The drama at the national conventions this summer won’t be about which candidates will receive the presidential nomination -- but rather over the process that got them there.
For nearly a half-century, there has been a robust discussion every four years about which states would kick off the presidential nominating season. Now one proposal could have big implications for New England.
The ascendancy of Republican Donald Trump, plus criticism from Democrat Bernie Sanders, has prompted internal discussions in both parties about what reforms might be necessary for the primary process. At the moment it appears the Republican Party could be headed to more large-scale changes, while Democrats will largely tweak the system already in place.
No specific Republican proposal has been released to the public, but some party insiders want to scale back the influence of the four states that have started the primary process since 2008: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Republicans have been saying for months that Nevada could lose their lofty status altogether due to a largely dysfunctional state party and low voter turnout. If this happens, another Western state with a large Latino population -- perhaps Colorado or New Mexico -- could take its place.
News of these proposals were first reported in the New York Times on Tuesday.
Another authorless, unwritten proposal being circulated among the GOP’s rules committee members would significantly curb the influence of all four early states by linking them to a neighboring state that would hold the same contest on the same day.
For example, New Hampshire’s 100-year tradition of holding the nation’s first primary would be shared with Massachusetts, which would hold its presidential primary on the same day in 2020. Then in 2024, New Hampshire would share its presidential primary date with another neighboring state, like Maine or Vermont.
The idea, according to those familiar with the process, appears to be a compromise. Some Republicans want to eliminate any special status for early states but cannot get the votes to make that happen. Others in those discussions prefer the idea of regional primaries that rotate in order every four years, but they have found state legislatures somehow unable to act in unison to make this happen.
The chances of any of these proposals passing has a lot to do with whether Trump or past presidential candidates will get involved. Every candidate who ran for president last year vowed they would do what they could to maintain the status quo.
In the case of Massachusetts jumping up in the calendar, the opinion of Governor Charlie Baker could matter a lot. If he has any notion of running for president (he’s said he doesn’t) he might choose to concede to New Hampshire for fear of retribution, as former US senator Phil Gramm of Texas found out in 1996.
Besides former New Hampshire attorney general Tom Rath, a longtime Republican insider in the primary calendar process, said such a proposal to tie New Hampshire and another state together has no chance of being implemented. He cited the Granite State’s law that the presidential primary must be first and at least seven days before “any similar contest.”
“Massachusetts would pick a day and then New Hampshire would pick a week before that date as mandated in the law,” said Rath.
Iowa, too, has a state law mandating that it’s state hold the nation’s first presidential caucuses. But Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler hopes that it doesn’t get so far that his state would share the first caucus on the same day as bordering Minnesota.
If these proposals are formally submitted, they would be voted on in the week before the national convention in July.
“We have been hearing rumors about these ideas for months now and Iowa will be prepared to fight,” said Scheffler.
On the Democratic side, the reforms being pushed by the Sanders campaign are largely about opening up the process to more voters. While one Republican proposal would eliminate the right for independent voters to participate -- like the New Hampshire and Massachusetts primaries -- Sanders would like to see every state allow independent voters to be involved.
Leading the cause for New Hampshire at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland is the state’s Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey, who said his main argument is, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
“Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina provided an open playing field that allowed everyone a fair shot and set the state for 30 states to have their own meaningful say. The system worked,” said Duprey. “There is no question that if you double or triple the number of early primary states you take away the ability of someone with the best ideas to come out of nowhere and that is what is really special about what we have now.”