Monday, September 26, 2011

Colorado Republican Precinct Caucuses Shifted Up to February 7

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The Colorado Republican Party State Central Committee voted at their fall meeting on Saturday, September 24 to move the precinct caucuses up four weeks -- as parties are allowed to do according to state law passed prior to the 2008 cycle -- to February 7.1 Date-wise, the move is seemingly out of compliance with Republican National Committee rules on delegate selection. However, as there are no delegates directly allocated to the national convention in Tampa at that level of the caucus/convention process, the new position is rules-compliant.

As FHQ has mentioned previously, this is not new. Iowa and Nevada both skirted Republican National Committee rules in 2008 under similar circumstances. Nevada Republicans have since altered their rules as a means of attracting candidate attention, and while neither Iowa nor Nevada were proactively attempting to defy national party rules in 2008,2 both ended up bringing attention to a loophole in the Republican delegate selection rules that is now being exploited by at least three caucus states -- Colorado, Maine and Minnesota.

The Colorado Republican caucuses now bring to four the number of contests currently scheduled for Tuesday, February 7,3 a date the media continue to point out is just a day after the Iowa caucuses. That is true, but most outlets are not following that up by pointing out that the date in Iowa is contingent upon the dates in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia. Those states will decide if Colorado, Maine and Minnesota are true threats to their positions on the calendar and whether Iowa will, in fact, end up on February 6 as laid out in the Democratic National Committee rules for delegate selection.4 It is and has been a safe bet for a while now that Iowa will not be holding caucuses on February 6. There is a slim, outside chance of that, but only probably equal to or slightly greater than the probability that the first four states kick off primary season in December. In other words, neither are happening. In fact, the major campaigns are and have been behaving as if the calendar will begin at some point in January. The only remaining question is when. That is something that will continue to be defined over the course of the next few weeks.

No, don't look for everything to fall in place on or before October 1 -- the deadline by which the RNC requires delegate selection plans to be in place. Things will get clearer with the Florida decision later this week, but the calendar will not be finalized then. There is no penalty for deciding beyond that date.

1 The following are the resolutions voted on and passed by the Colorado Republican Party State Central Committee on Saturday and passed on to FHQ by Colorado Republican Party Chair Ryan Call:
Precinct Caucus Date Resolution Draft.revised

Embedded in the resolutions are the primary -- public -- motivations behind the move: more attention, a full slate of active Republican candidates, energizing the Republican base, more preparation time for local party/elections officials. At the end of the day, February 7 was a legal move for the party to make with respect to Colorado state law, and it was a less-crowded date than March 6. That, along with the fact that there were no national party penalties associated with the move, made for a recipe for a February 7 date for precinct caucuses.

2 Both were merely following traditional practices on the state level in terms of how and at what point in the caucus/convention process both were allocating delegates. For instance, even if there had been penalties levied against caucus states, Iowa and Nevada Republicans still would have moved up. Iowa Republicans would have to maintain their first-in-the-nation status and Nevada Republicans would have to match the move made by Nevada Democrats who won the ability to hold an exempt contest from the DNC. It isn't clear that Colorado Republicans would have opted to move to February 7 if it would have meant taking a 50% delegate hit. In fact, it is probably safe to assume that they would not have.

3 The legislature has passed legislation to move the New Jersey presidential primary to June, but that bill has not been signed to this point by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In Missouri, special session legislation to move the primary there to March is still mired in an inter-chamber squabble that could extend into November.

4 To reiterate a point made here several times, but one that is not made clear in most accounts of the situation, the RNC rules do not specify dates for the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. The rules only guideline on timing is that those contests occur at some point in February (but not before). Ideally, they would match up with the Democratic contests in those states, but it isn't a requirement. Only New Hampshire is guaranteed to have Democratic and Republican primaries on the same date. Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina have more state party influence over the date and do not have the uniformity called for in New Hampshire law (as it is in most primary states).

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GeorgeC said...

What about Louisiana's Jan 24 caucus? It does not seem to get much attention, does it have any significant differences from CO and MN?

Anonymous said...

It seems that the Republican Party is going to have to do something in the next few weeks if the legislative impass is not fixed in Missouri. According to a Feb 7 primary, the filing deadline would be Oct 22. Then they also have to file their delegate selection plan in October. I don't think they can wait until November to file it.

Josh Putnam said...

That's a good question, George. I have not seen a copy of the Louisiana GOP's delegate selection rules in the time since it was reported in May that the state party was considering a late January date for the caucuses.

Louisiana Republicans caucused similarly in 2008 and it came a few days after South Carolina Republicans held their primary. I suspect South Carolina would probably take a similar view in 2012 if Louisiana ends up holding caucuses on January 24. Palmetto state Republicans will protect that first in the South status.

We shall see.