Thursday, January 21, 2021

A Few Notes on the 2024 Presidential Primary Calendar

On the first full day of the newly sworn-in Biden administration and a day after the 2020 election cycle came to a close at the federal level, the invisible primary quietly trundled on toward the next presidential cycle. No, not everyone is ready to begin listening to or reading chatter about 2024, but it is happening. And while FHQ has made some passing mention of 2024 activities on social media in early 2021 (and before), we will begin where we often do: with a particular focus on the 2024 presidential primary calendar.

Yes, there is a very long way to go -- 1110 days until (tentative) Iowa caucuses on February 5, 2024 -- but as in the past, since-passed cycles offer a window into what the starting baseline calendar will (probably might) look like in roughly three years time. State laws continue to provide the most guidance as to when the majority of states will hold their delegate selection events next time around. Those laws can, and in some cases will, change over the next few years. But for now, the statutes are the statutes. 

Here are a few things to bear in mind about this initial iteration of the 2024 calendar early in this current invisible primary:

1. For starters, the four early states have no official dates yet. They are always among (if not) the last states to settle the dates for their contests. But the national parties have done a reasonable job during the 2016 and 2020 cycles of informally coordinating the calendar and keeping potential rogue states outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in line. If one assumes that that holds in 2024, then one can project where those protected four states will end up. 

Iowa would kick things off on February 5 with the primary in New Hampshire following eight days later on February 13 based on the last couple of cycles. Now, moving on to Nevada and South Carolina is where things get a bit messier. While the two parties have agreed that Nevada and South Carolina would be among the earliest group of states, they have yet to agree on how to order the pair of states added to the early calendar for the first time in 2008. Democrats have tended to slot the Silver state caucuses third and the Palmetto state primary fourth, just before Super Tuesday. But Republicans, on the other hand, have always placed South Carolina's first-in-the-South primary third with Nevada bringing up the early calendar rear. 

When both parties have competitive nomination races -- not a given for 2024 -- then the South Carolina Republican primary and Nevada Democratic caucuses have tended to fall on the same date. But the Nevada Republican caucuses have been less settled. FHQ has opted to tentatively place it alongside the Democratic caucuses in the Silver state to start for a couple of reasons. One is that those Republican caucuses have been all over the place on the calendar. But second, there is also talk of a transition to a primary in Nevada. Such a move would make it more likely that the Democratic and Republican contests would fall on the same date as in the vast majority of primary states. But again, that would potentially leave the very date on which that contest falls more uncertain. 

That is why these dates on the FHQ calendar are all tentative (based on past information) at this point. All of this, including the order, number and identity of the early states (if any) on any rules the two national parties finalize in the summer of 2022. 

2. There are also at this time a couple of states -- Louisiana and New York -- that have contests on the books that would run afoul of the (likely) national party delegate selection rules. And both are a function of local quirks. New York is seemingly the biggest threat on February 6, a day after tentative Iowa caucuses. But since 2008, when New York held a then-compliant primary on the first Tuesday in February, it has been the custom for the New York legislature to leave the February date as is until late in the legislative session the year before the presidential election. It is then, typically in June, that the legislature in consultation with the state parties drafts legislation to codify the delegate selection plan for both parties. Any law enacted thereafter expires at the end of the presidential election year (December 31) and the whole cycle begins anew. The Empire state, then, while scheduled for February 6 is currently non-compliant but no risk of going rogue. 

The quirk in Louisiana is but a calendar/cycle quirk. The presidential primary in the Pelican state is scheduled for the first Saturday in March. In most cycles, that position follows the first Tuesday in March when non-carve-out states are allowed by the national parties to begin holding primaries and caucuses. In 2024, however, the first Saturday of March precedes that first Tuesday in March. This is a small fix and will likely be reviewed in 2023, but the Louisiana primary as currently scheduled by state law would be non-compliant under the likely national party rules. 

All in all, this is a very limited group of rogue (but not really rogue) states to begin the cycle. Both are easy or routine fixes that will end up being non-controversial. 

3. Most of the states without official contest dates are caucus states or party-run primary states. Among that group, dates are rarely set in state party rules. Hawaii Republicans are the exception to that rule. Most state parties wait until the year before the presidential election to set a timeline for delegate selection in the plans they submit to the national parties for a green light. 

But there are also a handful of states and/or territories where the primary dates are unresolved on purpose. Georgia's legislature ceded the date-setting authority for its primary to the secretary of state for the 2012 cycle. That is akin to how New Hampshire handles the scheduling of its primary. And the primary in the Peach state can fall any time before the second Tuesday in June.  

4. Bear in mind that all of this is in flux. Some of these laws will change. In fact, there were a handful of states in 2020 that explored different dates, but none of them made any changes. That may give some indication of future maneuvering, but typically that action will not occur until 2023. That does not mean that there will not be legislation, successful or otherwise, that will will be introduced between now and then. But such legislation is rarely successful. The most urgency on the scheduling of primaries and caucuses comes after the national parties finalize their rules for the cycle and during the state legislative sessions that begin following the midterm elections. 

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