As the calendar turns to 2015, we immediately usher in a new year of political jockeying. Come January, we will be reading many stories describing how political party leaders are attempting to move their state into a prime nomination position for the upcoming presidential campaign. With an open national race upon us for the first time in eight years, and on the threshold of what could become the most exciting political contest in generations, the schedule of primaries and caucuses become of tantamount importance.
With several exceptions, Republicans and Democrats generally have the same respective nominating schedule as it relates to voters participating in primaries or caucus events. Though the dates are not yet finalized, a projected schedule can be constructed. Most of the political musical chairs tend to occur on the Republican side because GOP leaders in states like Florida have a history of jumping ahead from their historical primary position into a more prominent spot.
From a big state, the Floridians gain significant leverage if they hold their primary just before what is normally pegged as “Super Tuesday”, the large gathering of mostly southern state primaries held on the same day in early March of the election year. But, Republican National Committees have previously punished state delegations for threatening the early positioning of the four sanctioned states. In fact, Florida itself has been stripped of its entire slate of delegates in a previous presidential year, only to have their voting privileges restored at the national convention, but long after it became obvious as to who would win the party’s nomination.
The four officially sanctioned states that, by party rule, may hold an official nominating event prior to March 1 are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Iowa and Nevada are caucus states, while New Hampshire and South Carolina hold primaries. South Carolina’s primary is held on a Saturday because it is a party-run event, and not an official state election. Therefore, it is up to state Republican Party officials and volunteers to administer the entire voting process.
Yet, it may not be Florida that causes the controversy this year, but North Carolina instead. With Republicans controlling the office of governor and the state House and Senate for the first time in the modern political era, a new election law was enacted that, among many other changes, moves the state’s primary election. Normally slotted in the early May grouping, the enacted legislation places the Tar Heel State primary on the first Tuesday after the South Carolina Saturday primary, so long as the latter place holds its nominating event before March 15.
Though the state has acted in this case, and not the individual political parties, the national Republican leadership is still not likely to show lenience with regard to invoking penalties when moving away from a traditional primary slot. Therefore, we can expect an internal party fight over the Tar Heel actions, and if and when other states attempt to follow the North Carolinians lead.
Now looking at what could be the earliest schedule, keeping in mind that the states have not finalized a calendar, Iowa, always the first state to vote, may conceivably hold their caucus as early as Jan. 5, 2016. New Hampshire could then follow suit and hold its first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 12. This could put South Carolina on Saturday, Jan. 23, meaning North Carolina primary on Tuesday, Jan. 26. A Nevada precinct caucus event would then be slotted for Feb. 6.
Chances are the states would not move as early as this potential calendar suggests, but with Republicans scheduling their national convention no later than mid-July, expect significant voting activity well before March 1st.