Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why North Carolina is the Biggest Threat to the 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar

FHQ runs the risk, perhaps, of over-North Carolinaing this North Carolina presidential primary situation. Yet, like Florida four years ago, it is pretty clear now, and has been for quite a while, that North Carolina was not necessarily going to play along with the established Republican National Committee delegate selection rules. Just as I harped on the fact that the RNC did not change its 50% penalty for 2012 and that Florida had already demonstrated in 2008 that that was not a sufficient penalty, North Carolina has seemingly wedged itself into a position on the calendar that may make the RNC achieving its ideal calendar more difficult.1 

It is kind of important, then, and warrants some discussion. 

As it is important, let me add to the piece that CNN's Peter Hamby has on the subject today. Whereas the Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill added a North Carolina-level perspective, Hamby layered in some of the national party (RNC) point of view. Both are key. 

But allow me a moment to add to all of this the rationale for why FHQ views North Carolina as the biggest threat to go rogue in 2016. Hamby approached me for my perspective on the situation and I responded in typical "obsessive detail". Understandably, Hamby had a story to write that was bigger than just my perspective, but let me throw in a bit more nuance. Here is my email response to his query (edited for clarity):
North Carolina is the biggest threat to the calendar now because there is an uncertainty around the primary here that does not exist elsewhere. There are two groups of potential problem states: 1) Those that are currently rogue and 2) Those that are trying to be rogue.  
None of the states in the latter category -- those with bills or likely bills -- to move into pre-March calendar positions are really serious attempts. There has been pretty robust negative reaction to possible moves in Arizona, Texas and Vermont, and the likely Wisconsin attempt does not have the support of Republicans in the majority in the state legislature. At this point, none of that group appears to pose a viable threat. 
The first group is a little different. Those are states that have to make some change to move to a later date (or choose the later of the options available to them). In that group are Colorado, New York, North Carolina and Utah. I have no inside knowledge, but Colorado is likely to opt for the March date available to them (March 1) over a non-compliant February position. [EDIT: It has been quiet in Colorado on this question.]  
Utah is feeling the pinch on both ends of the calendar (non-compliant on both) and may switch to caucuses anyway. [EDIT: Both primary options currently available to Utah are non-compliant with RNC rules.] 
New York is only back in February on something of a technicality. The move to April in 2011 expired after 2012 which put the primary back in February. My guess is that the intention of the sunset provision was not to be rogue in 2016 so much as it was a function of providing the legislature with a reason to have to revisit the date [EDIT: in the future]. If April had been permanent, it likely would have been more difficult to get any change passed in the legislature there. Now, they have to make a change. The NYGOP wants a March 1 date.  
That leaves North Carolina. To avoid the super penalty, the North Carolina primary has to be moved to March 1 or later. You've [Hamby] reported that there are folks in the NCGOP who support keeping the primary where it is. I would wager there is similar sentiment in the North Carolina General Assembly. How much? I don't know. Sen. Andrew Brock (R), who brought up legislation every cycle to move the North Carolina primary up dating back to 2005 or so, has said he is supportive of the February date [EDIT: ...and possibly ceding delegates in the process]. Whether that support stops with him in the legislature or runs deeper is the question now. [I should add that none of the bills he introduced [EDIT: in the past] ever proposed going rogue. The primary would have been moved to the earliest allowed date in each of those cycles. He and others may be open to March 1.] 
So, there is some resistance to moving the primary, but we don't know how much. There is also support for a move back into compliance with the national party rules. And while symbolic -- the NCGOP chair and the RNC committeeman from North Carolina (Rep. David Lewis) -- that support is from the top. That may or may not be met with some hostility. Like the resistance to changing the date, we don't know how deep support for a compliant primary runs in either the NCGOP or the general assembly.  
Adding to this is the politics of the legislature. The Republicans control both chambers but the House and Senate have been at odds with each other on a number of controversial items over the past few years. [EDIT: This hypothesis was made early yesterday before the apparent House/Senate divide on the presidential primary scheduling became clear.] That tension could factor into moving the primary date. It may also require Republicans in the majority reaching over to get Democratic votes to get something passed. Democrats would likely be interested in a compliant date as well. [Though, it should be said that the North Carolina Democratic Party could file for a waiver to avoid sanction since they don't control state government. How open the DNC would be to granting that waiver is a question for further down the road. EDIT: see Rule 20.C of the Democratic Party delegate selection rules.] 
Long story short, there are just more unanswered questions regarding the North Carolina position on the primary calendar than there are for other rogue or potentially rogue states. 
Unanswered questions there may be, but what is different about North Carolina -- as compared to, say, Florida in 2008 or 2012 -- is that the Tar Heel state has not drawn a line in the sand. Instead, North Carolina has driven a stake into the ground next to South Carolina and will go wherever the Palmetto state goes. That is a different problem, one that likely means more pressure from the Republican National Committee and perhaps even some inventive tactics in South Carolina. 

Does South Carolina, for instance, mimic the tried and true New Hampshire process of blackballing candidates -- in the South Carolina campaign -- who campaign in North Carolina? If the super penalty from the national party does not work as intended, it may come to that. 

1 And bear in mind that there is no North Carolina position on the calendar yet. Until there is a date for the South Carolina primary, there will not be a date for the North Carolina primary. All we know at this point is that South Carolina will be in February sometime and that North Carolina law call for the primary in the Tar Heel state to follow on the next Tuesday after that. 

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1 comment:

Mystery Politico said...

Unlike Florida in 2008 and 2012, does NC's move even push SC earlier a single day?

If NC switches to a post-March 1 date, then when will the SC primary be held? Probably Saturday, Feb. 20th, to give at least a week's breathing room before the next Southern state.

If NC keeps its current law, however, then when will the SC be held? Still Saturday, Feb. 20th? Going earlier doesn't help, because NC will follow it. They can try blackballing candidates who campaign in NC, but they can do that just as easily if the primary's on Feb. 20th as on any other date.