Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Colorado Republicans Opt to Forgo Presidential Preference Vote at 2016 Caucuses

The Executive Committee of the Colorado Republican Party unanimously voted late last week to skip  the presidential preference vote at its precinct caucuses in 2016.

On the surface this is an interesting if not strange decision. As the Associated Press reported, it is a move to diminish the role of the state in the Republican presidential nomination process. Perhaps, but FHQ is not of the opinion that that tells the full story here.

For practical purposes, all this means is that Colorado Republicans will caucus on either February 2 (the day after the presumed February 1 Iowa caucuses) or March 1 (the day of the so-called SEC primary). The process will likely look the exact same as it did four years ago when the party conducted caucuses on the first Tuesday in February. The only difference is in 2016, that exercise will not have a presidential preference vote as part of the proceedings.

And bear in mind that the vote at the 2012 Colorado Republican caucuses did not bind delegates to the national convention. It was one of the non-binding caucuses. The very same sort of affair that the Republican National Committee sought to change at the 2012 convention in Tampa and in rules changes in the time since. At least part of the intent in that move toward binding contests was not only to eliminate fantasy delegates, but to create a more orderly delegate count over the course of primary season and ultimately a less controversial (lead up to the) roll call vote for the nomination at the next national convention.

However, the RNC provided one out to states wanting to maintain a practice of sending unbound delegates to the national convention. Basically, it gave the handful of caucus states that have in the past held non-binding caucuses the ability to opt out of a presidential preference vote altogether. Now, there is nothing in Rule 16(a)(1) that invites states to do this, but there is also nothing there -- no penalty -- to prevent states from not holding a presidential preference vote. The only penalty is that states taking that path are gambling with the attention they might receive in the nomination process.

And that brings this discussion back to the contention from the AP above; that Colorado Republicans, by making this decision, have counterintuitively shrunk their own role in the process. That all depends. Recall that the preference vote meant very little in 2012. It was a straw poll, a beauty contest. But that allowed us to say that Rick Santorum had "won" Colorado. We will not have the ability to as easily declare a winner in 2016 in the Centennial state.

Yet, that does not also prevent the candidates and their campaigns from spending time there. It just changes the incentives. The "winner" tag will be gone, but campaigns will still have decisions to make. Do you invest resources in a contest that pays no immediate dividends? Do you invest in the type of organization that gets candidate-aligned delegates elected to move from the precinct caucuses to county assemblies and from there to district conventions and from there to the state convention and beyond to Cleveland?

Perhaps Colorado Republicans did not just diminish their role so much as narrow the field of candidates who are willing to gamble; willing to expend those resources there. The party has condensed the field to three main categories: 1) those with grassroots support, 2) those who have the money and resources to organize or 3) those who have both. The rest won't bother and probably because they cannot afford to.

And if the Republican Party in Colorado opts for a February 2 date for its caucuses, it increases the likelihood that candidates would be willing to make that gamble. Remember also that with no binding presidential preference vote, Colorado would not be penalized any delegates under the RNC rules.

One more thing that has not come out in the reporting here is that this -- the executive committee vote -- may only be step one in this decision-making process. When FHQ spoke with the party last month, party chief of staff, Tyler Hart, informed us that ultimately the state central committee will have to sign off on any changes coming out of the executive committee meeting during its own meeting next month. Given that the executive committee vote was unanimous, though, the direction of that vote seems quite clear.

They have a date decision to make as well.

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