The GOP's Primary Shakeup Plot
The national Republican Party is considering a number of major changes to its presidential nominating process to avoid a repeat of the debacles of 2012, according to several party officials.
Most significantly, the party is considering holding a “Midwestern primary” featuring Great Lakes states such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin that would come immediately after the votes in the traditional early primary states. Also being weighed and thought likely to be approved when the Republican National Committee meets in early 2014 is a plan to shorten the primary season considerably by holding the party’s convention in July, almost as soon as the last primary ballots are cast.
The move toward a “Midwestern Super Tuesday” after the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida appears aimed in part at wresting control of the nominating process from social conservatives in the South in an effort to produce a nominee more likely to carry the election in November. Nearly all the “Rust Belt” states have fallen into Democratic hands in recent elections, and GOP officials believe that showering them with more resources throughout the primary process—and ensuring that an eventual nominee is broadly popular there—could flip the Midwest into the Republican column in November.
“The idea here is to try to recapture an area of the country that Republicans have simply not been able to carry,” said one GOP insider familiar with the plans.
Plus, the Midwestern states are relatively expensive places to mount a campaign, and bunching them together on one day would likely cost candidates less, as they could focus all their resources on one section of the country for an extended period of time, as opposed to campaigning in Michigan one week, Ohio a few weeks later, and Wisconsin a month after that.
“These are big electoral prizes. They matter,” said one state GOP chairman. “You have to spend a ton of money in them. It’s a region where you win or lose the primary.”
The plan, however, is not likely to sit well with state chairs and committee members from Southern states who would be pressured to keep out of the “Midwestern primary.”
“I don’t know that there is much appetite for it,” said John Padgett, the Republican Party chairman from Georgia. “We would not be in favor of having Georgia cut out. I don’t know that there will be any change.”
Bill Armistead, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said his state moved its primary up in 2012 to gain a greater say in the primary process and would not want that influence diminished.
“We can’t be of the mind-set that there are a few states that are the most important to us,” he said. “We need to find a way to be competitive in all of the states again. I don’t think you should take away the reddest states in the process. The nominee is going to be the nominee because they are a Republican.”
According to GOP insiders, national party chairman Reince Priebus favors the regional primary system, but how much power he will have when the Republican National Committee convenes in January is in question. Primaries are determined by individual states, and a national chairman is limited to penalizing those state parties that go against the plan, either by limiting the number of delegates they can bring to the convention or by rendering the votes there “beauty contests” that have no bearing on determining the ultimate winner.
“Do you punish the states that don’t comply by taking their delegates away?” said one state chairman. “Reince is threatening that and he is for it, and he is staking his chairmanship on it.”
A spokeswoman for the RNC cautioned that any decision on the 2016 primaries was a long way off and that a “Midwestern primary” was just one idea among many.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrapped up the GOP nomination after a “Super-Duper Tuesday” primary day on which 24 states held contests. In 2012, when just 10 states voted in what could hardly be called a Super Tuesday, the contest was largely a draw, with Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich each picking up enough delegates to allow them to continue to campaign.
Less controversially, the party is set to consider a decision to move up its nominating convention to July 14, six weeks earlier than in 2012. The middle of July is the earliest date the party can conceivably hold its convention, as it must wait until the last vote is counted in the last state and allow time for the various platform committees that contribute to the national convention to meet.
Moving up the convention would shorten the primary season, allowing the eventual nominee to engage the Democratic nominee earlier and without the spending restrictions that must be abided by while the primary season is ongoing.
Such a move appears even more urgent now, with Republicans envisioning a 2016 campaign season in which Hillary Clinton glides to the Democratic nomination, much as President Obama did in 2012, while a host of top-tier contenders fight it out on the GOP side.
“Right now we are looking at a replay of 2012, and our folks don’t want that,” said one former aide to the Romney campaign. “We lost last year in the summer when the Democrats ran ad after ad attacking Romney’s character. They were tearing our face off, and we couldn’t fight back.”