Wednesday, January 23, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Anxious in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the day that was...

If it is the year before a presidential election, then it is time once again for folks to wonder aloud about the role of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential nomination process.

No, this is not the strain that asks, and often too late, why are Iowa and New Hampshire first on the presidential primary calendar. The national party rules are set there and there are no direct threats to any of the four carve-out states at this time. Sure there are those who have raised the early voting window in California (and others who have urged caution there), but no state as of early 2019 is plotting to schedule a primary or caucus right on top of one or both of the two earliest states in the queue.

No, this is not about that.

Instead, it is another variant of the quadrennial strain of the Iowa and New Hampshire discussion, the one where some will wonder aloud whether this is the cycle that some candidate or group of candidates strategically looks beyond those states to other potentially more fertile electoral opportunities.

The New York Times' Jonathan Martin set off such a thread yesterday with this tweet:

That, in turn, prompted New York Magazine's Gabriel Debenedetti cite worries in the Granite state...

And The Guardian's Ben Jacobs to echo the same observation from the Hawkeye state.

And FHQ is not here to dispute any of those observations. But I would say that none of that anxiety is particularly abnormal in either Iowa and New Hampshire. In fact, one could even argue that it is somewhat natural reaction for Democrats and Democratic activists in those states on the heels of a contest in 2016 that had a limited field and to be followed by a cycle that is shaping up to have no lack of candidates (in 2019 anyway). In other words, it has been since 2008 there has been as wide open a field of candidates on the Democratic side.

Expectations, then, are fairly high for visits and lots of them.

And those visits are likely to come, but in combinations that may differ from the expectations. Look, candidates are not going to skip Iowa or New Hampshire. They may adopt a strategy similar to Mitt Romney's in 2012 and emphasize one over the other -- New Hampshire over Iowa in Romney's case -- but they are not going to skip either one entirely to focus on some state deeper into the calendar. That has very simply been too big a strategic risk in the post-reform era. Players just do not successfully skip steps in a sequential game. It runs the risk of empowering other opposing players; not all of them, but some of them.

And that brings this back to Leah Daughtry's point in that Martin tweet above, the part about a "lighter footprint" in Iowa and New Hampshire to focus elsewhere. While the perception may exist in each of those states that they may be missing out in some way, there is not a lot of evidence to back it up at this point. Yes, a lot of candidates are heading to South Carolina, but they are heading to Iowa and New Hampshire in droves as well.

Among the announced candidates alone, their early itineraries included the earliest two states. Warren spent her first weekend post-rollout in Iowa and then spent the next two in New Hampshire. Castro hit Iowa and Nevada before his announcement and New Hampshire after it. Gillibrand did Colbert, ventured back to New York and then headed to the Hawkeye state. And Harris may be going to South Carolina first and then California, but ends up in Iowa.

Perhaps a "lighter footprint" strategy will develop in some campaign or campaigns as 2019 progresses, but the early signs are not exactly pointing in that direction. Iowa and New Hampshire remain winnowing contests for the candidate who are further down the list and opportunities for those most viable candidates. The strategies of that latter group will reflect that, and that will become clearer the closer 2020 gets.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. South Bend mayor, Pete Buttigieg, is exploring a run.

2. Warren stops by Puerto Rico, which allocates delegates next year too.

3. New California governor, Gavin Newsom, has been testing digital messages outside of the Golden state in presidential general election battlegrounds.

4. The Harris campaign adding a number of former Clinton operatives is a noteworthy series of hires.

5. Klobuchar is reaching out to folks in New Hampshire to set up a potential visit.

6. Speaking of the Granite state, California congressman, Adam Schiff, has plans to head north.

7. Sherrod Brown is paying New Hampshire a visit as well, and his PAC has hired a former Sanders staffer.

8. One name to potentially strike -- perhaps in pencil -- from the list of those running for 2020 is Connecticut senator, Chris Murphy. He does not sound as if he is going to mount a bid.

9. Having stumped in Iowa already, Kirstin Gillibrand is taking the tour to South Carolina in the coming days.

10. Finally, Hickenlooper will rejoin the traveling party and trek back to Iowa.

Has FHQ missed something you feel should be included? Drop us a line or a comment and we'll make room for it.

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