I was tempted into writing this after Erick made some primary related errors in a recent post and cited Sean Trende's very, very bad primary analysis in a recent diary. And this is coming from someone that usually appreciates Sean's work.
First, lets establish that both Sean and I are getting our sources from the same place... http://frontloading.blogspot.com/ which is the best 1 stop shop for all things related to the primary schedule, but Sean appears to have made a 5 minute glance of the site for his article and I actually read it regularly.
***Sean did make 1 very important point. Historically primary schedule is extremely influential in who gets picked.***
Here's whats going on.
Few States Defying Rules
Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and Potentially Michigan are intentionally defying the RNC rules that state no primary or caucus should be held before the first Tuesday in March.
Florida: Created a committee that will pick the most advantageous date right up to the Oct 1 deadline. Whether that date is in Jan or Feb is dependent on what other states do.
Georgia: Same as Florida
Arizona: Their current date at the end of February is already in defiance of the rules. They can't move the date backward because the Legislature will not be in session before Oct 1. But Arizona has a unique law that allows the Governor to unilaterally move the primary date forward. Since they are already going to be penalized, why not move the Arizona Primary even earlier? Or at least so goes the thought process on Arizona.
Michigan: A state that has the legislature in session later than most states allowing them to make up their mind at the last minute. The state party committee just had a non binding vote to recommend a primary date between late February and the first Tuesday in March. Meanwhile the legislature has a bill on the docket to move the primary to the beginning of February. While its anybodies guess at this standpoint late February(breaking the rules) to early march(not breaking the rules) is the most likely outcome.
Sean lists more states that aren't likely to be a problem.
New Jersey: The bill to move the primary back has passed both chambers. For some reason Christie is just leaving the bill on his desk and waiting for the last possible minute to sign it into law. Very few people expect Christie to Veto it. So NJ is not likely a problem state.
Missouri: Gov. Nixon vetoed the first bill that moved the primaries back in compliance with RNC rules because he didn't like some the extra stuff in the bill. The GOP in the legislature is going to try to force Nixon into some kind of compromise on the other issues and if that compromise doesn't happen they'll just pass a clean bill pushing the primary date back and Nixon will sign it. So Missouri is unlikely to be a problem state.
Wisconsin: A bill moving the primary date back has already passed 1 chamber. Due to the rush to get some legislation through before the recall elections the other chamber hasn't passed the bill yet. Walker will sign it. Everybody expects Wisconsin to be a RNC compliant state.
Minnesota: Has successfully weaseled its way around the RNC rules. They are holding "non binding" caucuses very early to nominate delegates that will 2 months later vote for their candidate. Example: You like Bachmann, Bill likes Bachmann, you vote for Bill to vote for Bachmann two months down the road, but Bill can change his mind hence "non binding". But the real secret is that none of the other states care because Minnesota is just going to pick their home state candidate. So Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have already stated that they wont change their primaries purely for Minnesota's sake.
Proportionality In Pre April Primaries
Frontloading wrote a swift correction to Sean's piece about the issue of proportionality in the Pre April Primaries. The myth is that all the earlier states(mostly southern states) will be forced into proportionally allocating *all* of their delegates to the candidates based on vote totals, and that all the Post March primaries will be winner take all(mostly blue states). That is not true. The RNC as only required the "at large delegates" to be proportional which is 10 delegates per states. All bonus, super delegate, and congressional seat delegates can still be winner take all. That means that all a state has to do is pass a bill(or already have a law which many do) that states that all of those other delegates are awarded as winner take all with exception of the at large ones. For most states that means that the vast majority of their delegates will be awarded as winner take all and a small minority of delegates will be awarded proportionally even though their primary is before the 1st Tuesday in April. What this means is that the early (mostly Red State) primaries will have pretty close to the same amount of voting power as the later (mostly Blue State) primaries. So the advantage in the primary schedule to Romney that Sean and Erick point out is actually a lot smaller than they think.
Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada
So when will the Iowa Caucuses be held? The answer is still a bid "to be determined". It all rests on the first 4 states I mentioned at the top to determine when those states hold their primaries/caucuses.
January Caucuses: If Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan? decide to move to February and be just a little bit earlier than everybody else than we'll be looking at early January Iowa caucuses similar to last year. It will be the big 4 in January followed by the 3 or 4 rule breaking states in February and everybody else after March.
Early December Caucuses: If any of those 4 move into January which is equally possible than Iowa gets moved to first week of December. We would have the early states in December, maybe 1 or 2 rule breaking states in January and 1 to 3 rule breaking states in February followed by everybody else. Besides the fact that it would be annoying December races we would also have large periods of time between primaries in January and February.
February Caucuses: Unlikely but if the 4 decide to hold slight advantages of very late February races then we'll be the closest to what the RNC attempted to do and that is have early February/late January Caucuses in Iowa followed the other early states and everybody else in March. The only difference being a few states in late February a few days before Super Tuesday in March.
So how does this impact the race
Well the winner take all "advantage" to later states is all but meaningless since very few states will have any more than the few "at large" delegates determined proportionally in the early states.
In 2008, early vs. later states were a pretty good mixture of Red and Blue. This cycle the early states are overwhelmingly Red and the later states overwhelmingly Blue. Given that a lot of the proportionality issue is a myth in the early states, it would appear that this year is a lot more advantageous to a conservative candidate and a lot less advantageous to a more moderate Republican.