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Republicans rethink the caucus format

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Top Republicans are calling for a review of the methods used in presidential caucuses after a series of vote-counting mishaps in three early states.

Maine on Tuesday became the latest state to fall victim to the caucus bug, with a local report noting that the state GOP declared Mitt Romney the winner of a close race without many localities reporting votes in the totals, including some that had submitted their results and some whose caucuses were set for later this month.

It was just the latest foible in what has been a very rough year for the caucus format.

Earlier this year, Romney was declared the winner of the Iowa GOP caucuses by eight votes after results from one precinct were lost until the wee hours of the next morning. After recounting the votes, though, the party said more votes were missing and that the true winner of its caucuses would never truly be known. Then, two days later, it declared Rick Santorum the winner.
Republican congressional candidate and Maine Senate President Kevin Raye, right, speaks during the Kennebec County Super Caucus in Augusta, Maine, on Feb. 4. (AP Photo/Joel Page)

And in Nevada, a smattering of problems with its caucuses has left the state GOP searching for answers as it pushes for relevance in the presidential process.

All of it has some suggesting that caucuses may not be a viable option going forward. Mostly, though, Republicans think it’s time to revisit how caucuses are run.

“Caucuses are still a viable option, but the operators need to understand that the results are going to generate a lot of publicity and that they have significance beyond the state line,” said former Republican National Committee general counsel David Norcross. “They need to set the rules and have a representative of each candidate informed and on hand for the count.”

Caucuses are inherently less organized than primaries, in large part because they are run by state parties and don’t have experienced state elections officials in charge.

Because of this, methods may not be the same at every caucus site, and the paper trail isn’t as reliable.

At the same time, party rules have effectively increased the importance of caucuses by pushing them to the front of the process. The Republican National Committee allows only four states to hold their contests before March, but that rule doesn’t apply to caucuses, which don’t technically have a direct impact on the allocation of delegates.

The result: Minnesota, Colorado and Maine have held February caucuses this year without paying any kind of penalty.

Given the increasing importance of caucus states, top RNC officials say its time for a review of the caucus process.

“The problems encountered in two or three caucuses does not call out for abolition of caucuses, but for better methods of implementing caucuses,” said Tennessee Republican National Committeeman John Ryder. “And I say this as someone who favors primaries — at least for my own state.”

Mississippi Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour agreed, but noted that primaries have experienced problems too: “I think there is definitely a place for caucuses in the nominating process, but not without a transparent, accurate reflection of the vote count.”

Even when the caucuses haven’t been marred by problems, there has been legitimate debate about how much they mean to the process — in large part because the Romney campaign has sought to downplay them.

This debate is leftover from the 2008 campaign, when President Obama won the Democratic nomination largely on the strength of his wins in many caucus states.

At the time, Hillary Clinton’s campaign argued that caucuses didn’t matter as much because they were low-turnout affairs that had no bearing on actual delegates — much the same argument Romney’s campaign made when he lost in Minnesota and Colorado last week.

Former Clinton adviser Mo Elleithee said caucuses place more responsibility on the shoulders of state parties and require those parties to step up to the plate.

“They’re much harder to pull off than primaries, which means you’ve got to put the resources into making sure you get it right,” Elleithee said. “And if state parties can’t do that, then I think national parties are going to have to look long and hard at how to fix – or change – the process next time around.”

Another top Clinton adviser, Mark Penn, said the debate over caucuses will continue.

“I keep thinking each race that next cycle there will be reforms to all primaries and no caucuses,” Penn said, “but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Santorum said contraception ‘not okay’: In an October interview with an evangelical Christian blog, Santorum said he would fight “the dangers of contraception” if he became president.

“One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country,” Santorum told the blog Caffeinated Thoughts. “Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s OK.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

As Time’s Michael Scherer points out, Americans overwhelmingly support contraception use.

Now that the conservative ex-senator is surging, clips like this are getting more scrutiny. There’s already a gender gap forming between Romney and Santorum. But will the former Massachusetts governor use this wedge issue?

Santorum fought on Indiana ballot: Eight Indiana residents have filed challenges to keep Santorum off of the ballot in the state’s May 8 primary.

The candidate needed 500 valid signatures from each congressional district and fell eight signatures short in one.

Santorum’s fate in the state will be decided by the Indiana Election Commission — whose chairman, Dan Dumezich, is a Romney supporter.

Fixbits:

The top pro-Romney super PAC targets Santorum in a new ad in Arizona, Michigan and Ohio.

Rick Perry confirms he is eyeing another presidential campaign in 2016.

Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) primary opponent, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, previews an attack on Lugar’s residency. Mourdock, who was endorsed by the Club for Growth PAC on Tuesday, will hold a press conference on the issue early Wednesday.

Two top GOP Senate candidates consulted a national Republican Party lawyer when drafting agreements to ban the national party and other third-party groups from getting involved in their races.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will chair the Democratic National Convention.

Must-reads:

3 years after legislative majorities, NC Democrats see departures from defeats, redistricting” — AP

Why Super PACs Are Good for Democracy” — David Weigel, Slate

Obama, Romney Getting Cozier With Super PACs” — Scott Conroy, Real Clear Politics

Santorum off the an early state in the West” — Nia-Malika Henderson

 
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