Analysis: Looking good – so far – for a Feb. 9, 2016 first-in-the-nation primary

Will election officials from Pittsburg to Nashua be counting first-in-the-nation presidential primary ballots a year from tonight?


It seems that way – today. But a lot can happen in a year.


Secretary of State Bill Gardner is headed tomorrow to the winter meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, but he says he does not expect the presidential nominating schedule to be a significant part of the discussion.



That’s unusual. And that’s good for New Hampshire. And that’s for one simple reason. A year before the possible – and likely — date of the primary, there appears to be nothing brewing hat could upend the calendar envisioned by the two national political parties.


Two years ago, the top election officials from across the country, in their winter NASS meeting, hosted a discussion headed by former Gov. John H. Sununu, who had chaired the Republican National Convention Rules Committee, and Jim Roosevelt of Massachusetts, the longtime chair of the Democratic National Committee Rules and By-Laws Committee. This year, all will be quiet on the primary/caucus front at the NASS meeting, Gardner said.


But of course Gardner is ready, as always, to schedule the first-in-the-nation primary on a date that ensures compliance with the state law that says the primary must be held at least seven days of a “similar election.”


As the New Hampshire Journal reported on Jan. 24, the political parties have clearly “carved out” Iowa, New Hampshire , Nevada and South Carolina as the first four states to hold presidential primaries or caucuses in 2016 and have decreed that no other state can hold a primary or caucus prior to March 1, 2016.


The Democratic National Committee calendar specifically sets Iowa for Feb. 1 and New Hampshire for eight days later, on Feb. 9, with Nevada and South Carolina to follow, also in February. The Republican National Committee calendar does not set specific dates but states that no early state can hold its event prior to Feb. 1 and no other state can hold an event prior to March 1.


Any other state that holds a caucus or primary prior to March 1 will be severely sanctioned. As the Journal reported, the Democratic National Committee’s rules say, as they said for the 2012 election, that any state that jumps ahead of March 1 (or in the case of the early states, ahead of the dates set out in February) will lose half their delegates to the DNC’s convention. And candidates who campaign in a “rogue” state would not receive any delegates from that state.


The DNC reserves the right to stiffen the penalties and further reduce the number of delegates, at the discretion of its Rules and Bylaws Committee, for states that still refuse to play by the rules. It can also reduce the number of delegates on key convention committees or change a delegation’s seating arrangements at the convention or even its hotel location.


The RNC has sharply upgraded its penalties so that now, any state that jumps ahead will be penalized not just 50 percent – but 90 percent — of its delegates.


Josh Putnam, an assistant professor of political science at Appalachian State University, has operated a blog, FrontloadingHQ — or FHQ – for eight years. It is regarded as the “go to” place for updates on what is going on nationally in terms of states scheduling primaries and caucuses.


“I don’t see anything at this point” suggesting there will be any rogue states trying to challenge New Hampshire’s position on Feb. 9 next year, Putnam said. “It looks like the more severe Republican Party penalties, coupled with the DNC’s ability to increase its penalties if it needs to, has got states thinking twice about challenges.”


He did say that North Carolina, where he is based, has passed a law putting its primary on the same day as South Carolina’s traditional first-in-the-South primary, but he said, “The thinking now is that the RNC and the DNC will put some pressure on the Legislature to change that.


If, however, some state does defy the parties and challenges New Hampshire’s position, Gardner will of course act under the authority he has via the primary law.


The big issue now from a national calendar perspective, Putnam said, is states experimenting with “regional clusters” beginning in March. There appears to be regional primary move, led by officials in Georgia, to gather the states with college football teams in the Southeast Conference (SEC), and Putnam today wrote of evidence of a Big Ten primary taking shape.




Author: John DiStaso

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