Sunday, August 21, 2011

Will lightning strike NC again in presidential race?

Paul Johnson wonders about the likelihood of North Carolina playing a role in the Republican nomination race and the general election in 2012 in the High Point Enterprise.

This weekend is apparently the time for local media in May 8 presidential primary states to consider the what it will take for the Republican nomination race to stretch to that point in the calendar (see Indiana). [Add to that the fact that Ohio's May 8 date isn't necessarily set in stone. West Virginia, care to weigh in?] For the record, FHQ is in agreement with Martin Kifer and John Dinan -- two political scientists we know and whose opinions we value. That is, we all take the cautious approach. Look, it is just too early and we don't have enough information on the field of candidates, much less the calendar, to be able to definitively say one way or the other that North Carolina or Indiana will matter in the 2012 Republican nomination. One can either put on the 2008 glasses and see that cycle as a seachange in the fundamentals of presidential nomination politics or look back on the history of post-reform nomination races -- particularly the evolution of the process over that period -- and come to completely different conclusions.

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. FHQ is of the opinion that the Republican race is more likely to extend longer than usual -- perhaps not to May 8 -- because of the way in which primaries and caucuses are spread out over the calendar in 2012 compared to the past. If one were to take the current field of Republican candidates and plop them down in an environment that included the 2008 calendar, I suspect that the outcome would be largely similar: a nominee would likely emerge by the first week in March, give or take a week or two. But 2012 is different. Fewer states are clustered up against the opening of the window in which the national parties allow contests to occur. That is a function of several (Democratic) states moving further back to comply with the new national party rules and a handful of other states challenging the position the early four contests hold.

The race may, then, lengthen, but not necessarily to May. We just can't say one way or the other at this point. That answer will take not only a known field, but also a few actual contests being held, thus forcing the field to winnow further.

As for the general election, North Carolina seems more likely to be on the campaigns' big boards next fall than Indiana.1 But John is absolutely right: We'll have to wait -- probably until after this time next year (post-convention) -- to see which states "make the cut".

1 North Carolina has repeatedly behaved as a swing state in public opinion polling that has been conducted on the general election race. It has both mirrored the national atmosphere and moved in tandem with other swing states.

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