July 8, 2015

Poll Watch: Walker, Bush Lead in Iowa

On one hand, it’s We Ask America — a polling outfit that doesn’t have a great track record. On the other hand, it’s a sample of 1,000 likely caucus goers:

We Ask America/KBUR/Monmouth College Midwest Matters Iowa Republican Caucus

  • Walker – 18%
  • Bush – 12%
  • Huckabee – 10%
  • Paul – 10%
  • Rubio – 9%
  • Cruz – 8%
  • Trump – 7%
  • Carson – 5%
  • Christie – 5%
  • Perry – 4%
  • Santorum – 4%
  • Fiorina – 3%
  • Jindal – 2%
  • Kasich – 1%
  • Undecided – 3%

Survey of 1,000 likely caucus goers was conducted June 27-29 and has a margin of error of ±3.1%.

On an interesting sidenote, they didn’t even include Graham and Pataki in the survey. Wonder how long it will be before other polling outfits follow suit…

  2:46 pm
Iowa Caucuses, Poll Watch  

July 1, 2015

Poll Watch: Walker Continues to Hold Big Lead in Iowa, Trump Second

Quinnipiac Iowa Republican Caucus

  • Walker – 18% (21)
  • Carson – 10% (7)
  • Trump – 10% (-)
  • Cruz – 9% (12)
  • Paul – 9% (13)
  • Bush – 8% (5)
  • Rubio – 7% (13)
  • Huckabee – 5% (11)
  • Perry – 4% (3)
  • Santorum – 4% (2)
  • Fiorina – 3% (2)
  • Jindal – 3% (1)
  • Kasich – 2% (2)
  • Christie – 1% (3)
  • Graham – 1% (0)
  • Pataki – 0% (-)
  • Undecided – 5% (6)

Which candidates would you definitely NOT support?

  • Trump – 28%
  • Bush – 24%
  • Christie – 18%
  • Graham – 12%
  • Huckabee – 11%
  • All others – single digits

Favorability (Among Republicans):

  • Walker – 66/8 (+58)
  • Carson – 63/7 (+56)
  • Rubio – 60/13 (+47)
  • Jindal – 49/9 (+40)
  • Perry – 61/21 (+40)
  • Cruz – 58/19 (+39)
  • Huckabee – 61/28 (+33)
  • Fiorina – 36/8 (+28)
  • Santorum – 55/27 (+28)
  • Paul – 53/31 (+22)
  • Kasich – 20/11 (+9)
  • Bush – 46/42 (+4)
  • Trump – 42/47 (-5)
  • Pataki – 9/20 (-11)
  • Graham – 20/38 (-18)
  • Christie – 25/59 (-34)

Survey of 666 likely Republican caucus-goers was conducted June 20-29 and has a margin of error of ±3.8%. Numbers in parentheses are from the May Quinnipiac poll.

  9:13 am
Iowa Caucuses, Poll Watch  

June 1, 2015

Iowa’s Winnowing Fork Will be Larger Than Usual This Year

The Republican field appears to be settling at 16 candidates.

We started our candidacy tracker at 20 potential candidates back in April, then narrowed it slightly to 18 last month when Mike Pence and Rick Snyder announced they wouldn’t be running. Now it looks like everyone else on the tracker, with the exception of Bob Ehrlich and Peter King, are set to join the fray (and even if Ehrlich and King did decide to run, their effect on the race at this point would be negligible).

So sixteen it is. But that historically massive field will be winnowed down to a manageable size by one contest with outsized importance this campaign year: the Iowa caucuses.

Traditionally, one or two candidates drop out of the race after the votes are counted in the Hawkeye State every campaign season. This time around, however, the caucuses may force as many as seven or eight candidates out of the race — (assuming they all even make it to next February). The reason is simple — expectations.

A primary campaign can be an exercise in managing expectations and favorably spinning less-than-desired results. No matter how hard they might spin, however, every candidate has their must-win state: contests in which they absolutely must place first or else their campaign is over. This time around, whether they’ll admit it or not, Iowa is a must-win for roughly half our field.

Let’s start with the two obvious ones: Senator Rick Santorum and Governor Mike Huckabee. They’ve both won the caucuses once before, so to place any lower than first this time around would send their presidential aspirations to the dustbin. But they’ll have plenty of competition: Iowa is also a must-win for Governor Scott Walker because he is a socially conservative governor from a neighboring state. Just because of geography and ideology, he’ll be expected to place first. Compounding that expectation are early polls showing him with a sizeable lead there already, before he’s even announced his candidacy. Joining those three are Senator Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, and Governor Rick Perry, all of whom are basing their campaigns on a conservative firebrand style designed to appeal to Iowa Republicans. You could potentially add Governor Bobby Jindal to the list, depending on how he positions himself during his campaign rollout and initial wave of messaging. So far, he’s chosen to shed his wonkish/pragmatic image in favor of a direct appeal to social and religious conservatives, which, if continued, would make Iowa a must-win for him as well. Carly Fiorina could be turning Iowa into a must-win for herself as well with the amount of time and resources she’s pouring into the state at this early stage.

Obviously, only one candidate can win Iowa. The seven or eight out of that group who lose will be forced to hang up their skates and call it a day. (Even if they stay in the race officially, they will see their money and votes dry up for later contests.) By bedtime on February 1, we will see this massive field sliced in half.

For the rest of the candidates who can survive without winning Iowa, these are the states shaping up to be must-wins for them:

  • Paul – New Hampshire
  • Rubio – South Carolina (and Florida, obviously)
  • Graham – South Carolina
  • Bush – New Hampshire (and Florida)
  • Pataki – New Hampshire
  • Christie – New Hampshire
  • Kasich – geography would suggest Iowa, ideology would suggest New Hampshire… this one remains to be determined
  • Trump – none; will lose every state but self-finance just to hear himself keep talking

Get out the popcorn, ladies and gentlemen – we are about to see a Battle Royale go down in the Hawkeye State.

  1:00 pm
Iowa Caucuses  

Poll Watch: DMR Iowa Caucus Survey

Des Moines Register/Selzer Iowa Republican Caucus Survey

  • Walker – 17% (16)
  • Carson – 10% (10)
  • Paul – 10% (15)
  • Bush – 9% (9)
  • Huckabee – 9% (13)
  • Rubio – 6% (4)
  • Santorum – 6% (5)
  • Cruz – 5% (6)
  • Christie – 4% (6)
  • Trump – 4% (1)
  • Perry – 3% (3)
  • Fiorina – 2% (1)
  • Kasich – 2% (1)
  • Graham – 1% (-)
  • Jindal – 1% (2)
  • Pataki – 0% (-)
  • Undecided – 11% (7)

First & Second Choice Combined:

  • Walker – 27%
  • Rubio – 18%
  • Huckabee – 17%
  • Bush – 16%
  • Carson – 15%
  • Paul – 15%
  • Cruz – 13%
  • Santorum – 12%
  • Perry – 9%
  • Christie – 8%
  • Trump – 6%
  • Fiorina – 5%
  • Jindal – 5%
  • Kasich – 3%
  • Graham – 2%
  • Pataki – 1%

Favorability Ratings (Among Republican Caucus Voters):

  • Walker – 66/11 +55 (+48)
  • Rubio – 60/17 +43 (+37)
  • Carson 56/15 +41 (+38)
  • Cruz – 59/20 +39 (+37)
  • Huckabee – 61/30 +31 (+38)
  • Perry – 59/29 +30 (+38)
  • Santorum 56/28 +28 (+27)
  • Jindal – 43/19 +24 (+19)
  • Fiorina – 41/19 +22 (-4)
  • Paul – 55/34 +21 (+39)
  • Kasich – 25/16 +9 (+8)
  • Bush – 43/45 -2 (+3)
  • Graham – 22/38 -16 (-)
  • Pataki – 10/35 -25 (-)
  • Christie – 28/58 -30 (-18)
  • Trump – 27/63 -36 (-42)

Survey of 402 likely Republican caucus-goers was done May 25-29 and has a margin of error of ±4.9% at 50%. Numbers in parentheses are from the January DMR poll.

  9:16 am
Iowa Caucuses, Poll Watch  

May 27, 2015

Poll Watch: Vox Populi/Daily Caller Early State Snapshot

Vox Populi, in conjunction with the Daily Caller, asked GOP primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina last weekend whether or not they would consider voting for a bunch of different Republican candidates. Across all three states combined, here were the totals (would consider/would not consider, with the remainder being neutral or don’t know):

  • Rubio – 56/19
  • Walker – 52/16
  • Carson – 48/20
  • Huckabee – 46/32
  • Cruz – 43/29
  • Perry – 40/31
  • Paul – 41/33
  • Bush – 42/36
  • Fiorina – 29/24
  • Jindal – 30/27
  • Santorum – 34/37
  • Kasich – 16/28
  • Christie – 30/46
  • Graham – 28/45

A few notes before we move on to the individual states: first, this is obviously great news for fans of Senator Rubio and Governor Walker. I am surprised at how high Ben Carson is on this list, though — at +28, he beats everybody except the two frontrunners. At +14, Huckabee has now sunk to match Ted Cruz, both of whom have little to no chance of winning the nomination at this point. Bush continues to poll poorly in these sorts of surveys, with a full 36% of GOP voters saying they would not consider voting for him. That’s the highest of anyone except Santorum, Christie, and Graham — indicating he will have the tiniest margin for error once this campaign starts in earnest. And finally, if you are Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, or Lindsey Graham, why even bother? At least Bush has the establishment money and campaign infrastructure. Those other three have nothing.

In the three earliest states, here are the percentage of voters who would consider voting for a candidate:


  • Walker – 64%
  • Rubio – 57%
  • Huckabee – 57%
  • Carson – 54%
  • Cruz – 48%

New Hampshire

  • Rubio – 52%
  • Walker – 47%
  • Bush – 45%
  • Paul – 42%
  • Carson – 42%

South Carolina

  • Rubio – 57%
  • Walker – 49%
  • Carson – 48%
  • Huckabee – 47%
  • Cruz – 42%

Some parting thoughts: Graham doesn’t even register in the top five in his home state. Jeb Bush isn’t in the top five in Iowa or South Carolina, and he only gets considered by 45% of folks in New Hampshire. Those numbers are going to be huge problems for him if he can’t move them before the votes start being cast. Surveys like this make it evident why niche candidates such as Paul and Cruz are’t going to be the nominee (and, to a lesser extent, you can throw Huckabee in that group as well). Finally, Walker and Rubio have the highest ceilings in every state. This thing could easily come down to a contest between the two of them, and I suspect that would be a scenario most Republican primary voters would be okay with. Rubio is the only candidate with a ceiling above 50% in all three states.

May 21, 2015

Is Jeb Bush Following in Rudy Giuliani’s Footsteps?

In the 2008 race for the Republican nomination, Rudy Giuliani banked on a unique, never-before-attempted strategy: ignore the early states and focus on large states like Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. The thinking was clear: for the first time, the new front-loaded calendar potentially offered the chance for a well-funded national candidate to get the necessary delegates. Theoretically, the calendar was so packed at the front end of the campaign that a candidate could absorb losses in the early contests without much damage, and Mayor Giuliani wasn’t a natural fit (to say the least) for Iowa and South Carolina, anyway.

So Florida became Rudy’s de facto firewall. Sure, in the winter of 2007 he said he wasn’t giving up on Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, but as time went on and those contests drew closer it became obvious to any armchair pundit what his strategy really was. The only early state he even put up any modicum of a fight in was New Hampshire, and even there he eventually gave up and withdrew.

Of course, reality came crashing down around the Giuliani campaign as Romney, McCain, and Huckabee — the three candidates who finished first, second, and third in the early states (give or take a sputtering Fred Thompson campaign) — sucked up all the press, all the momentum, and all the votes. Giuliani would eventually place a distant third in Florida, sending his Great Experiment to the trash heap of modern political history.

But those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and it seems this election cycle may well feature a candidate who is unwittingly following in Mayor Giuliani’s footsteps: Jeb Bush.

Campaign sources in the Bush camp have indicated that not only will Governor Bush skip the Iowa Straw Poll, he will also not contest the Iowa caucuses:

According to three sources with knowledge of Bush’s campaign strategy, the likely Republican presidential candidate does not plan to seriously contest the first-in-the-nation caucuses — and may ultimately skip the state altogether.

While some politicos are applauding this decision, or saying it was the obvious one for Governor Bush to make, in reality it wouldn’t be too dramatic to say this early decision could mark the beginning of the end for the Bush campaign. Before he has even officially announced his candidacy, Jeb Bush has essentially doomed it.

There’s an old political axiom that there are only three tickets out of Iowa. That axiom has held true for both parties in every election going back 44 years to the beginning of the caucuses, with the exception of John McCain in 2008. (But even then, McCain finished essentially tied for third just a couple hundred votes behind Fred Thompson — and the momentum of his campaign coming back from the dead was the headline coming out of the caucuses afterward.)

History tells us to win your party’s nomination you must contest and place in the top three in the Iowa caucuses. Governor Bush’s gamble to the contrary looks an awful lot like Mayor Giuliani’s gamble in 2008. In 2008, the calendar was supposed to make things different. It didn’t. This time around, the large and supposedly fractured field is supposed to make things different. It won’t. And none of this takes into consideration the general election, either. Should Bush somehow manage to buck decades of history and reality and become the Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton will begin the general election lightyears ahead of him as far as organizing in the Hawkeye State. In a swing state that will likely have outsized importance in the 2016 presidential election, Republicans are going to need every advantage they can get. Passing on an opportunity to build campaign structure in Iowa is a losing proposition.

By skipping Iowa, Jeb is essentially placing all his primary eggs in the New Hampshire basket — an even riskier move for someone with the last name Bush, given the state’s primary voting history. The New Hampshire primaries are still eight and a half months away, but the latest poll out of the Granite State has Bush in third place and his average in the state has been dropping steadily for two months now. Come February, he may find himself locked in a battle royale with Walker, Rubio, and Paul, all of whom could easily finish higher than him in New Hampshire — and one or more of whom will be riding momentum out of Iowa. All it will take is for one of them to beat Bush in New Hampshire, and his campaign will be over. He will not win South Carolina, and if he fails to win any of the first three states, Rubio will KO a weakened Jeb a couple weeks later in Florida (if he even stays in that long).

Could Jeb Bush win Iowa? Not a chance. Everybody knows that — but this is where Bush is missing his greatest opportunity: those low expectations are already baked into his Iowa results. Jeb placing third in Iowa would be the equivalent of Governor Walker or Governor Huckabee placing first: meeting expectations.

Instead, unless the Bush campaign changes their mind and contests Iowa, we could very well have another Giuliani-like postmortem to deliver come February.

  9:17 am
Iowa Caucuses, Jeb Bush, Rudy Giuliani  

April 23, 2015

2016 Primary Calendar: Ready, Ames, Fire Edition

There has been quite a bit of movement and clarification to the 2016 primary calendar already, even at this early stage of the campaign — which means it must be time for a calendar update!

(Also, please note: the most up-to-date version of this primary calendar will always be available by clicking the “2016 Primary/Caucus & Debate Calendar” tab at the top of the page.)

Let’s start at the beginning of the calendar, which for this election cycle means the Ames Straw Poll — or, beginning this year, the Iowa Straw Poll. That’s correct, armchair pundits, the quadrennial circus that is the Iowa GOP’s main fundraiser will no longer be held in Ames. Instead, they’ll be moving down the road a few miles to the town of Boone, which won a bidding process to host the festivities.

After John McCain, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry all skipped the straw poll the past couple of elections (with McCain and Romney eventually winning the nomination), and after Iowa Governor Branstad came out publicly in favor of ending the spectacle, everyone wondered if there was even going to be a straw poll this year. But when the Iowa Republican Party got together to vote on it last month, they unanimously agreed: the money it brings in is worth the lowering of dignity it requires of candidates and the electoral process in general. (Okay, so that might be a slightly skeptical angle on it…)

At the meeting where they voted to keep the straw poll alive and award the town of Boone as its host, they also set the date of the festivities: Saturday, August 8. That means in just over one hundred days, the first ballots will be cast that will serve to help winnow this increasingly massive GOP field.

Following the straw poll news, Fox News and the RNC announced the location and date for the first GOP debate on the calendar. Previously, we just knew it would be sometime in August and somewhere in Ohio. Now we know the first debate will take place in Cleveland on Saturday, August 15. The RNC Convention will be held in Cleveland in the summer of 2016, and so the GOP and the city have embraced the slogan, “Start Here. Finish Here.” with this debate announcement.

An interesting side note here: in 2011/12, there were three debates held prior to the Ames Straw Poll, including one in Ames on the eve of the poll itself. Those debates are arguably what helped propel Michele Bachmann to temporary frontrunner status in Iowa and enabled her to win the straw poll (and what helped sink Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy as well). This time around, there will be no debates prior to the Iowa Straw Poll, which will change the dynamics on the ground significantly (assuming, of course, that any candidates actually commit to playing the straw poll game this year).

Following the Fox News debate, CNN and the Reagan Library have also now announced the date of the next GOP debate in Simi Valley: Wednesday, September 16. Given the old axiom (which largely holds true) that people don’t pay attention to politics before Labor Day, this will most likely be the first debate that Americans really watch. It will be interesting to see how many candidates make it through the summer to actually attend the debate, and also how many candidates CNN invites.

No other debates have announced specifics yet, but what we do know is on the calendar below.

There are some updates to the 2016 side of the calendar as well, when actual votes start being cast. First, down south it appears that the so-called SEC primary is not going to happen now due to some political hardball. If you’re new to these discussions, Georgia, who is holding its primary on March 1 (the first legal date mandated by the RNC), has been trying to convince all of its neighbors to join them on the same date to create a de facto regional primary which would benefit southern candidates. This “SEC Primary” was supposed to include six states: AR, TN, LA, MS, AL, and GA. Well, Georgia and Tennessee are already on board and have legally committed to March 1. Legislation is going through the Alabama legislature right now to move to March 1, and everyone expects it to pass. That leaves Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where the picture isn’t so rosy if you’re an SEC primary proponent.

In Arkansas, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to move the presidential primary to March 1, and Governor Hutchison expressed strong support for it. The bill, however, died in the House after representatives expressed concern over the extra cost of creating another primary (the bill would have left the other state primaries in their current slot in May). There’s a second bill that would move all of the primaries together from May up to March 1, but there’s little support for it, and the Governor would have to call the legislature into special session to pass it — so it looks like Arkansas is the first to RSVP “No” to the party.

In Mississippi, the opposite happened: the bill to move the primary to March 1 cruised through the legislature, but was then squashed by the Lieutenant Governor in a strange political power play that stretches far beyond this one piece of legislation. There is a whole messed up web of political intrigue currently going on in Mississippi state government, and their spot in the SEC primary looks to be collateral damage in the war. Mississippi will remain one week later on March 8.

And in Louisiana, they are in the midst of budget fights that might result in the Bayou State not even holding a primary at all. Remember, primaries are generally paid for by the state, whereas caucuses are generally paid for by political parties. In Louisiana, they have long had an odd system where some of their delegates are chosen via primary and some via caucuses; this year, due to budget constraints, the state is on the verge of eliminating the primary and just letting the parties pay for caucuses to elect delegates. If Louisiana does hold a primary, it will likely remain on March 5, in between the mini-SEC primary and the Mississippi primary.

Aside from all that mess down south, the following states have been updated on our 2016 calendar today:

  • North Carolina — Recall that last year, North Carolina passed a law tethering themselves to the South Carolina primary. This week, in order to avoid possible penalties should SC need to move up, they passed another bill untethering themselves from their southern neighbor. Their primary will now be on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March (March 8 this time around).
  • Ohio — state legislators voted on Wednesday to move the primary from March 8 to March 15 in order to make the primary winner-take-all.
  • Idaho — The GOP wanted to have caucuses on March 1, the state legislature voted to hold a primary on March 8, and the state GOP essentially said, “Okay, if you want to pay for it, we’ll move back to March 8.”
  • Connecticut — Republican lawmakers attempted to move the primary up from April to March but the Democratic legislature killed the bill.
  • Utah — the state eliminated the funding for a primary; therefore, each party now chooses a date for their caucuses. The Utah Democratic Party has chosen March 22, which is where we’ve penciled the GOP caucus in on our calendar as well (rumor strongly suggests the GOP is eyeing a March date as well). This date will, of course, potentially change when the state GOP makes its final decision.
  • New York — state officials and legislators are still arguing over when to hold their primary; the only thing decided for sure is that it will not be in February. We’ve tentatively penciled them in for March 1, which is the date the NY GOP party is fighting for.

Phew. With all that being said, here is the most up-to-date 2016 calendar yet:

August 8, 2015 Iowa Straw Poll Boone, IA
August 15, 2015 Fox News/Ohio GOP Debate Cleveland, OH
September 16, 2015 CNN/Ronald Reagan Library Debate Simi Valley, CA
October CNBC Debate CO
November Fox Business Debate WI
December CNN Debate NV
January 2016 Fox News Debate IA
February 1, 2016 Iowa Caucuses
February 2016 ABC News Debate NH
February 9, 2016 New Hampshire Primary
February 20, 2016 Nevada Caucus
February 2016 CBS News Debate SC
February 27, 2016 SC Primary
February 2016 NBC Debate FL
March 1, 2016 Super Tuesday: AL, CO, GA, MA, MN, NY, TN, TX, VT, VA
March 5, 2016 Louisiana Primary
March 8, 2016 Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina Primaries; Hawaii Caucuses
March 15, 2016 Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio Primaries
March 22, 2016 Arizona, Oklahoma Primaries; Utah Caucuses
March 2016 Fox News Debate TBD
March 2016 CNN Debate TBD
April 5, 2016 Maryland, Wisconsin Primaries
April 26, 2016 Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island Primaries
May 3, 2016 Indiana Primary
May 17, 2016 Oregon Primary
May 24, 2016 Arkansas Primary
June 7, 2016 California, New Jersey, South Dakota Primaries

April 21, 2015

Poll Watch: Gravis Insights/Townhall (R) Iowa 2016 Republican Caucus Survey

Gravis Insights/Townhall (R) Iowa 2016 GOP Caucus Poll

  • Jeb Bush 16% [10%] (14%)
  • Scott Walker 13% [24%] (10%)
  • Marco Rubio 12% [7%] (4%)
  • Rand Paul 9% [10%] (8%)
  • Ben Carson 9% [5%]
  • Mike Huckabee 8% [7%] (9%)
  • Ted Cruz 6% [4%] (7%)
  • Chris Christie 5% [9%] (5%)
  • Carly Fiorina 3% [3%]
  • Rick Santorum 2% [6%]
  • Unsure 17% [15%] (18%)

Survey of 388 Iowa Republican voters was conducted April 13, 2015.The margin of error is +/- 5 percentage points. Results from the poll conducted February 12-13, 2015 are in square brackets. Results from the poll conducted January 5-7, 2015 are in parentheses.

Data compilation and analysis courtesy of The Argo Journal

  7:45 pm
2016, Iowa Caucuses, Jeb Bush, Poll Watch, Republican Party  

April 10, 2015

BREAKING: Hillary Clinton to Announce Campaign Sunday in Iowa

Per The Guardian:

Hillary Clinton is planning to officially launch her US presidential campaign on Sunday while en route to Iowa, a source familiar with the campaign has confirmed to the Guardian.

The former secretary of state is scheduled to declare her second run for president on Twitter at noon eastern time on Sunday, the source told the Guardian, followed by a video and email announcement, then a series of conference calls mapping out a blitzkrieg tour beginning in Iowa and looking ahead to more early primary states.

Clinton’s Sunday schedule is booked beginning with takeoff from New York to Iowa, where speculation has centered for weeks that Clinton was focusing attention for an April campaign launch. Her scheduled calls are with advisers in other key battleground states.

Full story here.

  10:13 am
2016, Hillary Clinton, Iowa Caucuses  

March 26, 2015

2016 Primary Calendar: Inaugural Edition

Setting the calendar for the primary season every four years is an intricate, messy, and sometimes insane dance involving dozens of entities with competing agendas — all of which equals great entertainment for pundits and political watchers like us.

The national political parties (represented by the RNC and DNC), the state parties, and the state governments (including one overly-influential Secretary of State) all have a vested interest in setting primary and caucus dates. In the best case scenario all of them work in tandem to bring about a unified end result from the myriad of moving pieces; in reality, that almost never happens. And in reality, we will probably not know the final primary and caucus calendar for another seven months or so.

Until then, it is interesting to speculate as to what that calendar will look like. There are a slew of primary calendars up on various sites around the internet all taking their best guess at the calendar, but most have very little in the way of explanation or fact behind them. Here’s what we know at this point in the story:

The 2008/2012 Hangover Laws

In the previous two presidential primary campaigns, many states rushed to move their primaries or caucuses closer to the start of the calendar in order to gain more influence over the nominating process. After seeing how this frontloading negatively impacted the campaigns, most states are showing signs of backing off and a willingness to move their dates back once again.

However, many of these states still have laws on the books dating back to 2007 or 2011 mandating an early primary date — and this is from where some of the confusion over the early calendars originates. For instance, New York is commonly listed as having a February 2 primary because of 2007 legislation; however, nobody believes the New York primary will actually occur on that date. Everybody expects the New York legislature to move their primary back to April. Other states with hangover laws include Michigan and Colorado, both of which are currently scheduled for February but widely expected to move back to March as well. (Florida had a hangover law until just last week, when Governor Scott signed a bill moving their primary back to the second Tuesday in March, which in 2016 would be March 15. Likewise, the Minnesota GOP and DFL parties recently agreed to move their caucus out of February back to March 1.)

The National Parties

The RNC has made more of an effort this time around than they ever have before to exert greater control over the calendar, releasing their expectations for the early calendar and threatening intense punishment for any state that breaks them.

Here’s what the RNC has called for:

  • February 2016: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada
  • March 1-14: Any other states, but must award delegates proportionally
  • March 15 – June 3: Any other states, delegates to be awarded as desired

In order to keep other states from jumping into February, a la 2008 or 2012, the RNC also announced harsh penalties: your total delegate count gets reduced to 9 or ? of your original slate, whichever is smaller. That gives states like Florida, for instance, which has 99 delegates this year, a powerful reason to move out of February back to March.

One other item of interest: you may be wondering about the June 3 cutoff date for the end of the calendar. The RNC voted to have their convention incredibly early this year — rather than late August or early September, the 2016 national convention will be held July 18-21 in order to allow the GOP nominee earlier access to general election funds. Current regulations state that nominating contests must be held at least 45 days prior to the convention, meaning many states with current June primaries are going to have to move them earlier now.

After the RNC released that skeleton calendar, the DNC met and voted on their version of an early calendar. They passed the following:

  • February 1 – Iowa caucus
  • February 9 – New Hampshire primary
  • February 20 – Nevada caucus
  • February 27 – South Carolina primary
  • March 1 — All other states

Again, these dates aren’t binding because the state parties and/or state legislatures will ultimately decide the final dates (generally speaking, parties decide caucuses and legislatures decide primaries, because that is where the funding comes from for each). The DNC also passed their own version of frontloading penalties as well to discourage anyone from messing with this schedule.

So now, since states nearly always have their nominating contests for both parties on the same date, it is widely believed the RNC will endorse this proposal from the DNC and this will be our jumping off point for the 2016 election.

As an interesting sidenote, North Carolina passed a law last year legally tying themselves to South Carolina — by new North Carolina statute, their primary must be held on the Tuesday following the South Carolina primary. In the current calendar format, that would be March 1, which would work out fantastically because it’s the first date any other state can go without being penalized. But… if another state attempts to jump into February and causes the whole thing to back up into January, the North Carolina legislature might have some emergency action to take so they don’t get penalized.

Binding Caucuses

If you remember back to 2012, Minnesota and Colorado were able to jump close to the front of the line without having their delegate slate penalized. They were able to do this because of a loophole in the RNC rules: the parties in these states held caucuses that were non-binding; that is, delegate selection was not directly tied to the result of the presidential preference votes taken during the caucusing. This is what led to strange results like Rick Santorum winning both states by large margins (18% in Minnesota and 6% in Colorado) but Mitt Romney winning the Colorado delegates and Ron Paul winning the Minnesota delegates.

The RNC sought to eliminate those sorts of head-scratching results with another new rule: all caucuses must now be binding. In other words, whoever wins the presidential preference vote at a caucus must now get at least a plurality of the delegates as well. This seems to make a lot of sense, and it also comes with a bonus side effect: nobody can skirt the calendar punishments now by invoking the “non-binding” loophole. This means states like Minnesota and Colorado who went in February last cycle must now move back to March (which Minnesota has already done, as mentioned above, and which Colorado is widely expected to do).


In 2011-12, there were well over two dozen debates during the Republican primary, a fact the candidates and the voting public did not enjoy. In order to cut that down this cycle, the RNC has officially sanctioned a series of 12 debates. In 2011 the debates began in early May; in 2015 the first sanctioned debate will take place in late August. There will be one per month in 2015, one in January 2016, three in February, and two more in March. The final debate is dubbed as a “conservative media debate” with a date TBD.

Taking Shape

So taking all of that into consideration, here is how the 2016 primary calendar looks as of now (based off of widely expected moves, not necessarily on current laws that are going to be changed):

    • August 2015 — Fox News debate, Ohio
    • September 2015 — CNN/Ronald Reagan Library debate, California
    • October 2015 — CNBC debate, Colorado
    • November 2015 — Fox Business debate, Wisconsin
    • December 2015 — CNN debate, Nevada
    • January 2016 — Fox News debate, Iowa
  • February 1 – Iowa caucus
    • February — ABC News debate, New Hampshire
  • February 9 – New Hampshire primary
  • February 20 – Nevada caucus
    • February — CBS News debate, South Carolina
  • February 27 – South Carolina primary
    • February — NBC debate, Florida
  • March 1 — SUPER TUESDAY
  • Alabama primary (currently March 8)
  • Colorado caucus (currently February 2)
  • Georgia primary
  • Massachusetts primary
  • Minnesota caucus
  • Mississippi primary (currently March 8)
  • North Carolina primary
  • Texas primary
  • Vermont primary
  • Virginia primary
  • March 5 — Louisiana primary
  • March 8 — Michigan primary (currently February 23); Ohio primary
  • March 15 — Florida primary; Illinois primary; Missouri primary
  • March 22 — Arizona primary; Oklahoma primary (currently March 1)
  • March — Fox News debate, location TBD
  • March — CNN debate, location TBD


There are other things to watch for as this calendar continues to evolve and change shape. For instance, the Utah GOP is considering moving from a June primary to a March caucus (which would seem to benefit grassroots candidates). Nevada is considering changing from a caucus to a primary (which would seem to benefit establishment candidates and seriously hurt Rand Paul’s chances). And there continues to be talk of trying to cobble together a “Western Regional Primary” or an “SEC Primary” by states like Utah and Georgia, respectively, who are trying to convince all their neighboring states to hold nominating contests the same day they do. It remains to be seen whether any of those efforts will be fruitful (although as noted above, at the very least Alabama and Mississippi are expected to join Georgia on March 1). Finally, one would expect a number of states to look at moving to March 15 and creating a second Super Tuesday, since that is the first day delegates can be awarded in a winner-take-all fashion. While all the positioning and posturing happens, grab some popcorn and enjoy the dance!

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