Saturday, June 3, 2023

[From FHQ Plus] Uncertainty and the 2024 Presidential Primary Calendar

The following is cross-posted from FHQ Plus, FHQ's subscription newsletter. Come check the rest out and consider a paid subscription to unlock the full site and support our work. 


The 2024 invisible primary has gotten to a point where more and more folks are starting to look at the calendar of nominating contests that the Republicans vying for the presidential nomination will face next year. And due to the proximity to the beginning of primary season seven-ish months away, the order of those contests is taking on increasing importance. 

But here things are, seven months or so from the kickoff of primary season 2024, and uncertainty remains. And it exists at the very beginning of the calendar. There is not one Republican primary or caucus in any state that has an official date on the calendar before Super Tuesday. Or stated differently, every state one might expect to fall before Super Tuesday in 2024 has at least one caveat that makes it impossible to know exactly where those states may end up when the calendar dust settles.

Now, some of us are of a mind that all of this will shake out with some drama over the coming months, but limited drama. It all depends on the moves the various players make. Here are a few of the moves about which there is uncertainty, but from which the calendar answers will come.

  • Michigan Republicans: Do Republicans in the Great Lakes state opt into the late February presidential primary or choose to select and allocate national convention delegates in a party-run caucus/convention process? The party is in a bind either way (but this will not directly affect the earlier protected states in the Republican process).

  • Nevada Republicans: Same question, different state Republican party: Do Nevada Republicans opt into the state-run presidential primary on February 6 or decide to use a slightly later (but before a Michigan Republican primary) caucus/convention process? The later caucus option may save Republicans from starting primary season in early instead of mid-January. [And just this week, there were signals from Silver state Republicans that they are aiming for caucuses.]

  • South Carolina Republicans: Theoretically, the decision here will hinge to some degree on what Michigan and Nevada decide. But what Palmetto state Republicans decide is also colored by the political custom in the state for the parties have (state-run) primaries on 1) a Saturday and 2) on different days. Breaking from those traditions may provide some additional leeway, but they are traditions for a reason. If Nevada Republicans opt into the primary in the Silver state, then South Carolina Republicans would likely have a primary no later than February 3 alongside Democrats in the state. However, if they follow tradition, then Republicans in the first-in-the-South primary state would likely hold a primary a week earlier on January 27. And that would leave Iowa and New Hampshire with a very narrow sliver of calendar in which to operate (under the traditional rules of calendar engagement).

  • New Hampshire: The secretary of state in the Granite state -- the person who makes the primary scheduling decision -- is cross-pressured on two sides, sandwiched between the decisions Iowa and South Carolina actors may make. But the South Carolina Democratic primary is scheduled for February 3. That means that the New Hampshire primary will be no later than January 23, on a Tuesday at least seven days before any other similar election. South Carolina Republicans may push that a little earlier if they schedule a January primary. On the other side, Iowa Democrats' decision to conduct a vote-by-mail presidential preference vote raises red flags in New Hampshire because it too closely resembles a primary. But there is no date for the conclusion of that preference vote. If that vote concludes on caucus night, whenever in January that ends up, then that could draw New Hampshire to an even earlier date ahead of Iowa.

  • Iowa Republicans: Decision makers within the Republican Party of Iowa are also stuck to some extent; stuck between what Iowa Democrats are planning and what New Hampshire's secretary of state may do in response. But the party is mostly stuck because decision makers seem to want to make a decision on the caucus date for 2024 some time early this summer when there may not yet be enough information to make a decision that protects the traditional calendar order in the Republican process. Waiting for Iowa Democrats' preference vote (conclusion) date to settle is likely to resolve much of this drama at the very front end of the calendar. 

The takeaway is that there is some uncertainty that is sure to create some drama over the final calendar, but it is uncertainty that can be boiled down to a handful of decisions in a handful of states. Admittedly, it can go in a number of different directions -- choose your own adventure! -- but there is a pretty narrow range of possibilities. 

Follow the evolving calendar here.


[Side note: FHQ likes the Ballotpedia way of looking at the primary calendar. While FHQ attempts to explain all of the chaos away (or to put it into context), their model is simpler: what is confirmed. But if one is going to do that, then one has to actually confirm confirmed primary dates. Ballotpedia lists Colorado as confirmed for Super Tuesday. Now, FHQ fully expects that that is where the presidential primary in the Centennial state ends up in 2024. The secretary of state has it on the calendarThe Colorado Democratic Party has it in their delegate selection plan. But the date is not official yet. The secretary of state and the governor make that decision. And nothing has been said publicly about that yet. For comparison, Governor Polis announced the 2020 presidential primary date at the end of April 2019. By law, decision makers have until September 1 of this year to set the date.]


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