Monday, March 20, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- It's Trump's until it's not

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Strategizing about the when, where and how to best defeat Donald Trump is not a new thing. In fact, it has not always been a particularly partisan thing. After all, just seven year and a day ago, the New York Times ran a story about Republican efforts to chart a course forward toward an alternative. That was not the first such story and it certainly was not the last. There are likely more on the way.

With the former president mounting his third bid for the Republican presidential nomination, the strategizing Trump's downfall industry his whirred back to life. And that is not without reason. It is spurred on by the relatively weaker hand Trump has in 2023 minus the incumbency advantage the then-president carried with him four years ago. And there are possible indictments looming over Trump in Manhattan, Georgia and the nation's capital. The terrain is both more different than it has been during the Trump era and all too familiar (at least in the ways that various actors, including Trump, are reacting and how the race is being covered).

Those weaknesses -- real or perceived -- are a lens through which the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is being viewed. But the underlying mindset is akin to giving folks a hammer: They are going to go looking for nails and probably "find" them. For example, Trip Gabriel of the New York Times had a recent dispatch from Des Moines, where all eyes -- Trump's and his rivals' -- are on the first nominating contest of 2024. And understandably so: the caucuses in Iowa are the first contest.
“I don’t see a formula where Trump loses Iowa and it doesn’t really wound him and his chances as a candidate,” said Terry Sullivan, who managed Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Or maybe New Hampshire will be Trump's demise. Republican strategist Susan Del Percio sees unaffiliated voters, who are allowed to participate in the presidential primary in the Granite state, as a key potential buffer against extremists lining up behind Trump. 

[As an aside, a Trump loss in Iowa would be less a signal about Iowa specifically and more one stemming from the fact that it is a caucus state. If Trump is losing among low turnout caucus electorates then that will say much about his institutional support within the party among a more motivated slice of the overall primary electorate. And that says nothing of the blow that would strike to the former president's organizational strength. As for independents in New Hampshire, maybe 2024 will be different. But Trump ran ahead of his statewide support in New Hampshire among independents in 2016. That may not be what starts the ball rolling against Trump in 2024.]

Of course, both of those visions are a bit more forward-looking into a future that has not accounted for the events that will transpire during the remainder of the invisible primary between now and when votes begin to be cast. Perhaps it will be in the courtrooms across the country where a Trump slide (or a resurgence!) begins. Seth Market throws some water on that notion:
All this is to say that him being indicted will likely not harm him much in the presidential contest — his supporters will not turn against him — but nor will it help him. “Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters will support him enthusiastically if X happens” has been proven true time and again for eight years but doesn’t really tell us very much.
In the end, there are at least nine months left in the invisible primary. Things will happen. Needles will move. Candidates' fortunes will rise and fall. But right now, Trump is very much in the same position Jeb Bush was in 2015. That is not to suggest that the outcome will be the same for Trump as it was for Bush nor that the signals are not pointing more forcefully in Trump's direction now than they ever did for Bush then. But the majority of the invisible primary signals one looks at -- polls, fundraising, hiring, endorsements, organizational strength, etc. -- point in Trump's direction at this time. That may not continue to be the case as the invisible primary progresses, but it is the case now. 

That is why FHQ has been saying a variation on something in recent days that we often said back in 2015. Then it was "it [the 2016 Republican nomination] is Jeb's until it's not." Now, it is "it [the 2024 Republican nomination] is Trump's until it's not." In other words, the signals one relies on to tell one anything about the state of the race are pointing toward Trump. But that may not continue to be the case once indictments come down, or DeSantis enters the race, or a poor fundraising quarter is reported, or well on down the line, once votes begin to be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire. For now, however, it is Trump's until it's not.

How will public opinion react to a possible Trump indictment? Natalie Jackson says to look at the polling on January 6.

Harry Enten digs into recent CNN and Quinnipiac polls and finds that support among voters of color is part of what sets Trump apart from his competition for the Republican presidential nomination. 

Michigan Republicans are still "in a pickle" over whether to go the primary or caucus route in 2024.

On this date... 1984, Walter Mondale edged Gary Hart in the Illinois primary, winning a small plurality victory on his way to the Democratic nomination. The Illinois primary ended up fairly closely resembling the popular vote breakdown in the contest nationwide at its conclusion. 2012, Mitt Romney scored a double digit win over Rick Santorum in the Illinois primary, but dominated the former Pennsylvania senator in the congressional district delegates directly elected by a more than three to one rate. 2020, the Indiana presidential primary was pushed back from May to June because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Primary or Caucus in 2024? For Michigan Republicans, it's still up in the air

Recently elected Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo appeared before a Muskegon County Republican Party function last weekend and shed some additional light on where the state party stands with respect to the presidential primary or caucus question for the 2024 cycle. The comments come on the heels of the Democratic-controlled legislature's decision to move up the state-run presidential primary to late February, drawing Republicans in the Great Lakes state out of compliance with Republican National Committee (RNC) rules on the timing of delegate selection events. 

The following is a transcript of the primary/caucus-related portion of the Q&A at that event:
Questioner: "So the Democrats moved... voted to move our primary up to the fourth Tuesday in February. Do you have any idea..."

Karamo: "So, that's a very complicated issue. So, um, what's going on is that the Democrats have voted to move up the primary. And according to RNC rules, if the primary is before a certain date, we will be penalized at the RNC convention. And we'll have... We'll be voting with a smaller delegate strength at the RNC convention for president. That's the way it works. So, what happens is, is when we vote in a presidential primary, all of our delegate votes go to whoever won the popular vote in our state. And then all the various delegates go to the RNC convention and then vote for the candidate for president. And that's how our Republican nominee for president is decided. Um, with that penalty from the RNC, that means that we'll lose some of our delegate votes which means we lose attention and all kinds of things in Michigan." 

"So, we're working that out. I'm not prepared to speak on all the details. I will say that isn't a decision that we make. Uh, or that I make or [Michigan Republican Party co-chairwoman] Malinda [Pego] makes. Uh, that is a state committee issue, but we're kind of not saying a lot about it until we go through everything. One of the things I am working on is having like a -- I hate to use the word listening tour -- but having an opportunity for people on various sides of the issue." 

"Because one solution is to have a caucus where it will be [Michigan Republican Party] delegates voting on who the Republican nominee for president is in our state. So, that's some conversation that is being had. And so, I'm not taking a formal position as an individual on either side of the conversation. I've had my opinions, but then after talking with people on the other side of the opinion, I was like 'Ooh, this is a little bit of a complicated issue.' So, I'm not prepared to speak beyond that, but I think there is a lot of conversation that we need to have as a party of what we're going to do." 

"Because we are in a pickle. Because if the RNC doesn't grant us the waiver that means we're voting with less delegate strength. So then, sometimes the option is a caucus. And some people like a caucus because it keeps Democrats out of our primaries. [Statement greeted approvingly among those in attendance] Because that's a big problem that they jump in our primaries and if they do not have a new candidate... If they don't primary Joe Biden, then that means all of them will jump into our primary. And so the caucus prevents them from jumping in our primary and only actual Republicans are voting for president. So, there is a lot of conversation to be had, but I guess that's pretty much all I... I don't really have anything else to add to it."

Questioner [following up]: "Is the date locked or is there any challenge to moving that, or is this for sure going be the fourth week of February for our primary?"

Karamo: "Well, that's the Republican to Democrat legislature [transition], so I need the exact date, but that's totally up to them [Democrats in the legislature]. That's... That's one of the reasons why if we do find ourselves in the situation where we still have a primary, I think the RNC is... It would only be right for them to grant us a waiver. It wouldn't be fair to punish us for something we have no control over."

[Emphasis above is FHQ's. Michigan is not a winner-take-all state as Karamo seemed to imply. Even if Democrats in the Michigan legislature had not moved the date of the presidential primary to the end of February, the mid-March date would still have fallen before the point at which state parties could allocate delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. Michigan is a baseline proportional state in the Republican process with a winner-take-all trigger that is activated if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote statewide.]

Look, Karamo says a lot there that does not really reveal much of anything as of now. Obviously, this is a complicated matter. The state party is concerned about the impact of any RNC penalties if a waiver is not extended by the national party. But Karamo was quick to voice the virtues of conducting a closed caucus/convention process as opposed to an open primary that may invite some idle Democrats into the process. The former seemed to be the "side of the opinion" on which Karamo fell, but the chair also left open the door to alternatives (in a matter that will be decided by the state committee).

There are a couple of factors that FHQ would add to this. 

First, is that the RNC may or may not take an active role in all of this. The national party could remain hands off and let the Michigan Republican Party battle to opt out of the primary and hold caucuses that comply with the RNC rules instead. However, the RNC could alternatively choose to be more hands-on and issue a waiver only for the contest -- primary or caucus -- that it would prefer. If a primary occurs and there is a Republican vote (meaning Michigan Republicans were unable to opt out), then that statewide vote would, under RNC rules, have to be used to allocate delegates instead of later and rules-compliant caucuses. In other words, Great Lakes state Republicans would have to get a waiver in that case to hold caucuses and allocate/select delegates to the national convention through them. But it could be that the RNC would prefer the state party use the primary, even if it technically violates the rules, but with a waiver. As Karamo said, it is "very complicated."

Second, Karamo noted later in her remarks that the state party was in the hole after the prior administration (under the previous chair) left office. How much? $460,000. A state party that is in debt may be less willing to opt out of a state-run primary -- again, even a non-compliant one -- with few ways to actually fund an alternative. And the state party running a debt would definitely factor into any decision to conduct and pay for state party-run caucuses. That is not to say that the Michigan Republican Party could not raise the necessary funds, but that reality would factor into the decision making process. 

It is still a mess. And from the look of it, that mess will extend into the future for the Republican Party in Michigan. The RNC has a deadline of October 1, 2023 for state parties to have finalized their plans for delegate selection in 2024. Some resolution will likely come before then.


Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Fix is in for the Idaho Presidential Primary Bill

The days left in the 2023 regular session are winding down in the Idaho legislature. The body is targeting Friday, March 24 as its 75th and final day before it adjourns sine die. 

And one of the bills stuck in legislative limbo is H 138, legislation that would eliminate the separate March presidential primary election and merge it with the primaries for other offices in May. The measure had been on a fast track, passing the state House and getting through committee on the Senate side in the span of a few weeks. However, once it got to the state Senate floor, the bill was quickly shunted to the body's 14th order -- a working section of the chamber's calendar -- to be amended. 

The necessity of amendments was clear early on in the life of H 138. The measure lived up to the intent of its sponsors by eliminating the separate presidential primary and saving the state an estimated $2.7 million dollars on the budget in the process. But it failed to build back the requisite infrastructure that existed before 2012 when a consolidated primary, including the presidential preference vote, was the norm in Idaho. FHQ brought this issue up in its initial rundown of H 138 and the conflict was also raised in testimony to the Senate State Affairs Committee in a hearing before the panel passed the bill onto the floor for consideration. 

Of course, there is a richer politics behind the legislation as well. Cost savings are one thing. Incomplete provisions to match the true intent of the bill are another. But there is additional intra-party tension among Republicans in and out of Idaho that underpins the measure as well. The state Republican Party fought the shift from March to May in the Senate committee hearing and the Trump campaign is keeping a watchful eye on the move and other procedures Idaho may use in 2024 as well. That confluence of factors -- the limited number of days left in the legislative session, the need for amendment, the Republican infighting -- highlighted the fact that H 138's trip to the 14th order may have been more political than anything; that it was a sentence of purgatory for the short remainder of the term. 

However, that has not necessarily turned out to be the case. The same state Senate committee has introduced a separate bill -- S 1186 -- that amends and augments the original bill, adding the necessary provisions to include the presidential preference vote on the May consolidated primary ballot. 

And although a fix is in, that does not mean that the effort to consolidate the presidential primary with those elections in May is out of the woods yet. There will be a flurry of activity in the session's apparent final week, and there are two bills that will now have to pass the state Senate and one -- S 1186 -- that will have to go over to the House if it does pass the Senate (despite all of the other attendant conflicts described above). It is entirely possible that all of that gets done before Friday, March 24. It is also possible that one or both bills get derailed along the way, pushed to the back burner in the waning days of the session in favor of more pressing legislation. 

The bottom line on the precipice of that final week in Idaho? There is a workable path forward for a pair of bills now to eliminate the separate presidential primary in the Gem state and add the presidential preference vote to the existing May primary. But obstacles remain. 

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


See more on our political/electoral consulting venture at FHQ Strategies. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Karl Rove's Faux Certainty on 2024 Unknowns

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

FHQ will have to hand it to Karl Rove. His latest attempt to wade into and use the rules to frame an upcoming battle for the Republican presidential nomination is much better than his last in 2015.

But that does not mean that it was tethered to the reality of the evolving rules for the 2024 cycle. Let's dig in.

On the calendar, Rove creates an imaginary tiff between Iowa and New Hampshire:
We don’t yet know exactly when these contests—Iowa is a caucus, the others are primaries—will be held. Iowa Democrats want to allow mail-in ballots in addition to in-person voting. New Hampshire believes this would make Iowa a primary, which would mean New Hampshire’s contest would have to move ahead of Iowa’s because it holds the nation’s first primary by law. Hawkeye State Republicans want to stop mail-in ballots so Iowa remains first as a caucus.
First of all, Iowa Democrats, in pitching the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee last year to stay among the earliest states in 2024, tried to sell them on an all-mail caucus process. Secondly, what Iowa Democrats do has next to nothing to do with what Republicans in the Hawkeye state may or may not do. The parties there, despite the state law, do not have to conduct delegate selection events on the same date. If Iowa Republicans truly take issue with the Democrats' process, then the party can schedule earlier caucuses. 

And there is no indication that New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan (R) has any problem with what Iowa Democrats plan to do. That is because there is no Iowa Democratic plan yet. So, there may or may not be any issue here at all. Let's cross that bridge when and if we get to it. 

Then Rove moves on to South Carolina:
Even if that’s worked out, South Carolina may force the schedule earlier. Democrats are trying to shift the primary there from Feb. 24 to Feb. 3. The state GOP likes the later date, which is far enough into the calendar that South Carolina often settles the presidential nomination—as it did in 2000 for Republicans and 2020 for Democrats. Still, if South Carolina Democrats vote Feb. 3, New Hampshire could move its primary for both parties earlier. Then Iowa Republicans, and maybe Iowa Democrats, will move their caucuses ahead of New Hampshire’s primaries.
Trying? February 24?

None of that makes any sense. The DNC has adopted rules for 2024. Those rules include a waiver for South Carolina Democrats to hold a primary on February 3. The national party required South Carolina Democrats to pledge to request of the state a February 3 primary date, otherwise a waiver would not have been granted. And remember, in South Carolina, the state parties -- not the state government -- choose the primary date. This is a done deal. There is no trying. South Carolina Democrats will hold a February 3 primary. As in Iowa, Republicans in the Palmetto state are not really affected by what Democrats in the state do. They can opt for a separate date (and more often than not have, as has become the custom in South Carolina).

And where does February 24 come from? Seriously. That is not set in state law. The primary date is not set in law at all in South Carolina. It was not set in DNC rules either. There were no rules on the early calendar until this past February and they have only ever called for a February 3 primary for Democrats in South Carolina.

Look, the beginning of the calendar is unsettled. Little of what Rove mentions is of any consequence right now. What the early calendar hinges on now is what Nevada Republicans do. If they opt for the new February 6 primary, then Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will have January contests. If Republicans in the Silver state opt out of that primary, then later (than February 6) caucuses might keep South Carolina Republicans out of January but not Iowa and New Hampshire.

Next, Michigan does not get a pass in Rove's inventory of early calendar snags either:
In Michigan, Democrats moved their primary from March 12 to Feb. 27 by law. To avoid having their delegates slashed, the GOP will instead select them at a convention after March 1.
For once, Rove got something right. Michigan did shift its primary up for 2024 to align with the new carve out created in the 2024 DNC rules. But switching to a convention to avoid RNC sanction is just one of several messy options for Michigan Republicans (and the RNC).

Rove then moves on to what he calls the second phase of the calendar:
On March 9, there are four small contests and then on March 12 as many as five more states—Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington and perhaps Hawaii—select 188 more delegates. 
FHQ challenges Rove to name those March 9 contests. There are no contests currently scheduled for March 9. There may be at some point, but as of this time there are none. And of the March 12 contests listed, Missouri has no primary or other contest scheduled for March 12. If current legislation is eventually passed, then the Show-Me state would fall on March 12, but we're not there yet. Idaho? Well, the Gem state primary may be on the move too. Hawaii Republicans are the rare party to actually spell out a specific date for their caucuses in state party rules. Most caucus states do not. Yet, it is Hawaii that gets the "perhaps" and not Idaho or Missouri. Yes, there is legislation in the Aloha state to create a Super Tuesday presidential primary, but it has not become law nor have Hawaii Republicans publicly shown any desire to opt into such a contest in lieu of their traditional caucuses.

And then there is that 188 delegates. Well, that has not been set yet. And Rove notes that at the top, saying, "final allocations will be set after this November’s off-year elections." It is true that the only states that are unknowns at this point in terms of the number of delegates they will have in 2024 are those with off-year gubernatorial and state legislative elections later this year. But Mississippi is one of those states. It is wrong to bring exact numbers to the table if they are exactly wrong. 

Why Rove? Why?

Finally, Rove moves on to the final leg of his three-part calendar:
The situation changes dramatically on March 15, when the third period kicks off. If the field isn’t down to two by then, a clear front-runner will be all but impossible to beat. Primaries can then be winner-take-all. If there’s still a fractured, multicandidate field, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio could decide the nomination on March 19. If one candidate leads in all four states, no matter how narrowly, he walks away with 325 delegates, more than a quarter of what’s needed for the nomination.
Credit where credit is due: Rove gets the winner-take-all description correct. States can be winner-take-all on or after March 15. In the past, some have been truly winner-take-all after that point on the calendar while others have not. That will likely continue to be the case in 2024. Among the states that are truly winner-take-all? Florida and Ohio. For now. But that could change in the coming months. State parties have not finalized their delegate allocation plans for 2024. Presumably, Arizona Republicans will be truly winner-take-all again if the party opts back into the presidential primary this cycle. But again, none of that is settled yet. Illinois? Well, the at-large and automatic delegates (a little less than a quarter of the total) are allocated winner-take-all based on the statewide results in the Illinois primary. But the remaining three-quarters of the delegates -- the congressional district delegates -- are directly elected on the primary ballot. That allocation may tilt toward the statewide winner of the primary, but will not necessarily end up sending all of the congressional district delegates the winner's way. 

The thing that is most bothersome about Rove's op-ed is the faux certainty with which he approaches a vast number of things that are not settled yet in the areas of the primary calendar or delegate allocation rules. It is unnecessary, and it is misleading. Write to include some of the many gray areas in all of this.

FHQ agrees that there will likely be three distinct phases to the Republican primary season in 2024. But it is unlikely to be broken down into early/proportional/winner-take-all as Rove does it in an effort to shoehorn it into his 2016 repeat narrative. Instead, the calendar is very likely to break into January and February contests as the first part. And again, if Nevada Republicans opt into the February 6 primary, then that will mark the end of the first phase. It would give way to a big gap in the action from February 6 until Super Tuesday on March 5. That is a long time without any new results. That is also a LONG time for candidates who have yet to win anything to make a case to donors, much less voters, that they can and should continue in the race. The winnowing pressure -- should that one month gap actually come into being -- will be great. And that counters the 2016 repeat narrative. 

If that is not enough -- that winnowing pressure created by such a lengthy break in the action -- then the Passover-triggered abandonment of April will neatly cordon off the second and third phases of the campaign. The second phase -- Super Tuesday, the rest of March and the first Tuesday in April -- will be the most delegate-rich phase. If winnowing has occurred from the first phase, then the second will be about either one candidate creating a net delegate advantage over the rest of the remaining field or yield to a Clinton-Obama type (or Ford-Reagan) battle to evenly split delegates. The former may or may not resolve things. If not, then the third phase -- overtime, consisting of May contests (remember, there will be no June contests in the Republican process in 2024) -- will likely resolve the battle. 

But if it is the latter, evenly-match race, then overtime may be about getting to the primary season finish line with the most (allocated) delegates to take into the convention. Regardless, that second likely gap in April presents another extended period of winnowing pressure. And it will likely be greater than the first gap. The initial gap will be more likely to weed out the low-hanging fruit, lesser candidates who really had no chance at the nomination to begin with. The second gap will be more likely to exert pressure on candidates who feel they are viable (and may have a case), but will face calls to bow out so the party can consolidate behind one candidate.

But, of course, the above refers to the most allocated delegates. It could be that some candidate is able to corner the market in the selection process and settle the score that way. The bottom line is that there are a lot of unknowns at this point. One established known is that Karl Rove should stop writing in the Wall Street Journal about the delegate selection process. 

Endorsement Primary No, Ron DeSantis is not yet formally in the Republican presidential nomination race, but that has not stopped folks from endorsing his nascent campaign. Chip Roy (R-TX) became the first member of Congress to throw his support behind the Florida governor's (not yet) bid. Nikki Haley has one congressional endorsement and Donald Trump has a handful. But most Republican members of Congress have yet to align with any candidate. [More on that below.]

On the travel primary front, former Vice President Mike Pence was in New Hampshire on Thursday, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is on his way to the Granite state and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson will trek to South Carolina as will Haley and Tim Scott. [Speaking of Christie, he has noted that a decision on a White House bid will come in the next 45-60 days. That is a window that roughly covers the end of April and the first half of May.]

Yes, it is early. No, elected officials do not have to weigh in now (or at all). Yes, FHQ discussed non-endorsements in the Republican nomination process earlier this week. Politico has more evidence of that from among a group that will continue to be particularly conflicted as things evolve and 2024 approaches: the Florida Republican congressional delegation.

On this date... 2012, Missouri Republicans took their second bite at the apple. Following a non-binding primary -- after majority Republican legislators could not agree to eliminate a presidential primary that was not going to be used -- Republicans began gathering in caucuses across the Show-Me state to actually kick off the delegate allocation/selection process. Non-binding events were an issue for Republicans in 2012, one the national party has spent several cycles attempting to resolve. 2019, Kirstin Gillibrand formally entered the Democratic nomination race after previously forming an exploratory committee in January. 2020, Covid began to affect the presidential primary calendar. Three of four scheduled primaries carried on, but Ohio became the earliest scheduled state to make alternative plans, ultimately pushing back into April. Other states had already delayed delegate selection events or had begun the process of delaying them, but Ohio's original primary date was the first/earliest to come up on the calendar and be affected.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- 2024 Presidential Primary Movement So Far

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

It has been a quiet 2023 for presidential primary movement. 

And there are a couple of reasons for that. First, counter to some of the thinking with respect to the early calendar maneuvering on the Democratic side, the change in rules has not resulted in states clamoring to join the fray against national party rules. [It has led to a different kind of rogue state, perhaps, but it has yet to invite chaos.] Second, there are no heavy hitters involved. There may be bills in delegate-rich states like California and New York, but they have shown no signs, at least not to this point, of going anywhere. 

But that does not mean that there has not been a typical pre-election year uptick in state-level legislation to reposition primaries for the 2024 cycle. Barely two months into the 2023 legislative sessions in most states, there have been a lot of bills introduced. But the success rate is not there. ...yet. Only Michigan has moved to this point. 

In fact, the number of bills introduced in 2023 thus far is on par with the number proposed in all of 2007, the year of chaos leading up to a calendar of contests that saw Florida and Michigan (in)famously go rogue. However, while the bills are there in 2023, none of it really points toward states pushing the boundaries (going before March 1) or crowding around the first Tuesday in March. That was the story of 2007 (although then the operative date was the first Tuesday in February). 

Instead, 2023 has offered a mixed bag. States like Hawaii, Kansas and Missouri are attempting to establish state-run primary contests. Legislation in other states, like Idaho and Ohio, has proposed moving back. Oregon, like Hawaii, is eyeing Super Tuesday and only West Virginia has proposed breaking the rules to conduct a February primary.

But what is most likely to affect the success rate of bills proposing presidential primary moves for the 2024 cycle is what will happen in the group of mid-Atlantic and northeastern states with primaries currently scheduled for late April, the contests that conflict with the observance of Passover in 2024. The break up of that regional(-ish) primary that has existed in one form or another since 2012 is a true break up. The three late April states with active legislation to vacate their current positions -- Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania -- are targeting three different landing spots, none before March 19. 

Speaking of Connecticut, legislation introduced there yesterday would push the presidential primary up to the first Tuesday in April. Now, of the late April states, only Delaware has not publicly introduced or discussed legislation shifting a presidential primary away from the Passover conflict. Of course, it is probably only a matter of time until the First state follows suit. Importantly, that would likely create a five week gap from the first Tuesday in April until the first Tuesday in May with no presidential primaries. The calendar is fluid, so there is still some chance that a caucus state or two will fill a weekend slot somewhere in there, but that will leave a lot of time for other things. As mentioned in this space earlier this week, it was during a similar gap in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination race into which the Jeremiah Wright story was inserted, taking up a lot of oxygen and putting candidate Obama on the defensive. 

And this may not even be the only pronounced gap in the 2024 presidential primary calendar. The Democratic calendar maneuvering will likely push the beginning of the Republican process well into January and create a gap that will cover most of February. Together, those two factors -- Passover and the Democrats' changes -- may create a very disjointed Republican presidential primary calendar in 2024. Early state activity in January and very early February would yield to a gap followed by a flurry of events starting either at the end of February or on Super Tuesday in early March. If March does not resolve the Republican nomination, then the battle will progress into another gap in April and then a resumption of activities in early May. 

And FHQ is just spitballing here, but the scenario in which the Republican nomination is unresolved coming out of March, is likely a scenario where everyone will be subjected to incessant stories about a "brokered convention" during that second potential gap in the calendar. And who know what else? Stories of Trump winning the delegate selection game despite breaking even or losing the delegate allocation game? Some other negative story or series of stories? 

States that gamble on a later primary this cycle may reap many of the benefits that do come out of that gap. Candidates will be campaigning there. The bottom line is that the calendar and the sequencing of events on the calendar matters to how the nomination races evolve if not resolve.

FHQ is going to try to avoid any quick hits or hot takes about presidential primary polling. That is definitely true at this early juncture and I will keep my word on that regardless with regard to the horserace polling. Others can (and will) cover that territory. But results like the divide among the Republican primary electorate raised in the recent CNN poll are potentially important. After a midterm cycle in which candidate quality was of concern on the Republican side, a survey pointing toward a primary electorate that values candidates being more proximate to them on issues over electability signals a possible deja vu moment down the line.  Maybe that opinion changes in the aggregate as primary season approaches. Maybe it does not. Maybe it all works out and/or Biden's approval is low because of a faltering economy. In the near term, it just signals a defiant Republican primary electorate that is not interested in what "the establishment," however one defines that, has to offer.

Trump attacks on DeSantis were/are inevitable, but this is a unique attack in the half century of the post-reform era. Ethics complaint aside, DeSantis is doing nothing out of the ordinary for a prospective candidate during the invisible primary. It is just that Florida has a resign to run law in place. ...for now. 

On this date... 1976, it was the day of the Illinois primary. March 16 was also the date on which Jerry Brown announced he was running for the Democratic nomination, eight weeks after the Iowa caucuses. Clearly, it was a different era. In just the second cycle post-reform, candidates were still entering the nomination race during primary season. And it was not just during primary season. It was after nearly 20 percent of the delegates had been allocated. Brown went on to win three contests in May and June and competed to the convention, ceding the nomination there to Jimmy Carter. 1984, Senator John Glenn (D-OH) withdrew from the Democratic nomination race a few days after Super Tuesday. 2004, it was the day of the Illinois primary. There is some primary movement. Or non-movement. Only once during the post-reform era has the Land of Lincoln not held its presidential primary on the third Tuesday in March. That was in 2008 when an Illinois resident and senator was vying for the Democratic nomination.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Connecticut Bill Introduced to Move Presidential Primary

A committee bill would move the Connecticut presidential primary up a few weeks on the 2024 calendar. 

The Connecticut Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections introduced SB 6908 on Wednesday, March 15. The measure would shift the presidential primary in the Nutmeg state from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday in April.

Like a number of other states with presidential primaries scheduled for late April 2024, many of which have shared a primary date in recent cycles, the Connecticut primary falls during the observance of Passover. Unlike many of those other states, however, the Connecticut primary falls at the tail end of Passover week rather than at the beginning of it as is the case with elections in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. But the conflict presented is just the same. 

The Maryland primary appears to be headed to a point later on the calendar, whereas Connecticut legislators are eyeing an earlier date that would avoid Passover and fall just after Easter in 2024. And there is no early voting conflict with Easter that would arise out of that because Connecticut does not have early, in-person voting. The move would align the Connecticut presidential primary with the primary in Wisconsin at the beginning of April.

All of the states but Delaware with late April primary dates scheduled for 2024 at this time either have active legislation or have signaled that legislation is forthcoming to resolve the Passover conflict. But vacating those slots at the end of April will lengthen an already three week long gap between Wisconsin and the April 23 primaries. That gap would stretch beyond a month if all of those states move, and create a second lengthy break in the steady stream of electoral results in at least the Republican nomination race. There will also likely be another break in the action earlier on the calendar between the Nevada primary on February 6 and the Michigan primary on February 27. If there are no electoral results during those periods, then something else will fill the void.

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar


Invisible Primary: Visible -- Republican Non-Endorsements

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

It is early yet in the Republican presidential nomination process. There are, after all, only two major contenders -- Donald Trump and Nikki Haley -- who have entered the race and who have held elective office (at a level that has conventionally seen success in presidential contests). Each already has a handful of endorsements as well. And that is another of those invisible primary metrics -- endorsement primary -- to eye as one assesses the degree to which Trump's institutional support has declined relative to his standing four years ago (or how much better it is than it was eight years ago). FHQ has already discussed this in terms of where the former president's organizational efforts stand, but it matters for endorsements too. 

And one sees this not only in endorsements, particularly in endorsement defections from Trump, but also in non-endorsements, as in elites and elected officials refusing to endorse Trump or anyone else at this early stage of the race. Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) is new to the job, having been appointed to the post following the departure of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), so maybe the question is a natural inquiry for the Nebraska press. But the senator's response is noteworthy in that he passed on the opportunity to endorse. Then-Governor Ricketts, like many elected officials, was on Team Trump in 2020 as a campaign surrogate. But the two were at odds during the 2022 midterms both in and out of Nebraska. The president called Ricketts a RINO for supporting Governor Brian Kemp (R-GA) in his reelection bid in the Peach state, and Ricketts asked Trump not to intervene (and endorse) in the open Republican gubernatorial primary in Nebraska (advice the president refused to heed). 

And it matters for now that Ricketts also did not line up behind Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), someone to whom members of his family have donated. Now, that may or may not hold as this race progresses (and DeSantis formally enters the contest). But the extent to which elected officials stay on the sidelines is important. Not endorsing Trump says something: that elite-level support has ebbed since 2020. But not endorsing anyone else might also suggest that those same elites cannot (or do not want to) coordinate against Trump in 2024. And that again says something about where Trump is on the 2015 or 2019 spectrum of strength in this evolving battle. These signals are important to assessing where the race stands.

This is also something that bears watching at the state party level as well. Ed Cox, the newly sworn in chair of the New York Republican Party reassumed his position atop the party and was quick to note that the NYGOP, like the national party, would remain neutral in the 2024 presidential nomination race. That is likely to be the case for state Republican parties across the country, but it is not a sure thing. That, too, tells one about the state of the Republican race and Trump's support in it. 

No, DeSantis is not in the race yet, but he continues to do the things that (prospective) presidential candidates do. This time it is a trip to New Hampshire for a big state party fundraising event.

Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) continues to do things outside of the commonwealth. And every time he does, it draws presidential chatter. So it was with the latest news that Youngkin will head to Texas in April to meet with big money Republican donors. Youngkin, like all the other candidates or potential candidates not named Trump or DeSantis, is in the difficult position of having to assess his chances in a field where there is seemingly little oxygen. Youngkin can lay claim to being a Republican governor in a blue state, which is unique among the other possible aspirants. But like everyone else he has to hope for a DeSantis flop, a Trump implosion or for the Trump and DeSantis to pummel each other into oblivion such that the door is opened for someone else. And maybe one or some combination of those things happen. But the more immediate concern for Youngkin may be that he has to show those donors in Texas that he has that "fire in the belly," a marker he did not necessarily surpass with potential donors in New York recently.

Vice President Kamala Harris going to Iowa causes a raise of the eyebrow until one remembers that the Hawkeye state will not be the first state in the Democratic presidential nomination process in 2024.

On this date... 1980, Senator Bob Dole withdrew, winless, from the Republican presidential nomination race. 1988, Vice President Bush (R) and Senator Paul Simon (D) won the Illinois presidential primary. Simon kept all three of the big winners from Super Tuesday the week before at bay in his home state. 2004, Rev. Al Sharpton dropped out of the Democratic presidential nomination race. 2016, Senator Marco Rubio (R) suspended his campaign after a lackluster showing in primaries, including his home state of Florida, at the opening of the winner-take-all window on the Republican nomination calendar.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Maryland Presidential Primary Move Passes State Senate

During what Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-46th, Baltimore City) deemed on Tuesday, March 14 to be a "busy, busy work week" for the Maryland state Senate, the body took up SB 379 for final passage. 

The measure would not only make a number of changes to election administration, but it would also push back the date of the consolidated primary, including the presidential primary, in the Old Line state to the second Tuesday in May. The three week delay in conducting the election next year has been necessitated by the the conflict the contest would have with the Passover holiday on the fourth Tuesday in April in 2024. That would schedule the Maryland presidential primary on May 14, a date on which the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries already fall. 

In the midst of Tuesday's session, the state Senate took up SB 379 as part of a calendar of bills on their third and final reading before passage. And the body wasted little time in dispensing with the legislation. The clerk read the title, followed by no discussion on the measure and a final vote that passed 33-11 along party lines (with majority Democrats in favor). 

The bill now heads to the state House for its consideration. 

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Running for 2024

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Ron DeSantis staked out a position yesterday on the Ukraine war, calling it "not a key US interest." That places him closer to Donald Trump's position on the issue than other Republicans officially in the race or seemingly running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. This is not an insignificant part of the invisible primary. In a battle among participants with the same letter (R) next to their names, carving out a differentiated, if not unique, position can be important as candidates jockey for support among the primary electorate. 

But something Maggie Haberman of the New York Times tweeted in the context of this story highlighted a continued misunderstanding about the progression of the invisible primary:
And after avoiding talking about foreign policy for weeks, including at the Reagan Library in any expansive way, DeSantis weighing in is tantamount to acknowledging his presidential campaign is in the offing
A presidential candidacy is very much about the rollout and the announcement. Those things matter. But DeSantis weighing in on Ukraine is not "tantamount to acknowledging his presidential campaign is in the offing." It is not. Not in and of itself anyway. Now, that is not to say that the Florida governor's candidacy is not in this gray area between a lot of people, elite Republicans, media folks and otherwise, saying he is running (or will run) and a formal announcement. It is. And this Ukraine position is another datapoint in that gray area. But it is one datapoint among many -- travel, a warchest busting at the seams, meaningful donors lining up behind him, etc. -- that all point in basically the same direction: DeSantis is running. He is running and has been running for the 2024 Republican nomination. And he is very well positioned because of polling (to this point) and all the other relevant metrics mentioned above to be running in 2024 as well. 

There is no need to dance around that reality. That is how it works.

The Trump campaign suggested that it is actively hiring a campaign team "especially in these early states," but has not shown the staff primary goods outside of a previously announced Iowa leadership team. It is a foregone conclusion that Trump will not be in the dominant position he was in four years ago as an incumbent president seeking nomination, but the question remains -- and it is an important one -- where he and his campaign are on the spectrum that runs from 2019-20 on the very prepared/organized/disciplined scale on the high end to 2015-16 on the low end. He was able to pull out the 2016 nomination despite being on the low side of that scale, but 2023-24 is not 2015-16.

California Republicans held their spring state convention over the weekend. The delegates in attendance were still very Trump-favorable. That matters. It matters because those delegates are potentially in a pool of possible national convention delegates in 2024. It matters because these conventions will decide on the rules of the delegate allocation/selection process for the 2024 cycle at the state level. And while much of the attention at these gatherings this winter/spring has been on the chair elections -- whether they are skeptical of the 2020 election results or not -- some attention should be paid to the rules for 2024. This is when those decisions are being made. And for the record, California Republicans made no changes to their national convention delegate allocation/selection process at this most recent state convention.

On this date... 1972, George Wallace won a lopsided plurality in the Florida presidential primary, his first of six primary wins that cycle. 1984, George McGovern pulled out of the race for the Democratic nomination, the day after Super Tuesday. 1996, Steve Forbes withdrew from the Republican presidential nomination race, the last major challenger to Bob Dole to drop out during primary season. Pat Buchanan held out until the national convention. Both Forbes and Buchanan saw early success, winning a combined six contests, but nothing after March 9. 2000, a cluster of six southern states, the remnants of the 1988 Southern Super Tuesday, held primaries, but were of little consequence in deciding the races. A frontloaded calendar meant that Super Tuesday a week earlier had already forced Bill Bradley and John McCain from their respective races, sealing the nominations for Al Gore and George W. Bush. Both Gore and Bush captured enough delegates on March 14, 2000 to become presumptive nominees. 2008, the tapes of Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments on race resurfaced at the beginning of a long gap in the primary calendar before the Pennsylvania primary in late April. 2019, Beto O'Rourke formally entered the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.