To: The Republican National Committee Members and Delegates
From: Sen. Bob Smith, New Hampshire
Subject: Presidential Primary
As a former Presidential candidate and as someone who has actively participated in many Presidential primaries, I want to take this opportunity to express my concerns with the proposed modifications to the Presidential primary system.
I believe that a few of the proposed changes are positive. However, I would like to make a few points about the Commission’s work in order that the Committee may make the decision that is in the best interests of the Party.
1. The Delaware Plan. I have great concern with the so-called “Delaware Plan” which proposes to sort the states by population and place similarly populated states in groups. The Delaware plan does not address the concerns with the current system. Front loading of the process has become a problem. However, this plan does not resolve it. Indeed, from the perspective of a challenger, it moves the ball in entirely the wrong direction.
Just because “small states” are early does not mean that we should assume that such a process will bring about retail grassroots politics. On the contrary, it is clear that the “pod” system being proposed would end grass roots early-primary campaigning as we know it.
The Delaware Plan proposes that 18 “states” are in the first group, or “pod.” The largest of these “states” is Puerto Rico, with 3.3 million people. The smallest is American Samoa with 46,773.
The idea that a single grass roots candidate can appeal to 14.9 million people who are spread over the entire continental United States from Maine to Alaska, plus 5 different Island regions, is not realistic. It is clear the time and expense involved in traveling to the island regions makes campaigning there totally unrealistic for a minor candidate (or a major candidate for that matter). Thus, any campaigning in these regions, if it existed at all, would be conducted through television and direct mail.
But the larger consideration is that it is not physically possible to conduct a grassroots campaign in 12 states, 4 territories, and the District of Columbia at once. Indeed, Sen. John McCain concluded that it was not feasible to campaign in both Iowa and New Hampshire at once. His decision to forego Iowa and campaign exclusively in New Hampshire allowed him to conduct an impressive grassroots campaign, with over 100 town meetings, which gave him a pivotal victory in the state. If the Delaware plan, in its pure form, is approved, this kind of grassroots campaigning would disappear entirely.
2. The Ohio Plan. This plan, most recently released, raises some of the same practical problems that the Delaware Plan raises, with respect to grassroots campaigning in America.. It seems to have two main political advantages over Delaware. First, it is more attractive to the very large states who would not be permanently placed at the end of the process. Second, it explicitly places Iowa and New Hampshire at the beginning of the process. But the problems are considerable:
a. New Hampshire is first, but not by a week. The plan envisions four days between New Hampshire and what will effectively become “Super Saturday” with fifteen small states, the District of Columbia, and four Island Regions. Having Super Saturday so early in the process would severely diminish New Hampshire’s impact on the process.3. Iowa and New Hampshire force candidates to campaign at the local level. Candidates who ignore them do so at their own peril. Some candidates focus on one over the other. The most famous example was Ronald Reagan taking for granted his former home state of Iowa, and losing to George Bush. He won New Hampshire, but Bush waged a formidable campaign which he parlayed into the Vice Presidency.
b. The frontloading created by Super Saturday would permanently decimate the ability of lesser-known or lesser-funded candidates to compete. This frontloading, particularly given the geographic distribution of the small states, would make grassroots campaigning impossible, for all candidates.
c. Having all mid to large states in each region crammed into the first Tuesday of each month would, again, make grassroots campaigning unfeasible.
a. Cost. New Hampshire has two major media markets -- Manchester and Boston. Competing even in this limited framework can be very costly. But the thought of waging a media campaign in the countless media markets in 12 states (plus markets in adjacent states), 4 territories, and one large city -- as proposed by the Delaware plan -- is daunting for a lesser-known candidate without substantial personal wealth. There is nothing wrong with money. Indeed, I would maintain that it is critical for any candidate to demonstrate significant fundraising capability as a measure of that candidate’s voter appeal. But, early in the process, we want to allow a broader range of candidates to meet the voters and to make their appeal. This is what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, and any model that does not continue this process is not reform.
b. Longer-running campaigns. The elimination of winner-take-all primaries will certainly lengthen and enhance the process. This is one reform that is absolutely critical, and I would strongly urge the Convention to adopt it. But, to take advantage of the longer-running competitive campaign that a proportional-delegate framework offers, a lesser-known candidate must first demonstrate support in an early state, like Senator McCain did in New Hampshire.
c. Meeting Voters. Iowa and New Hampshire force candidates, regardless of their name identification or their personal wealth, to meet with voters, face to face. This is precisely the kind of interaction that we want to encourage in our Presidential Primaries. It is a healthy vetting process that ensures a stronger Republican nominee going into the General election, and it allows a broader range of candidates to gain exposure early in the process.
d. Why Iowa and New Hampshire? From the candidate’s perspective, I would attest that the most important reason is the historical certainty it offers for candidates. Parties in states like Louisiana or Alaska or Delaware will pop up now and then and threaten to conduct a caucus or primary before New Hampshire and Iowa. This distracts and confuses the campaigns and the result is wasted effort by candidates and ultimately a disorganized poorly-planned caucus or primary that offers little to the Party. On the other hand, Iowa and New Hampshire have four major advantages – the history, the media, the two parties, and the states.
i. Historically, they are first. Campaigns understand this and, as early as possible, can begin assembling a grass roots organization and scheduling candidate tours. Without that clarity, the candidates will be forced to waste lots of energy and time in states that may or may not go early.
It is clear that the Delaware Plan without an explicit protection for New Hampshire’s “first-by-a-week” status would decimate grassroots politics in American presidential elections. I would strongly urge that it be rejected.ii. The Media understand Iowa and New Hampshire. They understand the processes and they are ready for them. They are fully prepared to cover televised debates, and they normally have substantial on-the-ground coverage to ensure that the local activities are televised on a national scale. The media have the ability to gauge the support candidates are receiving at the local level, allowing a lesser known candidate to gain momentum by having his local success broadcasted to a national audience.
iii. The two parties have traditionally supported Iowa and New Hampshire’s early status. The Democrats are committed to keeping them first. While, of course, it is our prerogative as Republicans to choose whatever primary dates we want, it is useful to maintain the kind of media focus as well as voter participation if both parties have their early primaries on the same date.
iv. The states of Iowa and New Hampshire are fully committed to the early dates. In fact, New Hampshire’s state law requires it to be first. State sponsorship provides an organized, professionally-conducted, adequately funded primary, as well as a more unbiased vote count. This is essential in the early primaries because it lends credibility to the result in the eyes of the media and the national public.
I recognize that some states are resentful of the early status of Iowa and New Hampshire. But, the fact is that for historical, practical, and legal reasons, Iowa and New Hampshire have always played a special role in the early stages of the Presidential campaigns.
Our role is not to “pick the President,” or even to pick the nominees. Indeed, candidates have been nominated and even elected after losing either Iowa or New Hampshire. Our role is more to winnow down the field – to allow lesser known candidates to make their case directly to the voters, and to be accepted or rejected based on their message and personality. The result is that certain candidates rise to the top, and certain candidates are eliminated. Often, the results are contrary to the predictions of pollsters and pundits in Washington, DC. This is the beauty of the process.
What other state parties ignore is that with this privilege comes a unique responsibility and a unique burden. New Hampshire citizens are fully aware of their responsibilities in the area of picking Presidential nominees. They take this responsibility seriously. They are also aware of the unique strain that the multi-candidate primary process places on a state party. Early Presidential primaries are divisive and often painful for those involved. Friends are pitted against friends when they join up with various candidates with varying messages and appeals. We have survived and refined this process over the past several decades, and I believe we provide America with an extraordinary service in reviewing and assessing the candidates without interference by big money and slick media campaigns.
So the problem with frontloading is that it poses a threat to this grassroots process. If a large group of states begins creeping up on the heels of Iowa and New Hampshire, we can expect candidates to pay less attention to grassroots campaigning and more attention to fundraising and advertising.
But, I do agree with the Commission that we need to work to extend the grassroots campaign beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, to lengthen and enhance the competitive primary process.
4. Regional Lottery Model. I have developed a reform model that satisfies most of the goals of the Committee. This model:
Mr. Chairman, preserving Iowa and New Hampshire’s status, within the context of a lottery process, would give prospective candidates “peace of mind” in knowing that they could start campaigning early in these two states to get their message out, without the threat of any state party of state government jumping ahead.a. Preserves the Historical status of Iowa and New Hampshire;
b. Ends the leapfrogging and frontloading process that exists in the current system;
c. Protects the interests of both small states and large states;
d. Lengthens the process while enhancing grassroots campaigning; and
e. Increases competitiveness by fostering a system where lesser known and lesser funded candidates can compete.
The lottery process would, using delegate incentives, give states a shot at an early date through a random selection system. This would dissuade states from attempting to jump ahead and risk losing delegates, but rather to take their chances with the lottery system.
As a candidate, a voter, and as a longtime Republican activist, I congratulate you on embarking on this effort to salvage our primary process from the destructive forces of frontloading and winner-take-all primaries. I pledge to work with you to reform and refine this process to preserve and enhance grassroots campaigning to the benefit of our democratic process and our party.
My reform plan is as follows:
Section 1. COMPLIANCE A state shall be considered to be in violation of Republican Party delegate selection rules if that state:
(1) does not agree to participate in the Presidential Lottery specified in Section 3; and
Section 2. PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES AND CAUCUSES(2) holds a Presidential Primary or Caucus after the sixteenth Tuesday after the New Hampshire Primary.
(a) On a date to be determined by the Chairman, after the first of February in the second year following the Presidential election year, prior to the mid-term elections, the Committee shall conduct a Lottery specified in Section 3.Section 3. PRESIDENTIAL LOTTERY
(b) On the third Tuesday in the February of a Presidential Election year, Iowa shall conduct a Presidential caucus.
(c) On the following Tuesday, New Hampshire shall conduct a Presidential primary.
(d) On each Tuesday following the New Hampshire Primary, state primaries or caucuses shall be conducted in states selected for such dates in the Lottery.
(a) The lottery to determine the primary and caucus schedules shall be conducted as follows –(1) The first drawing shall determine the order of rotation among the four regions defined in paragraph (2) of Rule 23(a).
(2) Drawings shall then be conducted sequentially in rotation to determine the primary and caucus schedule for the first through the twelfth Tuesdays following the New Hampshire Primary.(A) Three states shall be drawn for each Tuesday, with the following exceptions:(i) If a state with more than 17 Presidential electors is drawn first in a drawing, no other states shall be drawn and that state shall be the only primary held on that Tuesday.(B) After the fourth Tuesday designated for each region, all remaining states in that region, including states not choosing to participate in the lottery, may conduct Presidential Primaries or caucuses.
(ii) If a state with more than 17 electors is drawn second or third in a drawing–(I) that state shall conduct its primary on the next available Tuesday in the rotation for that region and no drawing shall be conducted for that date; and(iii) If American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands is chosen in any drawing, it shall hold its primary or caucus on the date designated, but shall not count against the three-state limit for that Tuesday.
(II) remaining states shall be chosen to determine the three-state schedule for that Tuesday.