Both national parties have agreed to push back the start of their nominating process by one month from 2008. That year, Iowa and New Hampshire voted in the shadow of New Year’s Day, and by Super Tuesday (Feb. 5), more than half the country had voted. To nearly everyone in the political community, the last nominating season began too early, peaked too soon and, for Republicans, was over much too quickly. John McCain had the nomination wrapped up by early March.
Such an early ending should not occur again next year – so long as the states follow the new rules, that is. No state is allowed to vote in January. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will be permitted to vote in February. The rest of the country will be allowed to hold their primary or caucus beginning the first Tuesday in March (March 6, 2012), which will be the new “Super Tuesday.”
In addition, new GOP rules forbid any contests held before April 1 to award all of a state’s delegates to the statewide winner. That could be a major concern to Republican leaders in many early-voting states, who used winner-take-all in the past to attract the interest of candidates and enhance their state’s influence. If their state votes before April 1 next year, it will be required to provide for the division of delegates proportionately among candidates to reflect their share of the vote.
Proportional representation has been a staple of Democratic rules for a generation and was one reason why the 2008 contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was so long running. But for Republicans, this is new ground. And it is not completely clear yet how the proportional representation requirement for pre-April states will be implemented.
However, to David Norcross, the former chairman of the rules committee of the Republican National Committee (RNC), the change is “majestically simple.” For a decade, Republican rules makers considered an array of complex plans to arrest “front-loading,” including ones where states would vote in inverse order of size. But with the elimination of pre-April winner-take-all events in 2012, many GOP officials hope that they have not only found a simple way to slow down the nominating process but also to encourage states to hold their primary or caucus well after Super Tuesday.
Cook notes another potential change that may affect the outcome in unknown ways. Cash-strapped states may abandon expensive primaries in favor of caucuses. Candidates with passionate followings (Pat Robertson for the Republicans in 1988) or strong organization (Barack Obama for the Democrats in 2008) would have a greater edge in caucuses than in primaries.