Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Few Notes on the Impact a Later Presidential Primary Would Have in Texas

Now, FHQ may have fanned the flames on this a little in the last line of last night's post on the hearing over the 2012 Texas primary election schedule. But let's take a step back for a moment and look at what happens in the event that the San Antonio district court forces a unified election on a date later than March 6. For starters, it seems like all parties to this case agree that it is probably impossible to resolve the issues inherent in the redistricting case, draw maps and have a timely response to those changes from local elections officials and filing candidates. In other words, either the Republican Party of Texas gets its wish for two primaries -- with the presidential primary continuing on March 6 -- or there will be a unified primary on some later date.

And yes, as Burnt Orange Report said last night, that we're talking about a state -- much less two -- changing its date in the middle of December before the primary season starts on January 3 is news enough. But that is where FHQ parts ways with how BOR assesses the impact of a potential date change for the Texas presidential primary. Well, FHQ agrees that it is an open question as to whether a later date -- especially post-April 1 -- would trigger a change in the winner-take-all versus proportional allocation methods within the Republican Party of Texas. But we will not overstate the nature of those potential changes.

As has been the case for a majority of this cycle, the broader discussion of the RNC delegate selection rules changes is being cast in black and white terms; that in this instance, Texas would be moving from completely proportional back to completely winner-take-all. That just simply is not the reality. A rules change (More on that in a moment.) that essentially reverted the Texas delegate selection process to the 2008 method -- see sections 8 and 9 toward the bottom of this RPT rules document -- would mean that Texas would change from being proportional to winner-take-all statewide and winner-take-all by congressional district. The winner-take-all allocation -- whether the at-large delegates based on the statewide vote or the three delegates per district based on the congressional district vote -- would only be triggered if one candidate won over 50% of the vote. Otherwise, the allocation would be proportional. And yes, there are some quirky combinations in there where the statewide vote could be winner-take-all for one candidate and another candidate wins a handful of congressional districts or where the statewide vote triggers proportional allocation and two or more candidates split winner-take-all allocation in some districts while others remain proportionally allocated.1

Again, there is a significant amount of gray area between those two -- proportional and winner-take-all -- extremes in the Republican National Committee delegate selection rules.

The more important question if the courts force a later presidential primary date on the Republican Party of Texas is IF -- or can -- the party will decide to revert to their pre-October State Republican Executive Committee meeting rules. [Here are the current rules.] Let's take the CAN first. In conversations with Texas Republicans, FHQ has always been told that RPT is like the RNC: rules changes can only be made at the state or national convention. Sure, the RNC changed that for the first time in the post-reform era during the 2008 convention, but the RPT has an out. In the case of emergencies the party can make rules changes outside of the state convention setting (see Rule 1C). A court order mandating a later presidential primary date may be such an emergency.

But would the party be motivated to make that change in the event the primary gets pushed back beyond April 1? In defense of the winner-take-all rules and a first Tuesday in April primary date, RPT chairman Steve Munisteri in an open letter to Texas Republicans made clear that the party was concerned it would lose half of its delegates to the convention if it was forced to keep the March 6 date and not switch to proportional allocation. [At the time they were arguing that the rules could not be changed outside of the convention.] Having proven that it prefers the winner-take-all allocation -- which was fine with the new RNC rules given the 50% barrier for winner-take-all allocation -- and that it can and has the willingness to change the delegate allocation rules away from the state convention, the Republican Party of Texas would presumably move to readopt the triggered winner-take-all rules.

...and that may happen with some Republicans in coming out in favor of one unified primary.

There should be some resolution to this by the end of the week as hearings in San Antonio are scheduled for both Thursday and Friday.

1 The proportional allocation of 3 congressional district delegates -- assuming no one candidate receives over 50% of the vote -- is done by allocating two delegates to the top vote getter and one to the runner-up. That allocation is in order so long as those two candidates are also over the 20% mark in the vote total within that district.

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Anonymous said...

RNC Rule 15(b) required the RPT to commit to a primary date and delegate allocation method on October 1st. Moving the primary later presumably would not disturb the RNC. Changing the delegate allocation method is not possible now.

Josh Putnam said...

There were several other states that made changes to their plans after October 1.

A change may not be probable, but it is potentially a possibility.

...if the desire exists within RPT to make the change.