The governor also dismissed any suggestion that Iowa might move away from its traditional caucus system in light of a Republican National Committee report earlier this year discouraging caucuses and conventions as nominating processes. Those formats, rather than a traditional balloted primary, sometimes gives impassioned activists more of an ability to sway the outcome.
"I don't think that we could go to a primary without being in a conflict situation with New Hampshire," Branstad said. "And we've always had a wonderful understanding and agreement with New Hampshire that we would have the first caucus, and they would have the first primary. I think that system has worked well, and I'd like to see us keep it.""Understanding and agreement" aside, Branstad is correct in pointing out the potential conflict that an Iowa shift from caucuses to a primary would have with the the law on the books in the Granite state:
Presidential Primary Election. The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, or holds a caucus or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous. Said primary shall be held in connection with the regular March town meeting or election or, if held on any other day, at a special election called by the secretary of state for that purpose. Any caucus of a state first held before 1975 shall not be affected by this provision.There are a couple of noteworthy items here.
1) As it stands now, Iowa adopting a primary as the mode of delegate selection would seemingly violate the New Hampshire law. A primary would a) not be a caucus and b) could be deemed by New Hampshire Secretary (of state) Gardner a "contest at which delegates are chosen for the national convention". Though, it should be noted that that interpretation provides the secretary wide latitude. Technically delegates are not chosen for the national convention in a primary unless either a) the delegates are on the primary ballot and elected directly on the day of the primary or b) there is a simultaneous caucus/state convention occurring alongside the primary.
In the typical scenario, the primary would only bind delegates (to be chosen later through a caucus/convention system) to particular candidates. Secretary Gardner could then justify allowing an Iowa primary before New Hampshire. However, that would run the risk of applying a different rationale to Iowa than any other similar primary state. Why Iowa, then, and not some other primary state? Of course, the national parties will or would have already singled Iowa out relative to other primary states. The rules of both parties -- as one can best envision them at this point in 2013 -- exempt Iowa but not other states. That is significant. The national party rules, then, make Iowa dissimilar to other states, but would an Iowa primary be too similar to New Hampshire under the law there. There is probably enough wiggle room in the current law to allow it if, you know, Iowa actually decided to adopt a primary as a means of allocating national convention delegates.
Ideally, that last line in the law -- first added to the New Hampshire presidential primary law before 2012 -- would or could be altered to directly identify Iowa or by accounting for the national party exemption.
2) Another interesting twist -- question, really -- is what the new Republican rules do to the Iowa-New Hampshire relationship. Recall that the RNC members at the 2013 spring meeting in Los Angeles reaffirmed the new rule handed down from the Tampa convention that statewide contests be binding. In other words, if statewide precinct-level contests are binding, then potentially an Iowa caucus or primary violates the "or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions" portion of the law. Granted, that is an or provision and not an and provision. Iowa would only have to meet one of those requirements to comply with the New Hampshire law (or perhaps more appropriately to not trigger the New Hampshire-side reaction -- earlier primary -- in law).
But let's assume (just for fun) that Iowa -- caucus or primary -- had to meet that specific part of the law. Would the Hawkeye state with a binding Republican contest run afoul of Secretary Gardner in New Hampshire? No, again, the language is important: delegates chosen. Unless either of the primary exceptions above are built in, then Iowa would be fine. Keep in mind that the Iowa Democratic caucuses have been binding according to the DNC delegate selection rules for quite a number of cycles now. And that has never served as a point of contention in New Hampshire.
Neither would a binding Republican contest; primary or caucus.
There were some issues with the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, but those were never problems that were not solvable by a means other than switching to a primary as the mode of delegate allocation. FHQ would be surprised if a switch is made and even if it was, it would not necessarily conflict with the law.
That said, if you're New Hampshire, it is awfully difficult to the hold the nation's first primary second. That's where Branstad's reference to understanding and agreement is key.