Sunday, June 28, 2015

Two-Step Primary-Caucus Is Out for Texas Democrats in 2016

The Texas Two-Step that gained notoriety -- if not infamy -- under the spotlight of a closely contested 2008 Democratic presidential nomination process is dead for 2016.

For years Texas Democrats have split the allocation of their national convention delegates across both a primary election and a caucus/convention process. Roughly two-thirds of the delegates have been awarded to presidential candidates based on the statewide presidential primary results while the remainder were allocated at the state convention (through Texas senate district conventions).

Again, this has been the standard operating procedure for the Texas Democratic Party through much of the post-reform era. The winner of the primary has tended to be the winner of the caucuses as well. The two exceptions to that rule were 1988 when Michael Dukakis won the March 8 primary, but Jesse Jackson won the caucuses, and in 2008, a cycle that saw Hillary Clinton win the Texas primary on March 4, but lose the overall delegate count in the Lone Star state to Barack Obama, who had won the caucuses later in the day.

That latter outcome brought the Two-Step under increased scrutiny. And it was an interesting microcosm of a narrative tightly woven into the fabric of the 2008 nomination: that Obama was winning low turnout caucus votes while Clinton was claiming victories -- and a greater number of votes overall -- in primaries.1

Despite the 2008 controversy, the Texas Two-Step survived and once again netted the Texas Democratic Party a waiver in 2012.2 That fact, though, brings into focus another portion of what has become standard in the implementation of the state-level rules: The Two-Step is only compliant with Democratic National Committee delegate selection rules with some help. The state party has successfully petitioned the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee for a waiver to hold the "double vote" primary-caucus even though (national) Democratic rules prohibit it.

Basically, the Two-Step has been grandfathered in since the rules were changed. Texas was the lone remaining state to have continually been granted a waiver to allocate delegates through both a primary and a caucus. But that waiver was not granted for 2016. The Rules and Bylaws Committee unanimously rejected the waiver request at its Friday meeting in Washington. The Rules and Bylaws Committee conditionally approved the draft Texas delegate selection plan. But the condition was -- at least partially -- that it drop the caucuses from the allocation equation.

What that means is that Texas Democrats will now allocate all of their delegates proportionally (as mandated by the national party rules) based on the statewide results in the March 1 presidential primary.

As a side note, it hard to resist viewing the denied waiver request as a signal of if not the Clinton campaign's pull on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, then the reality that there are folks on the committee (Harold Ickes comes to mind) that are or have in the past been aligned with the Clintons. That comment is not meant as some form of conspiracy theory. That is how the Democratic process has worked: Surrogates of the various campaigns get involved in the rules process. Given that Clinton folks were not fans of the two-step (and for arguably legitimate reasons) after 2008, it is not a real shock that it would meet its end now.

But why now and not four years ago? Parties holding the White House tend not to tinker as much with their delegate selection rules. And by extension, those in the White House at the head of their parties often prefer to maintain the same combination of rules that got them to the White House in the first place. The denied Texas request is as much about the DNC transitioning to life after Obama as it is about Clinton (and company) not liking the two-step because of 2008. It is naive to think that both are not factors in the change for 2016 though.

1 That narrative was not really backed up by the data, but that did not keep it from being a talking point in and after 2008.

2 Good point from Kyle D.: Due to redistricting issues in 2011-12, Texas Democrats were forced to revise their delegate selection plan as that process played out in the courts.

Follow FHQ on TwitterGoogle+ and Facebook or subscribe by Email.


Kyle D. said...

Actually, Texas Democrats didn't use the two-step in 2012. The state party initially submitted a delegate selection plan that would have kept the two-step. However, redistricting litigation delayed the state's primary election until May 29, 2012. As a result, the state party revised their delegate selection plan to use a two-tier convention/caucus system and held county/senate district conventions on April 21, 2012 and a state convention June 8-9, 2012.

Josh Putnam said...

Very good point. I've edited the language in the post and added a footnote. Thanks.