Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Fate of a Reestablished Presidential Primary in Maine Not Clear Entering Final Legislative Day

Wednesday, June 19 represents the statutorily mandated end of the 2019 legislative session in Maine. And among the unfinished or unresolved business of the body are two bills reestablishing a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state.

LD 1626 would reestablish the presidential primary and schedule it for Super Tuesday, the first Tuesday in March. And while that bill passed the Senate (on June 3) and was both passed (on June 4) and enacted (on June 5) by the House, there is another step to the legislative process in Maine. Any bills that affect revenues or expenditures by the state government -- as the presidential primary bill would -- are placed on the Special Appropriations Table in the state Senate at the request of a member of the Appropriations Committee. In this case, Sen. Linda Sanborn (D, 30th, Gorham) made that request and the bill has sat on the table since June 6. Generally, those bills that affect the Maine general fund are kept on the table until after the budget bill has been negotiated, passed, signed and enacted. That budget bill, LD 1001, became law on the Governor Mills' signature on Monday, June 17.

Tuesday passed with no action on the Super Tuesday bill, but it may see the light of day again in a final flurry of activity as the session draws closer to adjournment.

Meanwhile, the ranked choice voting presidential primary bill that was tabled in committee back at the beginning of May was resurrected on June 4. That work session of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee produced another divided report with committee Republicans against and Democrats split on how to proceed. The minority report amendment stripped out the presidential primary language from the original LD 1083 but continued to call for the ranked choice voting election of presidential electors in the general election but that that action should be put before the voters in a referendum.

But that report was left on the sidelines when the bill came up on the floor of the state Senate on Tuesday, June 18. Instead, the Senate brought up the majority report amendment, an amendment that further muddles the treatment of any presidential primary. Like the minority report amendment, the amendment that was brought up struck the entirety of the original bill including the provisions describing the proposed presidential primary system. Importantly, the second Tuesday in March date on which any reestablish presidential primary would be scheduled was nixed.

In its place in the amended version the Senate considered was the reestablishment of a presidential primary, but only to an extent. Under the new guidelines that were passed 20-14 on a party line vote similar to LD 1626 was a certain deference to the political parties in Maine. There can be a presidential primary, but it must be in "accordance with any reasonable procedures established at the state party convention." The state party convention part is a bit misleading. Essentially the bill under this language is deferring to the state parties on the details of any presidential primary, date included. What is left at least a little ambiguous if not unsaid, is that the fiscal note accompanying the bill concludes there is no fiscal impact on the state government. That suggests that the funding of any presidential primary may be left up to municipalities and/or the state parties. Those two entities have typically borne the costs of caucuses in Maine. If that is intended as a reestablishment of a presidential primary in Maine, then it is presidential primary light, bordering on a party-run process, but one that calls for a ranked choice process.

And incidentally, the Maine Democratic Party draft delegate selection plan calls for caucuses (but with the caveat that primary legislation is active in the legislature).

Alternatively, rather than treating both bills separately, one could look at them in tandem. LD 1626 establishes the details of the primary -- including the date and the state expenditure from the general fund -- while LD 1083 merely layers on top of that the ranked choice element if state parties opt into the contest.

UPDATE (1:20pm, 6/19/19): The Senate took LD 1626 off the Special Appropriations Table and voted to concur and enact the legislation, clearing the way for the Super Tuesday primary bill to head to Governor Mills. The House has also passed LD 1083, the ranked choice voting bill largely along party lines, 86-59 with Democrats in favor. But like LD 1626, that is not the last act. The House still has to vote to enact the legislation before sending it back to the Senate for its consideration of enactment. Should those bars be cleared, the both bills would head to the governor's desk.

UPDATE (3:30pm, 6/19/19): The House has voted to enact LD 1083. The last step is for the state Senate to concur with that and LD 1083 will head to Governor Mills' desk along with LD 1626.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along information on LD 1083's passage.

1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/1/19: Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

3/16/19: Alternative Bill Would Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Maine but with Ranked Choice Voting

3/22/19: Maine Committee Hearing Finds Support for and Roadblocks to a Ranked Choice Presidential Primary

3/30/19: Maine Democrats Signal Caucuses in Draft Delegate Selection Plan, but...

4/23/19: New Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Introduced in Maine

5/10/19: Maine Committee Working Session Offers Little Clarity on 2020 Presidential Primary

6/3/19: Maine Senate Advances Super Tuesday Primary Bill

6/4/19: On to the Governor: Maine House Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

New York Assembly Passes April Presidential Primary Bill

The New York Assembly on Tuesday, June 18 had on its calendar the Assembly version (A8176) of a bill to set the presidential primary date in the Empire state for April 28, 2020. But rather than take up its own identical version, the chamber did what it has done over the course of at least the previous three cycles: substituted a state Senate-passed version (again, the identical S6374) and subsequently nearly unanimously passed it, 86-6.

The maneuver streamlines the legislative process as the January to June session winds down in Albany. It also clears the way for the measure to go to Governor Cuomo for his consideration. Given that the bill was noncontroversial, it should be expected to be signed.

The shift, technically from the February default date, would move the New York presidential primary back one week relative to the date of the 2016 primary in the state. It would realign New York with primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, a 2012 regional primary cluster that was joined by Maryland for 2016.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

New York April Presidential Primary Bills Outline 2020 Delegate Selection in the Empire State

Although New York Democrats signaled in the April release of the state party draft delegate selection plan that April 28, 2020 would be the date of the presidential primary in the Empire state, that only passed the baton off to one other crucial actor in the process: the state legislature.

The New York process is a unique one with respect to how the rules of the presidential nomination come together. In some states there can be tension between the legislature and state parties, breaking down the lines of communications between the actors on what the preferred rules are for the state's delegate selection process. And obviously part of that tension is partisan in the case of a legislature controlled by one party making decisions that state party on the other side the partisan divide would otherwise not desire. Republicans in Washington state during the 2012 cycle, for example, mostly opposed the efforts to cancel the presidential primary in Evergreen state. Yet, majority Democrats passed legislation (against a split Republican minority) and a Democratic governor signed the bill into law. That forced Washington Republicans to utilize a caucus rather than primary in that cycle.

But in New York over the last several cycles the legislature and the parties have developed a bit of a routine. The 2008 cycle saw the state join the logjam on the February 5 Super Tuesday and after that point the presidential primary -- or spring primary as it is referred to in statute -- has stayed on or defaulted to that first Tuesday in February date. February has been off limits to states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina following 2008 under national party rules, and although New York has remained compliant, the calendar movement has only been temporary. For 2012, the New York legislature shifted the February primary back to late April to join a mid-Atlantic/northeastern regional primary, but at the end of 2012, the date reverted to February. The same sequence repeated itself during and after the 2016 cycle. Again, the legislature pushed the February primary back to April (however, one week earlier than in 2012), only to include a sunset provision that expired at the end of 2016.

That constant revisitation of the primary date forces the legislature to examine New York's spot on the calendar every four years. And while that is technically true, the effect is only indirect. The main purpose of the review is so that legislators can consult with the state board of elections and the state parties on delegate selection for the upcoming cycle. And that consultation with state parties is mostly about ensuring that the actions -- its legislative output -- of the legislature are consistent with national party rules.

Basically, the legislature defers to the parties, and then, toward the end of its legislative session in the year prior to a presidential election introduces legislation that reflects the delegate selection processes laid out by the two state parties. That includes the date of the contest, but also a number of other important aspects of the delegate selection processes for each party.

With the clock ticking down to the end of the legislative year in the Empire state, legislation on the 2020 presidential primary became more and more likely and was introduced this past week. Both the Senate (S 6374) and Assembly (A 8176) versions are identical. Unsurprisingly, the bills call for an April 28 primary, aligning the presidential primary in New York with similar contests in a would-be contiguous group of six states including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. That places that Acela primary in a position on the calendar that has been if not decisive in recent cycles, then influential to the ultimate resolution of nomination races.

One aspect that may make New York even more influential on the Republican side is that the GOP in the Empire state has returned to a winner-take-all delegate allocation formula for the first time since the 2008 cycle. The state Republican Party had adopted more proportional rules in both 2012 and 2016. That is the headline grabbing change that fits within a broader narrative of Republican state parties maneuvering to make their delegate selection rules more advantageous to President Trump during his renomination/reelection cycle.

In another change relative to the 2016 Republican process in New York, candidates and their campaigns will be responsible for slating congressional district delegates rather than congressional district committees making those decisions. At-large delegates will continue to be chosen by the state central committee.

On the Democratic side of the equation, the devil is in the details. New York is and always has been a state that demands a lot of campaigns seeking ballot access there. And that is less in terms of the number of signatures required, and more in terms of the organizational mettle required. There are intricacies that serve to separate the best and worst organized campaigns. For example, the petition requirements for a candidate to get on the ballot in New York are 5000 signatures of "then enrolled" voters. But New York is also among the states where delegate candidates are also up for election on the same presidential primary ballot. And congressional district delegate candidates have to have 500 signatures from voters who enrolled as Democrats on or before February 1, 2019. That is a subtle difference, but one that could trip up less organized campaigns attempting to line up a slate of delegates. They would not be able to rely on newly registered voters for those signatures, but rather, voters longer established as Democrats. Given the proposed date of the primary, however, the filing deadline is a little later. Campaigns would have a bit more time before the mid-February filing deadline to square everything away. And by that point, the field is likely to have winnowed some anyway.

But the big take away from the introduction of these bills is just that: the legislature part of this process -- the end point -- is now in motion.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

New Arizona Budget Contains a Presidential Primary Opt-Out for State Parties

The scaling back from primaries to caucuses to help the incumbent beat has been quiet for a while now. Such is the nature of the decentralized way in which the process to nominate presidential candidates develops in the year before a presidential election year.

As quiet as things have been on that front, however, Arizona quietly broke the silence last week when  Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed HB 2751 into law. Normally, the way state budgets intervene in the presidential nomination process is through the funding (or lack thereof) of state government-run primaries. But this budget bill in Arizona does not clearly draw that line. Democrats will have a primary next year, so the state will be paying for an election for that. Presumably however, that election will not include a Republican presidential preference vote.

And that is because at the request of the Arizona Republican Party, Speaker of the Arizona House, Rusty Bowers (R-25th, Maricopa) inserted the following section into the budget legislation for the session:
Notwithstanding section 16-241, Arizona Revised Statutes, a political party that is eligible to participate in the 2020 presidential preference election pursuant to section 16-244, Arizona Revised Statutes, may opt out of participating in the presidential preference election by sending a written notice to the secretary of state on or before September 16, 2019. If a political party opts out of participating in the presidential preference election, the secretary of state shall notify each county recorder and officer in charge of elections and the clerk of each county board of supervisors not later than five business days after receiving the written notice from the political party that the 2020 presidential preference election for that party is canceled.
The highlighted clause now gives state Republicans the discretion to repeat what the party did the last time an incumbent Republican presidential was up for reelection in 2004: cancel the Republican presidential primary in the Grand Canyon state. This is not something, then, that is unique to the broader Republican Party defense of President Trump. Instead, it is in line with what other states -- Kansas and South Carolina among them -- are doing and have done in the the past: scale operations back when an incumbent is up for reelection.

Arizona Republicans now have until the middle of September to make a decision about whether they will opt out of the presidential primary, although the party has already telegraphed where this is headed. September is noteworthy because that is just before the Republican National Committee deadline to finalize state-level delegate selection processes falls (October 1). That will be a busy time as many states will be finalizing plans either at state conventions or in state central committee meetings.

Howard Fischer's Capital News Service story quotes Arizona Republican Party spokesman, Zach Henry, as citing past presidential primary opt outs. Henry is right that Arizona Republicans opted out of the 2004 presidential primary election. However, Henry also cites state Democrats as having acted in the same way during incumbent Democratic presidential reelection cycles in 1996 and 2012. Opting out is a misleading way of describing Arizona Democratic Party activity during those two cycles, however. In both cycles, Arizona had a last Tuesday in February presidential primary, a date non-compliant with Democratic National Committee rules in both instances. Arizona Democrats did not opt out of the presidential primaries in those cycles as they were forced to opt for later caucuses to avoid penalty from the national party.

Arizona Republicans in 2004 faced no such conflict. Although the Arizona presidential primary was set by Governor Janet Napolitano (D) for the first Tuesday in February, that was not inconsistent with Republican National Committee rules at the time. In fact, 2004 was the first cycle in which February primaries for states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina were allowed by both parties. That allowance lasted through the 2008 cycle.

The parties' actions in these instances is different.

Thanks to Steve Kamp for passing along news of the Arizona opt-out provision to FHQ.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

April Presidential Primary Bill Has Passed the Legislative Stage in Louisiana

Last week the Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee passed an amendment to HB 563, a bill focused on revising some technical aspects of the Louisiana Elections Code. The newly adopted amendment proposes shifting the presidential primary in the Pelican state from the first Saturday in March to the first Saturday in April.

On the surface, this may look like a maneuver on the part of Louisiana Republicans in the legislature to shift back to a later date and move to a more winner-take-all formula for allocating delegates. But it is more complicated than that.

The Louisiana presidential preference primary is tethered to municipal and ward primary elections as well. While the presidential preference primary is a one-off election on the first Saturday in March, those municipal and ward primaries are typical of primaries in the Pelican state. They are often precursors to runoff (general) elections five weeks later. Five weeks later than the first Saturday in March is the second Saturday in April. And in 2020, the second Saturday in April falls within three days of one of the enumerated holidays -- Good Friday, in this case -- in Louisiana code. Elections under the same statutes cannot fall within three days of one of those holidays.

The legislative solution to this holiday-triggered scheduling conundrum initially was to move everything up a week earlier, placing the presidential preference primary (and the other primaries as well) on the last Saturday in February.

Well, to regular readers of FHQ, that should send up red flags. Any presidential primary or caucus held before the first Tuesday in March in either party makes the violating state party vulnerable to a reduction of national convention delegates.

The February date never appeared in the bill, but was something worked outside of the legislature by both major state parties and the governor before the conflict (possible rules violation) was raised. That prompted coordination by the same parties on an alternative date. And the one initial date that allowed for a five week window -- from primary to general election for those municipal offices -- was the first Saturday in April.

That amendment was adopted by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday, May 29. The state Senate passed the amended version 37-1 on Sunday June 2 and the state House concurred with the changes 96-2 on Monday, June 3. The near-unanimity speaks to the coordination across parties in and out of the legislature on the date change.

HB 563 now heads to Governor John Bel Edwards (D) for his consideration. And since he was involved in the prior discussions, the expectation should be that he will sign the bill.

The move would align the Louisiana presidential primary with the party-run Democratic primaries in Alaska and Hawaii on the same date, Saturday, April 4. As 2020 calendar spots go, it is not a bad spot. Yes, it follows the March rush of contests. But it falls at a point on the calendar where there is not a whole lot of competition -- the Wisconsin primary is the following Tuesday -- and any remaining candidates would have incentive to trek down and pop in on Pelican state primary voters. The drawback is that Louisiana would be the last of the southern states to hold a contest. But the benefit, on the Democratic side in any event, is that Louisiana's primary electorate is predominantly African American. That could come into play in a significant way potentially regardless of who remains in the race for the Democratic nomination at that juncture.

The Louisiana bill has been added to the FHQ 2020 Presidential primary calendar.

Hat tip to Andrew Tuozzolo for passing news of the Louisiana shift to FHQ.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

On to the Governor: Maine House Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

The Maine state House on Tuesday, June 4 made quick work of the amended bill the state Senate passed the day before to reestablish a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state.

By an 88-53 vote, the state House passed LD 1626, creating anew a presidential primary in Maine for the first time since the 2000 cycle. The mostly party line vote -- there was one defection on each side -- saw majority Democrats in favor of the measure and minority Republicans in opposition.

Regardless, state House passage now clears the way for the bill to go before Governor Janet Mills (D) for her consideration. The bill would shift Maine from it place among the remaining handful of caucus states into the primary column alongside other caucus-turned-primary states like Colorado and Minnesota. It would also schedule the newly reestablished presidential primary in Maine on Super Tuesday, aligned with Colorado and Minnesota (among others) as well. In its amended form, the measure would also grant state parties in Maine the ability to opt to include unaffiliated voters in the presidential primary, a break from the Maine tradition of closed primaries.

Governor Mills now has ten days (not counting Sundays) to act on the bill.

UPDATE: Please see a discussion of the additional legislative hurdle that stood in the way of this bill going to the governor here. 

1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/1/19: Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

3/16/19: Alternative Bill Would Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Maine but with Ranked Choice Voting

3/22/19: Maine Committee Hearing Finds Support for and Roadblocks to a Ranked Choice Presidential Primary

3/30/19: Maine Democrats Signal Caucuses in Draft Delegate Selection Plan, but...

4/23/19: New Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Introduced in Maine

5/10/19: Maine Committee Working Session Offers Little Clarity on 2020 Presidential Primary

6/3/19: Maine Senate Advances Super Tuesday Primary Bill

6/19/19: Fate of a Reestablished Presidential Primary in Maine Not Clear Entering Final Legislative Day

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Monday, June 3, 2019

Maine Senate Advances Super Tuesday Primary Bill

A May 10 committee hearing left the fate of at least two presidential primary bills in limbo.

The first (LD 1083) would reestablish a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state for the first time since 2000 and schedule it for the second Tuesday in March under a ranked choice voting system. That bill was tabled by the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee and may well be dead for the 2019 session. Unless the committee takes it back up, then it will die there.

However, the second bill -- the one that would reestablish the presidential primary and schedule it for the first Tuesday in March, Super Tuesday (LD 1626) -- has gained new life after a split decision in the same May 10 working session. That even split between the mainly Republicans on the committee against the move to reestablish a presidential primary and the Democrats for the change meant that two reports were to have emerged from committee for the full chambers to potentially consider. One of those reports was an "ought not pass" report. But two additional reports, amending the original bill -- split the Democratic faction on the committee in support of the measure.

That led to two additional reports; two "ought to pass as amended" reports. And the issue in both was the treatment of unaffiliated voters in the state of Maine. One amended version allowed for the automatic participation of those voters not enrolled in one of the major parties in the state. But the other amended option opened the door to unaffiliated participation in the event that the state parties notify the secretary of state in Maine by December 1 of the year prior to a presidential election whether that segment of the electorate can participate. In other words, it gives state parties the option of allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in their primary. Failure to notify the secretary of state reverts the primary for that party to the traditional closed format that Maine has most often used.

Those reports came out of the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee last Friday and the state Senate wasted no time in acting upon them. On Monday, June 3, the state Senate passed -- 19-13 on a mainly party-line vote (only one Republican crossed ranks and joined Democrats in support of the measure) -- the state party option amended version of the bill.

The legislation now moves down to the state House for concurrence and moves Maine a little bit closer to not only reestablishing a presidential primary but scheduling it for Super Tuesday as well.

Side note: Recall that the Maine Democratic Party submitted a delegate selection plan to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee describing a caucus system for the 2020. But the party also added the caveat that the legislature was considering primary election legislation. At that time upon release of the draft plan, the Maine Democratic Party went on record as preferring the ranked choice voting bill. With the Super Tuesday bill moving and the ranked choice version perhaps headed for a death in committee, the state Democratic Party reaction will be worth following. The national party preference is for a primary where a state-run option is available, but that is only a preference. If the ranked choice aspect is a deal-breaker, then Maine Democrats could stick with the caucus format as laid out in their delegate selection plan.

1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/1/19: Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

3/16/19: Alternative Bill Would Reestablish a Presidential Primary in Maine but with Ranked Choice Voting

3/22/19: Maine Committee Hearing Finds Support for and Roadblocks to a Ranked Choice Presidential Primary

3/30/19: Maine Democrats Signal Caucuses in Draft Delegate Selection Plan, but...

4/23/19: New Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill Introduced in Maine

5/10/19: Maine Committee Working Session Offers Little Clarity on 2020 Presidential Primary

6/4/19: On to the Governor: Maine House Passes Super Tuesday Presidential Primary Bill

6/19/19: Fate of a Reestablished Presidential Primary in Maine Not Clear Entering Final Legislative Day

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The Nationalization of the Presidential Nomination Process and Candidate Visits

Over the weekend, FHQ scoffed at a line in Jonathan Martin's New York Times story on the cavalcade of Democratic presidential hopefuls heading to the California Democratic Convention to speak. And although Super Tuesday remains on the same first Tuesday in March date that it was three years ago (and four years before that), Martin raises some interesting points about the nationalization of the presidential nomination process that are worth considering.

But also worth considering is the fact that this Golden state gathering was, at best, weak evidence of that nationalization phenomenon. Martin takes it as fact that since the two dozen Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination have already visited 33 states and territories that the race has, voila!, nationalized. It certainly appears that way. Yet, there remain several lingering questions/points.

The first is that map included in the story -- the one with the dots -- indicated the number of candidates who have visited the various states and not the number of visits candidates have made to those states. That depiction, while noteworthy on some level, is misleading. It makes a state like California look like it is much closer to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina than it actually is. California is closer to the carve-out states in the number of candidates, but not really in the collective number of visits by the candidates.

That is consistent with the pattern of visits during the 2008 cycle, the last competitive Democratic presidential nomination cycle with a sizable number of quality (and qualified) candidates. California notched the fifth most visits during that cycle, behind (in order) Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. All four had earlier (and in some cases non-compliant) dates on the 2008 presidential primary calendar than did the California primary scheduled on Super Tuesday.  The Golden state was well behind Iowa and New Hampshire in the number of visits that it got from candidates of both parties and less behind both South Carolina and Florida. Still, big, delegate-rich, and Super Tuesday California managed the fifth most visits.

And that comparison to 2008 is important because it highlights another shortcoming in Martin's piece. If 14 Democratic candidates trekking to San Francisco on the same weekend to speak before the state party convention is evidence of the nomination process nationalizing, then it is evidence of that trend compared to what? Martin drops this line:
This weekend was no aberration: Democratic presidential contenders have already combined to visit more than 30 states and territories for public events, far more than in any past nominating contest when candidates would spend the vast majority of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But does not really back it up.

The easiest, albeit apples to oranges (to some degree), comparison is to the 2016 Republican process. The parties are different, but some of the conditions are the same. There was a large field of Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in 2015-16. There also was a minimally altered primary calendar of events over which the nomination race would be contested.

That 2016 Republican race, too, drew similar reactions. But instead of California, candidates, their campaigns, other political actors and the press talked about the SEC primary and how it was disrupting the regular rhythms of the nomination process. But the pattern witnessed then was that while there were visits to SEC primary and other states throughout 2015, as actual voting neared attention shifted toward the early states. In other words, the pattern normalized, still weighted -- and fairly heavily -- toward the early states.

One thing that the SEC primary of 2016 and the California primary of 2020 share is a certain branding. And not just branding, but a concerted and early effort to draw attention to the contests. Then Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp (R) was talking up the possibility of an SEC primary as early as February 2014, and thereafter there was a fairly constant drumbeat not only about the possibility, but of the formation of and coordination behind that regional contest for Super Tuesday 2016. Kemp and other southern secretaries of state pushed the idea and pushed it hard by hammering home the idea that the South was where the most loyal Republicans in the country are and that the path the nomination went through those voters. Campaigns took notice.

Similarly, California made an early splash in the 2020 presidential cycle by beginning the process of shifting the more-often-than-not June primary up to March. The argument in an April 2017 press release on the bill was the following:
“A state as populous and diverse as California should not be an afterthought. Moving up the California primary in 2020 makes sense and will give California voters a more significant role. By holding our primary earlier, we will ensure that issues important to Californians are prioritized by presidential candidates from all political parties,” said Secretary Padilla. 
“California is the largest, most diverse state in the nation with one of the largest economies in the world,” said Senator Ricardo Lara. “Yet Californians’ voices are silenced when it comes to choosing presidential nominees. California is leading the nation on clean air, criminal justice reform, and expanding healthcare for all, and moving up our presidential primary will ensure our state’s voters are heard in the national debate.”
Now, there has been a lot of ink spilled over the potential impact of the California primary move. Much has focused on the structural impact: the shift of so many delegates to an earlier point on the calendar, the impact of early voting, among others. But almost all also mention the diversity that California (and for that matter other Super Tuesday states) bring to a process that includes not only a diverse Democratic primary electorate, but a diverse field of candidates. Again, candidates have, as they did four years ago with the SEC primary, taken notice.

But does that represent a nationalization of the process or evidence of a nationalization of the process? One way to approach this is to reject the null hypothesis; that candidates appearing in states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina is not because of a nationalization of the process.

And FHQ would argue there are at least two factors standing in the way of us rejecting the null in this case. They are two factors that I raised back in 2015 in the context of similar lines of argument about the SEC primary. Candidates are not going to states other than the four carve-outs because of some nationalization process. No, instead, they are heading to California and Puerto Rico and West Virginia and other states because...
  1. It's the field [size], stupid. More candidates means more potential overall visits. More candidates also means that if everyone is heading to Iowa, then perhaps no one is heading to Iowa. In other words, the value of an Iowa visit is less if one are venturing around the Hawkeye state with 23 other candidates than if one is competing there with five other candidates. Candidates have to stand out and if they are all going to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, then them may be less likely to stand out. And standing out is something that these 24 Democratic candidates have to do. 
  2. Calendar certainty. Another related factor is that the calendar formation for the 2020 cycle has been not only orderly but slow compared to past cycles in this century. It is a lot easier as a candidate and/or campaign to make a decision to go to California if that campaign has a fairly good idea about where it fits in the calculus of winning the nomination. California's position on the calendar is no more nor less known now than it was in the lead up to 2008, for example. But 2019 does not feature the sort of rules defiance that 2007 saw. There is no Florida. There is no Michigan to disrupt the early calendar as was the case in 2007. That left campaigns at that time with a dilemma. They could only plan ahead so far when the beginning portions of the calendar remained in flux as the Florida and Michigan issue was unresolved. All that was known to campaigns at the time was that Iowa and New Hampshire would be first. All subsequent contests were obscured by the uncertainty. Contrast that with 2019. The carve-out states indeed have February carved out. And a delegate bonanza hits just after on Super Tuesday in early March. Other states may yet join Super Tuesday -- but that is unlikely at this point -- but the basic outline of the calendar has been preserved. A slow on-ramp through February toward Super Tuesday. That certainty helps campaigns plan and plan ahead for the next steps in the sequence.
To be fair to Martin, he is absolutely right that cable news (nothing new) and online tools (especially social media) help to if not nationalize then uniformize the coverage of presidential campaigns. But whether that has a nationalizing effect on the process itself is a trickier question to answer. It creates more national appeals from campaigns or attempts to go viral, but that is hardly evidence that the "stranglehold on the time, money and attention of the White House aspirants in the year leading up to the primaries" that Iowa and New Hampshire has been broken. It is probably a bit premature to come to that conclusion. If anything, the expectation should be that attention will ramp up in the earliest states beginning in the fall. They are, after all, the first voting moves in the sequence. But if there is a break in that pattern -- a reversion to carve-out state-focused campaigning as fall works its way to winter, then we may have some evidence of a break in that stranglehold.

As it stands, it is still pretty good to be first. And campaign visits data will continue to reflect that.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

North Carolina Republicans Have Tweaked Their Delegate Allocation Formula, but...

North Carolina Republicans had a bit of a roller coaster ride in 2015 with respect to how the party's plans for delegate selection came together.

First, North Carolina law at the time tethered the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state to the primary in South Carolina. That was a position -- prior to March 1 -- out of compliance with the national party rules.

Then, in an effort to remedy the calendar issue, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation (which was subsequently signed into law) that not only shifted the primary election date back into compliance but called for a winner-take-allocation of delegates. The latter of those changes was then ignored by the North Carolina Republican Party when the party opted for a straight proportional allocation of national convention delegates.1

But most of that law expired after the 2016 primaries. The primary date reverted to its position tethered to the South Carolina primary and the allocation method called for in state law again defaulted to proportional.

However, the tinkering has continued on both fronts -- within the state party and in the state legislature -- during the 2020 cycle. But the actions from both in that span have conflicted with one another and again threatens the compliance of the NCGOP delegate selection process. At the same time that legislation was active in 2017 in the General Assembly to schedule the North Carolina presidential primary for Super Tuesday (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March), North Carolina Republicans were voting to make the method of allocation more winner-take-all. That legislation became law in 2018, pushing the presidential primary in the Tar Heel state into the proportionality window (where winner-take-all rules are conditionally prohibited).

Now, while that combination of primary date and allocation rules is non-compliant under 2020 RNC delegate selection rules, it is not a problem, per se. And FHQ will explain why in a moment. But first, let us step through the changes that have been made to the allocation rules to this point.

For the 2016 cycle, North Carolina Republicans pooled all of their delegates (at-large, congressional district and automatic) and proportionally allocated them based on the statewide primary results. Additionally, there was no defined qualifying threshold. In other words, 1) the 2016 NCGOP allocation method was a close to mathematical proportionality as it gets and 2) that allowed for candidates receiving a very marginal share of the statewide primary vote to win delegates. Ben Carson, for example, only won roughly one percent of the vote in the 2016 North Carolina primary, but that was good enough to round him up to one delegate of the state's 72.

Few other states had a bar set so low for a candidate to be allocated any delegates. North Carolina, then, was inconsistent in its method of allocation compared with its peer states, much less the entire pool of states and territories. That gave the NCGOP room for some maneuvering during the 2020 cycle. And tinker they did in 2017.

In assembling a new plan in 2017, North Carolina Republicans shifted away from low bar proportionality and added several new layers that are similar to neighboring states.
  • From the Tennessee Republican method, the NCGOP borrowed a fairly high, two-thirds winner-take-all threshold for the allocation of congressional district delegates. Of the states that have winner-take-all thresholds in the Republican nomination process, the vast majority set it at its lowest point, a bare majority. If a candidate wins a majority of the vote, then that candidate wins all of the delegates either statewide or within a given congressional district. A two-thirds winner-take-all trigger is obviously a more difficult bar to hit (especially potentially in a crowded field of candidates).
  • From the Georgia Republican allocation method, the NCGOP mimicked the unique proportional allocation scheme for congressional district delegates. If no candidate reaches the two-thirds threshold, then the allocation system awards two delegates to the top vote-getter and the other congressional district delegate to the second highest candidate, but only if both candidates are above the 20 percent qualifying threshold. If only the top candidate clears that barrier in a given congressional district, then all three delegates go to that candidate. That is the backdoor winner-take-all scenario (but confined to just the congressional district level).
  • From the South Carolina Republican allocation method, the NCGOP took its new method for allocating at-large delegates. Under the South Carolina system -- and now the North Carolina Republican system -- the plurality winner of the statewide vote wins all of the at-large delegates from the state. 
The elements borrowed from Tennessee and Georgia are both consistent with RNC rules. Yes, the combination contains winner-take-all elements, but those thresholds are rules-compliant. So, too, is the unique proportional allocation. No, that sort of top two allocation method is not exactly mathematically proportional, but there are only so many ways that three congressional district delegates can be allocated proportionally. This is one of them.

But the winner-take-all element that is akin to the South Carolina delegate selection process is not rules-compliant for a primary that is scheduled before March 15. And it is that segment of the NCGOP plan of organization that will have to change to come back into compliance.

That is a problem, right?

Technically, yes. But North Carolina Republicans are on top of it. A change to the at-large delegate allocation is on the agenda for the June 6-9 North Carolina Republican Party state convention in Concord. If adopted -- and the party has a persuasive case built on compliance issues to take to state convention delegates -- the allocation of at-large delegates would become more conditionally proportional. Under the proposal, the allocation of at-large delegates would...
  1. Remain winner-take-all in the event that such a scheme is consistent with national party rules. While it is not, the insertion of this element is crafted with future cycles in mind. Should the RNC rescind the proportionality window in the future, then the NCGOP already has language included to allow for a winner-take-all allocation of at-large delegates. Even without a change on that front from the RNC, the NCGOP would have the foundation in place for a winner-take-all allocation of delegates should the North Carolina primary be scheduled for a later date, outside the proportionality window. 
  2. Be proportional to all candidates with more than 20 percent of the vote statewide in the primary.
Those changes would bring the North Carolina Republican Party delegate selection process back into compliance with RNC rules. However, what is noteworthy is what is missing in this latest round of proposed changes. There is, for example, no equivalent two-thirds threshold to conditionally award all at-large delegates to a candidate in a way similar to the allocation of congressional district delegates.

In other words, this plan is not quite as helpful to an incumbent president as it could be. And that breaks to some degree from the narrative that the RNC in concert with state parties is working to engineer a delegate selection system that is maximally advantageous to President Trump. Like Massachusetts Republicans, the NCGOP plan moves in the direction of assisting the president, but unlike those Bay state changes, the North Carolina move does not turn the knob as far in the president's favor as it could have.

1 "Ignored" may not be the best way of describing that. State parties ultimately have the discretion to set their own rules for delegate allocation. And the North Carolina Republican Party certainly used that discretion in the midst of the consideration the 2015 bill cited above. That said, the bill-turned-law set the method of allocation for winner-take-all, but allowed state parties an opt-out if that baseline was inconsistent with national party rules. But for Tar Heel state Republicans, a March 15 presidential primary was outside the proportionality window, and thus the winner-take-all scheme was compliant with national party rules. Nonetheless, North Carolina Republicans chose a proportional method of allocation with no qualifying threshold.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Magic Number? Determining the Winning Number of Democratic Delegates Will Be Tougher in 2020

FHQ gets a kick out of folks who authoritatively talk about the number of delegates the winning candidate will need in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race.

There are some things that one does know at this point about the chase for Democratic delegates in 2020. There are a lot of candidates (now). The allocation is all proportional (with a 15 percent qualifying threshold). California and North Carolina joining most of the Super Tuesday line up from 2016 means Super Tuesday 2020 will, in fact, be fairly super. Furthermore, one knows that the cumulative delegates allocated through the first two months of the 2020 calendar (February and March) is roughly on par with the number of delegates allocated through the first two months of the 2008 calendar (January and February).

All of this is useful, but it obscures one reality about the 2020 Democratic nomination process that is unknown at this point and may remain that way for some time: the actual number of delegates and thus the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Part of the reason for that is, for lack of a better term, normal, or it has been since the 2008 cycle. Since the Democratic process includes bonus delegates for timing (a 2008 cycle innovation) and clustering (new in 2012), the final tally of delegates has to wait on the calendar to solidify. New York,  for example, does not yet officially have a primary date. But if the Empire state primary ends up on April 28, as is expected given the draft of the state party delegate selection plan, then New York Democrats will tack on an additional 10 percent to the base delegation for an April primary (timing) and an additional 15 percent for scheduling the contest with primaries in regionally contiguous states (clustering). That is easy enough to work around, but it 1) is not reflected in the number of delegates the DNC is counting because 2) those bonuses will ultimately affect the number of delegates at stake.

Again, that is an easy enough adjustment. But it is just going to take some time to officially settle.

But there are two other factors that make the magic number of Democratic delegates necessary to clinch the presidential nomination more of a moving target in 2020 than has been the case in the past. And this is an issue that will stretch into primary season. Both hinge on the changes made to the rules regarding superdelegate participation in the process.

The first of these is more obvious. Since superdelegate participation in the voting on the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee is conditional, that affects which group of delegates is determinative. As FHQ laid out last summer when the rules package was adopted by the Rules and Bylaws Committee:
  1. If a candidate wins 50 percent of the pledged delegates plus one during or by the end of primary season, then the superdelegates are barred from the first ballot.
  2. If a candidate wins 50 percent of all of the delegates (including superdelegates) plus one, then the superdelegate trigger is tripped and that faction of delegates can participate in the first (and only) round of voting.
  3. If no candidate wins a majority of either pledged or all delegates during or by the end of primary season, then superdelegates are barred from the first round and allowed in to vote in the second round to break the stalemate.
In other words, if there is a presumptive nominee heading into the convention, then it is likely that the magic number it be a majority of all delegates (including superdelegates). Of course, that outcome is less knowable in the thick of primary season. But if the writing is on the wall by the end of primary season, then there is likely to be some movement between then and the convention that allows superdelegates back into the voting. And by "writing on the wall," FHQ means that the first ballot vote appears to be the formality that it has been since 1952. And, by extension, it will include all of the delegates -- pledged and superdelegates -- as it has since 1984.

However, early on in primary season, at least, there is likely to be a chase after two separate numbers: a majority of pledged delegates and an asterisk chase for a majority of all delegates. Candidates will go after the former because that is all that is technically needed to win the nomination. By the same token, however, campaigns will also target the latter. And in truth that chase is, perhaps, less about the majority of all delegates than it is about lining up superdelegates support contingent on a second ballot vote at the national convention. But that contingency will be one that requires a majority of all delegates because superdelegates will be eligible to vote on any ballot beyond the first.

The final complicating factor in determining the magic number of delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 again focuses on the superdelegates. But this one has less to do with the which question above (as in which pool of delegates is determinative) and more again about how many delegates are necessary. Unlike past cycles during the superdelegates era (1984-2016), superdelegates can shed their capes so to speak and run for pledged delegate slots. The DNC made that change because of the above changes made to superdelegate participation. In the event that a DNC member or elected official is so frustrated at potentially not being able to participate in the convention voting on the nomination, the party rescinded the prohibition on superdelegates running for pledged delegate positions. The new rules, then, allow superdelegates to run for pledged delegate positions if they want to guarantee that they will meaningfully vote to determine the nomination.

But that is not a costless exchange, at least not for the state delegation. Any superdelegate that opts to run for (and potentially win) a pledged delegate position gives up that superdelegate vote. Furthermore, that vote is not replaced as a vacancy in the pledged delegate pool would be. That would have the effect of reducing the number of delegates in a given state delegation by the number of superdelegates who choose to run for pledged delegate slots.

[Incidentally, this highlights at least part of the motivation to add superdelegates in the first place way back in 1982. Yes, superdelegates potentially have great sway in a tight nomination race and if they are largely united. But creating automatic slots for DNC members and elected officials also freed up pledged delegate slots for grassroots activists and gave state parties much more leeway in balancing their delegations given the DNC affirmative action requirements. That task gets much harder in 2020 if superdelegates are moved to run for pledged delegate slots.]

No, superdelegates running for pledged delegate slots does not affect the number of pledged delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Yet, if would affect the total number of delegates needed should the convention go beyond a first ballot. And if you are the braintrust within any of the Democratic presidential campaigns at this point, that is a jumble of rules that you have to keep tabs on. Some campaigns will be better able to adapt than others.

While the wait continues on the calendar to finalize, a word of advice: dismiss out of hand any mention in any story of a specific number of delegates needed to win the 2020 Democratic nomination. At this point, that number is not known.