Thursday, December 15, 2022

Nevada Holds the Key for 2024 Republican Presidential Primary Calendar

...for right now.

Much of the talk of late when it comes to the 2024 presidential primary calendar has focused on the Democratic side of the equation. It was, after all, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) that recently adopted a new calendar order that would break with the traditionally established alignment. The full DNC will not have an opportunity to vote to finalize those rules until its February meeting, but the states conditionally granted waivers have to show steps have been taken toward those dates by January 5, 2023. 

The processes will not be complete by then, but South Carolina Democrats will have a Saturday, February 3 primary. The state parties select the dates of primary in the Palmetto state. In Nevada, the presidential primary is already scheduled for the February 6 slot the DNCRBC has reserved for it (and was before the DNCRBC made its decision). And unified Democratic-controlled government in Michigan will mean that compliance in the Great Lakes state is likely forthcoming. 

Those are the known knowns. Each is locked into position (or will be) on the Democratic calendar. 

And that will have some impact on the Republican calendar as well. As will the unknown knowns. Iowa Republicans and the New Hampshire secretary of state will undoubtedly work around the fixed positions of those state contests to remain first in 2024. It just is not clear where either will end up when voting kicks off in little more than a year.

Part of answering that question, however, will be determined by the other two states in the Republican Party early state lineup: Nevada and South Carolina. It does not have to work sequentially, but if an Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina to Nevada order is to be preserved in the upcoming cycle on the Republican side, then Nevada will have the most decisive move with respect to where the remaining contests are scheduled on the calendar. 

Well, Nevada Republicans will anyway. The state party there in the Silver state has a decision before it. The path of least resistance -- not to mention the cheapest route for the state party -- would be to utilize the newly established state government-run (and funded) presidential primary. That would lock Nevada Republicans into the same February 6 calendar position as state Democrats and start a chain reaction in the remaining three states that would likely look something like this:
  • Monday, January 8: Iowa Republican caucuses
  • Tuesday, January 16: New Hampshire primary
  • Saturday, January 27: South Carolina Republican primary
  • Tuesday, February 6: Nevada primary
[South Carolina Republicans could opt to hold a primary that coincides with Democrats in the state, but that has not been the custom in the post-reform era, nor in the period starting in 2008 when the DNC officially added South Carolina to the pre-window. The same could be said of a Tuesday, January 23 date. That could happen, but again, the custom in the Palmetto state has been to conduct Saturday contests.]

Again, that is the cost-effective route for Nevada Republicans. But "cheap" may not be the only consideration. Recall that Republicans in the Nevada legislature were not onboard with the Democratic-led charge to establish a presidential primary in 2021. And the state Republican Party may eschew the contest and shift to caucuses as a result. That is, the likely electorate is another factor that may take precedence with decision makers within the state party. Or rather, the way that particular electorates may be perceived to affect the outcome in advance of the contest may weigh on decision makers (or be made to weigh on them).  

While the state party may (or may not) be indifferent to the caucuses versus primary matter, it could also be that the candidates (or some faction of them) prefer one to the other. Trump won the Nevada Republican caucuses in 2016 and may, for example, strategically prefer a smaller, more ideologically energized electorate in his efforts to not only win the contest, but take more delegates out of the Silver state. Trump, or candidates and their campaigns that are similarly inclined, may lobby the state party to move in one direction or the other. 

Regardless, going the caucus route would give the Nevada Republican Party some scheduling flexibility that does not currently exist with the state government-run primary. The caucuses would not have to be on February 6 or even before it. In fact, the party would have nearly the whole of February to work with in setting the date of the caucuses, from the Saturday after the primary, for instance, to the Saturday before Super Tuesday.1 [And it would not have to be a Saturday, of course. Candidates and their campaigns may have strategic considerations in a Tuesday contest relative to a Saturday one. The Nevada Republican Party may too!]

The later the date Nevada Republicans choose for the (hypothetical) caucuses, the more wiggle room South Carolina Republicans would have as a result. Republicans in the Silver state could settle on something in the Saturday, February 17 to Tuesday, February 20 range and stay far enough ahead of the Michigan (Democratic) primary on the 27th. That would also allow South Carolina Republicans to schedule their primary for a spot after Palmetto state Democrats on Saturday, February 10. That would yield a calendar that looks something like this:
  • Monday, January 15: Iowa Republican caucuses
  • Tuesday, January 23: New Hampshire primary
  • Saturday, February 10: South Carolina Republican primary
  • Saturday, February 17 or Tuesday, February 20: Nevada Republican caucuses
None of the movement behind or up to the South Carolina Democratic primary on February 3 matters. It is immaterial to decision makers in New Hampshire. The secretary of state in the Granite state will select a Tuesday date at least seven days ahead of the next earliest similar contest. And that will be the South Carolina Democratic primary unless Republicans in the Palmetto state choose to hold their primary before Democrats there. And Iowa Republicans will choose a date eight days earlier than New Hampshire.

Nevada Republicans may hold the key to what happens next in the early calendar on the Republican side, but because of the way the Democratic calendar looks to start, there is not much of a range in where Iowa (Republicans) and New Hampshire will end up. ...unless Nevada Republicans opt to hold caucuses some time in January (which is not necessary).

The unknown unknowns at this point, before state legislatures have convened for their 2023 sessions, is what other states may do. As of now, there is no threat of calendar crashing on the horizon and the national parties have severe penalties in place to deal with states that may consider breaking into the area of the calendar before Super Tuesday on March 5.

1 Having the bulk of February with which to work depends on Georgia. While the Peach state was part of the group of five states that made it into President Biden's early calendar proposal, it does not appear likely that state Republicans (in the secretary of state's office) will be cooperative

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