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Finally: Something The Parties Agree About

Yesterday I walked over to the Capital Hilton to take in the first of two sessions (this second was this morning) of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules & Bylaws Committee. Jeff Berman–Obama’s 2008 delegate guru and a lawyer-expert on election rules who is one of 30 members of the RBC–told me he didn’t think much of substance would happen at the RBC’s meetings this weekend in Washington to review the rules for the 2012 presidential nomination process, and he was right. Although the RBC had 20 sections of rules to approve, they spent almost 15 minutes arguing about a two-word change to one subsection of Rule 1. I can say with confidence that this has to be the least exciting part of a presidential campaign cycle.

In any case, last year the Democratic Change Commission–the ad hoc group, of which Berman is also member, tasked with reviewing the nominating rules procedures–made several key recommendations, including pushing back the primary calendar and making clear the penalties and appeals process for state parties that violate the calendar. So the big news Friday may have actually came during the opening remarks from RBC co-chair James Roosevelt, Jr., who explained the significance of the recent news that the Republican National Committee–which normally sets its rules for its next presidential cycle at the previous national convention–for the first time has conducted a mid-cycle review of its own procedures and calendar for the 2012 presidential nomination.

Basically, the two parties seem to be on the cusp of achieving alignment on two calendar-related issues. First, both parties clearly want to push the so-called “pre-primary window” for the approved, early states to after February 1, instead of January 1. Second, because the RNC’s ad hoc delegate selection committee has recommended designating Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as the four states that would be allowed to conduct primaries/caucuses in the February, pre-primary window, the two parties could very well have the same four contests in the same four states on identical dates during February 2012.

This confluence of calendars is potentially good news for the parties, their candidates and the media, all of whom could converge on the same states at the same time of the primary year. In 2012, barring some unforeseen development, there’s not going to be a contest for the Democratic nomination. But if Obama wins re-election, and presuming Joe Biden doesn’t run, 2016 could become the second cycle in about 60 years–and, along with 2008, the second cycle out of three–in which no incumbent president or vice president is seeking his party’s nomination.

Because Democrats had to respond to the 2008 Hillary Clinton/Obama delegate controversies, including the dramas in Florida and Michigan, and because Republicans agree the primary season was running too close to the winter holidays, the next few cycles could produce greater bipartisan uniformity in the presidential selection calendar. (The GOP is also likely to require proportional assignment of delegates for any state that holds its primary or caucus before April 2012, but I will wait to talk about the implications of that once the GOP’s new rules are set in stone.)

Bottom line: 2012 is shaping up to be a nice trial run for the two parties to re-organize, streamline and coordinate their presidential nomination processes. So far as I know, the RNC is not drafting rules, as the Democrats have, to encourage states to join together in regional or sub-regional primaries by assigning states that do so extra delegate weight. And we have to wait to see if state Democratic parties respond to these incentives in 2012. But the short story for the moment is that in 2012 there will be more sanity and cross-party uniformity in the scheduling of presidential nomination contests.