A Predictable Outcome?
By Garance Franke-Ruta
As reports trickle in of a likely deal at today's Democratic National Committee Rules and Bylaw Committee hearing on the fates of votes cast in Michigan and Florida in violation of DNC primary rules, it's worth looking back to the first meeting of the Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling on March 12, 2005. Really.
There, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government professor and Rules and Bylaws Committee member Elaine Kamarck gave a presentation on the history and timing of the party's presidential primaries and caucuses -- a topic on which she wrote her doctoral dissertation -- and the narrative of the nominating process from 1976 to 2004.
Two exchanges from the question and answer session that followed her presentation seem particularly relevant, and have, in many ways, foreshadowed the events of this year. Critically, Sen. Carl Levin and DNC committeewoman Debbie Dingell, both of Michigan and now advocating that their state's delegation be seated, sat on the Commission, whose year-long study's very first presentation was followed by these exchanges:
Harold Ickes: Elaine, I have two questions. One is -- one of the complaints about Iowa and New Hampshire, in our party at least, is that is that they are just simply unrepresentative ... of our party.... Would you also consider ... moving a couple of states up close to Iowa and New Hampshire? ...
And point two is ... if you have any thoughts about the ability of the national party to enforce its will, either legally or politically.
Elaine Kamarck: I do think Iowa and New Hampshire, on strict demographic grounds, are unrepresentative. I mean, that is the fact. It's really difficult to find a black community, a Hispanic community in those states, although there are, but certainly not the way they are in New York or California. So you can't get around that.
The only way, I think, to, sort of, deal with that question would be to move a large state early, okay?
Because it is the large states that tend to have the demographics that we're looking for. And what happens is, if you move a large state early, what you're doing is -- if you were to move them, say, before Iowa and New Hampshire, you are sacrificing that retail campaigning. You know, all the small states where you could, in fact, get that kind of one-on-one campaigning, they're going to be unrepresentative in some way. So it's really a kind of big-state/small-state question.
Secondly, and I think we'll deal with this later, but it's certainly been my experience that the leverage of the national party over state primary decisions is incredibly small. Our ultimate leverage, buttressed by the Supreme Court and by the - covered the First Amendment, our ultimate leverage is simply to not seat delegations at our nominating convention. And, of course, when -- as you remember, when we were really fighting these rules fights in the 1972 convention and 1968 convention, there were delegations not seated. Okay?
But we have, actually, very little leverage. And I think when you're a small state like Iowa and New Hampshire, with a big tradition, being first, not only do your politicians not care about being seated at the convention, your voters don't care. I mean, your voters would rather have you -- have a first primary than have 20, 30 people go to a nominating convention....
Spencer Overton: You mentioned that we have little influence, in terms of the timing, with some of these primaries.... Do we have more influence over party-run primaries ... like Michigan, South Carolina, New Mexico?
And if we do, what's your thought of putting a more diverse place that might even be a retail place -- like a South Carolina, like a New Mexico caucus -- immediately after a New Hampshire or an Iowa, or maybe even a Michigan, soon after those other states?
Kamarck: I think we've actually done that in the past. We've given exemptions to put South Carolina early. I think South Carolina's gotten a lot of attention from the Democrats because of that. We did this last time. And then there was certainly a pretty good race. I'm looking at Don and Carol. I mean, it seems to me you had a pretty good primary race in South Carolina.
We don't really have, fundamentally, any more control over party primaries than we do over state-run primaries. And the reason is simply that our ultimate control is, in fact, seating the delegation. So if a state decides that they are more vested in their own system, and they'll worry about getting seated later, okay, there's not much the party can do about that, except kick them out of the convention.
And then I think the party would go through the following question: Is the bad publicity back home worth not seating them at the convention?
Okay, and, guess what?
We would seat them at the convention. I mean, unless maybe they're Wyoming or a state that is so wildly Republican that we don't care, and we don't think we could ever win it.
Posted at 1:57 PM ET on May 31, 2008
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