RNC moves to condense 2016 primaries
By: James Hohmann
January 23, 2014 06:18 PM EST
The Republican National Committee is taking steps at its winter meeting this week to try condensing the 2016 presidential nominating calendar, with the goal of starting later and ending earlier than in 2012.
Chairman Reince Priebus wants the party’s 2016 convention to happen between June 27 and July 18 – compared to the week of August 27 in 2012. The official date will be announced this spring, and the location will be selected at a summer meeting.
The party’s rules committee approved a handful of significant changes Thursday, which are likely to be adopted by the full 168-member governing body on Friday.
Among them: Stiffer penalties for states that schedule primaries before March 1; a requirement that states award delegates proportionally, rather than on a winner-take-all basis, before March 15; and a rule that delegates be selected 45 days before the national convention, as opposed to the current 35 days, to encourage states to wrap up as earlier.
Only four “early states” are allowed to hold elections before March 1: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. At the convention in Tampa, the committee voted to award just 12 delegates to any states that ignore this rule. The committee voted Thursday to make the penalty even stricter for smaller states, to dissuade them from attempting to move up.
Republican leaders in the four earliest-voting states express confidence they will now be able to hold off on voting until February of 2016, compared to January in 2012.
During the 2012 cycle, every state that voted in March awarded delegates proportionally based on the share of the vote each candidate received. That extended the nominating fight into late April and frustrated Mitt Romney’s campaign. So, at the convention, rules were changed to allow a “winner-take-all” system, in which any state could award every one of its delegates to whoever won the primary.
This generated fear among states with later primaries that a stampede of others would schedule winner-take-all contests immediately after March 1. They worry about a Super Tuesday on steroids, with the best-funded candidate who can afford to buy television ads across the map – or whoever has momentum at that moment – would run up his delegate count and effectively end the nominating contest.
To prevent this from happening, the rules committee voted Thursday to require that any state with a primary during the first two weeks of March must award its delegates proportionally based on the percentage of the vote each candidate receives. Any state party with a contest after March 14 can choose whether to award delegates proportionally or winner-take-all.
The Democratic National Committee requires every primary and caucus to be proportional, which led to the epic monthslong slugfest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
One point of contention at the meeting Thursday was over when state parties should be required to pick their delegates. The RNC subcommittee passed a requirement that delegates be selected at least 45 days before the convention, up from 35 days now. If Priebus gets his wish of a late June convention, this would technically force state parties to pick delegates by mid-May.
But a handful of states mandate June primaries by law. The California primary, set in stone by a Democratic legislature and governor, is already on the books for June 7, 2016. California and other states are pushing for language that guarantees they will get a waiver to go later if their Democratic-controlled legislatures schedule late primaries.
Though the date has not been set, Republicans are divided about whether they should hold their convention as early as Priebus wants.
On the plus side, it would allow the nominee to legally coordinate with the party and to spend campaign funds that are required to be spent during the general election.
On the other hand, Democrats may still go ahead and hold their convention just before Labor Day. If the Republicans go in late June, the Democrats would get an unanswered week of media coverage for their convention much closer to the election when voters are paying attention.
The full Republican National Committee will meet twice more this year and could again change the 2016 rules. The procedure for how the party’s nominee is chosen must be in place by this September.
There is strong support for punishing non-early states that go before March 1. States with fewer than 29 delegates would now be allowed nine delegates if they break the rules, and states with 30 or more delegates would get 12 delegates.
The stiffer penalty was designed mainly to prevent Florida from blowing up the calendar again in 2016. The Sunshine State went ahead and scheduled a January 31 primary in 2012, even though the party punished the state by taking away half its allotted delegates. If Florida tries again to go that early again next time, under the rules already on the books, it will get just 12 delegates – instead of 50.
All of the changes emerged from a 16-person subcommittee that was appointed at the RNC summer meeting in Boston. A majority of the representatives from the early states, the establishment and the libertarian wing of the party agreed to the package offered to the rules committee.
Historically Republicans would not have been able to make these kinds of changes at party meetings. But the Romney campaign pushed in 2012 to allow such tweaks between elections.
Representatives from cities vying to host the 2016 nominating convention, including Las Vegas, Kansas City and Phoenix, are aggressively working the halls of the Renaissance Hotel in Washington.
On Friday, each region of the country will elect two members to sit on a 10-member site selection committee. They will visit the cities making a bid and review their proposals. The full committee will vote in August on whether to accept whatever city they recommend.
A push by party leaders to limit the number of primary debates in 2016 is not on the table this week, but it will likely come up at a spring meeting.