Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Few Thoughts on the Missouri Caucuses

  • Rules
  • Not a one day caucus: The March 17 caucus date was not one that was universally adopted statewide throughout Missouri. Caucusing began as early as March 13 and will continue until March 24.
  • Rules, part two: Jeff Zeleny had a nice piece of reporting in the New York Times yesterday; pointing out that at least one county caucus had adopted an internal rule to bind all of their delegates -- the ones moving on to the next steps of the process -- based on the results of the non-binding primary held in the Show Me state on February 7. That adds a new layer to the process in Missouri.
Now, FHQ has dealt with the subtleties of a multi-day caucus before, but this new wrinkle of binding delegates moving from one step to the next is something that warrants some attention.1 First of all, this is an opportunity for Santorum to potentially show some organizational prowess or to at the very least demonstrate that he and his campaign can marshall such an effort. Secondly, this is a shrewd procedural maneuver, whether orchestrated by the Santorum campaign or by forces outside of his campaign passionate about throwing up any and every roadblock to Romney getting to 1144. And honestly, there is nothing in the Missouri Republican Party rules for delegate selection to prevent this. It is a procedural move well within the guidelines of the Robert's Rules for Order. These rules govern not only the Missouri caucuses, but many of the other caucuses as well. There is nothing to prevent someone at a meeting operating under these rules from proposing such a rule -- to bind the delegates -- and another from motioning to have it voted upon. 

And no, this isn't just in Missouri. As mentioned above, most of the other caucus states operate under the Robert's rules. That means that Missouri could be a trial run for similar actions elsewhere. So long as there is nothing in the state party rules on delegate selection specifically prohibiting the binding of delegates and that the vote passes on the rule passes, then there is no reason that this would not or could not happen in other caucus states. 

In truth, many of the caucus state to have held votes already produce unbound delegates at the end of the process. But that is a technicality in a couple of respects. First, if someone has a preexisting candidate preference already, being dubbed "unbound" is next to meaningless. It just means the delegate is free to choose (...the candidate they preferred in the first place). Secondly, since there could be some argument made that the system is supposed to create an unbound delegation, the binding of delegates could be challenged in house -- at the state convention. That could happen, but what the binding in Brunswick County, Missouri demonstrated was that there is a loophole that could be exploited within the caucus system. The Missouri delegation is bound in the end -- unlike, say, Iowa or Colorado -- but what the action Thursday night pointed out was that it is possible potentially to bind delegates at the earlier steps of the process without necessarily binding them at the end of the process. 

...even though, technically, those delegates would have a preference because of the binding filter they had been run through. 

If you, like FHQ, were wondering how Rick Santorum could be reasonably confident on Meet the Press last week that he and his campaign could pick off the majority of unbound delegates in some of these caucus states, then this likely sheds some light on the matter. Santorum had already done well in a great many of these caucuses, so his campaign already had something of an advantage, but this could open the door to procedural/organizational advantage that could aid the campaign in potentially overperforming his straw poll performances. That will take some organization and some ground troops anyway, but this type of procedural move requires only a majority of the voting caucus-goers to bind. 

The only problem is that once word gets out, other campaigns can do the same thing and or organize against such efforts. [UPDATE: It is also a less effective strategy if two other campaigns work together against this or any other effort within the caucuses. Think West Virginia 2008.]

Getting all the unbound delegates doesn't get Santorum to 1144, but it would help him close on Romney in the delegate count and prop him up at a contested convention; the only play they have at this point. This bears watching. 

1 The basic take home is that multi-day events have the potential to expose one group of voters to an external political shock to which those who have already voted would not be exposed. In other words, there is not a constant political climate; it is ever-changing. The same has been said of early voting. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does the RNC rule below prevent the State Convention to bind National Convention delegates to the results of the February primary?

"No primary, caucus, or convention to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to the national convention shall occur prior to the first Tuesday in March in the year in which a national convention is held."