Friday, October 21, 2011

Iowa Democrats to Caucus on January 3 -- And a Postscript

Joining their state Republican Party counterparts, the Iowa Democratic Party last night voted unanimously to hold January 3 caucus meetings. The delegate selection process will begin on January 3 and continue with county conventions on March 10 and district conventions on April 28 before wrapping up at the state convention on June 16.


FHQ has talked a great deal about the institutional advantages that New Hampshire has in this primary calendar date-setting process. But Iowa remains up front for various and different reasons as well. What the two share is both willingness and ability to do whatever it takes to stay at the beginning of the process. New Hampshire and Iowa have shared the willingness to be up front all along, but what separates each from the other states is ability to actually go early. What has changed over the last couple of presidential nomination cycles, though, is that the gap in ability is closing. New Hampshire, as we have witnessed over the last several weeks, has delegated the authority to set the date of the Granite state primary to just one person, the secretary of state. That insulates New Hampshire from the timing of state legislative sessions (when they are actually in session and can move the date of the primary), the partisan and institutional gridlock that can take place in those legislatures over something so seemingly simple as a primary date, and the sorts of inter-party conflicts that can occur across parties in caucus states.

To that latter point, FHQ should mention that this is where Iowa has been quite good over the years. The Democratic and Republican parties -- and recall state parties are making the decisions on the dates in most caucus states -- in Iowa have traditionally presented a united front in terms of the date of the precinct caucuses. If you can't or won't be a primary state, the next best thing is to act like a primary state. To the extent that the two parties in any state can act in concert, it is to their advantage. The goal of being early is to maximize the attention paid to the state, and if Democrats and Republicans in Iowa or any other caucus state can hold caucuses on the same date, it prevents the attention from being diluted.

Look no further than the Nevada example in 2011. The Nevada Republican Party moved the caucuses up and had the Nevada Democrats join them this week only to now appear as if they [NVGOP] will move back to February to accommodate the RNC and New Hampshire. Now, the Democrats in Nevada can pull out the chicken costumes and area reporters can say the Nevada Republicans caved, but that isn't entirely fair. Sure from the perspective of Nevada Democrats, if you want to be an early state you have to act like an early state -- mimic Iowa -- but this also points out the differences between Iowa and Nevada. Iowa has institutionalized the notion of both parties going on the same date. Nevada has not. Iowa can use that against the national parties in a way that Nevada either could or would not. And it should be noted that theoretically the national party should -- all things held equal -- be able to twist arms better with a state party than with a state government or an official therein. Bill Gardner may be a Democrat, but as secretary of state, he is apolitical when it comes to protecting both New Hampshire law and the position of the primary. He is above threats from either national party.

But why did the RNC go after Nevada and not Iowa?

Mostly that happened because Iowa acted in a way to end the push toward a 2011 start to the primary season. They set a January 3 date -- still early but in 2012 -- and that shifted the discussion from the vantage point of the RNC to one of how to fit everyone else in. And because of Gardner's position, it was always going to be easier to deal with Nevada than New Hampshire. The threats and incentives matter to the Nevada GOP in a way that they won't and never will to Gardner in New Hampshire.

So no, it isn't fair to say that the Nevada Republicans caved or will cave if they opt to move back in their state central committee meeting tomorrow. They could have carried on resisting a change, but that would have meant a short term gain at the expense of the state's longer term prospects for staying at the front. But this is a lesson to both parties in Nevada: act in concert in the future if you want to most effectively retain your early position.

...and do so before the last few months in the calendar-setting process.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nevada also may lack the ability to hold caucuses successfully on weeknights the way Iowa does. Why is Nevada not going to hold their caucuses on Tues. Jan. 17? Is there a good reason why they would consider going fifth instead of third in the nation? If they had a history of holding caucuses on a weeknight, they could manage to go third this cycle without the threat of candidate boycotts.