Primary Scuffles

Chaos. Sheer, unadulterated chaos. Ain’t it grand?

The universe has granted me two gifts for my Oct. 1 birthday: the season finale of Doctor Who and the deadline for states to schedule their GOP primaries. One I consider to be the best gift ever. The other is just a bonus. I leave you to decide which is which.

So, what’s up with these primaries?

It used to be like this:

Four states were special and everyone else was very, very jealous.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) decided any state (except the anointed four) should not hold contests before March 6 – the so called “Super Tuesday.” If they do schedule their contests earlier in the year, the number of delegates they’re allowed to seat at the nominating convention will be cut in half.

However, all the other states are super jealous of the influence of the anointed four, so…

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer decided to move up the date of her state's primary to Feb. 28, the same as South Carolina.

Missouri has scheduled its primary for Feb. 7 (one day after Iowa’s current date) – it looked like they’d be moving it back, but then Gov. Nixon vetoed the bill for other reasons and now the effort is stalled in a special session. Unless something happens, this will result in the first contests being held in mid to late January. Last year, the jockeying for position led to a Jan. 3 caucus in Iowa.

It’s a giant game of leapfrog. Seriously. With Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada determined to keep their spots and all the other states wanting to have more influence over the selection process.

Since Arizona moved up to Feb. 28, South Carolina will certainly move its up earlier – because states don’t like to share primary dates. And that may set off a cascade of changes, since the laws in New Hampshire and Iowa require them to be earlier than all the other states by a certain amount. Additionally, Nevada has tethered their date to New Hampshire’s contest. Michigan has also moved up to Feb. 28.

Over the weekend, Colorado moved up to Feb. 7 but won’t lose any delegates because of the design of their primary. The early vote will be non-binding.

Florida was in talks with South Carolina to ensure it would be fifth in the process after South Carolina. The panel that decides the date has delayed a decision until closer to the deadline. So in addition to being a bit like leapfrog, it’s also got a “chicken” component to see who flinches first…

The nomination contest is all about momentum – so the earlier states hold more power in the contest, since candidates who win them get more attention and look better. To make later contests more decisive and draw out the process the RNC, in addition to setting the halve-delegates-from-early-states rule, requires states holding their primaries in March to award delegates proportionally rather than using a winner-take-all system. This is intended to encourage states to hold their contests later in the year.

Clearly, the RNC rules don’t scare anyone. Thus – chaos. Which will hopefully resolve itself by my birthday.

Update: Sep. 28 at 4:30 p.m. CDT

Florida is apparently contemplating a leap ahead of everyone else’s current date to Jan. 31. South Carolina, which was trying to make a deal with Florida, will most definitely be moving their primary. Jeff Zeleny has a comprehensive summary of the primary calendar at The Caucus, NYT’s campaign blog.

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