With the 2014 elections yet to happen, there is already a move underfoot to change the way that both major political parties select their nominee for President of the United States in 2016. Not surprisingly, having lost two consecutive Presidential elections, Republicans have the most sense of urgency – they are fearful of another Presidential election cycle in which the nomination process does more damage to their nominee than Democrats do.

But, they are not the only ones concerned about the Presidential nomination process. Clintonites fully appreciate what too many caucuses and an extended nomination process can mean. Dark horses from both parties have a special interest in making sure that party rules do not make long shots impossible while insiders remain focused on preventing nominees that cannot win the General Election.

Although most pundits see a Biden/Clinton match-up for the Democrats and a total free-for-all for the Republicans, history proves that anything can happen and probably will. Against that backdrop, party operatives begin tinkering with rules. With a two-party system, what one party does necessarily implicates the other.

Already, Republicans have started the ball rolling. As a result, watch for significant changes in 2014, as both parties refine their rules to increase their nominees’ chances in 2016.

First, and foremost, watch for ‘compression’. In 2016, the beginning of the nomination process will start later and the end will come earlier. The result will be a much shorter nomination process.

Neither political party will take on the traditional first states (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina). The political ramifications are just too great. Yet, these states will not be immune from any impact from the likely new rules.

For example, the Republican National Committee’s proposed new rules protect these early states from ‘political leap-frogging’ by other states (with draconian penalties for doing so), but set February 1, 2016 as the start date – much later than now.

On the back end, watch for the political parties to move their national party Conventions up from August to either late June or early July. The ‘understanding’ between the parties is that the national convention of the party that is out of power goes first. Republicans are currently looking at a national convention at the end of June. The ripple effect of moving the convention earlier is notable.

Both parties require the certification of delegates about 30 to 45 days before the national convention. In practical terms, this means that Presidential nomination primaries and caucuses would have to be completed by around the middle of May.

Of course, political parties have no actual power to set any individual state’s primary or caucus date. Instead, states vary in how the date for the Presidential Preference Primary or caucus is set. Most states’ legislatures do it. In Georgia, the Secretary of State does it.

Some states (such as those with primaries currently scheduled for late May or early June, like California) could be noncompliant through no fault of any political party or candidate. As a result, some exceptions or waivers will have to exist. Yet, the bottom line is that the new rules will compress the duration of the Presidential nomination process from a six-to-seven-month process to a three-to-four-month process, with the first month consisting of just the states that traditionally go first.

The political implications are huge. Including the various U.S. territories with delegates to the national conventions, the new rules could mean over 50 primaries and caucuses in around 75 days.

Although some states conduct their caucuses or Primaries on other days, most use Tuesday. With only ten Tuesdays, and more than 50 jurisdictions, multi-state Presidential Preference primaries and caucuses become inevitable. Exactly how those groupings occur has enormous implications.

Groupings around the country start to resemble mini-national primaries, with candidates unable to concentrate either their time or resources on any one state. When 24 states held their primaries and caucuses on the same day in 2008, it was called Super Tuesday, with 52 percent of all pledged Democratic Party delegates and 49 percent of the total Republican delegates up for grabs.

But, there can also be groupings by region. With so many potential Republican Presidential candidates from the Midwest, and thus with the region’s electoral importance in any successful path to the White House, there is already talk of a Midwest regional primary. If that happens, it would replace the South as the anchor of the Republican nomination process.

Other changes are also coming. For example, Republicans plan to largely ban ‘beauty contests’ – primaries like Missouri and Minnesota that do not actually bind delegates. These were the keystones to Senator Rick Santorum’s resurgence in 2012.

So, change is coming. Beyond duration, the biggest change may be to Presidential nomination political debates. In 2012, with more than 20 debates, the Republican nomination process more closely resembled a political reality show than a political process. What the parties can do about this remains unclear. But, they will do something.

Randy Evans is an author, columnist, political commentator and attorney. … revans@mckennalong.com


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