Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Potential North Carolina Presidential Primary Move from the Perspective of South Carolina

Here's the thing about North Carolina possibly moving its presidential primary from May to February. These sorts of actions never happen in a vacuum. That is certainly the case when one or more of the carve-out states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- are affected. It can even be true when the perception is that a threat is being exerted on any of the four.

Look, in the sequential game of presidential primary calendar formation, states -- state parties or state governments -- can virtually do whatever they want. They may face a (super) sanction from the national parties (see Florida and Michigan in 2008; Florida et al in 2012). They may face a boycott from some or all of the candidates (see Florida and Michigan on the Democratic side in 2008; Delaware in 1996). They may trigger a January (or earlier) beginning to primary season. States, then, can do many things, but there are very often (steep -- steeper over time) repercussions for those actions.

Let's assume for a moment that this bill passes the North Carolina General Assembly as is and is signed into law by Governor McCrory. Well, as FHQ mentioned last night, depending on the timing of the South Carolina primary, North Carolina may actually be able to hold a February primary and avoid a penalty (from the Republican National Committee1). That may help avoid the national party implications, but does not necessarily solve the candidate or other state issues that may arise in these types of moves/situations.

No, in fact, with Florida breathing down its neck over the last two cycles, South Carolina has all but (unofficially) institutionalized a week long buffer between its contest and the contests of the other states in the South. The Florida primaries in both 2008 and 2012 fell on the last Tuesday in January, and each time -- faced with the possibility of opting into a primary date the Saturday before -- South Carolina Republicans decided to jump to a point on the calendar 10 days ahead of Florida. In the Palmetto state, First in the South means first in the South; just like in First in the Nation means first in the nation in New Hampshire. But it isn't just that the moniker has some meaning. No, instead, first means first but with some time for the results of the contest to resonate; to impact the proceedings of any given presidential nomination race.

In fact, there was a failed effort to protect (and codify) this "at least seven days before" buffer in the South Carolina legislature just last year. No, it didn't pass, but in combination with the actions out of South Carolina over the last two cycles, the signs are telling. Ultimately, South Carolina would force North Carolina's hand if the Tarheel state went through with a plan to anchor its primary to South Carolina's. Newly emboldened by the (at least RNC) rules, South Carolina would inch up a week. The current RNC rules give the carve-out states a month before the next earliest contest to schedule their delegate selection events. That does not necessarily mean February unless the non-exempt states abide by the March 1 threshold. And Arizona and Michigan are already camped out in late February; forcing Iowa into late January more than likely.

But if South Carolina moves up a week -- from February 20 to February 13, 2016 -- then North Carolina Republicans are suddenly open to the Republican super penalty. Republicans in the state will have more delegates in 2016 due to Romney's win in the state, the Republican increases in the congressional delegation and unified control of North Carolina state government. That, in turn, will mean that the super penalty -- the reduction to 12 total delegates -- would hurt more; increasing from 78% of the original total of delegates to likely an over 80% hit.

Again, the game is sequential. North Carolina can move.

...but there will be repercussions. Starting with South Carolina and ending with significant penalties.

1 Again, this refers to the current RNC rules. Those are apt to change. Indeed, the RNC was unaware that this loophole existed as recently as late May. The intent of the rules coming out of the convention was to create a 50% penalty for states with contests prior to the first Tuesday in March and a super penalty -- violating states are reduced to 12 delegates -- for states with contests before the last Tuesday in February. That may or may not be what the final, actionable rules looks like when the RNC reviews its rules later this year and into next. [The Democratic Party has yet to begin the process of crafting their rules for the 2016 cycle. They will meet and elect the new members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee in Scottsdale, AZ in August.]

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