So many bids, so lit­tle time

With a vast field of hope­fuls, GOP’s com­pressed pri­mary cal­en­dar is key

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Kur­tis Lee kur­tis.lee@la­ Twit­ter: @kur­tisalee

As the num­ber of can­di­dates seek­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion nears a dozen, with more to come, the cal­en­dar of pri­maries has drawn in­creased at­ten­tion, with party strate­gists try­ing to de­ter­mine which con­tests will begin to win­now the field.

Though the cal­en­dar re­mains un­set­tled, sev­eral South­ern states, in­clud­ing Alabama and Arkansas, are look­ing to have an ef­fect on the race by hold­ing con­tests on the same date — cre­at­ing a so-called SEC pri­mary, named af­ter the col­lege sports South­east­ern Con­fer­ence.

In Florida, Repub­li­cans have ral­lied around a win­ner-take-all pri­mary that could be a jack­pot in the race for del­e­gates and po­ten­tially de­ter­mine the elec­toral fate of the state’s for­mer gover­nor, Jeb Bush, and its cur­rent Repub­li­can se­na­tor, Marco Ru­bio.

And in Ne­vada, law­mak­ers weighed leg­is­la­tion — cham­pi­oned by Repub­li­cans — that would have al­lowed par­ties to choose be­tween the cur­rent cau­cus sys­tem or a pri­mary. Late Mon­day, the leg­is­la­tion stalled as the ses­sion came to a close, prob­a­bly killing the pro­posal for this elec­tion cy­cle.

“What we have right now is a very com­pressed cal­en­dar with im­por­tant con­tests tak­ing place within sev­eral weeks of one an­other,” said Josh Put­nam, a vis­it­ing as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Ap­palachian State Uni­ver­sity in North Carolina who stud­ies pri­maries and writes the blog Front­load­ing HQ.

“It won’t be nearly as elon­gated as the last cy­cle,” he said.

The com­pres­sion of the cur­rent cal­en­dar, with Iowa and New Hamp­shire likely to kick off the vot­ing process in early Fe­bru­ary, fol­lowed by South Carolina and Ne­vada to­ward the mid­dle and end of the month, cre­ates a dif­fer­ent dy­namic than 2012, Put­nam said.

In the last cy­cle, Repub­li­cans blamed a faulty pri­mary sys­tem for a pro­tracted nom­i­na­tion con­test that ran from early Jan­uary to April.

The rules last time al­lowed sev­eral weeks be­tween con­tests and did not de­ter states, no­tably Florida, from mov­ing their pri­maries ear­lier than usual.

In this cy­cle, Repub­li­cans have adopted tough rules to pre­vent states other than Iowa, New Hamp­shire, South Carolina and Ne­vada from hold­ing con­tests in Fe­bru­ary. States that vi­o­late the rules and try to start early would see their num­ber of con­ven­tion del­e­gates sharply re­duced.

With March 1 as the earli- est time most states can vote, sev­eral South­ern states are eye­ing that date for a Su­per Tues­day battle that could give a boost to a South­ern Repub­li­can such as for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Arkansas and Texas, along with Alabama, Ge­or­gia, Ok­la­homa, Ten­nessee and Vir­ginia, each plan to hold their pri­maries on that date.

Alabama’s 2012 pri­mary was held in mid-March, which was still con­sid­ered late in the cy­cle, said Brent Buchanan, a Repub­li­can strate­gist based in Mont­gomery.

“It’s go­ing to re­ally be his­toric in that pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates will have to give se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to the South,” said Buchanan, adding that “there’s a buzz with peo­ple say­ing, ‘Hey, we re­ally mat­ter this elec­tion.’ ”

In Florida, which is set to hold its pri­mary two weeks later, on March 15, Repub­li­cans last month voted to award all the state’s 99 del­e­gates to the pri­mary win­ner in­stead of dis­tribut­ing them pro­por­tion­ally.

“We know that Florida is a prize … and the can­di­date to win here is go­ing to get a big prize,” state Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Blaise In­goglia said. “We’re a swing state with large cities statewide.”

Bush and Ru­bio have deep roots in the state, and many po­lit­i­cal ob­servers be­lieve the pri­mary — which will cost can­di­dates and out­side groups sev­eral mil­lion dol­lars for ad­ver­tis­ing — will prob­a­bly be a race be­tween the two men.

Join­ing Florida as a swing state in the gen­eral elec­tion is Ne­vada, which also has early state sta­tus in the pri­mary.

Leg­is­la­tors there de­bated a mea­sure that would have al­lowed each party to de­cide whether to hold a cau­cus or a pri­mary.

Cau­cuses con­sist of lo­cal gath­er­ings — in venues such as school gym­na­si­ums or public li­braries — where vot­ers de­cide which can­di­date to sup­port and also typ­i­cally se­lect del­e­gates for state nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions. A pri­mary is a statewide elec­tion in which vot­ers cast se­cret bal­lots.

Ne­vada As­sem­bly Speaker John Ham­brick, a Repub­li­can from Las Ve­gas who cospon­sored the leg­is­la­tion, said a pri­mary — run by the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice — was what the state GOP needed “to make the elec­tion more seam­less” and boost turnout.

“With so many Repub­li­cans run­ning for the White House, we have to be cer­tain each vote is counted with pre­ci­sion, es­pe­cially as an early state,” Ham­brick said, prior to the leg­is­la­tion stall- ing out Mon­day.

In 2012, fewer than 33,000 of the state’s 400,000 reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans voted in the cau­cuses.

That year lib­er­tar­ian sup­port­ers of then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) helped him fin­ish third in the vot­ing, with about 19%.

Keep­ing the cau­cus sys­tem for this elec­tion cy­cle is likely to aid Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who said Tues­day on Twit­ter that he’s look­ing for­ward to the cau­cuses. His tweet in­cluded a link to a story that noted the pri­mary leg­is­la­tion had been de­feated.

De­spite the con­densed pri­mary cal­en­dar, the nom­i­nat­ing process could still stretch on be­cause of the abil­ity of mega-donors to keep fa­vored can­di­dates afloat by spend­ing un­lim­ited sums through “su­per PACs.”

That was what oc­curred in 2012, when casino mag­nate Shel­don Adel­son bankrolled a su­per PAC sup­port­ing for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich and kept his cam­paign go­ing well into the spring, even af­ter it was clear his del­e­gate count could not sur­pass the to­tal of the even­tual Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, Mitt Rom­ney.

Still, Put­nam, who re­searches pri­maries, sees the cal­en­dar as the driv­ing force.

“Mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires are not go­ing to want to give ad­di­tional money and pay when it’s clear it’s for a los­ing cause,” he said.

“The com­pressed cal­en­dar will likely win­now the field faster, and that’s cer­tainly what the GOP wants headed into the gen­eral elec­tion.”

Joe Raedle Getty Images

FLORIDA, where Jeb Bush served as gover­nor, has changed to a win­ner-take-all pri­mary for 2016, rather than dis­trib­ute its 99 del­e­gates pro­por­tion­ally. “We know that Florida is a prize,” the state’s party leader says.

John Locher As­so­ci­ated Press

SEN. MARCO RU­BIO and Bush both have deep roots in Florida, and a show­down be­tween the two is an­tic­i­pated in the March 15 Repub­li­can pri­mary.

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