Friday, May 15, 2015

Let's Talk About the Primary Calendar and the Republican Nomination Race, Part Two

FHQ has received some questions from a handful of reporters and emails from interested readers this week concerning the state of the 2016 presidential primary calendar. Mainly, the subject has revolved around a simple question: Why are there differences between the FHQ calendar and other calendars out there? This is particularly relevant in view of the fact that I sketched out a different tentative calendar at the Monkey Cage earlier this week.

Think of those two versions as two opposite ends of a spectrum. FHQ will call them the ideal national party calendar (the Iowa on February 1 version) and the real time FHQ calendar (the Iowa in January version).

The latter calendar is devised under the premise that if primary season began today, knowing what we know now, where would the carve-out states fall? Given that the New York primary is still scheduled on February 2 as of today, that means that at least Iowa and New Hampshire would ease into calendar slots ahead of that. And if Colorado Democrats and/or Republicans opt into the February 2 caucus option that is available to them under Colorado law, that may bump Nevada up too. That would have a domino effect, pushing Iowa and New Hampshire up even further into early January.

FHQ would be surprised if New York did not move to a compliant primary date. The legislature in the Empire state just moves more slowly than others. With a year round session they can afford to legislate at a more leisurely pace than states with legislatures that adjourn in May. As a point of reference, New York did not begin the process of moving its primary until June 2011 for he 2012 cycle.

Similarly, FHQ does not think Colorado Republicans will opt into a February 2 caucus date in 2016 like the party did in 2011. It has not really been talked about, but Colorado got one of the nine Republican primary debates -- the October CNBC one -- and that either is or was a nice bit of leverage for the Republican National Committee to have. [A debate is what Governor Jan Brewer was angling for in 2011 when she threatened but did not move the Arizona presidential primary into January.]

Yet, New York is scheduled for February 2 and until that primary is moved via legislation, then Iowa and New Hampshire would be ahead of that point.

...if primary season began today.

That separates the FHQ calendar from the ideal national party calendar. And bear in mind that the national parties both have an interest in telling everyone that primary season will begin on February 1. The parties both want the certainty of a set schedule as soon as possible and tend to act as if everything is fine until it very obviously is not. That is what got FHQ a call from the RNC legal counsel's office in 2011. They were curious, if not upset, that I had the carve-out states penciled into calendar spots in January. That discussion ended in a stalemate: the RNC arguing that their rules said the carve-out states would be in February and FHQ countering that the 50% penalty did not seem to be deterring some states, notably Florida, from moving to non-compliant positions on the calendar. [NOTE: Not wanting to appear political science smug prevents me from pointing out who ended up being right on that one. Oops.]

The lesson? The calendar is not set until it is set. And the 2016 presidential primary calendar is not set yet. It is a heck of a lot closer to the national parties' ideal calendar in 2015 than it was in 2011 though. And the national parties have to like that.

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