Wednesday, February 24, 2021

#InvisiblePrimary: Visible -- Running for 2024, but Running in 2024?

For years now, FHQ has trotted out a fairly simple question during the candidate emergence phase of the invisible primary. Increasingly that emergence occurs -- or more accurately can be seen occurring -- earlier and earlier. But then as now the parsimony of the question creates a powerful lens through which to view (prospective) presidential candidate activity long before primary voters begin to weigh in on just who each party's nominee will be.

Back in 2009, FHQ asked if anyone thought that Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) was not running for the 2012 Republican nomination and followed that up with another distinction. The former Minnesota governor could run for the 2012 nomination in 2009 but the question at that point was whether Pawlenty would actually be running in 2012.

As it turned out Pawlenty did formally announce a bid. But there was more: trips to Iowa, the formation of an exploratory committee, early biographical ads from aligned political action committees. And outside of the candidate's and his campaign's (direct) control there was early polling and general chatter in Republican circles about a Pawlenty bid.

But for all of that activity, Tim Pawlenty never made it to any of the primaries and caucuses in 2012. Instead, his run was derailed by a third place showing in the August 2011 Ames Straw Poll, an event made all the more important because the Pawlenty team had made the Hawkeye state make or break for the former governor. 

Now, why the reminiscence about Tim Pawlenty?

Well, aside from the origin story for the running for but not necessarily in maxim, it speaks to how one should observe the action of (prospective) candidates in the increasing visible but still invisible primary. Candidates run all of the time and many do not get as far or do as much as Tim Pawlenty once did from 2009-2011. Furthermore, candidates need not formally announce as Pawlenty did to have been considered a candidate running for a party's nomination. Take the journey of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2018-2019. There was never any announcement that he was going to seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. But there was PAC activity, hiring and trips to the usual nomination haunts. There no doubt was other activity that happened more quietly, signals that Brown got from other elites (donors, DNC members, etc.) that did not see the light of day in any reporting. But Brown ran for the 2020 Democratic nomination before ultimately passing.

And there are already signs that this is happening already in the 2024 presidential nomination cycle. There has been no lack of questions about whether both President Biden and former President Trump will run in 2024. In fact, Dave Hopkins had a wonderful piece up just yesterday in response to a Washington Post article about Biden advisors "working under the assumption that he [Biden] will once again top the Democratic ticket in 2024."

As Hopkins said, of course he is. 

And that decision, formal or not, has implications for how other prospective candidates will behave. That is true on the Republican side with respect to what Trump might do. It is not, for example, a secret that former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, is running for the 2024 Republican nomination. It just is not. And while Haley may give speeches this and next year and work through her PAC toward electing Republicans across the country in the midterm elections in 2022, none of that guarantees that she will be running in 2024. And that may or may not be because Trump throws his hat back in the ring. 

Yet just because a candidate does not run in any contests does not mean that they did not run for the nomination in that cycle. It just means that roadblocks appeared in any number of forms during the invisible primary instead of voters directly rejecting that candidate in Iowa or New Hampshire or in some other state on down the line on the primary calendar

But yes, there are candidates who are running for 2024 even now, three years out.

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