Wednesday, August 28, 2013

North Carolina is the New Missouri

...or How the 2015-16 North Carolina presidential primary process could look like Missouri's in 2011-12.

Now that North Carolina has jumped up the calendar and out of compliance with at least the Republican National Committee rules for 2016, it sets in motion the now-quadrennial dance between the national parties and would-be rogue states. North Carolina is now firmly lodged in that "rogue" area. And FHQ has mentioned several times in reaction to the 2016 presidential primary calendar provocation out of North Carolina recently that the move may result -- depending on how the process within North Carolina goes between now and 2015-16 -- in North Carolina Republicans (and perhaps even Democrats) being forced into utilizing caucuses as a means of allocating delegates.

That point came up again in the recent AP look at the aftermath and ramifications of the North Carolina presidential primary move. The caucus route is still a potential end point for one or both parties in North Carolina in 2016, but it is one of several options:
  1. North Carolina does nothing, takes the penalty and heads to the 2016 Republican National Convention with 12 delegates and a reduced number on the Democratic side as well.
  2. The North Carolina General Assembly does nothing, but one or more of the state parties opts for a later and compliant caucus to avoid penalty from either or both of the national parties. Call this the Missouri Route.
  3. The North Carolina General Assembly could reverse that part of the new law and move the primary back to May where it started.
  4. The North Carolina General Assembly could keep the separate presidential primary, but move it back to, say, March 1 -- the first date on which non-carve-out states can schedule delegate selection events -- or consolidate all the primaries again, but hold them in March and not May. 
Those are all viable options for decision-makers in the Tarheel state. And at least according to the AP piece, there are some within the legislature -- state Representative David Lewis, who is also the RNC committeeman from the state -- who say the issue could likely be revisited. Rep. Lewis even put a nice spin on the move -- anchoring the North Carolina primary to South Carolina's -- by saying that it was meant to "signal that we wanted North Carolina to be a more relevant player in the selection of the nominees".

But how is North Carolina potentially staring down a switch to caucuses in 2016? How is North Carolina like Missouri?

First of all, suffice it to say, there is a lot of time between now and 2015, much less 2016. In other words, much can and will happen between now and then. That said, there are echoes of what happened in Missouri in 2011 in the North Carolina discussion.1 Rep. Lewis, for instance, isn't the only member of the General Assembly with an opinion on the matter. Granted, he is a powerful voice given his position on the Republican National Committee, but he is not the only voice.

Over in the state Senate, Andrew Brock (R-34th -- Davie, Iredell and Rowan), who has brought up bills to move the North Carolina presidential primary for years, seemed/seems less willing to move the election. More importantly, Sen. Brock appears prepared to take on any delegate penalty in exchange for influence over the process (via the AP):
"I would gladly exchange my position as a delegate in exchange for having more North Carolinians in the presidential process."
Now, it may be a leap to say that a difference of opinion among two members of the North Carolina General Assembly will or could derail any move to avoid national party penalty, but those sorts of differences did just that in Missouri in 2011. It helps the comparison that there was division among the two legislative chambers in Missouri and we have different ideas about the North Carolina primary represented by members in North Carolina; one from the state Senate, the other from the state House.

The question, though, is whether either side -- move back or stay early -- has enough support to serve as veto point on the other. Though there has been enough support to push a move through in Missouri during the regular session of the legislature, there wasn't in the decisive special session. The idea of being early -- the lure of it -- was too strong.

But does that sort of division exist in the North Carolina situation?

We shall see. The North Carolina presidential primary is now early and noncompliant with RNC rules. Are the penalties enough to right the ship (...triggering either options #3 or #4 above)?  Is there a compromise position that can be met in the meantime ( the second of the two options in #4 above)? If the answer is no to either of those and a veto point in the coordination problem that is setting the primary date exists in the process then the "do nothing" part of option #1 becomes much more likely. That also, in turn, likely means the North Carolina Republican Party steps in to avoid penalties by switching to caucuses.

But there are hints of Missouri in what is happening so far since North Carolina moved. Whether they are there in the future -- and to what extent -- is a question for 2014 when the North Carolina General Assembly reconvenes.

1 To quickly recap, the Missouri General Assembly voted during its regular session in 2011 to move the presidential primary from February to March and back into compliance with both national parties' delegate selection rules. That bill was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon because it also contained a provision that would have limited gubernatorial power in filling vacancies to various statewide offices. Even the initial regular session passage was not without fanfare. Some -- particularly in the Missouri Senate -- wanted to keep the primary early despite the penalties. That same division -- mostly occurring along line separating the two chambers of the Missouri General Assembly -- emerged again with the presidential primary issue was raised at during the 2011 special session that was called. In the context of that session the division became gridlock and the bill, after passing the House, went nowhere in the Senate. That meant no move for Missouri. Even steps after that in the special session to eliminate the presidential primary -- to save the state money -- failed. And in the midst of all of that -- and out of fear of the penalties from the RNC -- the Missouri Republican Party chose to hold caucuses for allocating their convention delegates.

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