Thursday, June 11, 2015

Presidential Primary or Convention Question Still Looms Over Virginia Republicans for 2016

Back in March the question was raised as to whether the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) would hold a state-funded presidential primary in 2016 or opt instead for a party-funded convention. Other states have moved around on the calendar -- some have even switched from primaries to caucuses or from caucuses to primaries -- in the time since while the Virginia question has lain fallow for three months.

That appears likely to change when the RPV State Central Committee (SCC) meets on Saturday, June 27 to decide on the process for selecting and allocating delegates to the Republican National Convention next year in Cleveland. Based on past positions of current voting members of the SCC on the primary or convention question, the early whip count looks like it favors the convention format. The one thing that might change that in the actual vote in late June is that the SCC members are up for reelection themselves next year.

Travis Fain's article at the (Hampton) Daily Press mentions that RPV Chair John C. Whitbeck has not taken a position on the matter. Maybe not, but he certainly seems to lean toward the convention option.

There are some interesting side notes to explore assuming Virginia Republicans opt for a convention.
  • First, is the scheduling. As of now, Virginia is an adopted member of the SEC primary with a primary election scheduled for March 1. Virginia Republicans last selected and allocated delegates to the national convention at a state convention in 1996. During that cycle Virginia Republicans held caucuses leading up to the convention throughout March.  Old Dominion Republicans have utilized a primary in the time since then. However, the party has still maintained a caucus/convention system for selecting delegates to the national convention. The primary has been used to allocate/bind delegates to particular candidates based on the results in that statewide election. The 2012 convention was in mid-June.
  • How does the Minnesota decision affect Virginia in a convention (not primary) scenario? Recall that recently the RNC denied the request of Minnesota Republicans to continue to not binding delegates to the convention based on precinct caucuses results. If Virginia Republicans switch to a convention, caucuses naturally precede that end point. Would that mean that delegates would have to be bound based on the results of the earlier steps in the Virginia caucuses? No. Republican National Committee rules -- see Rule 16(a)(1) -- allow the selection and allocation of national convention delegates in a state convention vote. If Virginia Republicans only choose delegates at the earliest stages of the caucus/convention process -- without a presidential preference vote -- then the ultimate selection and allocation can take place at the convention. The difference as compared to Minnesota is that Republicans in the Gopher state were asking to send delegates to the convention unbound to any candidate.
  • Depending on the timing of the convention, Virginia Republicans could allocate all of their delegates to one candidate. Virginia is one of the few states that has a history with truly winner-take-all rules (see 2008).
  • FHQ will try not to overanalyze this, but again, depending on the timing of a supposed state convention, the early steps of the process could be much harder to determine/report on with no presidential preference vote. The advantage of a preference vote at the precinct caucus level is that it provides some indication of who won -- who the delegates moving on to subsequent steps are bound to/aligned with. Without a preference vote, there is no similar signal. And finding out requires a party willing to share who those delegates are and delegates willing to share to whom they are aligned. Absent that (or perhaps even with it), there is jockeying by the various campaigns to organize and get their folks through to the next step(s) of the process. This is a loophole case that may look a lot like those non-binding caucuses from the early 2012 calendar. 
This all puts a spotlight on the exact nature of the rules that Virginia Republicans adopt. This is one to monitor.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along this news to FHQ.

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