Monday, January 21, 2019

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- How the 2020 Endorsement Primary Will Be Different

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

It is not going too far out on a limb to say that any one aspect of a presidential nomination cycle is or will be different than it was in previous cycles. That is and has been the nature of the process in the post-reform era. Rules change. Candidates change. Conditions change.

2020, then, is not exactly like 2016 in the same way that 2016 was not a carbon copy, at least on the Democratic side, of 2008.

One area where 2020 will differ from 2016 is in how candidates running for 2020 accrue endorsements along the way. Much has been made of the rules changes the Democratic National Committee made with respect to superdelegates. That group of unplugged delegates was not eliminated, but their collective voting power at the national convention was curbed to some degree. However, left untouched by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee was the ability of individual superdelegates to endorse candidates vying for the 2020 nomination.

In that way, superdelegates could play much the same role in 2020 that they have in previous cycles.

But the conditions of 2020 may augur against that. For one thing, there are far more candidates who are seemingly running this time around than four years ago. And there is also no clear frontrunner at this point in 2020 as there was in 2016. The clarity of Clinton's status was buttressed by the endorsements she had. At a similar point in 2015, the former secretary of state had 62 high profile endorsements. And that was before she had announced her bid.

No one candidate for 2020, announced or not, has anything approaching that level of institutional support. Joe Biden's name has been invoked by California senior senator, Diane Feinstein, and New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. And while that may be significant given that folks from those two states -- Harris from the Golden state and Gillibrand from the Empire state -- are running, the total falls far short of Clinton's from four years ago (if one can even consider those full-throated endorsements for Biden at all).

Again, however, with a larger field of candidates and no clear frontrunner, some of that is to be expected. But there may also be other forces at work here that are worthy of further consideration.

One that has been mentioned in light of the 2016 controversy over superdelegates and resulting rules changes that stemmed from that is that some elected officials in the position to endorse may opt to wait as others have in the past until after their constituents have voted (or all of the voting is complete). In some way, superdelegate decision making on the endorsement question is like that of the calculus that big money donors are facing now: wait for the dust to settle a bit and then weigh in.

Yet, the extent to which superdelegates may be frozen out of making an endorsement goes beyond that which donors are encountering. Some may be waiting on a signal rather than more actively/forcefully giving one; a reverse of the causal relationship noted in Cohen, et al. in The Party Decides.

Another aspect of this that I have not seen picked up on to this point is the reduced potential for high profile endorsements this cycle as (unfairly?) compared to the far less wide open 2016 cycle. And what I mean by that is there are already a fair number of superdelegates who are vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020. On a basic level, then, there are just fewer superdelegates to provide endorsements. Elizabeth Warren is not going to endorse Cory Booker anymore than Kamala Harris is going to throw her support behind Jay Inslee. this time.

This, too, to some hypothetical extent has a freezing effect on other high profile would-be endorsers. Why support someone now only to see them withdraw from the race in the coming months? Why endorse a colleague/ally now over another colleague/ally?

In other words, there is a timing element to layer into this decision-making framework. The confluence of everything above may -- may -- give less incentive to early endorsements, but really increase the likelihood (and impact?) of later endorsements once the field has winnowed some and some of these superdelegates are culled from the pack.

In the meantime, there may be other endorsements to fill the void: state legislators. They may not meaningful on an individual endorsement basis, but in the aggregate may give us an idea of which candidates have some institutional support on the state level. And that may, in turn, influence where some of the heavier endorsement hitters wind up in the end.

Elsewhere in the invisible primary...

1. Add Kamala Harris to the list. The California senator is officially in and not just exploratory committee in -- like Castro, Gillibrand or Warren -- but in in.

2. Brown's PAC continues to add staff in Iowa.

3. Recent speeches are giving the potential Larry Hogan challenge of the president for the Republican nomination some steam.

4. If his was a run *for* 2020, it was a very half-hearted run from Bob Casey that is now over. It never really got beyond the "I won't close the door on it"/"I'm thinking about it" stage.

5. Booker gets encouragement to run while in Louisiana and Georgia on his trips through the states on the way to South Carolina on the MLK holiday.

6. New Hampshire got a visit from Warren for the second consecutive weekend, and South Carolina will see her there this week.

7. Howard Schultz and his advisers floating the idea of an independent bid seemingly indicates an awful lot about how things are going for him in the Democratic invisible primary.

8. There were no endorsements, but one would rather have potentially influential Iowa Democrats at a  speech during a first trip to the Hawkeye state than not. Gillibrand had the state party chair and 2018 Democratic for secretary of state stop in.

9. Both Gillibrand and Harris are touting widely distributed fundraising successes following their presidential announcements.

10. Swalwell's Palmetto pitstop over the weekend gave a bit more of a glimpse into his thinking on a run.

11. Finally, Elaine Kamarck has a solid piece on the 2020 rules and the Democratic nomination. The only omission is some of the superdelegates/endorsements-related implications which were more controversial in 2016 and were not affected, at least not directly, by the changes for 2020.

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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