Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A Winner-Take-All Primary in New Hampshire?

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • FHQ will say it: Nevada Republicans did not "jump" South Carolina on the 2024 presidential primary calendar. Well, they did not in the sense that close observers of the calendar might talk about the jockeying in this cycle's early calendar. It is different this time. Here is why: All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Emerson had a new survey out yesterday checking the pulse of voters in the Granite state on the Republican presidential nomination race among other things. The consensus take away from the results at the presidential level was that former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had surpassed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

And while that is true, it also was not what caught FHQ's eye. Here is what did:

1. I have spent a fair amount of time over the course of 2023 charting the positioning of DeSantis in the various polls that have been released both nationally and on the state level. And it is not a mystery that the Florida governor's fortunes have followed a particularly downward trajectory. That has implications for winning delegates in primaries and caucuses next year. First DeSantis flirted with 20 percent in some polling on the race. Then it hovered around 15 percent. If a candidate is going to have any prolonged success in taking delegates in 2024, he or she will have to hit 15 if not 20 percent to stick around. Otherwise, such a candidate is very likely to be shown the door. Actually, failing to hit those marks will be  the manifestation of being shown the door. 

But now DeSantis has dipped below 10 percent in New Hampshire. Yes, it is just one poll. Yes, his average standing in the race there is marginally higher than that: 14 percent. But it tracks with the pattern of slipping support that has dogged DeSantis since the spring. 

2. By why does 10 percent matter? It matters because 10 percent is the threshold candidates have to hit statewide to qualify for delegates in the New Hampshire presidential primary. No, candidates are not necessarily contesting New Hampshire in order to win delegates. There are not that many to find in the Granite state after all. Instead, most are chasing a win or at the very least positioning to avoid having increased winnowing pressure heaped on them. Third probably gets DeSantis through, but it does not exactly speak to future success in winning subsequent contests much less winning delegates in big numbers once the calendar flips to March and the focus shifts to the delegate game. 

But the biggest footnote lurking in this particular Emerson survey is that even though Christie leapfrogged DeSantis, he did not break in to the delegates either. That means that Trump -- at 49 percent -- would hypothetically win 11 of the 22 delegates at stake in New Hampshire, leaving 11 unallocated delegates in the proportional method Republicans in the Granite state use. 

What happens to unallocated delegates in this scenario? They do not become unbound. No, under state law, any and all unallocated delegates in New Hampshire are awarded to the statewide winner. Mitt Romney tacked on an extra two delegates in New Hampshire that way in 2012. Donald Trump added three unallocated delegates to his total in the state in 2016. But in this hypothetical case, there are a lot more unallocated delegates. And they would all go to Donald Trump

Even in a state that uses proportional delegate allocation rules. 

Even in a state where the former president would have received less than a majority of the vote statewide. 

Incidentally, this is exactly what happened in the 2020 New Hampshire Republican primary. Trump won a considerably higher share of the vote (as compared to above), but Bill Weld just missed the 10 percent threshold and the remaining unallocated delegates all went to Trump. 

3. Folks, this is one poll. FHQ does not want to read too much into it. Plus, it is worth pointing out that both Christie and DeSantis are close to the 10 percent threshold in the Emerson survey and there are 13 percent of respondents who were undecided. Some of those may come off the fence and support Trump, but there is a good argument that if one does not already support the former president, then it is unlikely that he would gain their support in the primary. Would that 13 percent automatically go to Christie and/or DeSantis? Maybe, maybe not. But enough would likely jump into their columns to push them north of 10 percent. 


Over at Tusk, Seth Masket argues that the pivot (away from Trump) is not coming and it is all about the ebbs and flows of factional power within the broader Republican Party. Good piece.

From around the invisible primary...
  • Indiana Senator Todd Young has already unendorsed Donald Trump for 2024. And like other Republicans, he doubled down in the wake of the latest indictment against the former president. Only, Young reiterated that the party needs to move on from Trump. Obviously, the opposition to Trump stands out, but at some point leaders within the Republican Party who want to chart a different path in 2024 are going to have to line up behind some alternative (or alternatives). But Young is keeping his powder dry for the time being. 
  • Also in the midwest, former Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin says that the "Trump fever needs to be broken." [See Masket above] He is not alone in Illinois. Other Republicans in the Land of Lincoln stand against Trump and some have even endorsed other candidates. Also from the Sun Times piece: "Last month, I reported on the call from Illinois National Committeeman Richard Porter to move on from Trump. State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris — the deputy Republican leader in the state Senate — like Porter, backs GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor. Ron Gidwitz was the Trump-appointed U.S. ambassador to Belgium and the acting envoy to the European Union. In 2016, Gidwitz was the Illinois finance chair for the Trump Victory fund. He’s supporting Christie." But the state party remains firmly behind the former president. And Durkin, like Young in Indiana, has not thrown his support behind a non-Trump candidate yet. Those un- and non-endorsements matter. And they matter a lot in this race when they are not expressly affiliated with a Trump alternative. 

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

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