Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Red Flags Raised, Some Comments on the Georgia Presidential Primary Situation

In yesterday's post FHQ questioned the Republican National Committee's ability to have a firm presidential primary calendar in place by the October 1; deadline by which state Republican parties must have informed the RNC about their method and mode of presidential delegate selection. Part of what came out of that discussion was not only that Arizona, Florida and Michigan (most likely) will be required by state law to set the dates of their presidential primaries by then, but that Georgia casts a long shadow over the process of setting the calendar in stone. Again, that advantage is structural. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has until December 1 to issue a decision on when the Peach state will hold its presidential primary next year. Arizona, Florida and Michigan (again, most likely) will have until the October 1 deadline to decide based on their own respective state election laws.

Georgia, then, is a potential threat if only because it is afforded the opportunity to sit back and wait as the other states settle on primary dates. Secretary Kemp can then place the Georgia primary at a place on the calendar that maximizes the attention the Peach state receives from the candidates and media during next year's presidential primaries.

But here's the catch: No one really knows just how willing Kemp is to flaunt the RNC delegate selection rules on timing. Sure, there's been talk of jumping ahead of March 6 if Florida does or coupling the Georgia primary with the primary in Florida. The secretary also recently mentioned that he would be inclined to wait as long or longer than Iowa and New Hampshire to set a date. Invoking Iowa and New Hampshire, at least, signals some willingness to move forward; not necessarily to challenge their position but to make a decision based on the fullest amount of information available. In other words, the decision on the primary calendar -- the full calendar -- is not likely to be known by October 1.

Kemp, then, has the ability to move the primary forward, but the willingness to this point remains an unknown. FHQ would like to focus on the ability for a few moments because it doesn't seem to be fully understood at this point. I keep reading in various places across the internet that Georgia's law allows the secretary the ability to set the Georgia primary for as early as January 31. That is partially true and additionally is something that I didn't explain fully in this space when the Georgia General Assembly first proposed its legislation ceding authority to set the presidential primary date to the secretary of state. Yes, Secretary Kemp can set the date, technically, as early as Monday, January 30, sixty days after the December 1 deadline. Of course, this is only a partial reading of the law. As I pointed out in FHQ's Primer for when the remaining undecided states may decide on primary states, the law allows the secretary the ability to set the date for any time in the calendar presidential year ahead of the second Tuesday in June.

Any time.

In other words, so long as Secretary Kemp makes a decision 60 days before the primary, it can be any date between January 1 and June 12. As I pointed out in the primer, if Georgia wanted to go as Florida's state law allows its Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to schedule the primary in the Sunshine state (January 3), Secretary Kemp has the ability to do that as long as the decision is made before November 3. And back to yesterday's point, that could keep the presidential primary calendar in doubt until at least then with decisions in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to follow.

Again, though, we just don't know enough about Kemp's willingness to push the envelope that far (January 3).

One other point I wanted to address concerns not so much the setting of the date, but the allocation of the delegates in the primary independent of the date. Actually, the date matters because if Georgia holds a primary prior to April 1, the state Republican Party will have to alter the winner-take-all method by which it allocates delegates; something Jim Galloway of the AJC mentioned in a post over the weekend. Galloway, as so many others have done, is overstating the issue here. Yes, Georgia Republicans allocate delegates on a winner-take-all basis, but it does so not in terms of a candidate winning a plurality vote and taking all the delegates. Instead the allocation is split between the congressional districts and the statewide vote. FHQ has already torn down this notion, but it bears repeating. A candidate who wins the vote in a congressional district, wins all three delegates that district is apportioned according to the RNC rules. That is winner-take-all and the process of allocating those 42 delegates remains compliant with the current Republican rules. What is not compliant about the Georgia plan -- at least as it has been in the past -- is that the remaining statewide and bonus delegates can no longer be allocated by winner-take-all rules if the primary is before April 1. The rules regarding the allocation of those 30 delegates (10 base, at-large delegates and 20 bonus delegates) will have to be altered in some way by the Georgia Republican Party. That, in some way, will affect Kemp's calculus, though not as much as the prospect of seeing Peach state Republicans' delegate total whittled down to 38 in the event the party opts to hold an early, non-compliant primary.

And that is the one bit of information that we don't have: Is Kemp willing to take the delegate hit in exchange for early influence over the Republican nomination race?

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