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Triumph? Biden? New Hampshire? No guarantees for the 2024 campaign season

It was a cold winter day when the then Sen. Barack Obama trudged to New Hampshire to gauge interest in a presidential bid. It was also surprisingly early in the campaign season: December 10, 2006, nearly two years before the general election for president and 13 months before the nation’s famous first primary in New Hampshire, a state Obama had never set foot in. . before appearing at sold-out events in Manchester and Portsmouth.

Her rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, made her first campaign trip to New Hampshire in February 2007, eight months ahead of schedule by her husband, Bill Clinton, when he sought the 1992 presidential nomination.

It seemed, in the run-up to the 2008 election, that something new and something old would be the pattern going forward: Presidential campaigns would start earlier and earlier, with the field sometimes shrinking before even a single one was held. nomination competition, and New Hampshire would always be Destination One for presidential hopefuls.

With the 2024 campaign season just around the corner, neither of those things is certain, or at least guaranteed. The Democratic National Committee is moving to strip both New Hampshire and Iowa of their former status as first in line to hold nominating contests. Candidate fields are not yet formed, as presidential hopefuls from both parties await events that could affect both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

All of this has left states, candidates and would-be campaign agents collectively tapping their toes, wondering when the 2024 campaign will actually get underway.

“I think the field will develop more slowly than we’ve seen” in the past, “particularly for Democrats,” says Jim Demers, who met Obama at the airport that cold December day in 2006 and decided to join the campaign. . “There haven’t been big, flashy events like Barack Obama’s visit in 2006.”

Biden is expected to announce after the holidays if he will run for re-election, and those publicly considering a run for president on the Democratic side have largely said they will not run if Biden does, adds Demers, now a top lobbyist. and president of Demers & Prasol in Concordia. “That kind of freezes the Democratic side.”

Meanwhile, the Republican camp has only one announced candidate: Trump. And while that hasn’t stopped other Republicans from testing things out, would-be contenders are making slow progress.

In Iowa, only a handful of potential 2024 candidates have appeared recently, according to tracking by The Des Moines Register – and they are all Republicans. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Trump himself have been to the Hawkeye state this fall, and Trump’s was a meeting prior to the midterm elections. in a red state with no notably competitive racing.

New Hampshire has also seen only a trickle of appearances from potential 2024 contenders. Former Republican Vice President Mike Pence was there this week to promote his book, but the state hasn’t seen much action from Republican candidates since the summer.

Democrats can afford to be more cautious about their intentions. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, both 2020 Democratic primary candidates, traveled to the granite state to campaign for her colleague, Sen. Maggie Hassan. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg chose the remote (but must-visit) campaign location of Berlin, New Hampshire, as the location to make an infrastructure grant announcement in August. Buttigieg, a 2020 presidential candidate, also spoke at a Democratic fundraiser in New Hampshire in September.

In both parties, the candidates find themselves in a frustrating waiting game. Will Biden run again? And if he does, should Democrats lay the groundwork in case Biden decides later in the year that she doesn’t want to try again after all? Some Republicans initially said they would not run for president if Trump decided to try again. But with the former president’s legal troubles closing in on him, Republican hopefuls can’t afford to sit idly by.

Meanwhile, the candidates don’t even know in which states the first nominating contests will be held.

The Democratic National Committee is set to give final approval in February to a revamped primary schedule that moves Iowa out of the top states, lifts South Carolina into first place, moves New Hampshire into second and moves Michigan and Georgia to the pre-Super Tuesday window.

There are already problems with the pending reorganization. The Republican-controlled state government of Georgia doesn’t want to change. The Michigan state Senate voted to approve moving the schedule forward, but may run into trouble with the national Republican Party, which voted in the spring to keep Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina as the four races that will take place before the “Super Tuesday”. , “the first Tuesday of March 2024.

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Iowa Democrats are angry, and Iowa Republicans say they will go ahead with their early schedule. And New Hampshire simply refuses to go along with any changes that violate its own state law, which says New Hampshire must hold the first presidential primary.

The DNC “is going to have to deal with something: They thought they were in control of the weather and they’re not. It’s state law,” says Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Polling Center.

And even if the Democrats were able to change state law to bring Granite State down, “the problem is that the Republicans are still going to have a campaign here,” Smith says. That means Democrats would find it hard to resist the massive media attention, even with sanctions, such as denying debate appearances, national Democrats could cling to them.

The same is true of Iowa, says Dennis Goldford, a professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines.

“The candidates think Iowa is important because the media and analysts think it is important. And the media and analysts think Iowa is important because the candidates think it is important. It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” she says.

And with the spotlight on the Republican contenders, it will be hard for Democrats to keep their distance, experts say.

Iowa and New Hampshire are not as powerful as they used to be in the election of presidents. The Granite State boast of “always first, always right” was upended in 1992, when Bill Clinton placed second in the Democratic primary, declared himself “the comeback kid,” and won the presidency.

Biden placed fourth in the Iowa caucuses in 2020, calling it a “gut shot” before placing fifth in New Hampshire eight days later. But a strong first-place finish in South Carolina launched Biden’s march to the nomination and back to the White House, this time as president.

Plus, the ability to raise a lot of money quickly, either online or through superPAC, makes it less necessary for candidates to win early races, says Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and now director of Coast to Coast Strategies. . Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been waiting to announce whether he will challenge Trump for the Republican nomination, but when he does, he “will have $100 million in superPAC money” to jumpstart his campaign, Anuzis says.

Early primary success is most important in the battle for the GOP nomination, as state delegates are outright winners. For Democrats, delegates are awarded proportionally, which means it takes longer for a candidate to clinch the nomination mathematically.

The institutions that really care about being first (or first) are the states themselves, as their economies get a burst of business and their constituents make their concerns heard.

Iowa’s long-time early-voting status, for example, meant that any serious candidate for president was all but forced to endorse the use of ethanol, a gasoline additive made from corn. But if Michigan does advance in its Democratic primary, that means the candidates will need to address issues important to Michiganders, such as the development of the post-industrial economy.

“From time to time, we come across a situation where we put partisan politics aside. This is one of those examples,” says Anuzis, “Everyone saw it as a benefit to the state.”

Anuzis likes the idea of ​​rotating the primary schedule to give states more opportunities to get an early hearing. Biden has also endorsed the idea of ​​revising the primary calendar every four years.

For now, 2024 hopefuls can only watch and wait.

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