Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Early Primary Calendar Gauntlet in 2024

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Around here, FHQ often talks about the delegate rules and the count of delegates in each candidate's column as primary season progresses. And while all of that is important to the evolution of the presidential nomination process, it is not the only thing. In many respects, the delegate count is a lagging indicator of a candidate's fortunes, the measure of which may have been written on the wall well before votes are cast or delegate allocation from the results tallied. 

A presidential nomination race can be about reaching a magic number of delegates to make one candidate the presumptive nominee, but often it does not get that point. That is because the presidential nomination process is one of exhausting the opposition. Raising more funds, hiring more and better staff, gathering endorsements. Basically, it means out-organizing the competition in order to outlast them once votes begin to be cast. That is why laying the groundwork during the invisible primary is of such import to the various campaigns. 

And those efforts ultimately split the campaigns into three basic groups:
  1. those who do not make it to an event
  2. those who make it to
  3. those who make it through
FHQ's insistence on talking about candidates running for 2024, but not necessarily running in 2024 has always hinted at the distinction between the first two categories. There will some candidates who drop out of the race before Iowa's Republican caucuses early next year. Others will make it to Iowa but not necessarily through Iowa. And a smaller subset will press (or be able to press) on past Iowa to New Hampshire. Then the cycle repeats again as New Hampshire transitions to South Carolina and so on. 

And along the way the pressure mounts for surviving candidates to, and this borrows a phrase recently uttered, put up or shut up. In other words, candidates constantly have to make the case that they continue to belong in the race. Winning helps make that case. Having the resources, staff and organization also does not hurt in insulating (to a point) a candidate against calls to withdraw. And it is also true that any candidate can make it to an event, but they may have been effectively winnowed out of viability (think John Kasich from 2016) or were never particularly viable in the first place (think Ron Paul in 2012).

At this stage of the invisible primary it is not exactly easy to assess where candidates will be eight months from now, how they will be positioned relative to one another as Iowa's caucuses are conducted. But there are signals.

Candidates set up to make it through Super Tuesday:
Donald Trump: The former president is the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination and is arguably better-positioned now than he was in 2015-16, when he won the party's last competitive nomination race. He has a more seasoned staff and organization, a better understanding of the process and is not lacking for resources. Any uncertainty about Trump's prospects comes not from those measures but from the legal troubles in which he currently finds himself ensnared. 

Ron DeSantis: Say what one will about the flagging support the Florida governor has found in opinion polls in recent weeks, but Team DeSantis -- the governor and aligned super PAC -- has the resources and is building (or projecting that it is) a campaign organization that stretches deeply into the primary calendar. The AP is reporting just today about Never Back Down's hiring in states through Super Tuesday. And the governor has strategically dropped in for events in states that fall beyond the proportionality window on the calendar and approaching April. Of course, building for something and actually getting there are two separate things, but DeSantis is in a better position to argue during primary season that he should remain in the race even if the wins are not immediately there. 

Candidates set up to make it to...
Well, this is everyone else at the moment. That is the nature of the build out for most candidates at this point in the invisible primary. Some are newly in the race. Others have yet to join. But the jury is still out on whether any of them will be able to make it to [fill-in-the-blank] event. The first debate? The end of the year? Iowa? Beyond? These are the candidates about which one can mostly likely say they are running for 2024, but may not be running in 2024.

Anyway, this will evolve as the invisible primary does, but FHQ will revisit this categorization as it does and as primary season itself progresses.

The Palmetto state candidates: The Washington Examiner has a nice review of where Nikki Haley's money is coming from in the money primary. And on the travel primary side, Tim Scott did not get rave reviews in New Hampshire after a town hall there yesterday. "Low key, low energy" is not the description anyone wants. 

Rules season: The North Carolina Republican Party is bringing in DeSantis, Pence and Trump for its state convention in Greensboro next month. Yes, the Tar Heel State will have a Super Tuesday primary (and borders another early state, South Carolina), but this is the setting in which the delegate rules for the coming cycle have been adopted by North Carolina Republicans in years past. I know. I know. Just saying. 

On this date...
...in 1972, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the West Virginia primary as Sen. George McGovern was winning the presidential primary in Nebraska.

...in 2000, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush both swept the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries.


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