Category Archives: primaries

“Democrats Overhaul Party’s Primary Calendar, Upending a Political Tradition”


Upending decades of political tradition, the Democratic National Committee on Saturday approved a sweeping overhaul of the Democratic primary process, a critical step in President Biden’s effort to transform the way the party picks its presidential nominees.

For years, presidential nominating contests have begun with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, a matter of immense pride in those states, and a source of political identity for many highly engaged residents.

But amid forceful calls for a calendar that better reflects the racial diversity of the Democratic Party and the country — and after Iowa’s 2020 meltdown led to a major delay in results — Democrats voted to endorse a proposal that starts the 2024 Democratic presidential primary circuit on Feb. 3 in South Carolina, the state that resuscitated Mr. Biden’s once-flailing candidacy. New Hampshire and Nevada are scheduled to follow on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and then Michigan on Feb. 27.

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Does Michigan’s decision to move up its presidential primary violate the state’s new constitutional right to vote?

The Democratic National Committee recently approved changes to the presidential primary calendar. One of those changes permits Michigan to move into February for its presidential primary. Michigan just changed its primary to February. But the Republican National Committee rules forbid a February primary for Michigan. RNC rules would dramatically reduce the number of delegates Michigan receives, from its present total of (I think) 55 to “to nine (9) plus the members of the Republican National Committee from that state.”

The same thing happened in 2008, when Michigan (among other states) went early. But the penalty at the time was a 50% reduction in delegates. The penalty has since been increased to induce compliance. It’s a significant cost for Republicans to go early.

Josh Putnam points out potential alternatives: maybe Michigan funds a second, later primary for Republicans. Or maybe Michigan Republicans “opt out,” leave a “beauty contest” in place in February, then hold a private primary or caucus in March.

But I wonder if the new law now violates a new state constitutional right to vote enacted last year, Proposition 2. That includes the following language:

The fundamental right to vote, including but not limited to the right, once registered, to vote a secret ballot in all elections. No person shall: (1) enact or use any law, rule, regulation, qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure; (2) engage in any harassing, threatening, or intimidating conduct; or (3) use any means whatsoever, any of which has the intent or effect of denying, abridging, interfering with, or unreasonably burdening the fundamental right to vote.

Any Michigan citizen or citizens shall have standing to bring an action for declaratory, injunctive, and/or monetary relief to enforce the rights created by this part (a) of subsection (4)(1) on behalf of themselves. . . .

Presidential primary elections are tricky things to pin down as a legal matter, something I’ve noted briefly here. But, at first blush, the decision to move the Republican presidential primary from March to February might have the “effect” of “abridging” or “interfering with” the “fundamental right to vote.” If your vote in March had the power to choose 55 delegates to the national presidential nominating convention, but your vote now in February has the power to choose 12 delegates to the national presidential nominating convention, that would seem to dilute your political power.

Now, again, it’s not exactly clear to me how this works for a presidential primary election. Voters are formally choosing delegates to a convention. But I imagine that this still falls within what the constitution would define the “fundamental right to vote.” That is, if the legislature abolished absentee voting or drop boxes in a presidential preference primary (elsewhere now required in the constitution), one could challenge that.

Then again, it’s also contingent on the behavior of a third party, the RNC’s rules and recognition of what states can or cannot do, and the RNC could, of course, change its rules. It becomes much more challenging to think about how this new state constitutional right operates against that backdrop.

I don’t have any answers, but I do wonder about how a initiative of language with this breadth affects what’s happening in the presidential primary shakeup right now.

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“What a first-in-the-nation SC primary could mean: Hope, money and amplifying Black voters”

Caitlin Byrd at the Post and Courier.

And in other news on the DNC calendar shuffle, Brianne Pfannenstiel at the Des Moines Register has this piece, “Democrats’ new presidential calendar may invite chaos. Iowa, New Hampshire vow to rebel.”

James Pindell in the Boston Globe writes, “The 2024 president race is only starting. And the Democrats just created a logistical mess.

And in the Detroit News, Melissa Nann Burke has a Michigan-focused analysis, “DNC panel OKs Michigan moving to early-state presidential primary window.”

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The messy legal and practical issues behind a DNC primary calendar shuffle

This weekend, the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will recommend changes to the party’s delegate selection rules and primary calendar for the 2024 election. On the topic, I strongly recommend Josh Putnam’s FrontloadingHQ for all the details.

There are many open questions (some of which we’ll have answers about soon), but a major puzzle has always been the relationship between law and presidential primaries.

States have laws on the books about what their primaries look like and when they take place. New Hampshire, for instance, famously requires its primary to take place first and empowers the Secretary of State to move it earlier if it appears it is not going to be first. And what if it chooses to ignore the DNC’s rules? It’s a question not just for New Hampshire, but for Iowa and other states.

The Supreme Court in 1981 offered a succinct, if somewhat messy, statement of the legal framework in Democratic Party of the United States v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette:

The State has a substantial interest in the manner in which its elections are conducted, and the National Party has a substantial interest in the manner in which the delegates to its National Convention are selected. But these interests are not incompatible, and to the limited extent they clash in this case, both interests can be preserved. The National Party rules do not forbid Wisconsin to conduct an open primary. But if Wisconsin does open its primary, it cannot require that Wisconsin delegates to the National Party Convention vote there in accordance with the primary results, if to do so would violate Party rules.

States can, essentially, hold whatever presidential primaries they like, whenever they like, however they like. But the national party is not obligated to recognize the results ahead of the presidential nominating convention.

This will set off several complexities if the calendar is upended. If Democrats permit Michigan’s presidential primaries to move into February, for instance, Michigan could try to move everything into February, but risk running afoul of the Republican National Committee’s rules that forbid Michigan from holding a primary before March 1. Michigan could hold two separate presidential primaries, along with a later primary for other offices and a general election, an expensive four-election proposition. On the flip side, if Democrats displace Iowa or New Hampshire from their positions, but the states follow through with state law to the contrary, it would breach potential new Democratic rules

Even if these may be legally required in the states, the parties of course can refuse to recognize the results. But that comes at its own peril. The famous 2008 fights over Florida and Michigan in the Democratic primaries, for instance, are instructive. The two states jumped the calendar and the DNC threatened to punish them. Candidates divided about whether to “recognize” the primary or not. The DNC formally indicated their delegates would not be seated, until an eleventh-hour deal allowed them to be seated–only after it was apparent Barack Obama would be the nominee with or without them.

There’s huge uncertainty about what the DNC will do, how state legislatures react to what the DNC will do, and how strongly or weakly the DNC (and the RNC) will respond to disobedience to rules. But it’s a messy intersection of legal and practical issues behind whatever may happen.

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“A QAnon Democrat? Fierce 2022 Warfare Erupts in Deep-Blue California”


The mailers and online ads vividly paint David Kim as a right-wing extremist, accusing him of running for a House seat in California “with QAnon-MAGA support” from “QAnon Republicans.”

But Mr. Kim is not a Republican. He’s a progressive Democrat who supports “Medicare for all” and a Green New Deal. And the attacks come from a fellow progressive Democrat, Representative Jimmy Gomez, who is fighting to keep his seat in Congress.

The vitriol in what is normally a quiet race for a decidedly safe Democratic seat illustrates how liberal California, of all places, has become home to some of this year’s most vicious political mudslinging — and not across party lines.

Unlike a vast majority of the country, where voters are mulling the yawning ideological gaps between Republicans and Democrats on their midterm ballots, California has a top-two open primary system, which means two Democrats can — and often do — square off against each other in general elections. And in many cases, those candidates prove strikingly similar on policy, forcing them to dig deep to distinguish themselves.

Lately, it’s grown pretty nasty.

Democrats are running against Democrats in six House races, 18 state races, and dozens of municipal and local elections around California in November. In many contests, the candidates have resorted to extreme and divisive language, in a reflection of the growing polarization of American politics.

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Party Leaders Seek to Rein in Extremists through Spending–But Quietly

A new Washington Post report suggests that Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney, as party leaders, are both working to bringing order back to the Republican Party. It is only their methods and interests that differ. McCarthy’s interests appear to be mostly about maintaining his own political power–as the political science literature would expect. That apolitical interest, however, has led to a campaign of often secret spending “to create a more functioning GOP caucus next year.”

“The political machine around McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out GOP candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning.”

The article describes a large “behind-the-scenes effort by top GOP donors and senior strategists to purge the influence of Republican factions that seek disruption and grandstanding, often at the expense of their GOP colleagues.”

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Lawsuit Challenging New Jersey’s Obfuscating Primary Ballot Design to Proceed

U.S. District Court denied seven motions to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the design of New Jersey’s primary ballots yesterday. The case seeks to end the influence county party leaders exert over ballot placement. Among other things, the suit challenges a provision that allows candidates for different offices, who request that their names be grouped together, to be placed in more favorable primary ballot slots–arguing that the practice violates the United States Constitution. The essence of the challenge is nicely captured by this video comparing New Jersey’s ballot design to a reasonable ballot design.

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Does California’s Top-Two Primary Create Incentives to Boost a Weaker Opponent to Run Against in Second Round?

California Politico rounds up the evidence:

In the years since California adopted a top-two primary system — which allows the highest vote-getters to advance to the general regardless of party — campaigns have perfected the art of strategically elevating the opponent they’d most like to face in November. That often takes the form of “attack” ads that actually serve to elevate a desired, further-right foe among his conservative base. Another cycle has brought a fresh round of machinations and accusations. Depending on whom you ask, it’s the type of disingenuous and cynical tactic that toxifies politics for most voters — or it’s just savvy strategy.

Republicans gathered yesterday to decryDemocratic Assembly member Kevin Cooley’s move on this front. The moderate Democrat looks vulnerable to a challenge from Capitol GOP chief of staff Joshua Hoover in a D+5 district during a Republican-tilting year. But a mailer from Team Cooley doesn’t mention Hoover. It spotlights Republican Jeffrey Perrine as “a pro-Trump patriot who calls himself an ‘anti-establishment’ conservative,” noting Perrine got booted from a local GOP organization without clarifying it was after Perrine was outed as a Proud Boy. Cooley “is playing with fire,” Hoover warned. He is “better than this,” Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher added.

Allies of Attorney General Rob Bonta are following a similar script.Few analysts think conservative Republican attorney Eric Early is best positioned to ride public safety concerns to unseating Bonta — no-party-preference Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert is seen as the bigger threat, or Republican former U.S. Attorney Nathan Hochman. Hence a labor-funded, pro-Bonta PAC spending nearly $750,000 so far attacking Early, including with spots that call Early a “Trump Republican” who will “end Obamcare” and for whom “protecting the Second Amendment is everything.” Another pro-Bonta PAC has run radio spots nominally stumping for Bonta while characterizing Early as the “pro-Trump, pro-guns, pro-life” candidate.

So it goes. A primer on earlier iterations: Gov. Gavin Newsom “assailing” Republican John Cox in 2018 for standing “with Donald Trump and the NRA,” sidestepping well-funded Democratic challenger Antonio Villaraigosa and going on to crush Cox in November. National Democrats in 2018 “attacking” Assembly member Rocky Chavez for backing a gas tax increase, after which Republican BOE member Diane Harkey made the general and lost by 13 points. A 2020 mailer promoting an obscure Republican in the open, heavily Democratic CA-53. Real estate players spending around $175,000 in the last primary boosting the scandal-beset Democratic former Assembly member Steve Fox, who in November didn’t come close to knocking GOP Assembly member Tom Lackey from a D+11 seat.

California doesn’t hold a monopoly on this strategy. Pennsylvania Democrat Josh Shapiro just deployed it effectively in the state’s gubernatorial race, funding ads that helped get hoped-for Republican Doug Mastriano into the general by “blasting” him as “one of Donald Trump’s strongest supporters.” But the particular vagaries of the top-two system have helped make it a campaign season fixture as reliable as recycling bins overflowing with mailers.

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“Inside the Republican push to stop Trump’s ‘vendetta tour’ in Georgia”

This Washington Post article is much bigger than the headline. It is really about the Republican Governors Associations’ mission to challenge Trump’s hold over the party, and Governors Associations have long been a formidable force in American politics.

Although there are many reasons that Madison’s prediction that ambition would counter ambition as officials sought to protect their office repeatedly falls short, this article did remind me that, in the last few years, the most effective pockets of resistance (especially those within the party) have had different institutional interests–federal judges, civil servants, and, once again, state Governors.

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Intraparty Fights Taken to Court

Just a few days before Idaho’s May 17 primaries, Republicans took their internal fights to court.

“In the virtual hearing [last] Friday afternoon, Fourth District Court Judge Jason Scott heard arguments from intertwined Republican organizations — one suing the other, days before a primary election that pits establishment Republicans against ultra-conservative Republicans.

Scott ruled at the end of the two-hour hearing that the Bonneville County GOP had indeed overstepped its bounds by endorsing candidates in state-level primary, . . . saying it had determined those candidates were true Republicans.”

The county GOP’s actions violated party rules and election laws.

In the wake of the victory, Idaho GOP Chairman, is reported to have said, “‘While we’re pleased with the court’s decision, it’s regrettable that we were forced to take this action through the judiciary[.]’ . . . ‘At the end of the day, this is about party unity. The Republican Party needs to speak with one unified voice and the state party rules were put in place to ensure that happens. Rules and laws exist to help us navigate when we disagree.’”

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“Democrats Weigh Shake-Up to Presidential Primary Calendar”


New Jersey is billing itself as a “microcosm of the country.” Washington State is highlighting its diverse communities — and robust vote-by-mail process. And as Iowa’s status as home to the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest looks increasingly tenuous, other Midwestern states see an opening.

Just over two years after Iowa’s disastrous Democratic caucuses, in which officials struggled to deliver results, party officials across the country are increasingly weighing whether to pursue their own early-state primary slots — a dynamic set to rapidly accelerate.

On Wednesday, members of the Democratic National Committee’s powerful Rules and Bylaws Committee voted to begin an application process that will determine which states host the first presidential nominating contests in the 2024 cycle. The outcome may overhaul how the party’s presidential nominee is chosen and reorder which constituencies have the greatest influence.

The resolution adopted on Wednesday laid out a framework for applicants, and committee leaders also detailed a timeline for assessing applications, which are due by June 3. Committee recommendations regarding up to five early-voting states — an increase from the traditional four — are expected in July, with final approval set for a vote at the Democrats’ summer meeting.

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“Jan. 6 votes show the link between primary system and more extreme views in Congress”

The Fulcrum:

Only hours after the riot of Jan. 6, 2021, with the calls to “stop the steal” still reverberating under the Capitol Rotunda, 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to oppose the valid electoral votes sent from Arizona and Pennsylvania, in effect endorsing the rallying cry of the insurrection.

Seventy-two Republicans voted the other way, supporting the counting of the electoral votes. What are the important characteristics that distinguish those who objected from those who did not? Some are predictable. Members may have felt more pressure to object if they came from districts and states that voted more heavily for Donald Trump. Members with fewer years in Congress objected at a higher rate, perhaps with a greater need than more veteran colleagues to make a name for themselves.

A new analysis finds another unexpected characteristic many objectors have in common, one that points to a structural danger in our election system. Objectors were more likely to have entered Congress without majority support in their initial primary. This insight arises from an Election Reformers Network database tracking members’ paths to Congress, and in particular how they fared in the primary election the year they entered Congress, before the power of incumbency kicked in.

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“What’s next for the Iowa caucuses? ‘Odds are stacked against us,’ state’s Democratic chair says”

Brianne Pfannenstiel in the Des Moines Register:

Iowa Democrats are preparing to “fight like hell” to make their best — and possibly final — case for their first-in-the-nation caucuses as members of the national party set an aggressive schedule aimed at revamping the presidential primary calendar by fall.

The piece also looks back at the dispute and federal lawsuit ahead of the timing of the 1984 caucuses.

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