Politics: Need-to-Know Video

N2K: The Obama-JSOC Relationship is a Symbol of a Changing President

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
May 5, 2011, 4:09 p.m.

A We The People/Check Point poll; con­duc­ted 9/29-10/4 by Wood Comm. Group; sur­veyed 400 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 4.9% (re­lease, 10/8). Tested: Sen. Russ Fein­gold (D) and busi­ness­man Ron John­son (R).

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

R. John­son 49% R. Fein­gold 41 Neither 1 Un­dec 8

(For more from this poll, please see today’s WI GOV story.)

Ima­gine an elec­tion with so many in­ac­curacies that of­fi­cials de­clare a win­ner; then de­clare a tie; then de­clare an­oth­er win­ner after two weeks. Ima­gine an elec­tion with rules so con­fus­ing that the me­dia is barred from ob­serving and the count takes two full days. Is this some Third World coun­try rig­ging the count, in des­per­ate need of elec­tion mon­it­ors? No — it’s Iowa and Nevada, and this year, it’s how the man who could be the next lead­er of the free world is be­ing picked.

Thanks to move­ments in­side both the Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic na­tion­al com­mit­tees, 2012 may mark the end of this pres­id­en­tial nom­in­at­ing sys­tem. And Iowa and Nevada are the two states most likely to lose their coveted po­s­i­tions at the front of the cal­en­dar.
Pro­cess re­forms in­sti­tuted by both parties after the 2008 elec­tions achieved at least one key goal; though Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney may not like it, a nom­in­at­ing pro­cess that ex­tends bey­ond the early states and well in­to the spring is ex­actly what party lead­ers in­ten­ded.

The most re­cent re­forms, led by Re­pub­lic­an Dav­id Nor­cross and Demo­crat James Roosevelt, en­vi­sioned a nom­in­at­ing pro­cess that starts in Feb­ru­ary and ex­tends for a few months. The goals: Give can­did­ates a break from hol­i­day-time cam­paign­ing; en­sure that can­did­ates with mod­est war chests can truly com­pete; and pro­duce a nom­in­ee  battle-tested in every re­gion who isn’t too bruised and blood­ied to com­pete in Novem­ber.

But the best-laid plans of Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans of­ten go awry, and sev­er­al states quickly made clear they wouldn’t abide by what ac­tu­ally amoun­ted to little more than a gen­tle­man’s agree­ment. Suc­cess­ful re­form must in­clude both car­rots and sticks that can in­centiv­ize a state for com­pli­ance or pun­ish it for hold­ing its nom­in­at­ing con­test out­side the rules. The sticks es­tab­lished in 2010 — namely, halv­ing a state’s con­ven­tion del­eg­a­tion and giv­ing them lousy hotel rooms — wer­en’t enough.

The primary pro­cess’s con­vo­luted rules have tripped some can­did­ates and re­war­ded oth­ers with hid­den ad­vant­ages. In 2008, the cam­paign of then-Sen. Barack Obama un­der­stood the del­eg­ate math bet­ter than then-Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s cam­paign did, giv­ing Obama a string of caucus-state vic­tor­ies in Feb­ru­ary that built a del­eg­ate lead Clin­ton could nev­er over­come. This cycle, Rom­ney’s cam­paign has proven ad­ept at un­der­stand­ing the meth­ods by which a can­did­ate ac­tu­ally gets on the bal­lot, while Newt Gin­grich and Rick San­tor­um have each missed bal­lot dead­lines.

For dec­ades, as Iowa, New Hamp­shire, and South Car­o­lina dom­in­ated the early-primary pro­cess, oth­er states con­spired to snatch their in­flu­en­tial po­s­i­tion. It was Flor­ida’s ef­fort to jump to the front of the cal­en­dar that led Iowa to hold its caucuses on Jan. 3 this year, in­stead of Feb. 6 as ori­gin­ally planned (Flor­ida, which sets its primary by stat­ute, was the first to defy Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee rules). Michigan and Ari­zona, whose Feb. 28 primar­ies are ahead of the date al­lowed by na­tion­al parties, are also in vi­ol­a­tion. Caucus states, which do not bind del­eg­ates based on caucus res­ults but award them later through con­ven­tions, are not tech­nic­ally break­ing party rules.

The next round of re­form is likely to pun­ish both Iowa and Nevada. Already Iowa plays only a tiny role in the ac­tu­al del­eg­ate race. The straw poll con­duc­ted on Jan. 3 is ef­fect­ively mean­ing­less; by the time the state party al­loc­ates its del­eg­ates in June, the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee will be ob­vi­ous. Iowa de­rives its power from the me­dia at­ten­tion it at­tracts — at­ten­tion it may not get again. Nevada Re­pub­lic­ans held a con­ven­tion four years ago that was marred by a fight between party lead­ers and fans of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, many of whom said they were un­fairly barred from par­ti­cip­at­ing.

“I’m very hope­ful that in four years, people say, “˜I’m not spend­ing a lot of money and get­ting frost­bite if you can’t even count your votes,’ “ Nor­cross said.

“In Nevada, the fact that they screwed it up twice [in 2008 and 2012] really is in­ex­cus­able,” he ad­ded.

That may give primary states a bet­ter ar­gu­ment against caucus states for a place at the front of the line, es­pe­cially with New Hamp­shire, South Car­o­lina, and Flor­ida stand­ing in marked con­trast to caucus states.

“Primar­ies are usu­ally run by states,” Roosevelt said. “States know how to con­duct elec­tions. Parties, if they haven’t done that be­fore, have to learn.”
Be­cause Iowa and Nevada don’t ac­tu­ally al­loc­ate del­eg­ates un­til much later, they thrive only on me­dia at­ten­tion. Take away that and they lose their primary-elec­tion clout — something that more than a few seni­or mem­bers in both parties hope hap­pens.

“The best thing any­one can hope for out of Iowa is that the me­dia and the can­did­ates pay as much at­ten­tion to them as they de­serve, which is not much,” Nor­cross said.

Un­der­stand­ing the rules mat­ters; but even the greatest demo­cracy in the his­tory of the world still re­lies on meth­ods fraught with volat­il­ity and hu­man er­ror. Re­form is com­ing soon — the ques­tion is wheth­er the two parties can craft an agree­ment that gives them great­er con­trol over the way they pick the next lead­er of the free world.


What We're Following See More »
Byrd Rule Could Trip Up Health Legislation
8 hours ago

"Even if House Republicans manage to get enough members of their party on board with the latest version of their health care bill, they will face another battle in the Senate: whether the bill complies with the chamber’s arcane ... Byrd rule, which stipulates all provisions in a reconciliation bill must affect federal spending and revenues in a way that is not merely incidental." Democrats should have the advantage in that fight, "unless the Senate pulls another 'nuclear option.'”

Senate Votes To Fund Government
11 hours ago
House Passes Spending Bill
12 hours ago

The House has passed a one-week spending bill that will avert a government shutdown which was set to begin at midnight. Lawmakers now have an extra week to come to a longer agreement which is expected to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year in September. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass before President Trump signs it.

Puerto Rico Another Sticking Point in Budget Talks
1 days ago

President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."

Democrats Threaten Spending Bill Over Obamacare
1 days ago

Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.