Category Archives: primaries

“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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Trump Pressures Wyoming Legislators to Change Primary Law to Prevent Democratic Crossover Voting for Liz Cheney in Primary


Former President Donald Trump and his allies have been privately lobbying Wyoming lawmakers to change the state’s election laws as part of an effort to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

On Thursday, Trump endorsed Wyoming legislation that would prevent crossover voting in a primary election. Were the law to pass, Democrats, Republicans, or independents would no longer be able to switch party affiliation on the day of the state’s primary to vote for a candidate in another party.

The bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Bo Biteman, is part of a push by some Republicans in the state to oust Cheney by blocking Democrats from switching parties to support her in her upcoming election against Trump-endorsed congressional candidate, Harriet Hageman.

Behind the scenes, Trump and Club for Growth’s David McIntosh have both personally called Wyoming’s Republican governor, Mark Gordon, to encourage him to back the bill, according to two people familiar with the calls.

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“How Liz Cheney could force voters to defend our foundational principles”

From Barney Frank, on how Liz Cheney could bypass a Republican primary and compete in the general election:

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and the Democratic leadership have already done American democracy a major service by their mutually respectful cooperation in investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Their demonstration that political leaders can jointly defend foundational principles while differing sharply on other issues is invaluable.

It could also be the basis for a great opportunity for American voters: the chance to express their support for the integrity of the democratic process regardless of their views on any other questions.

This can be accomplished with a two-step process. First, Cheney runs for reelection, not in the primary to become the official Republican nominee but as a principled independent in the general election who retains her personal Republican allegiance. Second, Wyoming Democrats do not support a candidate to oppose her.

The result would be a November contest in which all citizens of Wyoming could choose between two candidates who are aligned on the broad range of public policy issues and differ largely on the question of Donald Trump’s assault on the electoral process. Cheney can make clear that if elected, she will not vote for a Democratic speaker or change her position on any substantive questions. This will make it possible for other Republican leaders who share her principled commitment to campaign for her even though she is not the official nominee.

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