Friday, April 28, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Forfeiting New Hampshire?

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

It is not exactly news that New Hampshire will have the first presidential primary in 2024. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) may have relegated the primary in the Granite state to its customary second position (but behind another primary this time), but every signal from up in that part of New England since December has pointed in one direction: New Hampshire will continue to be first.

Democrats have said it. Republicans have said it. Governors have said it. And most importantly, secretaries of state -- you know, the one who makes the scheduling decision on the presidential primary in New Hampshire -- have said it. 

However, it is also not a mystery that the DNC will not grant a waiver to New Hampshire Democrats to hold anything other than a February 6 contest. Barring a reversal from the state party in the Granite state, then, the DNC is going to levy penalties against the state party during primary season at the very least. It will also assess specific penalties against candidates who campaign in the state.1 So it is not a surprise that the president will likely take a pass on any rogue New Hampshire primary. Biden would be breaking the rules of the party he leads to file for access to the ballot there. 

But that is not forfeiting the primary. That is the wrong frame for this. And it misses the point anyway. Look, the New Hampshire Democratic Party wants three things whether they say them out loud or not. First, well, they want to be first. But they also, despite the calendar rules snub, want Biden to be the Democratic nominee over the alternatives. There are no viable alternatives, and that is where the party's third want comes in: They do not want to further undermine New Hampshire's leverage for attempts at winning an early calendar waiver in future presidential cycles

And what would really undermine the state with national Democrats even further for the future is Marianne Williamson or Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. winning the New Hampshire primary next year. One of those outcomes would destroy any remaining credibility Granite staters have for making discerning decisions on presidential nominations on the Democratic side. And if one thinks New Hampshire Democrats want to go to the table with the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee in 2026 and make the case that they should have an early contest in 2028 after Williamson or Kennedy won there in 2024, then FHQ does not really know what to say. But one can say that New Hampshire Democrats -- the state party anyway -- do not relish that possibility. 

New Hampshire Democrats are stuck. They have been stuck since December between state law and new national party rules. But it is under-appreciated just how much that rules change has upset the delicate calendar balance for New Hampshire Democrats. To defy the national party means to further hurt New Hampshire's primary primacy. And that is true whether it is the party breaking the national party rules to go early or voters protesting the Biden-driven calendar changes by pulling the lever for a long shot alternative. 

But the press focus should be less on poking at the "there is not a story on the Democratic side, but let's see if we can find one" angle and more on what the New Hampshire Democratic Party is going to do, stuck between national party rules and a Democratic electorate in the Granite state riled up by the president. That is a story worth pursuing because the decisions made there by the state party may make a great deal of difference for 2028 when there will be an active Democratic nomination race. 

Never Back Down, the super PAC aligned with the nascent DeSantis bid for the Republican presidential nomination rolled out a robust slate of endorsements in Michigan on Thursday. Yes, Trump has run laps around the Florida governor on congressional endorsements from his home state, but 19 members of the Michigan House -- just more than a third of the Republican caucus in the lower chamber -- is nothing to sneeze at. 

The catch is how much value those endorsement ultimately end up carrying. New leadership in the Michigan Republican Party seems to be on the fence about the primary or caucus question for 2024. On the one hand, 19 state legislative endorsements might be a meaningful signal ahead of an early primary in the Great Lakes state (if granted a waiver from the Republican National Committee), but may be less valuable in a caucus setting, especially if participants are limited to state convention delegates already chosen. Unless those legislators are among the delegates or are connected to delegates who are participating, the endorsements may mean very little. 

Yeah, the Michigan situation is a mess. But that primary or caucus distinction matters.

In the travel primary, Donald Trump was not the only 2024 presidential candidate in New Hampshire on Thursday. Nikki Haley was there, too, and has another town hall there Friday. Former Vice President Mike Pence will be in Utah today for a roundtable at Utah Valley University. Pence is the second potential candidate to visit Super Tuesday Utah in recent days. The other, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, wraps up his trade mission abroad in London. Vivek Ramaswamy continues his bus tour of South Carolina.

Over at FHQ Plus...
  • Wyoming Democrats have a date for their 2024 caucuses (or is that party-run primary?) and Rhode Island appears to be on a fast track to a new presidential primary date next year. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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On this date... 1992, Both President George H.W. Bush and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton were dominant in wins in the Pennsylvania primary. But The New York Times account had this aside: "Still, the voting in Pennsylvania only underscored the new phase of the campaign, in which Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush begin to take each other's measure -- while keeping a wary eye on Ross Perot, the Texas businessman considering an independent campaign for the Presidency." 2020, it was to have been the date of the Acela primary -- presidential primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- but covid forced all six states to shift to later dates. In the end, only Ohio was active, concluding the vote-by-mail in the Buckeye state's presidential primary on this date.

1 This was incorrect in the NBC News piece: "The rules apply to Williamson and Kennedy as well, but they've indicated they're willing to accept the DNC's unspecified penalties for rule violations since they're running anti-establishment campaigns anyway."

Rule 21.C.1.b covers that. "A presidential candidate who campaigns in a state where the State Party is in violation of the timing provisions of these rules, or where a primary or caucus is set by a state’s government on a date that violates the timing provisions of these rules, shall not receive pledged delegates or delegate votes from that state." What is unspecified is that the DNC chair can go beyond that penalty if rules are broken and keep candidates out of primary debates, for example. But there are not going to be any Democratic primary debates for the 2024 cycle.


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