Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- South Carolina's Position in the Republican Nomination Process

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

McClatchy's Alex Roarty has a good bit of invisible primary fare from the Palmetto state. Team DeSantis is beginning its build out in South Carolina, a state that figures to be interesting in the 2024 Republican presidential nomination process. Yes, the first-in-the-South primary will be one of the earliest Republican contests. And yes, there are two South Carolinians -- former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott -- and a former president who won the South Carolina primary in 2016 (and who has the backing of the current governor and the state's other US senator) who are vying for (or likely to contest) the nomination in 2024. 

But that does not mean that South Carolina is suddenly Iowa 1992 with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) running. No, efforts are underway within the broader DeSantis 2024 effort to hire staff in the state, and a couple of state legislators from the conservative-rich Upstate already look to be on board. State Rep. Josh Kimball (R) is aligned with Never Back Down, the super PAC that has been in the news because of all of its recent activity. And state Sen. Danny Verdin (R) has also spoken favorably of the idea of DeSantis running. These are important moves for any candidate who is building an operation in a state where the big names are either already running or lined up behind another candidate. And if they are not big moves then they are among the only moves a candidate can make in building a network in one of the earliest states on the primary calendar. 

Because, here is the thing about South Carolina: it is unique among the early states. While Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada all allocate delegates in a manner proportionate to the results of their contests, South Carolina Republicans do not. The party utilizes and has for years utilized a winner-take-most scheme where the winner statewide and the winners in each of the state's nine congressional districts can take all of the delegates at stake in those jurisdictions. And that is all fine under RNC rules. All four are exempt from the proportionality requirements placed on other states with contests before March 15. 

Any DeSantis ramp up in South Carolina is a nod to both that reality and the potential for a long delegate fight ahead in 2024. A win statewide would likely mean a fairly significant early net delegate advantage coming out of the state and heading into Nevada and beyond to Super Tuesday. That is what favorite sons and daughters, like Scott and Haley, and Trump are banking on. That is what DeSantis is attempting to prevent. The rules matter. That is why, despite South Carolina politicians and a former president/primary winner running, South Carolina will continue to garner attention -- and lots of it -- during the invisible primary in 2023.

Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) for president? Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) to Iowa? Count those two among the invisible primary maneuverings no one expected to start the week. Yet, there was news of both Republicans' activities on Monday. Handicappers may not give either much of a chance at the 2024 Republican presidential nomination -- and to be fair, the Tillis comms team was quick to offer a Sherman-ish statement denying a prospective bid -- but these moves signal that, as Jonathan Bernstein correctly summed it up, "Republican party actors, including politicians, are not acting as if Trump/DeSantis have the nomination wrapped up between them." 

Too true. Neither Burgum nor Tillis may actually formally seek the Republican nomination, but that both are doing things that prospective presidential candidates do is a sign amid all the jockeying for support of donors, of endorsers and of voters. It is a sign that the unprecedented nature of Trump's third run (in the midst of investigations that may bring indictments, if not convictions) brings with it uncertainty. It is a sign that there may be some doubts about the long term viability of a DeSantis run (despite strong organizational signs in the midst of a "bad" week). One or both of Burgum or Tillis may run for 2024, but neither may actually end up running in 2024. Uncertainty about even well-established and well-positioned candidates breeds activity from everyone else with an eye toward the White House. 

In the travel primary, Marianne Williamson drops in on the voters of South Carolina on Tuesday (March 28). Former Vice President Mike Pence heads to Iowa again on Wednesday (March 29), and Vivek Ramaswamy was just there this past weekend. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson struck a different tone in California last week than did Ron DeSantis when the Florida governor trekked through the Golden state earlier this month. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have drawn all the headlines in New Hampshire on Monday (March 27), but former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is also in the Granite state for town halls on Monday and Tuesday.

On this date...
...in 2019, Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam formed an exploratory committee to potentially seek the Democratic nomination. 

...in 2020, the date of the New York primary was changed for the first time due to the pandemic, pushing back to June 2.

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