilateral authority to move up the primary date," said Benson.

"Moving the primary date backward would require changing state law," said Benson. "It is a possibility. She is weighing the consequences of violating these rules but she is leaning towards moving it up." [emphasis is FHQ's]
Again, gentle public reminders are just that. It is what is happening behind closed doors between representatives of the states and the national party that is consequential -- not to mention difficult to follow -- now. What we do know is that these states want a place at the table with other early states. However, we don't know how compressed with other states they are willing to be nor how much influence they are after. The former very definitely affects the latter. And actors at the state level are wising up to that reality. There is a reason that some states opted to move back and hold delegate selection events in some cases concurrently with neighboring states: It potentially maximizes the attention a state receives from the candidates/media and the impact that state has. Compared to inching up to the very front of the calendar with a host of other states on Super Tuesday, it does anyway.

Regardless, we are in a behind closed doors period of negotiations that will play out throughout August and September before a final calendar is likely settled during October some time.

NOTE: One additional note of correction to that FOX News item linked to above. It is a good rundown of things with some helpful comments from the states and the RNC. However, the last paragraph is factually incorrect. Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, has to make a decision on a primary date at least 150 days in advance of the primary for the benefit of elections officials in the state, not the RNC. The RNC rules require states to inform the party of when they will hold primaries or caucuses on or before October 1. There is no 150 day buffer required by the RNC.

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