Democratic Free-For-All For Early Presidential Voting

[ Posted Monday, May 9th, 2022 – 16:01 UTC ]

The Democratic Party is in the midst of a minor revolution of the scheduling variety. Earlier, they announced that all states wishing to be early-voting states in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary campaign would have to submit applications to the national party -- and that there was no guarantee that the four who had previously held these prized spots (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) would continue to hold the same status in 2024. The applications are now in and the national party apparatus will consider the matter and announce their selections at the end of the summer.

A full twenty different entities have applied for what could reportedly be as many as five spots. I say "entities" because two of them are not states -- Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, and the more-nebulous group Democrats Abroad. Neither one of these has any vote in the actual presidential election (only states send electors to the Electoral College), but either would be an interesting signal of inclusivity.

All four previous early-voting states have applied, as well as the following 14 other states: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington.

So what are any of their chances? It's anyone's guess, really. But it's worth handicapping all the contenders, or at least weighing their relative merits and drawbacks. So I'm going to just dive into this free-for-all and offer up my thoughts on what I think the national Democratic Party is going to be thinking about, when they consider all these applications to be the earliest states.

I should mention that the national party has laid out some criteria for what they'd ideally like to see in early-voting states: diversity of population (in some way or another), competitiveness in the general election, regional balance overall, and favoring primaries rather than caucuses. Also (mostly unsaid) would be the consideration of affordability, because if the early states are monstrously expensive to advertise in, it would tend to lock out lesser-known challengers who haven't raised all that much in donations.


The Incumbents

My bet would be that Iowa is not going to make the cut. It has gone first for a very long time, but it is one of the driving factors behind making this change in the first place. Iowa has two very big strikes against it -- it is not racially or ethnically very diverse and it holds caucuses rather than a primary election. A very White state with a procedure that is cumbersome and time-intensive is not seen as a good indicator of the country at large, to put it bluntly.

Also there is the fact that they royally screwed up in 2020. Charges and countercharges flew between the state party and the national party as to who was more responsible for the massive confusion in counting and reporting the results in a timely fashion (with a piece of software from the national Democrats at the heart of it), but no matter who bears the most blame, everyone agrees it was a hot mess. If it had gone smoothly, it's doubtful whether the national party would even be making changes now. Iowa is promising to (once again) try to simplify its caucus system and points out it is a diverse state when it comes to the urban/rural mix, but my money would still be on them losing their place in the early-voting states.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, seems a lot more secure. New Hampshire has the same diversity drawback as Iowa (being a very White state), but it has two big things going for it (other than tradition and sentimentality), which are also both factors: it is a very small state and its laws specifically state it will go first no matter what. The New Hampshire primary, according to law, will be scheduled at least seven days before any other state's similar primary, period. In the past, they've expressed a willingness to vote however early it takes (such as "back to Thanksgiving") to achieve this.

Allowing New Hampshire to remain would provide some continuity while kicking Iowa to the curb as well. Candidates and voters alike love the New Hampshire campaign, because (as it is often pointed out) politicking is "retail, not wholesale" in the state. Candidates must appear and talk to and answer questions from and meet personally with as many Granite State voters as they can -- nobody wins the state by just flooding it with advertising. Which is why my bet would be on them to continue either in second place (since Iowa holds caucuses, not primaries, they got to go first) or even move up to first place.

The other two states are relative newcomers to the early-voting calendar, and both seem to have fairly strong cases to make -- at least for 2024. Nevada has one very large media market, but is also a very rural state as well and has a large percentage of Hispanic voters. This is why it was added in the first place. The Latino vote is not only important to Democrats, it has slipped in the past few elections, so it would be seen as a heavy insult if Nevada were to be denied its place in the early-voting lineup. Nevada is even making a bold bid to move into first place, since it technically still has caucuses (even though it is a very primary-like caucus, as opposed to Iowa's Byzantine rules), so it could conceivably leap in front of New Hampshire. My money would be on Nevada to retain it's place in the early-voting states, but I have no idea if their push to go first will be accepted or not.

South Carolina really has only one big thing going for it -- a very high percentage of Black voters. It is also a smallish and fairly rural state in the South, but those are mostly minor considerations. Ordinarily, I would be very skeptical that they'd be able to keep their place in the early-voting states, since South Carolina hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Which means any money and time spent there is largely meaningless in November.

However, South Carolina has one very big thing going for it in 2024 -- their primary was pretty much the crucial contest for Joe Biden. Without his big win in the Palmetto State, he simply would not be president. So it is it would be harder for the national Democrats to being seen as punishing the state in 2024, which might be enough for it to stay at the front of the pack, at least for this election cycle.


Too expensive

We're going to weed out the list of challengers in a few different ways. The first is affordability. Because one of the points of the early contests is to give little-known challengers a chance for an upset -- to allow a candidate like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to emerge from the pack. This is not really possible in a state where it costs an absolute fortune to campaign in. So we can scratch a number of possibilities right off the bat.

New York is the most obvious one, of course. Followed closely behind by Connecticut and New Jersey -- both border states to New York City. Additionally, New York and Connecticut are both New England states and would likely not even be considered, as long as New Hampshire retains its place in the early calendar. This isn't quite as true for New Jersey, but the cost of campaigning there will likely do in their chances anyway.

There are two others who will likely also not make it due to costs, although they are not in the "almost automatically disqualified" position the other three are in. Illinois has Chicago, a very expensive media market. But with Iowa gone, there will almost have to be at least one other Midwestern state in the mix. It does have a healthy mix of rural and urban, as well. Illinois is not particularly competitive in presidential races, though (it has voted blue in every election from 1992 forward), which is another drawback. So Illinois may fight for the Midwestern slot but wind up losing.

The most interesting choice on the list of states that have applied is probably Texas, for various reasons. Democrats have long dreamed of turning Texas blue, although they have never quite managed the feat in the past two decades of trying. Geographically it would be interesting, as Texas is somewhere between the South and West, so it would add a whole new region (which would almost be necessary if Democrats decide to select five states rather than four). Texas is ethnically diverse, with a good rural/urban mix. But there's just too many urbs -- campaigning in Texas, with its multiple large media markets, is prohibitively expensive for a longshot candidate. And there even may be a question whether the state government (dominated by Republicans) would even allow the state to move its Democratic primary up (Republicans are not interested in changing their early calendar at all). So I seriously doubt it'll make the cut.


Too partisan

There are three states which seem to fall into this category.

Nebraska and Oklahoma would both be interesting choices, and either would add a Plains state to the geographic mix. But both are solid red, meaning a Democratic candidate would have zero chance of winning them in November. Which means all the money spent on the primary there would essentially be wasted.

On the other side of the coin is Washington. Washington is a West Coast state (which is not represented in the early voting), but if Nevada stays there probably won't be two states from the West in the mix. And Washington hasn't voted for a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan, so it's not exactly competitive either.


The contenders

The contenders should logically be sorted on geographical lines.

First up is Georgia. Now, obviously, Georgia and South Carolina will not both be included. So the only real way Georgia will make it is if South Carolina is passed over. But there is a strong incentive to do so, since Georgia is actually a competitive state these days (as its two Democratic senators proved). Of course, this perception could change this year, as one of those senators is up for re-election and there will be a fierce battle for governor as well. If Democrats emerge triumphant, it would probably boost Georgia's chances. However, the decision will reportedly be made in August, long before the November results are known. In the end, even before this year's election, Democrats may decide that Georgia makes a lot more sense in the early presidential calendar than South Carolina (no matter how well Biden did there in 2020). Georgia is equally as diverse as South Carolina, although it is a bigger state (both in population and in the amount it would cost to effectively campaign there). So both states still have some good arguments to make.

Moving up the coast a bit, we come to Delaware and Maryland. Both are pretty solid-blue states when it comes to presidential elections. Delaware voted for George H.W. Bush in 1988, but has voted Democratic ever since. Delaware obviously has a strong case to make on a couple levels. First, it is Joe Biden's home state, which might count for something. Second, it is a very small state (it only has three counties!) and thus would require the same sort of retail campaigning as New Hampshire -- which could be seen as a huge plus.

Next door to Delaware is Maryland, which might be more enticing for early-voting status. Maryland is more expensive to campaign in, but not prohibitively so. It is also a solid blue state when it comes to presidential elections, but has been much swingier in statewide races (the current governor, a Republican, is contemplating a presidential run himself because he is still so popular in his home state).

Geographically, both states are Mid-Atlantic, a region which hasn't previously had an early-voting state. You could even toss New Jersey into this mix, if you'd like, although I think it has much less of a chance of being selected. Although

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