Weekend open thread: Iowans for Ted Cruz edition

Within the last week or so, unnamed fans of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz have launched an Iowans for Ted Cruz website to support a future presidential bid by the tea party hero. After the jump I’ve posted some “testimonials” and a “grassroots plan” that appeared on the site. The business wing of the Republican establishment in Iowa would freak out to see Cruz do well in the caucuses. Democrats would probably love to see someone as extreme as Cruz be nominated for president in 2016.

Incidentally, Cruz is eligible to run for president as a natural-born citizen, even though he was born in Calgary, Canada.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Iowa Democrats, mark your calendars for February 6, 2012

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules Committee has recommended Monday, February 6, 2012 as the date for the next Iowa caucuses, according to Iowa Democratic Party executive director Norm Sterzenbach, who attended the meeting. The same body recommended February 14 for the New Hampshire primary, February 18 for the Nevada caucuses and February 28 for the South Carolina primary. All other Democratic nominating contests would occur in March or later.

Although we are unlikely to have real competition on the Democratic side in 2012, it’s good precedent to start the presidential nominating process in February rather than January. Having to knock on doors and phonebank between Christmas 2007 and New Year’s Day 2008 was insane.

The big question is how many states will try to jump ahead of the early states. The DNC rules committee recommends that states violating the proposed calendar would lose half of their delegates. The Republican Party adopted similar sanctions before the 2008 campaign, which didn’t deter Florida and Michigan from holding their primaries “too early.”

The 2010 Iowa caucuses were held on a Saturday afternoon, but off-year caucuses always have light attendance. A Saturday afternoon caucus in a presidential year was never likely, because observant Jews would be unable to participate.

I would like to see more reforms to the Iowa Democratic caucus process, including an absentee ballot option for shift workers who can’t get the night off or voters who are housebound. In Maine, Democrats can participate in the caucuses by absentee ballot.

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Three Iowans gain new posts at DNC

I received this news release from the Iowa Democratic Party on September 11:

DES MOINES — Longtime Democratic activist Jan Bauer of Ames is one of 75 new at-large members of the Democratic National Committee following a vote Friday at the party’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas.  Bauer also will serve on the DNC Resolutions Committee.

Other appointments Friday included: Sandy Opstvedt of Story City to the the Resolutions Committee, and Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan to the Rules and Bylaws Committee.  In addition, members re-elected Opsvedt to the DNC executive committee.

Kiernan’s post is expected to give him important clout in protecting Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses. “We have a stronger Iowa delegation than at any time in memory,” Kiernan said Friday.  “This is great for Iowa Democrats and for our state.”

Iowans serving on the Democratic National Committee are Bauer, Kiernan, Opstvedt, Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, State Sen. Michael Gronstal, Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston, Sue Dvorsky and Leroy Williams.

Since last November’s election, I haven’t worried at all about Iowa’s place in the nominating process. As long as Barack Obama is president, I don’t think he will let the DNC allow any state to jump ahead of Iowa. For what it’s worth, I don’t think any number of influential Iowans could have saved our first-in-the-nation status if Obama had lost to John McCain.

I’m more concerned about reforms that would improve the integrity of the caucus process and the ability of interested voters to participate. I also would like to see changes to the rules allocating pledged delegates, so that in 2016 one candidate won’t be able to net as many pledged delegates from, say, winning the Wyoming caucuses as another candidate nets from, say, winning the Ohio primary by 10 percent.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Reform the caucus system

David Yepsen has a good column in Sunday’s Des Moines Register urging Iowa’s political parties to improve the caucus system. He reasons that Iowa is less likely to retain its first-in-the-nation status if our state parties do not correct some of the flaws in the caucus process.

I would go further and state that Iowa does not deserve to remain first unless the parties make some changes in the caucus system. Actually, if I were in charge of reforming the nominating process, I would ban caucuses for the purposes of presidential selection. The parties in Iowa will never adopt primaries, though, because of New Hampshire’s law stating that it must hold the first primary.

After the jump I’ll go over the reforms Yepsen proposes, which would go a long way toward addressing the flaws in the Iowa caucus system. I will then add a few ideas of my own.

For background, here are links to the diaries I wrote last year on the Iowa caucus system:

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 1 (basic elements of the caucus system)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 2 (corrects an error in part 1 and discusses who is over-represented and who is under-represented when delegates are counted)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 3 (why it’s hard to turn out caucus-goers)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 4 (more about why caucus turnout is low)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 5 (on second choices and caucus math)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 6 (on how precinct captains help their candidates before caucus night)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 7 (why it’s hard to figure out how well the candidates are doing in Iowa)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 8 (on the many ways to win your precinct)

How the Iowa caucuses work, part 9 (analyzes common arguments made in favor of the caucus system, along with my response to those arguments)

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How would you build a better nominating process?

The Democratic National Committee is putting together a Democratic Change Commission to review possible changes to the presidential nominating process. According to the Associated Press, DNC leaders want to reduce the number of superdelegates and “regain control of the primary calendar”:

A goal of the new commission would be to establish a calendar in which only a handful of states would be allowed to hold nominating contests before March.

This diary at MyDD contains the full text of the press release. Here is an excerpt:

Today the Obama Campaign and the Democratic National Committee announced a proposal to establish a special commission to recommend changes to the Democratic Party’s rules for delegate selection and presidential primary timing for future presidential cycles. The proposal will be presented to the Convention Rules Committee on Saturday in Denver.

The ‘Democratic Change Commission’ will address three issues 1) changes to the opening of the window and pre-window, 2) reducing the number of superdelegates and 3) changes to the caucus system. The goal of the commission will be to ensure that no primary or caucus is held prior to the first Tuesday in March of 2012, with the exception of the approved pre-window states, whose contests would be held during February 2012.

I’m all for reducing the number of superdelegates and strictly limiting the number of states that can hold primaries or caucuses before March.

But if we are going to increase the relative importance of pledged delegates, we need to be aware that the pledged delegate count does not necessarily reflect the will of the people.

Longtime readers know that I am not a big fan of the caucus system even in Iowa, where voters and party officials have a lot of experience with it. I don’t think any of the alleged benefits of caucuses outweigh the barriers to participation that caucuses create.

Furthermore, no state but Iowa can claim any genuine party-building benefit from caucuses, because other states didn’t have multiple campaigns organizing at the precinct level for months.

Many states switched from primaries to caucuses in order to save money, figuring the nomination wouldn’t depend on that state’s vote anyway. As a result, poorly-trained precinct chairs presided over chaos in many parts of Nevada.

Even where caucuses ran relatively smoothly, turnout was unnecessarily limited, and results were skewed.

Consider Minnesota. Probably Obama would have won a primary there, but would he have won it by a 2-1 margin, as he did the caucus delegate count? Seems unlikely.

In Colorado, Nebraska, and several other states, Obama emerged with three or four times as many delegates as Hillary Clinton. Again, he probably would have won a primary in those states, but not by that kind of margin.

Even worse, in Nevada and Texas, Obama emerged with more pledged delegates even though more voters turned out to support Hillary. I would want to change the way pledged delegates are allocated so that no candidate could lose the popular vote in a state while winning the pledged delegate count.

Not only that, one caucus-goer in Wyoming had as much influence over the pledged delegate race as 19 primary voters in California (here is the link). That’s partly because caucuses attract lower turnout and partly because smaller states have a disproportionate number of delegates in the Democratic Party’s current nominating system.

I will be interested to see what this commission recommends with respect to caucuses. My preference would be to ban caucuses for purposes of presidential candidate selection, but I’m sure that a commission created with the participation of the Obama campaign would never agree to that reform. My guess is that they will propose some nominal changes to caucuses but will do nothing to discourage states from holding caucuses instead of primaries.

Before anyone gets upset in the comments, please note that by criticizing the caucus system, I do not intend to excuse the strategic failure of the Clinton campaign to have a game plan for the caucus states.

But if we are going to reduce the number of superdelegates, or require superdelegates to get behind the pledged delegate leader in their states or districts, then we better have a more equitable system for allocating the pledged delegates.

It was wrong for Obama to net as many pledged delegates from a low-turnout caucus state as Hillary netted in the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. She exceeded Obama’s popular vote count by more than 200,000 in each of those states.

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