April 7, 2023
What Came Before…
The Delegate Convention until 1972
By: Bjorn Handeen
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series discussing the history of the Idaho Presidential Primary.
Now that the Idaho legislature has finally repealed the Presidential Primary, it makes sense to review how the RNC delegate process worked throughout the majority of the Idaho Republican Party’s existence.
From the founding of the Idaho Republican Party to 1960, Idaho held a quadrennial “delegate convention” to elect Idaho’s delegation to the RNC convention (where the Republican nominee for POTUS is chosen). The delegate convention, traditionally held in April during presidential election years, was commonly but not always held in North Idaho. The positions of National Committeeman and National Committeewoman were also elected, as well as Idaho’s four Republican Electors.
Idaho had 14 allotted delegates plus 14 alternates in those days: two delegates and two alternates were allocated from each Congressional District, with the remainder considered “At-large.”
Sometimes these delegates were “instructed” to vote for a certain presidential candidate (for instance in 1956 for Ike, and 1964 for Goldwater), and sometimes the delegates were “uninstructed” (1960, for instance).
This April or May “delegate convention” was distinct from the “platform convention”, which was held every two years in late August. The platform, incidentally, was not a general repository into which our dearest philosophical beliefs were enshrined. Instead, the platform was a temporary document outlining the specific legislative agenda Republican candidates were declaring to pursue that year. The platform committee meeting was a multi-day affair, and often split up into sub-committees that tackled different issues. The platform convention then debated the committee report.
In 1964, a change to the primary election system was instituted: Under state law, if there were more than one declared candidate for a statewide or congressional office, then the state convention delegates must vote to allow nomination ballot access to at least two, but as many as four of the candidates.
This consolidated the delegate convention and platform convention into a June “Republican State Assembly” or “Pre-Primary Convention”. This is also the first mention of the platform being a “statement of principles” rather than a specific legislative agenda.
By 1972, however, state law again changed to abolish the party’s role in endorsing nomination candidates, and so general opinion was that the convention had little to do. The 1972 convention sent an instructed delegation, but a vote for Nixon’s re-election was a foregone conclusion.
By 1976 the Democratic plan to gut the party’s organization was more fully realized with the implementation of the party primary, which I described in my last column. But that doesn’t mean there was no resistance.
I will describe the various legislative attempts to repeal the presidential primary and restore our convention system in my next column.
Bjorn Handeen is a longtime Idaho Republican Party volunteer with a passion for Idaho political history. His newsletter, titled The History of the Idaho Republican Right, focuses on the untold story of the ultra-conservative movement in Idaho. His previous articles are available on Substack.