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January 27, 2014

RNC Primary Schedule/Rules For 2016 Aim To Wrap Up Nomination Early

Ah yes, the ever excited quadrennial battle over the GOP's nomination calendar. This year the GOP decided to go with a schedule that front loads the primaries to try and avoid the problems of 2012.

The new rules will help protect early-voting states ó Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada ó from others who want to rush up to the front, and allow the party to hold an earlier convention, as they look to unite and raise more money for the general election.

The four designated early states will be required to hold their contests in February. States that vote between March 1 and March 14 will be required to award their delegates proportionally, weakening their impact, while states with primaries after that will assign their delegates in a winner-take-all contest, making them much more consequential in the delegate count and adding an incentive to wait.

The states that break those guidelines will face increased penalties compared to previous years. The committee passed a rule drastically shrinking the number of delegates that state would get at the party's nominating convention. States with 30 delegates or more would be cut down to just nine delegates plus the RNC's committee members, and states with less than 30 delegates would be cut down to 6 delegates plus their committeemen.

The real challenge will be controlling the debates and most importantly, the moderators. That's going to be harder for the party because second and third tier candidates will show up at any debate no matter what the party says. These candidates won't be worried about being docked delegates because they will have no shot at getting delegates unless they breakout and debates are a path to do that. The question is, will the top tier candidates feel compelled to show up too? My guess is they won't at first but if someone starts getting traction through the unsanctioned debates, all bets will be off.

As for the change to a compacted schedule, it is in response to what many felt was a protracted and damaging primary schedule in 2012. Of course, that calendar was in response to what many thought was a too compact schedule in 2008.

The real issue in 2008 and 2012 wasn't the schedule, it was the lousy candidates. In fairness to the RNC, it can't control the quality of candidates so it shuffles the thing it can control...the schedule.

As Quinn Hillyer points out, the shortening of the schedule tends to disadvantage grassroot efforts. While the extended schedule in 1976 enabled Ronald Reagan to launch a near successful insurgent campaign against Gerald Ford (a loss that set up his win 1980), the 1996 primary calendar protected Bob Dole.

Indeed, rarely has an early end to seriously contested primaries done much to help that partyís candidate. In 1988, George H. W. Bush effectively got the Republican nod long before Michael Dukakis secured the Democratic bid, but that didnít stop Dukakis from building a 17-point lead over Bush (before Willie Horton, a bad tank photo, and an emotionless debate performance sank the Democrat). In 1992, Bill Clintonís long and messy nomination battles with Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown didnít keep him from winning the presidency. In 2000, Al Gore coasted to the Democratic nomination while George W. Bush had his hands full with John McCain, but Bush won in the fall anyway.

In sum, there is no good evidence that condensing the process will help produce a victor in November. But there is every reason to believe that a rush to judgment will leave grassroots activists feeling as if they had no voice in the process, while perhaps producing a nominee who hasnít proved his mettle.

On balance I prefer a longer campaign but I don't think it matters much. It's hard to look at any candidate and say they won or lost the general election because of the length of the primary campaign. Ultimately, it's about candidates and the electoral environment.

One reform I'd like to see is something one of the other co-bloggers suggested (it might have been Slu or CAC. Update: I've been informed this is the brainchild of one Mr. John Ekdahl.) and that's a series of regional primaries held over the course of a few weeks that would be followed up by individual primaries in larger and/or key states.

This would be something like a playoff system where candidates could in a sense pick which regional primary(s) they'd compete it in and then face-off in the other individual primaries to determine the eventual nominee. This would enable candidates to have more than one path to the nomination (IA or NH, then SC followed by FL). It would also give less well known candidates time to develop name recognition, money and a chance to make their case to voters.

No matter what system you have it will come down to candidates but as long as we have this linear slog over a single, well worn path, the only options the party will have will be this constant swing between shorter and longer calendars with the same results.

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posted by DrewM. at 01:11 PM

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