Friday, December 20, 2013

Is South Carolina losing its early-primary luster?

Here we go again.

FHQ realizes that we are still roughly two years away from the presidential primary season kicking off in earnest and story ideas are limited. But come on. There's absolutely no need to keep rehashing these same stories over and over again. Remember four years ago when Iowa Republicans -- and the press folks who pushed the story -- were lamenting the fact that none of the (prospective) candidates were traipsing across the Hawkeye state wooing potential caucus-goers?

Well, now the dateline has changed. The worrywarts have moved south to the Palmetto state and the fortunes of the South Carolina primary in the context of the Republican nomination process. And it is all no more warranted in South Carolina than it was in Iowa four years ago.

The question, then: Is South Carolina losing its early-primary luster?


And the kicker here is that Ali Weinberg's piece at First Read says exactly why the answer is no. South Carolina Republicans haven't lost anything. In fact, unless the RNC fundamentally alters its primary rules between now and summer 2014, South Carolina will have gained leverage -- via the rules -- over the state's position in 2012. Not only does South Carolina have its position as one of the first four "carve-out" states to hold a nominating contest in 2016, but the state and the other three privileged states have up to a month before the next earliest contest in which to schedule their primaries or caucuses.

Does that guarantee "luster"?

I suppose that depends on how you want to define luster. If you define it -- as both the First Read and State items do -- as somehow hinging on this illusory notion of "picking presidents" then, yeah, perhaps South Carolina has lost one claim that has been able to trumpet in the context of Republican nominations since 1980. But come on. That's not luster.

The truth of the matter is that South Carolina will have either the third or fourth position in the Republican primary calendar in 2016, and with that comes something. FHQ won't call it luster. But it does offer South Carolina just what it has since 1980: a privileged position to have among the first cracks at importantly winnowing the field of candidates.

That's what these early contests do. Can they "pick presidents"? Sometimes. Do they always? Nope.  That really often depends on the idiosyncratic dynamics of a given nomination race and how it meanders through the sequence of delegate selection events.

As a postscript, FHQ does want to once again highlight something that looks to be, well, cumbersome to overcome for some during the 2016 cycle. Everyone keeps raising the specter of Florida. In this South Carolina discussion, it is that candidates would rather spend time in Florida than South Carolina. Of course, this is rooted in the activity -- the experience with -- the Sunshine state in the formation of the primary calendar these last two cycles.

But it really does look as if many -- at least the ones that are writing about these issues so early -- are ignoring reality. The assumption is that South Carolina will happen and then ten days later, the next contest will be in Florida. That was absolutely the case in 2008 and 2012.

It is not the case for 2016 as of now. And even if Florida was somehow immediately after South Carolina, the Florida primary would not be the only game in town that week.


Well, the way the primary election law is structured in Florida, the primary there falls on the earliest unpenalized date. If Republicans in Florida stick with a true winner-take-all allocation of delegates (and the RNC fixes the may/shall issue for the proportionality requirement1), then the Sunshine state primary will fall on the third Tuesday in March; well after where South Carolina will end up on the calendar.

Again, FHQ says "as of now" because the law can certainly be changed. But that just doesn't seem likely for now.

So, if you are into worrying about poor little ol' South Carolina and its primary, worry about Michigan and Arizona. They are more problematic to where the Palmetto primary will land.

…and it isn't clear that South Carolina really gives two shakes about either. Republicans there are only worried about being first in the South.

1 It looks like that is going to be the case.

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