Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bill Gardner Discusses New Hampshire/Nevada on Face to Face

Jon Ralston tonight on Face to Face took a call from New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner to chat about the next looming conflict to determine the final 2012 presidential primary calendar.1 At issue, as FHQ has discussed, is the discrepancy between the longstanding New Hampshire election law that requires seven days between the primary in the Granite state and the immediately subsequent primary or caucus and a newly-enacted Nevada Republican Party resolution tethering the party's caucuses to the Saturday following the New Hampshire primary. Many have tried the same thing and many have failed. As Secretary Gardner stated in the interview, several states in the 1990s attempted unsuccessfully to schedule their contests for the same date as New Hampshire. Wyoming Republicans in 2007 had a similar resolution to Nevada's on the books before rewriting it and moving the state's county meetings to January 5. Delaware scheduled a Saturday after New Hampshire primary in 2000 but it was non-binding on the Democratic delegate selection process in the First state.

The point is, Bill Gardner has seen a great number of states challenge New Hampshire's first in the nation status, but none has succeeded. The man is undefeated in keeping New Hampshire first since he -- the only secretary of state in New Hampshire during the time -- was given the authority to set the date in 1976 (based on the 1975 law cited in the segment below). If only for that reason alone, it might be worth taking Gardner at his word that New Hampshire will get what it wants: a seven day buffer between it and any subsequent contest.

But why?

Part of it, as I have mentioned, is that there is a collective desire on the part of the early, exempt states to avoid pushing this into December. To cross that barrier means to put the privileged positions the early states enjoy even further under microscope when the next round of delegate selection rules is crafted starting during the conventions next year, but in earnest during 2014. None wants to be the one to push the calendar into December, but I take Gardner at his word that he will do that if that is the only way to preserve New Hampshire's status. I would contend that it is a bluff, but we have never and probably will never know because when these sorts of conflicts arise, New Hampshire is not the one to blink.

Again, why?

New Hampshire is good at what it does. No, not necessarily in terms of picking nominees or presidents, but in quickly and flawlessly staging early presidential primaries. There is likely not another state that can more quickly get the infrastructure in place to hold a presidential primary. That ability coupled with the flexibility of the date decision resting in the hands of just one actor has made New Hampshire an unparalleled force at the front of the presidential nomination process throughout the post-reform era and stretching back further still.

New Hampshire can play chicken, then, like no other. They can wait and wait and wait, all the time knowing that they can put a primary together quicker than their competition and run it more smoothly. That places a great deal of pressure on other states. Not only is the clock running down on them to decide, but they too have to get a presidential nomination contest planned, prepped and ready to go.

And in this particular instance, Gardner and New Hampshire have a trump card. They know full well that every second is going to count for the Nevada Republican Party based on the party's mismanaged caucus convention system four years ago. South Carolina was on the same date and even with the candidates' attention on the Palmetto state, Nevada had problems in its trial run as an early state contest. Those problems persisted throughout the process. Ron Paul, who finished second at the precinct level, had enough delegates make it through to completely disrupt the 2008 state convention. It was cancelled and the state party's central committee chose the delegates to attend the convention in St. Paul. And as of a month and a half ago, the planning was still underway for 2012.

Not wanting to repeat that and not knowing when the caucuses will ultimately be held will weigh heavily on the Nevada Republican Party between now and their October 22 central committee meeting. And Bill Gardner will still be talking about going in December then. That would give Nevada Republicans less than two months to prepare for their caucuses if they are to go on the Saturday following New Hampshire. That won't be ideal for them.

...and Bill Gardner knows it.

1 Below is the Face to Face show from October 3. The segment in which Bill Gardner appears is right after the opening and some other news.

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MysteryPolitico said...

Clearly, Gardner can wait out Nevada and maintain the 7 day window with them if he wants to. The question is whether he can do so while also preventing the primary season from beginning in December.

Let's say Nevada comes out tomorrow with a statement that they're going to caucus on Saturday, Jan. 14, which is one preferred date mentioned in this article:


What's your best guess for what happens then? NH primary on Jan. 3, and Iowa caucus in December? Or is Iowa being pushed into December sufficiently disastrous for the early states that Gardner would either consider going on a Saturday, or going less than 7 days before Nevada?

Or would it be so disastrous for Iowa to go in December that they would even consider (*gasp*) going a few days after NH, just to stay in January? My recollection from 2008 is that not only did the Iowa GOP set their caucus date before NH did, but they maintained ambiguity about whether they'd be open to changing it if Gardner pushed NH up into December. Is a December caucus terrible enough for Iowa that they'd be willing to go second in order to avoid it?

Josh Putnam said...

If the Nevada GOP decides first and chooses January 14, the most likely outcome is that New Hampshire ends up on January 3. This non-Saturday idea will get some press and that will likely put some pressure on Gardner, but not enough to tip the balance (In fact, probably not even close to tipping the balance.).

Iowa Republicans and Democrats both decided prior to New Hampshire in 2007 -- both prior to the deadlines in both parties to set a date. On the Republican side that was September 24 and for Democrats, it was, I'll have to check, but September 15 rings a bell. Those January 3 dates in 2008 were set in stone as far as I know when the decisions were made in late August/early September. There was, in other words, no thought of revisiting the timing of the caucuses in either party following New Hampshire's decision in late November.

As to Iowa holding caucuses after New Hampshire as a means of avoiding December, that is counter to everything the Iowa GOP has said. IAGOP Chair Matt Strawn has made it quite clear that unlike 2008, they will decide after New Hampshire. Though that doesn't scream "We're going first," it does imply it. They may think about that post-New Hampshire option, but about as seriously as Gardner will consider a non-Tuesday primary for New Hampshire.

Caucuses in Iowa midweek between Christmas and New Years would be most likely. That would most likely mean a less than eight day window between Iowa and New Hampshire like 2008.