Showing posts with label campaign strategy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label campaign strategy. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Haley's Path Forward ...and more in response to New Hampshire

Nikki Haley's path to the the 2024 Republican presidential nomination may have more obstacles.

Leading the day at FHQ...

...for now. 

A day after an expectations-beating performance in New Hampshire, the former South Carolina governor faces a daunting task ahead in her one-on-one duel with Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. Mired in the teens in the Granite state as recently as the holiday season, Haley rose as other candidates fell by the wayside. That cleared a path to a head-to-head with Trump, but the results in the New Hampshire primary did little to grease the skids for the former UN ambassador to rise much further. 

In fact, New Hampshire was a good state for Haley on paper: more college educated and fewer evangelical voters (than in Iowa), independents could participate, etc. And she still came up short. Still, the final polls made things looked bleaker than they turned out to be and that is not nothing. But exactly how much that something is worth remains to be seen. 

It buys Haley some time, but not much. And it is tough to chart out a viable path forward to the nomination, much less South Carolina on February 24. Viable path. There is a path, but it entails stringing together what little Haley's campaign can muster in the meantime. She is the headliner on the Trump-less primary ballot in Nevada. Yes, it is a beauty contest primary, and while a win promises no delegates, it may carry the distinction of garnering her more votes than Trump will receive in the Silver state caucuses two days later. Again, that is not nothing, but how much that particular something is worth is hard to gauge. A vote-rich "win" in the Nevada primary coupled with a win the caucuses in the Virgin Islands on February 8 probably does not hurt. 

But what does that buy Haley in two weeks' time? 

Maybe it grants her a bit more time, but it grants her time to consider that she is even further behind in the delegate count and that her home of South Carolina still does not offer much relief. Perhaps the polls in the Palmetto state will have moved by then. Maybe Nevada, the Virgin Islands and/or the campaign will spur such a change. But if the polls do not move, then, as FHQ noted yesterday, the cacophony of winnowing pressures from Republicans in the broader party network are only going to grow louder and the prospect of not just a loss at home, but a big loss, will loom large. 

Again, there is a path forward for Nikki Haley. Only, it is not a particularly good path. And it certainly gets her no closer to the nomination. 

But hey, if she can manage to bankroll it, then why not play it out, grab what delegates she can, cross her fingers that Trump's legal troubles catch up with him and head into the convention in good standing? Yeah, that is a path, too. In theory. It just is not a sustainable path. Whatever incentives the former president's courtroom drama provide to stay in the race, the winnowing pressures will more than offset. And that would affect any "good" standing she may have as the candidate with the second most delegates at the convention.

The convention is way off. Haley's concerns are more immediate. And her path? Filled with obstacles.

All the New Hampshire results are not in, but it looks like the delegate count out of the Granite state is going to end at...
Trump -- 12 delegates 
Haley -- 10

But currently Haley is clinging to her tenth delegate. If she drops below 43.2 percent, then she will fall below the rounding threshold and that tenth delegate will become unallocated. Trump is not in a position to round up unless he approaches 57 percent of the vote. However, he would claim that unallocated delegate formerly in Haley's column because all unallocated delegates go to the winner of the primary. That would push Trump's total to 13 delegates in the state. 



Monday, January 15, 2024

What if Iowa Republicans used the old Democratic caucus rules? ...and more

Leading the day -- caucus day! -- at FHQ...

In the coming days there is going to be enough written on Iowa's Republican caucuses and the results therein. Who finished second? Did Trump beat the expectations (that many worked feverishly over the last weekend before the caucuses to set)? The questions go on and on.

One thing that struck FHQ in this final weekend before the (in-person) voting phase of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race begins was how candidates campaigned (bundled up!). But not just where they were but how they approached one another in their final pitches to potential Iowa caucus goers. After months of relative quiet -- an implicit truce if not an unofficial alliance -- Trump turned on Ramaswamy. And after going toe to toe on the debate stage last week, DeSantis and Haley continued to attack one another (and also draw contrasts with Trump). 

But it is funny. Rather than shrug those off and chalk them up as normal caucus fare, those strategic decisions made me think about how things might be or have been different under different rules. Iowa Republicans, after all, will caucus on Monday night, but that process differs from how Hawkeye state caucus goers convened and operated on the Democratic side four years ago. Yes, Iowa Democrats bungled their attempt at a revamped caucus. But FHQ is not talking about that. 

Rather, I mean the difference in how both state parties have traditionally handled the caucuses. Republicans, when they gather in gyms, conference centers and living rooms across Iowa, will hear speeches from candidates or in most cases their proxies and vote by secret ballot on presidential preference. Some will leave. Others will stick around and haggle over party business and choose who will move on to the next stage of the caucus/convention process. 

Yes, the Democratic process in Iowa is new, different and later for 2024. But Democrats, relative to Republicans in the state, have traditionally convened, heard similar pitches, conversed with neighbors, friends and others and then gathered with likeminded supporters to express presidential preference. There is no secret ballot. Individuals physically move to join with the Biden group or the Sanders group or whomever to express presidential preference. Those candidate groups with more than 15 percent of all of those in the room move on to the next round. 

However, the people in the candidate groups with less than 15 percent then become free agents. Their candidates are eliminated in a given precinct and they can realign with a viable group (one with more than 15 precent support). Post-realignment movement helped Barack Obama surge across the state in 2008 and sunk Joe Biden in some cases in 2020, for example. After that process is complete, some folks leave while others hang around to do exactly what Republicans will do after the preference vote tonight. 

But it is that middle part, the difference in process, that sets the Republican and (old) Democratic methods in Iowa apart. And it is exactly that which would have some impact on the stretch run of the campaign. 

Take the Selzer poll of the Iowa Republican caucuses that was released over the weekend:

Yes, Trump has a commanding lead. Yes, Haley slipped into second place. Yes, DeSantis and Ramaswamy, after their full and double Grassleys, are further back in Iowa.

But if the caucus rules were different, then how each of them has talked about the others might have been different down the stretch. Under those old Iowa Democratic rules, Ramaswamy might be above 15 percent in a handful of precincts across the state, but would be well under it in most. His supporters in the caucuses, again, under Democratic rules, would then become free agents. Would Trump have been attacking Ramaswamy over the weekend or courting his voters with a second round after realignment in mind? 

And DeSantis would be facing a similar situation, albeit in the inverse. As opposed to Ramaswamy, DeSantis would likely be above 15 percent in most places, but below it in a handful of precincts. And honestly, at 20 percent, Haley would likely be in a similar but perhaps less vulnerable position as well. In past races on the Democratic side, that is a situation where campaigns of those two candidates might strike a deal. If DeSantis groups slipped under the 15 percent threshold and were not viable in some precinct, then under the agreement, they would realign with Haley supporters to give her a better shot against the frontrunner. And Haley groups would do the same for DeSantis when they failed to reach viability and a DeSantis group made it. Strategically, the collective moves would potentially keep delegates away from the frontrunner. 

Look, this is not the way things will work tonight in the Republican process. But this what-if does shed some light on the impact the process -- the rules of the process -- has on campaign strategy. What has been witnessed in the Republican campaign as the caucuses draw nearer may have been different under different rules. Yes, rules matter. 

Something fun to consider as everyone passes time until caucus o'clock. 

Happy caucus day, everyone!

In the continuing state-by-state series on delegate allocation rules, FHQ examines changes for 2024 in...
  • Oklahoma: The year may be different but the rules are not for Oklahoma Republicans in 2024. All the fun quirks are back again from when the Republican presidential nomination was last competitive.
  • Tennessee: There are frontrunner-friendly delegate rules and there's the Tennessee Republican delegate selection rules. While other states may have moved in a Trumpier direction for 2024, the Volunteer state did not. But that does not necessarily mean it is any easier for non-Trumps.
  • Virginia: After an incumbent cycle using a state convention for delegate selection, Virginia Republicans are back to a primary, but with markedly different allocation rules in 2024 than in 2016.


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Why DeSantis Attacks Haley

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...
  • Some Missouri Republicans keep advancing a bogus rationale to justify the 2022 elimination of the presidential primary in the Show-Me state. And FHQ keeps getting irritated by it. Venting... All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
On its surface, the latest fusillade from DeSantis-affiliated super PAC Never Back Down against Nikki Haley seems to fit into the now-conventional narrative of a fight for second place in the Republican presidential nomination race behind former President Donald Trump. 

It comes from a branch of the consolidation theory of the race. That, if only the race narrowed to Trump and an alternative, then that alternative, whomever he or she may be, could finally overtake Trump. Mathematically, that makes some sense. Some sense, but it has made less and less sense over time as Trump has expanded his lead in the polls nationally and on the state level. After all, if Trump is pulling in more than a half of support in surveys, much less votes during primary season next year, then it is going to take more than just a one-on-one with the former president for an alternative topple him. It is going to take something else. In other words, it continues to be consolidation theory but with a side of magical thinking. 

However, the DeSantis case is a bit different than it may be for other would-be second placers. And the explanation may be simpler for why the Florida governor and company are going after Haley (and putting off focusing on Trump for a hypothetical one-on-one). And it has everything to do with the trajectory of the DeSantis campaign. It is not so much that DeSantis has lost or is about to cede second place to Haley. Rather, it is about how he has lost second place (if he has lost it). As DeSantis' fortunes have declined, it is Trump who has gained the most. And one does not win back former supporters who have drifted over into the Trump column by attacking Trump. 

The campaign may not win them back by fighting Nikki Haley either. But overall, the move stands less a chance of success by directly taking on Trump now.1 

That said, this is another case of Trump benefiting from opposing campaigns putting off the inevitable. Short-term motivations outweigh long-term considerations.

From around the invisible primary...
  • Iowa focus: DeSantis has some company in the "all in in Iowa" category. The campaign of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has now also begun to redirect money and staff to the first-in-the-nation caucuses in the Hawkeye state. 
  • Debates: Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's campaign has indicated that he has qualified for the November 8 debate in Miami. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has met the donor threshold, but continues to fall short of the polling criteria. 
  • New Hampshire entrants: Both Donald Trump and Mike Pence filed in Concord on Monday to appear on ballot in the as yet unscheduled primary in the Granite state.
  • Quiet winnowing: If a candidate is winnowed from the field and no one is there to see it, has that candidate really been winnowed? FHQ does not know. What is known is that businessman Perry Johnson has suspended his presidential campaign. Yeah, that is winnowing.
  • Staff primary: Staffers in the Florida governor's office keep leaving their jobs and finding their way into roles with the DeSantis campaign
  • Blast from the past: Trump's expanded lead has made this a bit less of a thing, but calibrating Trump 2024 to Trump 2020 and/or Trump 2016 is still a thing if attempting to assess where his current campaign is now. Tending the grassroots in New Hampshire in 2023 appears to be ahead of where it was in 2015. But support is not nearly as consolidated behind him as it was in 2019.
  • Consolidation theory, South Carolina edition: The editorial board at the Charleston Post & Courier called on hometown candidate Tim Scott to withdraw and clear the way for Nikki Haley to challenge Trump in the state and nomination race.

1 Note also that DeSantis has upped the attacks on Trump lately. But the overall effort is not exclusively homed in on Trump.


Monday, May 15, 2023

DeSantis is not without Organizational Strengths in the Republican Nomination Race

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...
  • On presidential primary legislating, the Missouri General Assembly once again made Congress look functional. Still, there is one thing in the Show-Me state that just does not add up. And there may be a super penalty problem for a handful of states on the Republican presidential primary calendar. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was back in Iowa over the weekend. And some accounts detail how he impressed Hawkeye state Republicans, but as The New York Times noted...
And while Mr. Trump still leads in the state, according to the latest public polling, his team team had also so lowered the bar for Mr. DeSantis’s first outing with weeks of merciless mocking that by merely showing up and not committing any significant gaffes with crowds that were eager to check him out, he fared well.
Polls and mocking aside, the real coup for DeSantis in the home of the first-in-the-nation caucuses was pulling in a long list of state legislative endorsements -- endorsement primary -- in the state before he even touched down to flip burgers, visit barbecue joints or generally retail politick. More than anything else, that group of 37 endorsements speaks to the demonstration of a level of organization that has not been as apparent in recent weeks as the governor's fortunes have swooned according to some metrics. Yes, the aligned super PAC, Never Back Down, has been on the airwaves (continually in the upstate of South Carolina during the evening news hour FHQ can report) and there is plenty of money behind the nascent campaign, but that is a depth of endorsements that speaks to some underlying political strengths in the battle ahead. 

...once DeSantis formally enters the race. Are endorsement the same as organizing folks to come out to caucuses across the Hawkeye state? Not exactly, but it is a positive push in that direction. 

And now for something completely -- well, sort of -- different. Allow FHQ a moment to veer off into general election 2024 territory. Michael Scherer and Tyler Pager at The Washington Post report that President Biden's reelection team is targeting both Florida and North Carolina as possible pickup opportunities in 2024. First of all, if there are any potential flips out there, then Florida and North Carolina are likely the only ones to chase. They were the only two states that Biden lost by less than five points in 2020. However, incumbent presidents and incumbent parties have had a difficult time trying to expand the map in recent years. The Obama team trained its sights on Arizona and Georgia in 2011 before dropping them to focus their efforts on more competitive states as the 2012 election drew nearer. Similarly, the Trump campaign eyed both Minnesota and New Mexico in 2019 before it scaled operations back once the calendar flipped to 2020. Presidents may want to play offense during their reelection bids, but more often than not, they end up playing defense on the same ground they narrowly won during their initial, victorious bid. And often that is a function not of adding states to the fold, but of trying to hold together a winning coalition from the first time surpassing 270.

With the spotlight on Iowa over the weekend, it was nice to see some reporting that actually acknowledged that at this time there is no date for the Iowa caucuses. There is no date. There has been no date. Part of what has enabled both Iowa and New Hampshire to successfully defend their first-in-the-nation turf on the primary calendar over the years is that each is adept in their own ways at waiting until late in the year (if need be) to make a scheduling decision. When threats have arisen, waiting them out has tended to work at least in terms of fighting off threats from other states. National parties? Well, that is a different type of battle. With South Carolina Democrats locked into that February 3 date granted them by the DNC, Iowa and New Hampshire are more than likely, and barring something unforeseen and hugely unprecedented, going to end up in some time in January next year. 

On this date... 1972, George McGovern bested his competition in precinct caucuses in a pair of Mountain West states, Colorado and Utah.. 1984, Colorado Sen. Gary Hart swept the Nebraska and Oregon primaries, extending his dominance in states west of the Mississippi River to that point in the race. 2012, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney handily won late-season primaries in Nebraska and Oregon, increasing his delegate advantage and inching closer to an overall majority in the count.


Friday, April 7, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- The Long-Haul Strategy of Team DeSantis

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

Henry Gomez and Matt Dixon over at NBC had a nice look at the emerging delegate strategy of the budding DeSantis campaign. A few reactions...
  1. Before I even clicked on the link, my first thought was, "Yeah, Jeff Roe was brought onto the staff at the super PAC and Ken Cuccinelli is running the show over there. This will be a delegate strategy story." It was. Both were involved in the Cruz delegate operation in 2016. Put a pin in that.
  2. Folks linking to this piece keep interpreting it as a "skipping" story. As in, this DeSantis strategy entails skipping Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early states. I did not read it that way. This strikes me as a strategy not unlike that of the former president's. It is a strategy built on the notion that the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race could go on for a while next year. Donald Trump is well-positioned to go the distance. And Ron DeSantis is demonstrating that he at least potentially has the resources, financial and otherwise, to do the same. This behavior is less about skipping those early states than thinking about the full primary calendar. Look, a lot of the 2016 Republican candidates traveled widely in 2015, and not just to the earliest states. There was this whole discussion about whether the SEC primary was working. Working, that is, in the sense that the collective movement of southern states to Super Tuesday would draw candidate attention to the region. Visits occurred to the South and elsewhere, but none of them skipped Iowa, New Hampshire or any of the other early states. Well, some of the candidates did. They skipped the later early states after withdrawing. DeSantis may pepper other states with visits, but keep an eye on him and others as Iowa and New Hampshire approach. They will not be skipping either. 
  3. The most interesting part of the article was this peek into the thinking from inside Team DeSantis. “One thing that we have looked at is that Trump can be beat on the delegate portion of all this. He has never been good at that.” That is straight out of the Cruz playbook from 2016. And it made sense in 2016. In 2023-24? Eh, maybe. Maybe not. This can be filed into that category of "Where is Trump this cycle? Closer to 2015 or 2019?" Trump will have for 2024 some institutional advantages within the party at the state level that he did not have in 2015. He definitely had that in 2019 and worked that to his advantage in the 2020 delegate game. Those connections still exist. But are they as strong? That is the question. And that matters for who fills the delegate slots that are allocated to candidates based on the results of primaries and caucuses across the country. Will those folks selected to fill those allocated slots be as firmly in Trump's corner or can other campaigns potentially exploit the divorce between the allocation and selection processes in the Republican nomination in the way that Cruz did in 2016? RNC rules may make that more difficult for challengers to Trump in 2024. This is the story. Focus on that.

Anything you can do, I can do better. DeSantis scored a congressional endorsement this week and the Trump campaign then conveniently rolled out an endorsement from a member of Congress from right in DeSantis' backyard. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) threw his support behind Donald Trump.

Yeah, those head-to-head Republican primary poll results keep popping up. This time it was a one-on-one between Trump and DeSantis in Iowa (with parallel numbers for a wider race as well). On the one hand, these head-to-heads are make believe. They capture a race that does not exist and very likely will not exist when voting commences in 2024. There will be more candidates in the race, at least initially, than merely Trump and DeSantis. But the supposed value added is to demonstrate that Trump is more vulnerable in a one-on-one race. That is another hypothesis that finds its roots in 2016 and may or may not have been true then anymore than it is now. 

The assumption nestled in all of this, of course, is that DeSantis has the best shot to take down Trump (but can only do so if the others get out of the way). But that is only a partial test. It only gets part of the way toward an answer because it only consistently tests one alternative against Trump. How do the other candidates do head-to-head with Trump? Better or worse than in a multi-candidate race? Clearly, the retort here is likely to be that other candidates are not tested against Trump because they are in single digits in the multi-candidate polls. Fair, but why trust the multi-candidate polls in that case and not for measuring how DeSantis is doing against Trump? 

The head-to-heads only offer spin opportunities for the campaigns. They certainly do not tell us much about how voters and the field will react once votes are actually cast in a multi-candidate race in the early states next year and voters in subsequent states begin to process that information. That picture will develop and change.

Over at FHQ Plus...
  • Thursday was a busy day for presidential primary bill movement across the country. There were a variety of changes in Idaho, Maryland and Missouri.
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On this date... 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale won the Wisconsin Democratic caucuses, days after Gary Hart claimed victory in the beauty contest primary. [The caucuses were used to allocate delegates.] 1988, Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) withdrew from the Democratic nomination race, just a few weeks after his lone win in his home state primary. 1992, Bill Clinton took the Wisconsin primary, and President George H.W. Bush swept primaries in Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. 
[As a fun aside, a representative from the Kansas secretary of state's office recently testifying before a committee about the presidential primary bill in the Sunflower state noted that the state held a rare presidential primary in 1992. That was a function of a request, he said, from Bob Dole to ensure that delegates went to the president and not potentially Pat Buchanan in a caucus.] 2015, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden won the delayed and then not delayed Wisconsin primary.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Nationalization of the Presidential Nomination Process and Candidate Visits

Over the weekend, FHQ scoffed at a line in Jonathan Martin's New York Times story on the cavalcade of Democratic presidential hopefuls heading to the California Democratic Convention to speak. And although Super Tuesday remains on the same first Tuesday in March date that it was three years ago (and four years before that), Martin raises some interesting points about the nationalization of the presidential nomination process that are worth considering.

But also worth considering is the fact that this Golden state gathering was, at best, weak evidence of that nationalization phenomenon. Martin takes it as fact that since the two dozen Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination have already visited 33 states and territories that the race has, voila!, nationalized. It certainly appears that way. Yet, there remain several lingering questions/points.

The first is that map included in the story -- the one with the dots -- indicated the number of candidates who have visited the various states and not the number of visits candidates have made to those states. That depiction, while noteworthy on some level, is misleading. It makes a state like California look like it is much closer to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina than it actually is. California is closer to the carve-out states in the number of candidates, but not really in the collective number of visits by the candidates.

That is consistent with the pattern of visits during the 2008 cycle, the last competitive Democratic presidential nomination cycle with a sizable number of quality (and qualified) candidates. California notched the fifth most visits during that cycle, behind (in order) Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. All four had earlier (and in some cases non-compliant) dates on the 2008 presidential primary calendar than did the California primary scheduled on Super Tuesday.  The Golden state was well behind Iowa and New Hampshire in the number of visits that it got from candidates of both parties and less behind both South Carolina and Florida. Still, big, delegate-rich, and Super Tuesday California managed the fifth most visits.

And that comparison to 2008 is important because it highlights another shortcoming in Martin's piece. If 14 Democratic candidates trekking to San Francisco on the same weekend to speak before the state party convention is evidence of the nomination process nationalizing, then it is evidence of that trend compared to what? Martin drops this line:
This weekend was no aberration: Democratic presidential contenders have already combined to visit more than 30 states and territories for public events, far more than in any past nominating contest when candidates would spend the vast majority of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire.
But does not really back it up.

The easiest, albeit apples to oranges (to some degree), comparison is to the 2016 Republican process. The parties are different, but some of the conditions are the same. There was a large field of Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in 2015-16. There also was a minimally altered primary calendar of events over which the nomination race would be contested.

That 2016 Republican race, too, drew similar reactions. But instead of California, candidates, their campaigns, other political actors and the press talked about the SEC primary and how it was disrupting the regular rhythms of the nomination process. But the pattern witnessed then was that while there were visits to SEC primary and other states throughout 2015, as actual voting neared attention shifted toward the early states. In other words, the pattern normalized, still weighted -- and fairly heavily -- toward the early states.

One thing that the SEC primary of 2016 and the California primary of 2020 share is a certain branding. And not just branding, but a concerted and early effort to draw attention to the contests. Then Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp (R) was talking up the possibility of an SEC primary as early as February 2014, and thereafter there was a fairly constant drumbeat not only about the possibility, but of the formation of and coordination behind that regional contest for Super Tuesday 2016. Kemp and other southern secretaries of state pushed the idea and pushed it hard by hammering home the idea that the South was where the most loyal Republicans in the country are and that the path the nomination went through those voters. Campaigns took notice.

Similarly, California made an early splash in the 2020 presidential cycle by beginning the process of shifting the more-often-than-not June primary up to March. The argument in an April 2017 press release on the bill was the following:
“A state as populous and diverse as California should not be an afterthought. Moving up the California primary in 2020 makes sense and will give California voters a more significant role. By holding our primary earlier, we will ensure that issues important to Californians are prioritized by presidential candidates from all political parties,” said Secretary Padilla. 
“California is the largest, most diverse state in the nation with one of the largest economies in the world,” said Senator Ricardo Lara. “Yet Californians’ voices are silenced when it comes to choosing presidential nominees. California is leading the nation on clean air, criminal justice reform, and expanding healthcare for all, and moving up our presidential primary will ensure our state’s voters are heard in the national debate.”
Now, there has been a lot of ink spilled over the potential impact of the California primary move. Much has focused on the structural impact: the shift of so many delegates to an earlier point on the calendar, the impact of early voting, among others. But almost all also mention the diversity that California (and for that matter other Super Tuesday states) bring to a process that includes not only a diverse Democratic primary electorate, but a diverse field of candidates. Again, candidates have, as they did four years ago with the SEC primary, taken notice.

But does that represent a nationalization of the process or evidence of a nationalization of the process? One way to approach this is to reject the null hypothesis; that candidates appearing in states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina is not because of a nationalization of the process.

And FHQ would argue there are at least two factors standing in the way of us rejecting the null in this case. They are two factors that I raised back in 2015 in the context of similar lines of argument about the SEC primary. Candidates are not going to states other than the four carve-outs because of some nationalization process. No, instead, they are heading to California and Puerto Rico and West Virginia and other states because...
  1. It's the field [size], stupid. More candidates means more potential overall visits. More candidates also means that if everyone is heading to Iowa, then perhaps no one is heading to Iowa. In other words, the value of an Iowa visit is less if one are venturing around the Hawkeye state with 23 other candidates than if one is competing there with five other candidates. Candidates have to stand out and if they are all going to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, then them may be less likely to stand out. And standing out is something that these 24 Democratic candidates have to do. 
  2. Calendar certainty. Another related factor is that the calendar formation for the 2020 cycle has been not only orderly but slow compared to past cycles in this century. It is a lot easier as a candidate and/or campaign to make a decision to go to California if that campaign has a fairly good idea about where it fits in the calculus of winning the nomination. California's position on the calendar is no more nor less known now than it was in the lead up to 2008, for example. But 2019 does not feature the sort of rules defiance that 2007 saw. There is no Florida. There is no Michigan to disrupt the early calendar as was the case in 2007. That left campaigns at that time with a dilemma. They could only plan ahead so far when the beginning portions of the calendar remained in flux as the Florida and Michigan issue was unresolved. All that was known to campaigns at the time was that Iowa and New Hampshire would be first. All subsequent contests were obscured by the uncertainty. Contrast that with 2019. The carve-out states indeed have February carved out. And a delegate bonanza hits just after on Super Tuesday in early March. Other states may yet join Super Tuesday -- but that is unlikely at this point -- but the basic outline of the calendar has been preserved. A slow on-ramp through February toward Super Tuesday. That certainty helps campaigns plan and plan ahead for the next steps in the sequence.
To be fair to Martin, he is absolutely right that cable news (nothing new) and online tools (especially social media) help to if not nationalize then uniformize the coverage of presidential campaigns. But whether that has a nationalizing effect on the process itself is a trickier question to answer. It creates more national appeals from campaigns or attempts to go viral, but that is hardly evidence that the "stranglehold on the time, money and attention of the White House aspirants in the year leading up to the primaries" that Iowa and New Hampshire has been broken. It is probably a bit premature to come to that conclusion. If anything, the expectation should be that attention will ramp up in the earliest states beginning in the fall. They are, after all, the first voting moves in the sequence. But if there is a break in that pattern -- a reversion to carve-out state-focused campaigning as fall works its way to winter, then we may have some evidence of a break in that stranglehold.

As it stands, it is still pretty good to be first. And campaign visits data will continue to reflect that.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- The Difficulties in Harris Locking Down California

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the movements during the days that were...

It is not any secret that the Kamala Harris campaign is making every effort to make the senator's home state of California its strategic centerpiece.

There is no lack of elected Democratic officials in the Golden state, and Harris has rolled out a steady drip, drip, drip of endorsements from statewide office-holders to those in the state legislature. In addition, her campaign is stocked with those seasoned in California politics. And it should be noted that her home state is a known ATM for Democratic presidential nomination fundraising; one where Harris has already shown some promise.

In sum, that is a recipe -- home state with a natural fundraising base and elected officials and campaign staff are eager to get on board -- for an attempt at warding off the competition.

But, of course, that is much easier said than done. While Team Harris is attempting to make California in 2020 to her what Iowa was to Tom Harkin in 1992, that is no small task.


For starters, Harris is not to California now what Harkin was to Iowa in 1992: an experienced legislator. That has its pros and cons in presidential nomination politics to be sure. More importantly, however, California is not Iowa. There are too many delegates there for other campaigns to leave on the table; to cede outright to Harris. That will draw other campaigns in, but to what extent?

From the perspective of Sean Clegg, a strategist with the Harris campaign, the forecast looks something like this:
"We believe the early primary, early voting, and the cost of communicating will make it virtually impossible for all but the top two or three candidates to play in the state in a meaningful way."
There is a finite amount of money floating around out there, and two to three candidates (including Harris) making a legitimate statewide push in California sounds about right. Others may make a play at some specific congressional district delegates in the state, but that is a tougher move that requires the type of targeting, the know-how of which may be concentrated in only a few campaigns (the most resourced).

But that is the way to "beat" Harris in California: a serious challenger or two and a death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy from others. The goal? To minimize any significant delegate advantage the junior California senator takes from the state.

The last two competitive Democratic presidential nomination cycles have seen candidates establish small but durable delegate advantages early on. Obama in 2008 used a caucus strategy along with a post-Super Tuesday winning streak through the remainder of February to develop a lead in the delegate count that he never relinquished. Similarly, Clinton's strength among African American voters in the 2016 SEC primary states laid the groundwork for a delegate lead that never really contracted between her and Sanders.

If one is in the Harris campaign, then, California is absolutely part of a path of least resistance to a similar delegate advantage (assuming there are also victories -- actual or relative to expectations -- in the early states). But that sort of 80-100 delegate advantage in California alone is unlikely. In the past, it has required the winning candidate to approach or exceed 60 percent of the vote statewide in a contest with a significantly winnowed field. Now, strange things -- atypical to past nomination cycles -- may occur with a less winnowed field and a 15 percent threshold stretched across the allocation of statewide and congressional district delegates.

However, even if the opposition to Harris is able to minimize the delegates she gains from the Golden state any advantage may play into a larger delegate acquisition elsewhere on Super Tuesday. And if other candidates are drawn to spend money to close the gap with Harris in California, then those are resources not being spent elsewhere. It is that zero-sum game that provides Harris with a structural, calendar-based advantage at this point.

But it is an advantage that probably cannot hold up or be fully realized without some success first in February. And that success is built during the invisible primary.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Announcements: Sanders is in, skipping the exploratory phase counter to previous reporting. Weld is exploring on the Republican side. Tammy Baldwin is not running. Merkley signals that perhaps he is inching away from a White House bid.

2. #MoneyPrimary: Sanders has also joined the group of candidates who, after launch, have quickly taken in donations from all 50 states. Bullock's PAC has done some limited spending in the early states. Brown becomes the latest Democrat to shun corporate PAC money. One outside group is working to insure that a black candidate is on the Democratic ticket.

3. #StaffPrimary: Klobuchar adds staff in Iowa. And she is not the only one with a budding team in the Hawkeye state. Iowa is not the only early state where there is a battle for staff. South Carolina is witnessing its own race for campaign talent. Campaigns are looking beyond the first states too. Bringing on staff in California is a signal of the intricacies the Golden state adds to the early half of the 2020 calendar.

4. #EndorsementPrimary: Harris continues to notch notable California endorsements, adding the support of Gov. Newsom, Rep. Lee and activist, Delores Huerta. Delaney continues a small scale build up by adding more county chair endorsements in Iowa. And the chase is on for the endorsements of the newest members of Congress; the newest superdelegates.

5. Travelogue: Candidates spent quite a bit of time in Iowa and New Hampshire over the long the Presidents Day weekend. Among the candidates who have not been to either of the first two states yet, Bennet will make his maiden trip this week to Iowa.  Jim Clyburn's daughter has become a go-to shepherd for candidates trekking to South Carolina.

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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Friday, March 9, 2018

Skipping Early States, 2020 Edition

Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politico reports on the strategizing among the nascent campaign team in former Vice President Joe Biden's orbit:
"...a tight circle of aides has been brainstorming a range of tear-up-the-playbook ideas for a White House run, according to people who’ve been part of the discussions or told about them. 
On the list: announcing his candidacy either really early or really late in the primary process so that he’d define the field around him or let it define itself before scrambling the field; skipping Iowa and New Hampshire and going straight to South Carolina, where he has always had a strong base of support; announcing a running mate right out of the gate and possibly picking one from outside of politics; and making a pitch that he can be a bridge not just to disaffected Democrats, but to Republicans revolting against President Donald Trump."
It is kind of early in the cycle for the "skipping states" discussion, but with 2020 giving all indications (at this time) of being a wild nomination cycle on the Democratic side, perhaps it is an idea worth exploring anew.

The premise remains the same: pick a spot on the calendar/state contest where you are more likely to succeed, win then/there, and keep winning on the way to the nomination. Simple, right?

In reality, that has proven easier said, or maybe strategized, than done. It did not go as planned when Al Gore focused on the Southern Super Tuesday states in 1988, and it did not work for Rudy Giuliani twenty years later when he attempted to resurrect a similar strategic path by putting everything on the late January Florida primary. Both campaigns foresaw their respective foci as springboards. Gore from a delegate haul in his home region that would give him enough of a lead to make it difficult for others to catch up. And Giuliani from a winner-take-all Florida win into a series of contests a week later when half the country would be voting.

Both lost.

Gore split the South with Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson, leaving behind his natural base of support and with no delegate advantage to show for it. Giuliani lost Florida to John McCain and the Arizona senator -- winner in New Hampshire and South Carolina -- used that series of wins to effectively wrap up the nomination a week after Florida on Super Tuesday.

Now, FHQ does not want to make too much of just two cases, but they are instructive with respect to the prospective "Biden to skip Iowa and New Hampshire" strategy in 2020.1 Nominees -- or frontrunners in real time during the primaries -- do not skip states. Those campaigns do not cede wins, delegates, and attention to their opponents for a month.

But the allure of South Carolina to Biden is clear and under a rationale much like those above. A win in the Palmetto state with its heavily African American primary electorate would serve as an important hypothetical precursor to wins across the South. And many of the states of the region -- with similar primary electorates -- vote just a week later. That would be an extension of the Clinton success story from 2016. Wins fueled by African American support across the region built the delegate advantage by which the former secretary of state claimed the nomination. Actually, that is the surest path to the modern Democratic nomination.

But skipping Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada is no way to start any march to the nomination even with the "South Carolina gateway to the rest of the South" as the centerpiece. That lowers expectations in any of the first three states to zero and raises expectations on anyone camping out waiting in South Carolina. However, expectations can be lowered or rather tempered without ignoring the first three of the carve-outs.

Romney's "keep Iowa at arm's length" strategy in 2012 is a decent guide. There was a lot of talk of the former Massachusetts governor skipping Iowa in 2011 to focus on New Hampshire, but while he did not spend a ton of time and effort there, Romney was there. That is lower expectations, but not to zero, not ceding the state to the competition.

In a supposedly wide open race, candidates cannot give away anything. And on the Democratic side, get to 15 percent and qualify for and claim whatever delegates you can. Now, if Biden can do that without so much as looking Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada's way, then bully for him. But activists and volunteers, not to mention voters in those states will likely not be receptive to such a snub.

The skipping strategy throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Quickly, about that entering/announcing late strategy:
Biden may announce late, but if the campaign seeks to do this properly, then the announcement will not really come as a surprise.


Campaigns have to raise money and hire staff to run the operation. That is groundwork that has to be laid well in advance, and the public will see signs of progress (or lack thereof) during the invisible primary regardless of any announcement. To wait on building that campaign infrastructure is to, again, cede it to the competition. Biden stayed on the sidelines too long in 2015, and though the chatter of a possible run was there, donors and campaign operatives were not. They had signed on elsewhere and were not willing to switch.

Betting at home?
Biden announces early and plays in all of the carve-outs to some extent if he plays at all.

1 The Politico article is another cut in the death by one thousand cuts that the Nevada caucuses continue endure. Presumably, if a Biden campaign is skipping Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina, then they are skipping third in the order Nevada as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jeb Bush, Puerto Rico and Backdoor Winner-Take-All Delegate Allocation

It is not some mistake that Jeb Bush is in Puerto Rico this week for a fundraiser and town hall meeting.

According to law in the territory, there is to be a primary election next March; on the third Sunday in March unless that date conflicts with Easter or Palm Sunday.1 In 2016, it does. Instead of being on March 20, then, the Puerto Rico primary will fall on Sunday, March 13; just at the tail end of the proportionality window.

But why would a candidate make the effort to venture into Puerto Rico in April in the year before a presidential nomination race at the prospect of gaining some proportional share of the territory's 23 delegates? The answer is twofold. First, and Lesley Clark at McClatchy raises this, is that there are potential primary and general election ramifications in Florida's Puerto Rican community to making an appearance in and talking about issues important to folks on the island and in the continental United States.

That is true, but there are broader strategic implications at play here as well that piggyback on that Florida-Puerto Rico connection. The Florida primary is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15. Florida Republicans are also talking about a winner-take-all delegate allocation plan. However, it is unclear if those plans include a truly winner-take-all allocation method or the more-often-used (sans national party penalty) winner-take-most allocation. Let's assume here that it is the former (and FHQ thinks it will be).

The Puerto Rico primary is situated just a couple of days earlier, just inside the proportionality window on March 13. If the party utilizes the same type of allocation plan it used in 2012, then it has the potential to be a backdoor winner-take-all contest. There are no congressional districts in Puerto Rico, so there cannot be any differentiation between congressional district delegates and at-large delegates. All 23 are at-large delegates. That has the practical implication of making the Puerto Rico Republican delegate allocation either truly proportional or truly winner-take-all. Given, the date of the primary, it cannot be the latter.

Recall, however, that a party can include certain thresholds in its delegate allocation plan to guide the process (and still meet the proportionality requirements). In 2012, Puerto Rico Republicans required candidates to received at least 15% of the vote to be allocated any delegates, but if one candidate wins a majority of the vote, then that candidate is awarded all 23 delegates. The latter threshold was cleared by Mitt Romney in 2012 when the former Massachusetts governor won nearly 90% of the vote.

That backdoor winner-take-all scenario in Puerto Rico plus a win in winner-take-all Florida (outside the proportionality window) is a significant one-two punch (over 120 delegates). If a candidate can pull that off in what appears to be a protracted race (at that point), that is important. The key here is that there is less difference between a winner-take-most contest and a proportional contest than there is between a winner-take-all primary or caucuses and everything else. Not all states after March 14 are rushing to be winner-take-all. But some are, and if this race keeps going, targeting those winner-take-all states -- as John McCain did in 2008 -- is a big part of the puzzle in the race to 1235.

Jeb Bush is making that play.

1 Here is the text of that primary law:
Those primaries to be held pursuant to the provisions of this subtitle shall be held on the third Sunday of March of the year in which the general election is to be held, except if said Sunday is Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday, in which case, the primaries shall be held on the second Sunday of March of the same year. Primaries shall be held on the first Sunday of March if the aforementioned holidays fall on the second and third Sunday. 
In the case of national primaries, these may be held on any date after the first Tuesday of March of the year in which the general election is to be held, up to June fifteenth (15th) of that same year, as determined by the local body of the national party.
The Republican Party in Puerto Rico used the second part of the law as its motivation for setting the date of its 2012 primary, but ended up scheduling it on the date called for in the first part -- the third Sunday in March (March 18, 2012).

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Campaigns in Disarray

FHQ's Twitter feed was littered last night and this morning with reactions to the POLITICO story indicating infighting and disarray within the Romney campaign. Most seemed to either simply link to it or attack it for shortcomings like how inner circle those quoted in the story really were.

FHQ's reaction? I would place it somewhere between "meh" and "Sir, I'm not impressed."

This just isn't much of a story given the context of the race. If a general election presidential race is not exactly tied then there is a major party candidate who is ahead and a major party candidate who is behind. The 2012 presidential race is not exactly tied. Obama is slightly ahead nationally and ahead by varying degrees in enough states to total 332 electoral votes as of now. That means that Mitt Romney is slightly behind in this race.

And historically those candidates who are slightly behind can face an awful lot of scrutiny. When campaign strategic actions by underdog campaigns don't exactly move the needle, people (voters, the press, etc.) wonder why. When a series of those sorts of actions fall flat, those same people wonder what's wrong. That is where we are in this race. People are wondering what's wrong.

This is not something that is new. It hints at a structural mechanism in American presidential elections.

I humbly submit:
Kerry campaign shifts gear into attack mode 
Candidate seen setting agenda as debates near 
By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff  |  September 26, 2004 
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The perception of a Democratic presidential campaign in disarray remained so widespread Wednesday morning that Senator John F. Kerry got unsolicited advice from a woman attending a town hall meeting on Social Security: Beef up your rapid-response team, the retired lawyer suggested. 
The remark prompted laughter, including from the candidate himself. But the Kerry campaign was already undergoing a transformation. 
Between a speech Monday in New York that gave a point-by-point accounting of continued problems in Iraq, and a speech Friday in Philadelphia that accused President Bush of taking his eye off the real terrorist threat, Osama bin Laden, the Kerry campaign seized control of the political dialogue during a week that was supposed to have been dominated by the incumbent as he visited the United Nations and invited Iraq's prime minister to the White House.
And it goes on.

Now, this is not meant to be yet another connect-the-dots-to-2004 post. That is a story/discussion for another time. [Truth be told, FHQ has drawn that parallel enough already.] No, the intent here is to point out just how difficult it can be to defeat an incumbent president in an environment that is not necessarily favorable but one in which silver linings can be found (...whether in terms of the economy growing (but not quickly enough) or razor-thin approval/disapproval margins that benefit the president). The fundamentals continue to point toward a close election on November 6, and the polling to some extent reflects that as well. The problem from the Romney perspective -- now -- is that when those two things are combined -- the fundamentals and the polling -- the major issue that surfaces is that the polling has been so very consistent throughout the summer and heading down the stretch in this race. That is a tough but not insurmountable obstacle to overcome.

Is the Romney campaign embroiled in discord? FHQ is dubious. The Romney campaign is in the same position plenty of underdog candidates/campaigns have been: behind and looking for the right combination of things to right the ship. There isn't an easy out and as FHQ mentioned earlier, time is running short.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

These things are over sooner rather than later.

The history of the presidential primary process -- the trajectory of it throughout the post-reform era anyway -- has shown that some candidate clinches the nomination sooner rather than later. The logic of this has been thrown on its head to some extent over the last two cycles with... 1) Democratic voters in 2008 having an either/or proposition in the choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton while remaining with some exceptions high on both options and 2) 2012 Republican voters being torn between yielding to a plurality candidate who doesn't necessarily have the backing of the full party or opting to vote (for the best, viable candidate) in protest.

It is on that latter scenario that I would like to focus, though. We know where later is on the sooner--later spectrum: the convention. But we are in the process of determining where sooner is. The 2012 Republican presidential nomination race is at a point where Mitt Romney is in control and his nomination is a when not if proposition. But that is not necessarily readily apparent. least not where it counts: with the main opposition campaign (Santorum).

If the Romney nomination is a when not if proposition, then the race is in a position of negotiating Santorum's withdrawal. Now, FHQ doesn't mean that as either the RNC and/or Romney campaign incentivizing in some way Santorum's exit.1 Against the backdrop of a likely steady stream of endorsements for, not to mention primary victories by, Romney throughout April will be a decision-making calculus within Santorum campaign as to the utility of continuing in the race.

...of the campaign coming to the realization that either Santorum cannot become the nominee (at the convention2) or he cannot keep Romney from reaching the 1144 delegates necessary to wrap up the nomination. Another angle to consider is that the Santorum camp comes to the realization that continuing on is in no way helpful to their/the party's cause. For the Santorum campaign, they have to concern themselves with the optics of persisting in a cause that will be hard to keep together during April (see above). The longer they keep at it, the worse the outlook is for getting a VP or cabinet nod from a presumptive Romney-as-nominee. And no, that may not be the goal here. Alternatively, it also hurts Santorum's efforts with the very people that would help him in any future run at the nomination: the establishment of the party. If the perception is -- among that group -- that Santorum has, is or does hurt(ing) Romney in terms of the former Massachusetts governor's chances against Obama in the fall. If that is the conventional wisdom, then the party establishment is much less likely to rally around Santorum in the future. That is an iffy proposition anyway. That assumes that there is not a "better" candidate out there four or eight years from now that occupies a similar ideological space among the field of candidates. [After all, the 2012 field is viewed as relatively weak.] If that is the conclusion that is reached within the Santorum campaign -- that there are no incentives forthcoming from the Romney camp and/or the future outlook is bleak -- then they have nothing to lose by continuing in the race. least until the money dries up and the sort of retrenchment witnessed in the Gingrich campaign this week hits the Santorum camp.

That is the self-interested side of this. But there are also party-centered, altruistic notions at play here. We can call those "taking one for the team" notions; that stepping aside is for the good of the party's fortunes in the general election campaign. Even this comes back to the self-interested angle above. If the feeling is that they/the campaign has nothing to lose by continuing on, then this is likely to play out in a rather slow, but obvious manner. In that scenario, if we follow history in the post-reform era as a guide, the Santorum campaign will likely die a slow death during primary season. But that has yet to play out., we know where later is, but we're still trying to determine where, or more appropriately when, sooner is.

1 This is a dynamic process, but the RNC and Romney campaigns, independent of each other, seem to be taking more of a hands-off instead of hands-on approach to this. If an argument can be made for either one intervening, it would be for the RNC ( measured by the steady stream of endorsements coming in for Romney). And even that argument is tenuous at best. It is more a matter of a collective will -- independent of national party coordination -- that folks like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or George HW Bush are coming out in favor of Mitt Romney or endorsing the idea that the process should come to a close.

2 I think that, barring a significant shake up to the current dynamics of this race as they currently exist, we can all agree that Santorum cannot get to 1144 or surpass Romney in the delegate count during primary season. It is his campaigns only play to keep Romney under 1144 heading into the convention and rolling the dice there.

Recent Posts:
South Carolina House Moves to Safeguard Future Presidential Primary Calendar Position
Santorum Super PAC Doubles Down on Ludicrous Delegate Count Claim

There's a reason the Santorum campaign didn't mention West Virginia in its delegate conference call last week

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