Monday, August 08, 2011

The 2011 Caucuses

The 2011 Caucuses

The Republican National Committee has declined to slap any serious sanctions on the rulebreaking states that aren't honoring the calendar agreed to by both parties. The end result could be no Iowa caucuses in 2012.

That's right, no Iowa Caucuses in 2012... because they'd be in 2011. Follow the bouncing elephant as I stroll through the calendar.

Both parties have agreed on the same rules. Four states go in February: us, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina. No one else goes before "Super" Tuesday, March 6.

That's turning out to be less super than it was last cycle, notes McKay Coppins at Daily Beast: "Assuming the current dates hold, next year’s Super Tuesday will include just nine primaries, down from 24 in 2008."

Some of that is just budget cuts, as states that paid for a separate early presidential primary in 2008 are moving it back to the traditional state and local primary date. But some of it is political maneuvering in both parties.

Last cycle the troublemakers were the Michigan Democrats and the Florida Republicans. Carl Levin and his claque of caucus haters, who don't care who's first as long as Iowa and New Hampshire aren't, have been quiet as President Obama goes uncontested for the nomination. (It's already too late to start a credible challenge.)

But the Florida GOP is at it again, with the slogan "We Want To Be Fifth," after South Carolina but before not so Super Tuesday.

They were looking at a non-traditional non-Tuesday date such as Saturday, March 3 or Tuesday, March 1. In March, after the four recognized early states... heck, I could even live with that minor bit of leapfrogging.

But enter Arizona. The legislature has given Governor Jan Brewer, famous for the Papers Please SB1070 anti-immigrant law, sole authority to move the date. Arizona Republicans want more influence on the nomination than they did last cycle, when their senior senator was the nominee, presumably so we can argue more about just how high the border wall should be and whether it should be electrified, a mine field, or a moat with frickin' sharks with frickin' "laser" beams on their heads. Steve King, you're really missing an opportunity here.

Brewer is fixated on January 31. That of course is a week before our Official We Really Mean It Date of February 6. But we're not even close to talking about US yet. In honor of Keith Olbermann, let's do a Top Five Countdown: "WHICH of these states will you be voting in tomorrow?"

The only way Iowa stays in calendar 2012 is if Florida is still willing to go with a non-standard date and if South Carolina and Nevada are each satisfied with less than a week to themselves.

Let's say Arizona goes on Tuesday 1/31 and Florida insists on We Want To Be Fifth. If they're still willing to do a non-standard date, that's either Saturday the 28th or maybe Thursday the 26th.

THAT assumes South Carolina, the Official fourth state for both parties, is satisfied with just a two or four day lead over much larger Florida. For now assume they are, and pencil them in for January 24.

Number three on the countdown is Nevada. There's much less tradition there than there is in the other three official early states. They were slotted in by the Democrats just last cycle because they wanted a western, Hispanic-influence state. Frankly, New Mexico had a better case, and they probably would have done a better job than Nevada. Two words describe the 2008 Nevada caucuses, and the first one is cluster.

But New Mexico was off the list because Bill Richardson was running. Shoulda took that left toin at Alba-koi-kee, Bill. And Nevada won't mean much this time as it's assumed to be in the bag for Mitt. So Nevada should be satisfied with a three lead time over South Carolina. Saturday the 21st in Vegas, baby.

But New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner isn't satisfied with a short lead time. He will insist on a full week before the next state, and last cycle he considered Nevada's caucus process, with its absentee "super-precincts" designed for casino shift workers, too much like an election.

That's why we don't have absentee voting at the caucuses. Officially because party rules don't allow "proxy voting," but really because Bill Gardner thinks that makes a caucus an election. And it would; the caucuses would be one big year-long absentee ballot drive.

So, New Hampshire on Tuesday, January 10 then.

Now, finally -- rather, initially -- is Iowa. State law, passed back in the Dave Nagle era when we and New Hampshire were still pals, says we go eight days before anyone else, and New Hampshire law says they're seven days before any other primary. (Dumb question: what if 48 other states pass the same law?) Of course, last cycle we broke that law to stay within the calendar year on Thursday, January 3.

This year, if all these puzzle pieces fit together, we can juuuust make it eight days before New Hampshire.... on Monday, January 2.

But if any one of these dominoes fall - if Jan Brewer gets January 24 into her addled brain or if Florida or South Carolina insists on a full week to themselves or if Bill Gardner issues Tuesday, January 3 as a preemptive strike... then we're not just into 2007, we're two weeks into 2007, because no one is going to schedule a caucus for the day after Christmas.

Monday, December 19. How many churches and school gyms and community centers are already booked for holiday concerts and events that won't budge on short notice when the Pole Bean County Republican chair calls in a panic wanting to schedule the room? How many parents are having to choose between that concert and their candidate? How many college students are either cramming for finals or done with them and out of town? How many frazzled families are frantically finishing the shopping?

The only person who could possibly be happy about any of this is Carl Levin.

Merry Christmas? How about Happy Thanksgiving?

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