Nevada, Arizona Take Aim at 2016 Primary Calendar

Nevada, Arizona Take Aim at 2016 Primary Calendar

By Scott Conroy - March 9, 2013

This time, it’s starting earlier than ever.

The quadrennial ritual of state lawmakers threatening to thwart the carefully laid presidential nominating schedules set by the two major political parties has begun only two months after the recent inauguration of the White House incumbent.

Leading the charge to blow up the 2016 calendar are lawmakers in two Western states -- Nevada and Arizona -- who are challenging the rationale by which Iowa and New Hampshire have long staked their claims to be the nation’s first caucus and primary of the presidential cycle.

In Nevada, Republican legislators introduced a bill earlier this week designed to upgrade that state’s already privileged status as one of the four so-called “carve-outs” that RNC and DNC rules permit to hold early-winter electoral contests weeks before the rest of the country gets its turn.

The bill would eliminate Nevada’s early caucus system and instead require the state to hold a presidential primary on the third Tuesday in January. It includes a provision to move the contest up even further, if needed, to prevent another Western state from jumping the gun.

That particular clause seems to have been designed Arizona in mind. In Phoenix, state Rep. Phil Lovas is sponsoring a bill that would require his state’s primary to be held on the same day as the Iowa caucuses, which have been the nation’s first voting contest for some four decades.

After a meeting with a delegation from the Republican National Committee, Lovas backed down, but only a bit: he agreed to refrain from trying to move the bill forward during Arizona’s current legislative session.

But he sounded a warning to anyone who might be under the mistaken impression that he has given up on increasing Arizona’s electoral relevance.

“If there’s nothing that I see in terms of progress over the next six to eight months, I’m going to be back with the bill and really try to move it forward next year,” Lovas told RCP. “[The RNC] wants to set the schedule as they want to set it, but I have to look after the voters here in Arizona -- and what’s in our best interest -- and I don’t believe being somewhere back in the pack is in our best interest.”

Lovas left open the possibility that he might have his concerns satisfied by other potential remedies -- including a national primary day or a regional voting system, both of which are unlikely replacements for the current system, which he said has “two states setting the agenda for the entire country.”

A key point that interested parties in Arizona and Nevada frequently make is that the demographics of their own states reflect an increasingly diverse nation, in a manner than Iowa and New Hampshire do not.

Asked how he intended to reconcile his legislative initiative in Arizona with a New Hampshire state law that has long enshrined the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation status at all costs, Lovas was nonplussed.

“We’d let the courts sort it out, or quite frankly, the political parties,” he said. “And they should be doing that anyway -- figuring out a better system, so you don’t have states constantly leapfrogging others.”

But if Lovas and other likeminded Arizona lawmakers are counting on the Democratic and Republican Party to embrace their grievances and throw out the current system, they are likely to be disappointed once again.

In each of the last two presidential cycles, states that moved their electoral contests to dates prior to when DNC and RNC rules permitted were punished for doing so by methods ranging from loss of delegates to seating-chart demotions at the convention.

That punitive precedent didn’t stop Nevada state Sen. James Settelmeyer from introducing the bill on Monday, which would guarantee a January primary.

In a state where Democrats control both of the legislative bodies, the bill likely will face an uphill climb toward passage.

The legislation currently has no Democratic co-sponsors, and Nevada Democrats who previously led the battle to acquire their state’s early “carve-out” status in the first place appear satisfied with the status quo.

“The Nevada Democratic Party is committed to maintaining Nevada’s caucuses and first-in-the west status,” Nevada Democratic Party communications director Zach Hudson told RCP.

On this issue, at least, the National Republican Committee has found common purpose with Nevada Democrats.

“Under the current rules, a move by Nevada to early January would reduce their delegation to 12 members,” said RNC general counsel John Ryder. “These sorts of penalties have been enforced at the last two conventions, and I would expect them to be enforced again in 2016.”

Ryder said that states’ efforts to move up their electoral contests in violation of RNC rules have in the past had the effect of lengthening the primary process, even when they were ostensibly intended to shorten it.

RNC officials hope that the current system will create an approximately ten-week-long nominating process in 2016 that would begin in February and likely end in early April. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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