Monday, October 16, 2023

In Nevada, a choice between a symbolic win and delegates

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...
  • Over the weekend, The New York Times had yet another "Trump is working his connections in state parties to affect the delegate rules" stories. The article and others of its ilk keep falling into the same trap in considering the depth of Team Trump's efforts without contextualizing either it or the lacking outreach from other campaigns. It was not all bad, but we go over the good, the bad and the ugly from the piece. All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Today is the filing deadline in Nevada for the state's newly established presidential primary. It comes a day after filing closed for the Republican caucuses in the Silver state. 

Since the Nevada Republican Party is prohibiting candidates who file in the primary to also file in the caucuses, the nearly overlapping filing deadlines offered a split screen comparison of sorts. Some candidates -- Mike Pence and Tim Scott -- opted for the primary while others -- Donald Trump, Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis -- have filed in the caucuses. 

[It is not clear that Nikki Haley filed or not in the caucuses, but if the former UN ambassador has not yet filed in the caucuses, then the primary will be the only remaining option.]

The choice confronting the campaigns is one between a symbolic win in the primary two days before the Nevada Republican caucuses or of claiming some share of a small pool of delegates on the line in the February 8 caucuses. That the campaigns standing behind known quantities like the former vice president and a current US senator from South Carolina (one with significant financial backing) opted to forgo even a small share of delegates suggests something about the state of their campaigns and their thinking about how Nevada fits into the broader 2024 Republican presidential nomination process. 

For starters, the qualifying threshold for delegates in the Nevada caucuses is relatively low. "All candidates who receive the percentage of vote required for one or more delegates" qualify under the standing rules of the Nevada Republican Party. The state party suggests that is roughly 4.5 percent.1 And all things considered, that is a pretty low bar. 

Yet, Pence and Scott have taken a pass on any of those delegates by filing in the beauty contest state-run primary. That strongly suggests that both campaigns view the odds of succeeding in the caucuses as long and/or that, even set so low, the qualifying threshold is too high. There are also alternative ways of looking at either of those. The odds can be seen as long because the rules put in place for the caucuses by the state party appear to advantage Donald Trump. As for the delegate threshold, it may be less that the bar is too high and more that the payoff is so low in the Silver state. After all, there are just 26 delegates at stake that will be divided among the qualifying candidates. 

Through that lens, the gamble may be worth it to Pence and Scott. A win in a statewide primary -- even a beauty contest -- with likely more participants than the caucuses later in the week may grab some attention. That may be worth something. But what exactly that something equates to is harder to pin down and likely destined to quickly dissipate. The effects may not wear off before the caucuses two days later, but will certainly trail off well in advance of the next contest, the South Carolina Republican primary on February 24. 

Is that worth more than taking some small share of 26 total delegates in Nevada? 

In the very short term (next February), maybe. But long term, probably not. At some point candidates are going to have to start treating the race for the Republican presidential nomination as a process to keep delegates away from Trump. Delegates, after all, are the currency of the process in the end. And whether a campaign views Nevada as a lock for Trump or not, it is probably a mistake to cede any delegates. 

However, it is worth pointing out that the Nevada Republican caucuses of 2024 are not some Harkin-in-Iowa-1992 scenario. Pence and Scott may have opted out of the Silver state contest where candidates are vying for delegates, but others have filed for the caucuses. And that may be enough to trim some delegates from Trump's total in the state. There is no winner-take-all trigger, so there is only so much that the former president can run up the score on the rest of the field. 

Still, proportional states are where the field has to collectively dent Trump's haul.

From around the invisible primary...
  • In the filing primary, Tim Scott filed in South Carolina today ahead of the deadline there at the end of the month. And DeSantis opted for the Nevada caucuses on the last day of filing.
  • The AP has a go at a Trump-bolsters-his-campaign-in-Iowa story. Folks are making the obvious comparisons to Trump's 2015-16 efforts in Iowa, but here is another: this slow build feels a bit like the pace of the Romney operation the Hawkeye state in 2011. There are differences, of course. Iowa was never really a good fit for Romney in the 2012 cycle. That is not exactly the case for Trump in the state in 2023. But polling suggests a weaker Trump advantage there than nationally. And while Trump 2023 may be emphasizing Iowa differently, he has not exactly pushed all of his chips into the Iowa-or-bust pot. ...because he does not have to. 
  • Over in the money primary, Q3 reports continue to be released. President Biden and the DNC jointed posted a $71 million figure for the period ending on September 30. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum raised $3 million in July-September. Former Vice President Pence raked in $3.3 million for the quarter but debt accrued to this point is starting to be a drag.

1 There is some wiggle room on that figure based on the full language of the rule, but that is a story for a separate post. Plus, how NVGOP interprets its own rules matters in this context regardless of any variation in interpretation of the qualifying threshold.

See more on our political/electoral consulting venture at FHQ Strategies. 

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