Monday, November 17, 2014

About That Michigan Electoral College Allocation Proposal

Reexamining electoral vote allocation is back in the news again.

The story is the same as it was two years ago when red-blue states, that is to say, Republican-controlled state governments in states that have voted reliably Democratic at the presidential level, considered altering the way in which they were allocating electoral votes. FHQ touched on this two years ago, and I thought Jonathan Bernstein nicely updated his comments from the same period at Bloomberg View.

It still strikes me as interesting that states would consider this. First of all, it creates on the state level the potential for there to be a popular loser: someone who could win fewer votes yet still win a majority of the electoral votes from a state. That argument at the national level is one of the most frequent criticisms of the electoral college system itself. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a districted plan -- where states allocate electoral votes by congressional district -- tends to dilute the power of the states. Had a districted plan been in place in Michigan in 2012 both of those issues would have been at play. Mitt Romney would have won a 9-7 majority of the Great Lakes state's 16 electoral votes despite Barack Obama winning more votes statewide. That would have, in turn, greatly reduced the power of Michigan in the electoral college. A two electoral vote margin that is largely baked into those districts would attract the candidates to the state a lot less than the promise of a 16 electoral vote cushion/win.

To FHQ, the winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes is a lot like the filibuster: You don't want to give up on it now because you might need it/benefit from it in the future.

But the new proposal in Michigan -- HB 5974, sponsored by Representative Pete Lund (R-36th, Macomb) -- is not the districted plan as it was two years ago. It is different in that it has built-in incentives addressing the above criticisms of that plan. Regardless of whether the new legislation passes in the current lame duck session of the Michigan legislature, it is an interesting tweak to some of the plans that have been deemed electoral college "rigging". This plan has some interesting implications that are worth exploring.

...or if not worth exploring, then fun to look at.

Here are the particulars:
1) The statewide winner in the vote count received half of the delegates plus one. When Michigan has an even number of electoral votes as it does now (16), that means 9 electoral votes (8+1). If Michigan has an odd number of electoral votes -- as it did during the 2000s (17) -- that half (8.5) is rounded down to the nearest whole number and then the one additional electoral vote is added. That rounding is a small bonus to the second place vote-getter. But...

2) The top finisher in the statewide count receives an additional electoral vote for each increment of 1.5% the statewide winner gets above 50%. There is a nice breakdown of this over at the Bridge. Basically, if the winning candidate receives 61.5% of the statewide vote, that candidate receives all 16 electoral votes.

The first point always avoids the popular loser complaint, unlike the districted plan. The statewide winner would receive a majority of the electoral votes, but only narrowly if the vote is close. In other words, the electoral vote allocation is more proportional than districted.

The incentives the candidates and their campaigns face in dealing with this particular plan is distinct from the districted plan as well. The redistricting process, as hinted at above, bakes in the results of the electoral vote in a way that would dissuade candidates from coming to the state to fight for electoral votes. Campaigns would only expend resources to get an electoral vote or two if a near-tie in the electoral college was a near-certainty.

The newly proposed plan in Michigan circumvents that issue to some degree. Candidates would be motivated under a plan that awards "bonus" electoral votes to either try and run up the score (statewide vote percentage) in Michigan, or barring that, try to at least maintain resource expenditure parity with the other candidate. FHQ does not want to overstate this effect though. If anything, the added electoral vote for each 1.5% increment of the statewide vote over 50% adds another strategic element to the puzzle. But even if Michigan was off the board and not as competitive heading down the stretch, then that does give incentive to the favored candidate to spend some time/money there in an effort to get as close to a winner-take-all allocation as possible (if the overall national electoral college vote distribution is somewhat close). Think about a state like North Carolina in 2008. The Obama campaign put resources into the state late and the McCain campaign was unable to match it. Those 15 electoral votes were superfluous to what Obama needed to get over the 270 electoral vote barrier.

There may be conditions under which this 1.5% bonus motivates increased activity, but it is likely to only do so when a race is close either nationally or in the state. [The candidates would already be there if the state is close.]

--
There is another dimension to this that has been neglected to this point, lost in all the rigging talk. It is important to look at how this plan would work historically to get a real sense as to how it would play out in reality. Let's give it a glance:

2012 (Michigan -- 16 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Obama: 54.04%
Romney: 44.58%

Electoral votes:
Obama: 11
Romney: 5

2008 (Michigan -- 17 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Obama: 57.33%
McCain: 40.89%

Electoral votes:
Obama: 13
McCain: 4

2004 (Michigan -- 17 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Kerry: 51.23%
Bush: 47.81%

Electoral votes:
Kerry: 9
Bush: 8

2000 (Michigan -- 18 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Gore: 51.28%
Bush: 46.14%

Electoral votes:
Gore: 10
Bush: 8

1996 (Michigan -- 18 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Clinton: 51.69%
Dole: 38.48%

Electoral votes:
Clinton: 11
Dole: 7

1992 (Michigan -- 18 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Clinton: 43.77%
Bush: 36.38%

Electoral votes:
Clinton: 10
Bush: 8

1988 (Michigan -- 20 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Bush: 53.57%
Dukakis: 45.67%

Electoral votes:
Bush: 13
Dukakis: 7

1984 (Michigan -- 20 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Reagan: 59.23%
Mondale: 40.24%

Electoral votes:
Reagan: 17
Mondale: 3

1980 (Michigan -- 21 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Reagan: 48.99%
Carter: 42.50%

Electoral votes:
Reagan: 11
Carter: 10

1976 (Michigan -- 21 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Ford: 51.83%
Carter: 46.44%

Electoral votes:
Ford: 12
Carter: 9

1972 (Michigan -- 21 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Nixon: 56.20%
McGovern: 41.81%

Electoral votes:
Nixon: 15
McGovern: 6

1968 (Michigan -- 21 electoral votes):
Vote percentage:
Humphrey: 48.18%
Nixon: 41.46%

Electoral votes:
Humphrey: 11
Nixon: 10

NOTES:
1) It probably goes without saying that if this newly proposed plan had been instituted in Michigan in the past, it would not have changed the overall outcome of the electoral college. The closest instances would have been in 2000 and 2004. In both cases, George W. Bush would have gained a handful of electoral votes to add to an already winning total. And to repeat, this plan eliminates the potential for popular losers within the state of Michigan. That also obviously didn't happen in any of these elections.

2) There are just three cases where the winning candidate cleared the 55% threshold and was able to take advantage of the bonuses in any meaningful way. That is a quarter of these 12 total elections. In the other 75% of the cases, Michigan's electoral vote power would have been reduced to something between Iowa (6 electoral votes now) and something less than Delaware/Wyoming. That really offers no guaranteed pull to candidates despite the claims of those sponsoring the legislation in Michigan.

3) Even semi-successful third party candidates really mess this up for the top vote-getter. That increases the likelihood that no candidate clears the 50% barrier and thus a near-even distribution of the electoral votes. [The 1.5% bonus is never triggered.] Humphrey won Michigan by 7.5%, gets within a stone's throw of 50% and splits the electoral votes 11-10 with Nixon (see also 1980). 1996 offers another interesting tale. Clinton barely clears 50%, gets one bonus electoral vote, but splits the total 11-7 with Dole, who received less than 40% of the vote.

Aside from eliminating the potential for a popular loser outcome -- relative to the districted plan -- this new electoral vote allocation proposal does not clearly do what its proponents argue it would: make Michigan relevant during the general election. That does not seem to be the case here. It would only have reduced Michigan's electoral vote power.

What it does do is provide us with a fun counterfactual exercise with some interesting outcomes. And that's about it.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kentucky Republicans Eye 2016 Caucuses OR How Kentucky Republicans Already Have Caucuses

It has been over a week since Manu Raju reported that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has had preliminary discussions with the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) about the possibility of the state party switching from a primary to caucuses as a means of allocating delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention. Such a move would help a now-latent Paul presidential campaign circumvent state law barring him from appearing twice on the May 2016 Bluegrass state primary ballot (once for renomination to run for his US Senate seat and also for the presidential preference vote).

The basics of this story are simple enough:
  • Democrats retain control of the Kentucky State House in the 2014 midterms.
  • The majority Democrats also signal that they would block attempts to change the law, allowing Senator Paul to run simultaneously for both a senate and presidential nomination.
  • Paul and Kentucky Republicans consider a shift to caucuses to accommodate the senator and to avoid Paul breaking the law.
Outside of that outline, though, some of the commentary on this has been a bit off.

First of all, this is something of a no-brainer reaction from Kentucky Republicans and Senator Paul. The barrier separating a law change -- a Democratic majority in the Kentucky State House -- survived  the midterm elections. It is not as if states and state parties have not done things to benefit their favorite son presidential candidates during the nomination phase of the campaign in the past. Typically, that has resulted in calendar maneuvering at the state legislative level. In 2011, Utah Republicans considered moving the primary in the Beehive state to an earlier date to help Mitt Romney. In 2005, Governor Mike Huckabee signed into law a bill moving the Arkansas presidential primary from May to February for a 2008 cycle that saw Huckabee run for run for the Republican nomination. Similarly, Illinois legislators pushed through a bill in 2007 moving the Prairie state primary up a month to February to boost Senator Barack Obama's chances in the Democratic nomination race. In 1988, the entire South (a group that included Kentucky) shifted their nominating contests up in the hopes of building momentum behind a southern Democratic nominee (who could win the White House).1 There are plenty of other examples, but this type of supposed machinations from the states is not new or all that controversial.

It also is not the sort of move that would potentially draw legal challenge from Kentucky Democrats (as Raju mentioned in passing in his Politico piece). FHQ is still trying to figure that one out. Challenge what? The shift to caucuses? Paul's name being on a caucuses ballot (president) and a primary ballot (senate)? The former is not something that would last long in the courts. State parties have the freedom of association rights to select the mode of delegate allocation (primary or caucus) and who can participate (open, closed or some hybrid primary type). More often than not the courts side with the parties. Idaho Republicans, for instance, abandon the traditionally late presidential primary in the Gem state for early March caucuses for the 2012 cycle. Nebraska Democrats took a similar path four years earlier. Kentucky Democrats could challenge Paul appearing on two ballots, but would find that a likely uphill climb because 1) there is not typically a ballot at caucus sites and 2) the language of the Kentucky law is a bit quirky naming only voting machines and absentee ballots  (Again, neither of those would be involved in caucus proceedings.).

Counter to what Jazz Shaw had to say at HotAir about the potential move in Kentucky, Kentucky Republicans would not have to reinvent the wheel in shifting from its business-as-usual primary to caucuses as a means of allocating delegates. Kentucky Republicans have used the primary as means of allocating delegate slots to presidential candidates. Yet, they -- the RPK -- also have had a caucuses system in place for the purposes of selecting delegates to fill those allocated slots. Rule 5.03 of the Rules of the Republican Party of Kentucky lay out the rules regarding the timing of those first determining events (precinct caucuses). They are to occur between March 1 and March 31 of a presidential election year. The only thing Kentucky Republicans would be likely to do is to clean up some of the language to have the precinct caucuses all coinciding on the same date, say, March 1. Making the switch would not be difficult for the party, but participation would certainly go down relative to a primary.

One final thing FHQ has not seen mentioned in association with this story is the fact that there have been concerted efforts on the part of (Ron) Paul supporters across the country over the last few years to take over control of state parties and/or to change the nomination processes in those states to caucuses. The elder Paul did quite well in 2012 caucuses/conventions. Hypothetically, such a move would potentially help Rand Paul too, though one would imagine him likely being quite successful no matter what type of contest his home state decided to adopt.

This one will be an interesting one to watch develop from an institutional standpoint. The question is, does the RPK opt to shift and move to an earlier date where there may be other regional partners on the same date or try for an earlier calendar position where they may not get lost in the shuffle because of contest crowding and other candidates avoiding a likely Paul win for other states on the same date? The benefits are not as clear on that front as they are for Senator Paul avoiding breaking current Kentucky state law.

--
1 Kentucky Democrats had actually moved up in 1984, abandoning the May primary for set of March caucuses. In 1988, the state government moved the primary up to an earlier March date (only to move it back for 1992).


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Monday, November 10, 2014

"SEC Presidential Primary" Back on the Radar for 2016

Jim Galloway and Greg Bluestein at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp (R) is still working on a southern regional primary for March 1, 2016:
"Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s efforts to build what he calls an “SEC” presidential primary in 2016 appear to be proceeding apace.  
"Kemp is working with his counterparts in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama to arrange a coordinated, regional primary for the first Tuesday in March 2016.  
"In a letter to six Southern secretaries of state, Kemp confirmed that he intends to set March 1 as the date for Georgia’s presidential primary:
'It is my hope that our region will participate together that day and that the voters of the Southeast will have a major impact in the selection of the presidential nominees of both parties.'"
--
A few things either mentioned or neglected:
1) Kemp seems focused on that March 1 date for the Georgia presidential primary in 2016. The secretary has signaled more than once now that this is a likely destination for the primary in the Peach state. That is a change from the 2012 cycle when the date of the Georgia primary was an unknown through much of 2011 after the state legislature ceded the date-setting authority to the secretary of state.

2) Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama are the low hanging fruit of potential presidential primary moves for 2016. Here's the calendar. Tennessee is already on March 1 (as Galloway and Bluestein mention) and Louisiana is now locked into a Saturday, March 5 primary date after legislation moving the primary up by two weeks was signed into law this summer. That will be as far as Louisiana moves up; the same week as the other southern states. Alabama and Mississippi are already slated for primary dates just a week later on March 8. Those states bumping their dates up by a week is not all that heavy a lift. Arkansas is a different matter. Having gotten lost in the early state shuffle during the Southern Super Tuesday in 1988 and the Titanic Tuesday of 2008, state legislators moved the presidential primary back to the traditional May date in the immediately subsequent cycles. However, Republicans now have unified control of the state government in the Natural state after the 2014 midterms and may be more receptive to such a move.

3) Perhaps more importantly, it should be noted that the two biggest SEC states -- Florida and Texas are already positioned on March 1. It leaves one to wonder if this version of a Southern Super Tuesday plays out the same way as it did in 1988, but in reverse. Spurred by the action of Southern Democratic action, most southern states moved up to the second Tuesday in March in 1988. There was a split decision on the Democratic side with Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and Jesse Jackson all laying some claim to having won the day. While Democrats had a split decision across the South, George HW Bush swept the region. Such a reversal may be less about the decisions throughout the South to cluster primaries on the same date than how the Republican and Democratic nomination races are shaping up at this point in late 2014. Still...


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 Senate Forecast

Over the weekend, FHQ could not resist the urge to pull the available polling data on the 36 senate races of 2014 and run them through the graduated weighted polling averages we use during presidential general elections to forecast the electoral college. No, there is no shortage of these predictions, but as is FHQ's wont, we like to see how well a simpler method of aggregation and analysis stacks up against the other models. Surprisingly or not, there is some convergence between these models on election day 2014.

FHQ is no different in showing that:
1) There is a band of around 10 states with competitive senate races (seen in lighter shades of blue and red on the map below).
2) Some are more competitive than others. Kentucky, for instance, is less competitive than, say, Colorado or North Carolina.
3) Most of the competitive states -- 7 out of 10 -- favor the Republicans.


4) There is a rough order to the states as far as their average margins are concerned (overall and the more competitive states in gray in the figure of final average margins below). With all the polling data in, that indicates that Colorado, Iowa, Alaska, Kansas and North Carolina are the states to watch this evening as the returns come in. There are still 8 states with races within 3%.
5) Republicans look poised to pick up seats in Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota with Kentucky looking likely to join that group.
6) If Republicans win the 15 states in which they are ahead in the averages by more than 10% then they will be sitting at 45 seats. Add Kentucky and that number increases to 46.


7) Even when the possible implications of runoff elections in Louisiana and Georgia are factored in, Republican candidates are ahead in Arkansas and more narrowly in Colorado, Iowa and Alaska. Those four, if they follow the FHQ projections, would put the Republicans at 50 seats.
8) A Republican Senate majority would then depend on either Roberts/Orman race in Kansas and/or the two runoff states.
9) That does not take into account the possibility of Republican candidates running ahead of their averages in other competitive states, North Carolina and New Hampshire. In both, polls will close early and give a quick indication of whether the Republican tide has pushed to include the more competitive but persistently blue states (given the polling) this cycle.
10) There is more uncertainty about the path Republicans could take to the Senate majority than whether they will take that majority. FHQ projects Republicans will pick up 8 seats (Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Alaska) while losing Kansas. FHQ also projects Democrats to hold New Hampshire and North Carolina. If there are runoff elections in Louisiana and Georgia, Republicans would be sitting on 50 seats needing one those runoff states to claim the majority.
11) FHQ projects 52 seats for the Republicans and 45 seats for the Democrats with three independents when it is all said and done and the new congress is fully sworn in next January.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Michigan Bill Would Undermine February Presidential Primary

FHQ has been sitting on this one for a while, but with all the stirrings among Michigan Republicans concerning the date of their 2016 primary and the rules by which they will allocate delegates to the national convention, this becomes slightly more relevant.

To review, the Michigan Republican Party has pinpointed March 15 as the preferred landing point for its presidential primary in 2016. And while that is a preference, it is not binding. The date decision rests not with the state parties, but with the state government.1 In other words, if Michigan Republicans want that March 15 primary date, they will need some help from the state legislature for a start.

It has been relatively quiet on that front in Lansing (and elsewhere) during 2014. Midterm years are not typically when the majority of states consider presidential primary moves. The tendency is for state legislatures to act in the year prior to the presidential election, after the midterm elections that elect a fair number of those legislatures, but also, more importantly, after the national parties have settled on the rules that will govern the delegate selection process in the upcoming election year.

Still, there has been some legislative activity in Michigan that would potentially have some impact on the scheduling of the state's presidential primary.2 Back in May, Rep. Lisa Lyons (R-86th, Kent) introduced HB 5584 to pare back some of the primary date options available to the state. Importantly, the bill calls for eliminating the February primary date that the presidential primary was paired with in 2012. However, it does not eliminate the presidential primary. The bill doesn't even mention it.

Eliminating the February option is significant, though, in that the date was used as a rationale for keeping the presidential primary in February 2012 (and in future cycles). It was argued then that changing the date of the presidential primary from February would be difficult because it was a date on which other (school) elections were held. There was, then, a potential financial burden associated with moving the Michigan presidential primary away from what was (and would be in 2016) a non-compliant position on the calendar. Eliminating the February option -- for those other elections -- would be detrimental to any attempt at using the cost-savings argument again. With no other elections, the presidential primary would be a stand-alone contest, offering no savings to the state.

In reality, then, the bill would do little to alter the date of the presidential nomination contest. It would remove the February date that is often used for school elections, but without also changing the code that refers to the February presidential primary. This is the sort of loophole that is closed at the committee stage of a bill's consideration. Of course, HB 5584 has been bottled up in committee since it was introduced. It may ultimately die there, but it could also prove to be a vehicle for a presidential primary change during the post-election session of the legislature during December.

...or those in Lansing may wait until the new legislature is sworn in and introduce a bill specific to the presidential primary date then.

--
1 This is functionally true. State parties have the final say on the date of a primary, but rarely opt out of the state-funded option. That has the effect of passing the date decision off to the state government.  State parties do not often find it in their interest to hold a party-funded primary (or caucuses) if a state-funded option is available. It happens (see Idaho Democrats), but only occasionally.

2 The Michigan legislature has a year-round session. July/August and October/November are slow times, but the legislature has regular meetings during September and then again in December.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Michigan Republicans Green Light March15, but...

The Michigan Republican Party State Central Committee met this past Saturday and voted to move the Great Lakes State presidential primary to March 15, 2016 and to make a small change to the way in which the party allocates delegates to candidates.

Moving forward, the biggest thing where Michigan's position on the 2016 presidential primary calendar is concerned is what the state legislature does. What the Michigan Republican Party voted on on Saturday was a measure that is completely dependent upon action from the state legislature. It -- March 15 -- is not binding unless the state party opts to fund the election itself. Otherwise, the state legislature will have to change the date of the primary from the last Tuesday in February (where it is currently scheduled). Any change there may also later prove to be a function of the party or parties that control the state legislature and governor's mansion after the elections in November.

More meaningfully, the change to the allocation rules is something that the party has autonomy over. That takes effect immediately, but only represents a minor change. The allocation will be conditionally winner-take-all, meaning that if a candidate cross the 50% threshold, that candidate will receive the entire allotment of Michigan delegates.1 Should no candidate clear that barrier, it appears the plan will be just as it was in 2012. The winner of each congressional district would receive three delegates and the statewide winner would receive a number of delegates proportional to his or her share of the vote.

That was the intent of the plan in 2012. And that will likely be how the plan is implemented in 2016 unless the field of Republican candidates has been winnowed down to a couple of candidates. Depending on how the overall calendar shapes up, March 15 will still be ahead of the point on the calendar at which 50% of the delegates will have been allocated. It will still likely be early enough, in other words, for that number to be higher than two.

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1 This differs slightly from the description FHQ provided last week. I said at the time that only the statewide, at-large delegates would be winner-take-all, rather than the full allotment.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Arizona Should Replace Iowa at the Front of the Presidential Primary Queue?

That's the argument Mike Saucier and Chip Scutari make the case for writing over at Time.

The problem is that we have already played that game during the 2016 cycle. And it didn't go well for Arizona. In fact, as Saucier and Scutari note, the Arizona legislature did just the opposite, moving the Grand Canyon state's presidential primary to a later date earlier this year.

There are two major reasons why Arizona will not do this in 2016 nor in the future:
1. As long as Bruce Ash -- Arizona Republican National committeeman -- is head of the RNC Rules Committee, Arizona is very unlikely to step out of line with the national party rules on delegate selection. That isn't to suggest that the Arizona state legislature and/or governor have no ability to defy the national party, but the RNC has taken a proactive approach to what one might call primary defiance legislation since 2012. The RNC is jumping on that activity early.

2) Arizona's spot in this hypothetical primary calendar has already been taken by Nevada. This is a point that is completely lost in what Saucier and Scutari are offering in their bland, run-of-the-mill take down of the Iowa and New Hampshire duopoly atop the calendar. The national parties have already dealt with the diversity dilemma that Iowa and New Hampshire represent by adding South Carolina and Nevada to the list of privileged, carve-out states. Nevada was added for many of the same reasons Saucier and Scutari raise: proximity to the southern border, Hispanic population and western state.

Those are both prohibitive factors from the Arizona perspective. Yet, Arizona moving into the carve-out lineup is not out of the question in the future. Nevada gained its position among the first four states on the calendar because Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) lobbied hard for its inclusion when the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee had a small group of states pitch the committee during the 2008 cycle. South Carolina got the southern spot, Nevada got the western spot and the RNC got reluctantly dragged into allowing Nevada to go early in 2008 as well.1 FHQ has heard it said on more than one occasion among rules officials in both national parties that Nevada may possibly be replaced at some point,2 and that Arizona is an attractive candidate.

That isn't first, but it is in the early calendar conversation.

...and not for all the wrong reasons.

--
Additional note:
It should also be noted that Saucier and Scutari are at best ambiguous (if not wrong) about the impact an early primary would have on the sizable group of independents in Arizona. As they say:
At a time when both parties talk about expanding their bases—both courting Latinos—it makes more strategic sense to put our presidential wannabes right in front of those same constituencies. What better atmosphere for presidential candidates to walk into than an energized core of Independents?
If one gives them the benefit of the doubt, an early primary might help because it means the state will see competition and perhaps energize independents for the general election. Those voters would be exposed to the same campaigning everyone else in the state is exposed to.

However, the above quotation seems to mean independent primary voters. The only problem there is that Arizona has a closed primary and independents cannot vote. It is difficult to energize a bloc of voters for an election in which they are unable to participate.

--
1 On top of that, the Nevada Republican caucuses in 2008 and 2012 were not without their problems.

2 That point always has something to do with when Harry Reid leaves the Senate.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Michigan Republicans Take First Step Toward 2016 Presidential Primary Date Change

WKZO in Michigan reports:
March 15th, 2016 appears to be the likely date of the Michigan Republican presidential primary in the next election. The Michigan Republican Party's Policy Committee approved the date... 
There is a bit more to the story, but it was little more than a blurb that has not been reported elsewhere. FHQ spoke with Michigan Republican Party Member Relations Director, Brian Koss, who confirmed the report and added some background as well.

Here's what we know:
1. The Policy Committee of the Michigan Republican Party approved the date change from the last Tuesday in February to March 15. That would have the effect of shifting the Michigan presidential primary back three weeks in 2016.

2. The committee also recommended a change to the method of delegate allocation. The change is not all that significant, but Mr. Koss indicated that it was the result of a compromise among the committee membership. Some wanted a winner-take-all allocation while others preferred a more proportional method of awarding delegates to presidential candidates. In the end, the Michigan Republican delegate allocation would look similar to the party's 2012 delegate selection plan (pre-penalty). Basically the recommendation calls for the allocation to be winner-take-all by congressional district with the statewide, at-large delegates being allocated proportionally. That is exactly the same as it was in 2012. The added wrinkle is that if one candidate receives over 50% of the vote statewide, then that candidate wins all of the at-large delegates.

3. This is the first step in the process. The Policy Committee has only recommended changes that the State Central Committee will now consider. Mr. Koss signaled that there was support for both changes -- date and delegate allocation -- on the SCC.

4. However, only part of the changes would be binding. The state party controls the ability to alter the method of delegate allocation, can only signal its preference for a primary date (unless it opts to fund the primary election itself and hold it on March 15, 2016). If SCC votes positively on the recommended allocation change, then that would be changed in the state party rules.

The primary, however, is state funded and thus the legislature must initiate legislation to move the date of the contest back on the calendar. FHQ will have more on the developments on that front soon, but for the time being, without action from the state government, the actions by the SCC will be little more than a non-binding preference/recommendation. Much of that recommendation -- where the Michigan presidential primary ends up on the calendar -- depends on how the midterm elections affect the partisan control of both the state legislature and the governor's mansion.

Again, this is the first step and gives us some idea about the thinking in Michigan on the Republican side.

--
NOTES:
The WKZO report indicates that March 15 is the "is the earliest a primary can be held without losing delegates to the Republican National Convention." Well, sort of. In reality, that is the earliest a primary can be held without any penalty. But a March 15 Michigan primary would suffer no losses to its delegation to the Republican National Convention. The primary would have to be before March 1 for the party to lose delegates. The March 15 threshold is one that refers to the method of allocation. The RNC rules require that contests prior to March 15 maintain some element of proportional allocation in their plan. Both the Michigan allocation plan of 2012 and the recommended changes for 2016 would be compliant there. March 15 then is not about avoiding a delegate penalty.

In fact, on March 15, Michigan would not even need to avoid a true winner-take-all allocation. That would be compliant then. But again, the allocation recommendation from the MIGOP Policy Committee was function of compromise, not avoiding penalty.

The question that emerges is why March 15? That was the less "controversial" of the two recommendations. The consensus on March 15 in Michigan may lend some credence to the talk of a Midwestern regional primary on that date, after a March 1 Southern regional primary. Ohio is a week earlier on March 8 and Wisconsin could potentially move up and maintain a winner-take-all allocation on March 15.

All of that, though, is a matter for 2015.

Recent Posts:
New York Has Reverted to a February Presidential Primary for 2016

State GOP parties jockey for primary calendar advantage

Revisiting the 2016 Republican Delegate Selection Rules

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Friday, September 12, 2014

New York Has Reverted to a February Presidential Primary for 2016

FHQ has done some maintenance to our 2016 presidential primary calendar this week. Mostly that meant repairing some broken links to the primary date statutes in the various states, but also included double-checking the language of those statutes. On that latter front, we came across an unusual situation/oversight concerning the positioning of the 2016 presidential primary in New York.

The bill(s) the New York state legislature passed in 2011 called for the presidential primary in the Empire state to be moved from the first Tuesday in February to April 24, 2012. The specificity of that language -- actually naming the day and year rather than a point on the calendar -- meant that New York would at the conclusion of the 2012 cycle not have a date covered by the New York Election Code. Translation: There was no date for the primary in 2016 and beyond. That is how FHQ has been treating the New York situation in the time since.

However, in double-checking the language of the current law, FHQ was somewhat taken aback in finding out that the election code (Section 8-100) calls for the presidential primary -- or spring primary -- to be conducted on the first Tuesday in February. After looking back at the bills that went through the state Assembly and Senate, the reason was pretty simple (albeit buried at the end of the legislation). Both bills -- A8363 and S5753 -- included in the last paragraph a sunset provision that repealed all the changes the bill made. Basically then, the 2011 change from the first Tuesday in February to April 24, 2014 expired at the conclusion of 2012. In other words, New York shot back up the calendar to a position that makes the state's presidential primary a bigger threat to the ideal calendar the two national parties have attempted to create through their respective sets of delegate selection rules.

But just because New York looks like a threat to the established order of states -- or more importantly where they fall on the calendar -- it does not mean that the Empire state will actually be a threat in 2015 or 2016. That possibility exists -- which is likely more than either national party wants -- but it is probable, likely even, that the state government will do in 2015 what they did in 2011: move to a later and compliant date that suits New York.

What that means depends in part on which party (or combination of parties) controls the state legislature after the 2014 elections. The first Tuesday in February is less likely because of the national party sanctions that date would trigger, but anything between that point and March is a safe bet at this point. New York could also shift back to late April as well, a spot where several neighboring states were in 2012 and currently are for 2016. There are other niches earlier in the calendar that could be exploited as well. The bottom line is that this introduces some uncertainty where the positioning of the New York presidential primary is concerned. And given the February date called for in state law, that is a date that has to change in light of national party rules.

Recent Posts:
State GOP parties jockey for primary calendar advantage

Revisiting the 2016 Republican Delegate Selection Rules

Update: 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar (8/26/14)

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

State GOP parties jockey for primary calendar advantage

This was the headline that greeted FHQ this morning in my inbox from the Washington Times.1 And it is absolutely true. State parties are turning their sights toward 2016 to some extent and are beginning to consider calendar positioning in light of the now-solidified national party delegate selection rules (from both parties).

The wheels kind of fell off the wagon in Ralph Hallow's piece after that. There is a lot of information in there. Unfortunately a lot of that information is wrong, partially wrong and/or misleading. So let's play fact check with this Q&A style.

Q: Are state parties jockeying for position?

A: Again, to some extent they are. Granted, that does not really provide the full picture of what is going on here. The presidential nomination process is a coordination problem. Often this problem is discussed in terms of the varying interests and voices within a party settling on a presidential nominee. But the idea applies to the rules making process and the states' reactions to them as well. [Collectively, both are are part of the invisible primary.] State parties have a role to play in the coordination of the calendar, but that role is exaggerated in the Washington Times piece.

As FHQ has said, this is a sequential process; the rules making and state-level reaction. The national parties have done their part by finalizing the delegate selection rules that will govern the process in 2016. However, it isn't the state parties that will act alone in making the decisions on calendar positioning now. State parties have the final say, but more often than not state governments -- state legislatures and governors -- will choose to move the date (if they can agree on one). State parties have the final up or down vote on the matter but rarely opt out of the date the state government has selected. Most state parties have a very difficult time turning down a state-subsidized primary election when the alternative is the state party footing the bill for a primary or more likely caucuses on a date of their choosing.

Do state parties opt out of state-funded primaries? Sure, but it is the exception rather than the rule. Idaho Republicans, for instance, opted out of the the May state-funded primary in 2012 in order to hold earlier March caucuses.

The thing about Hallow's article is that the focus early on is mostly on the supposed tension between Nevada and South Carolina for the third spot on the Republican calendar. But that sample skews the perception of who is really in charge of setting the date. Nevada Republicans hold caucuses for the purposes of selecting and allocating delegates to the presidential candidates. State parties control caucuses. Rare is the state that has a law or laws on the books that affect the date of caucuses. South Carolina has traditionally held a party-run (and funded) primary. That practice changed in 2008 though. The parties retained the date setting ability while handing off the funding to the state government.

But Nevada and South Carolina are unique as are Iowa and New Hampshire. Sure, they are all carve-out states. But that is a function of the national parties protecting the status of those four states as well as the mechanisms at the state level that allow those states adapt and react to states that might or actually threaten those protected calendar positions. In each and every case -- four of four -- the carve-outs have removed the state legislature from the primary/caucus date selection equation. That allows them to react/adapt more quickly. In states like Florida or Texas -- which are mentioned in the article -- that is not true. Neither the states nor the state parties there are jockeying for positions on the calendar simply because preexisting state law has set those dates already. Texas' spot on the first Tuesday in March has been the law since the 2008 cycle. They haven't moved at all and the state party won't be jockeying for position they already have.


Q: Is Nevada really the biggest threat to South Carolina's position on the Republican calendar?

A: Right now? No. South Carolina has enjoyed being about third on the Republican primary calendar since 1980. But Palmetto state Republicans are not always third (see 2008. Michigan was in between New Hampshire and South Carolina). Actually, being third has occasionally taken a back seat to being the first primary contest in the South. This is a good question for Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party: What is more important, being first in the South or third on the calendar? In the past, the former has seemingly been more important, but South Carolina has been lucky that in a number of years the two -- first in the South and third on the calendar -- have overlapped.

There are two reasons why this Nevada threat is overblown (fun though it may be to FHQ in the dog days of summer before things move into high gear in 2015).

1. North Carolina has tethered its primary to South Carolina's. The Tarheel state primary is to follow on the Tuesday after the (presumably Saturday) South Carolina primary. In addition to the two conditions above that South Carolina prioritizes, Republicans in the state also like there to be a week in between it and the next closest southern primary. The North Carolina law violates that at the moment. [That may or may not change during the state legislative session next year.] But North Carolina is a bigger problem for South Carolina than Nevada.

2. Even if the North Carolina situation is settled and South Carolina gets its way, what is to prevent a repeat of 2008 from occurring? The Nevada caucuses of both parties and the South Carolina Republican primary were on the same date that year? South Carolina Republicans could easily gamble on Nevada Republicans having trouble pulling off flawless caucus meetings for the third cycle in a row and win the attention of the candidates and media in a head-to-head with Nevada.

How bothersome Nevada is to South Carolina is up to South Carolina. Protecting that third position as rigidly as is being implied by Hallow would be a new development in view of South Carolina Republicans' past actions.


Q: Are Texas and Florida seeking to "create a Mega-Tuesday election on the first day in March"?

A: Nope. Both are and have already been scheduled for the first Tuesday in March. They are both already there. Other states may and probably will join them, but Texas and Florida won't be moving again to a spot they already occupy.


Q: Does every state with a contest between March 1 and March 14 under the RNC rules have to "award its delegates in proportion to the percentage of the total vote each candidate received in that state"?

A: No, no, no. A thousand times no. An element of a state's allocation has to be proportional if it holds a contest prior to March 15. But proportional means a lot of things under the Republican rules. Even if a state fails to follow those guidelines, the RNC will only proportionally allocate a state's cache of at-large statewide delegates, not the full set of delegates. This is more a pet peeve of FHQ's than anything else. But the proportionality requirement is complex at the end of the day.


Q: Will the carve-out states be penalized by the RNC if they hold a primary or caucuses before February 1?

A: Not necessarily. It all depends on when the next earliest state is on the calendar; the fifth state. If that state has a non-compliant February primary, then the carve-out states can go as early as a month before that February date. February 1 is only on the radar because if the RNC and DNC rules collectively work, then the next earliest contest will be on March 1. But some states may opt to defy the national party rules and hold contests prior to March 1.


Q: Is the Republican National Convention scheduled for June 2016?

A: Not yet. It may be, but the RNC has yet to finalize the dates. Both June 28 and July 18 have been talked about.


Q: Is 1141 the magic number of delegates a Republican candidate needs to clinch the nomination (as Texas Republican Party chairman, Steve Munisteri described)?

A: 1144 was the number in 2012, but it changes every cycle depending on if a state voted for the last Republican presidential candidate, if it elected a Republican governor, how many Republican senators a state has, how many Republican representatives a state has and which party controls the chambers of a state's legislature. It changes every cycle. The snapshot of time in which those things are gauged will be in 2015. As of now, the magic number would rise from 1144 to 1209. That number is still likely to change after the 2014 elections.

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Look, states will move around. That movement will have consequences, both intended and unintended, on the Republican (and Democratic) nomination process(es). But let's talk about states that will actually potentially move rather than states that are already seemingly locked into March 1 primary or caucuses dates.

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1 The headline was subsequently changed.

Recent Posts:
Revisiting the 2016 Republican Delegate Selection Rules

Update: 2016 Presidential Primary Calendar (8/26/14)

So, It Turns Out Arizona Has Actually Moved Its Presidential Primary Back on the Calendar

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