RNC looks to fix 2012 primaries

By Ralph Z. Hallow
Published April 3rd 2008 in The Washington Times
SANTA ANA, N.M. — Republicans yesterday took the first step in trying to prevent a front-loaded, de facto national primary in 2012, but big-state dissent surfaced immediately to preference given to smaller states.

The Republican National Committee's rules panel yesterday voted 28-12 for a plan that preserves desirable early slots for smaller states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, and rotates "pods" of larger states quadrennially in later slots.

"The impetus for change we made today is the foolishness of state after state competing to get to the head of the line, resulting in most cases in their getting less attention than they would ordinarily get," said Virginia's Rules Committee member, Morton Blackwell.

The "Ohio Plan," which will be considered by the full RNC in August, calls for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold their contests in mid-February.

Next comes a several-day "window" for 19 other small states to hold contests. The remaining states would then vote by region in three groups, or "pods," in March and April. The three groups would rotate every four years.

Some competing plans to Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett's creation had pointedly eliminated the privileged first-in-the-nation status of Iowa and New Hampshire, arguing that neither is representative of the average Republican voter in America. It also has angered some chairmen from large-population states.

Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said his state's influence in determining the GOP's nominee is likely to be minimal at best.

"The plan says our vote will always come after 23 other states and territories, making us probably irrelevant ...," he said.

California GOP Chairman Ron Nehring said he will not support the plan because "the net effect is that large states like California will never be among the first states voting."

With virtually every state wanting to hold its contest early enough to help determine the nominee, the current system was heading toward a national primary, dreaded by most Republicans because it would give insufficient time to vet nomination competitors.

The plan includes a mechanism to ensure Republicans — not Democrats — in control of state legislatures, which often set primary dates, decide their process.

GOP leaders in states with Democrat-controlled legislatures would go along with primary dates lawmakers set and possibly lose half their delegates, but they could hold party-funded conventions or caucuses within the party's schedule to get the remaining delegates seated.

Conventions and caucuses are less expensive than primaries and have the added advantage that only Republicans could participate — no independents or crossover Democrats, as permitted in some state primaries.

A similar plan to slow the trend toward a national primary failed at the 2000 Republican National Convention.