After the relatively focused early contests, the surviving candidates enter a dizzying array of primaries. They must decide where to concentrate their efforts and resources as they jump around the country trying to hit key media markets and win enough delegates to gain the party nomination.
Overview of the Primary Process
To secure their respective parties'
nominations, candidates compete in a series of state primaries
and caucus/convention processes that select delegates to the national
primaries and caucuses has been and continues to be based on the
premise that several early retail contests serve to winnow the field in
advance of the
great mass of primaries and contests. The theory is that the
early retail contests
allow even a candidate with modest funds to compete against better
and more well known contenders. The four early "carve out" states
are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The Iowa
caucuses and New
Hampshire primary have fairly lengthy traditions,
South Carolina is first in the South, and Nevada is a relatively new
early state, providing for demographic and geographic balance.
Rules governing primaries and caucuses and their timing are set out
in national party rules
and state laws. Caucuses are
multi-step, party run processes that generally start at the precinct
level and work up through county and district levels to a state
convention. Caucuses generally have very limited participation
of the time commitment involved. Presidential
preference primary elections
are usually run by the state, meaning state laws apply (there are
party-run primaries, but they are rare because it is expensive).
presidential preference primaries on different dates than the regular
state primaries while in others both the presidential primary and the
occur on the same date. Some states allow unaffiliated
voters to participate in party primaries
(these are open primaries) and some do not (closed primaries).
Dates of Democratic and Republican contests generally but do not always
two parties have different rules governing their processes.
Democratic delegates are
allocated proportionally, whereas Republican rules allow for
An endemic problem in the primary calendar is frontloading,
state party officials or legislators seek to go earlier in the
process so their state will have more influence. Every election
to be a few rogue states willing to violate the rules and risk
penalties in order to go early. For example, in the 2012
presidential primaries, Florida moved its primary up to Jan. 31, 2012
prompting South Carolina to move its primary forward; Arizona and
Michigan also went in advance of the window, on February 28; all four
states were penalized, as was New Hampshire.
When one looks at the primary season as a whole, for the candidate
and his or her campaign, there is always another contest a
days or a week or two away. Working with limited resources,
sometimes have to cobble together a state organization in just a few
weeks, and then it is on to the next contest. The leading
candidate or candidates may be up
one week and down the next. Eventually one of the candidates will
start pulling ahead in the delegate tallies. [2012
The DNC rules are very similar to those used in
2012; one change in the Democratic process was a reduction in the
of base delegates from 3,700 to 3,200 in order to give the party a bit
more flexibility in selecting a host city for its convention. At
Republicans adopted what were
termed "historic" rules changes,
These weaknesses included six months of candidates
"slicing and dicing" each other in myriad debates, states disregarding
penalties, and the
several-month period between the time when the nominee was determined
and when he could start spending on the general election
Republicans made changes in hopes of improving upon their 2012 process, which some felt went on for too long, but there is always the possibliity the rules changes they adopted could have unforeseen consequences. Recall that in 2008 Democrats had concerns about a divisive primary, but the long primary battle between Obama and Clinton ultimately helped Obama by getting issues such as the controversy over Rev. Wright aired, and by allowing him to build the strong field organization and finance capabilities he took into the general election.
rules specify March 1, 2016 as the first date when states
other than the early carve outs can hold their contests, and that will
clearly be a big day on both parties primary calendars.
No primary, caucus, convention, or other process to elect, select, allocate, or bind delegates to thenational convention shall occur prior to March 1 or after the second Saturday in June in the year in which a national convention is held. Except Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada may conduct their processes no earlier than one month before
the next earliest state in the year in which a national convention is held and shall not be subject to the provisions of paragraph
(c)(2) of this rule.
No meetings, caucuses, conventions or primaries which constitute the first determining stage in the presidential nomination process (the date of the primary in primary states, and the date of the first tier caucus in caucus states) may be held prior to the first Tuesday in March or after the second Tuesday in June in the calendar year of the national convention. Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 10 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 3 days before the first Tuesday in March. In no instance may a state which scheduled delegate selection procedures on or between the first Tuesday in March and the second Tuesday in June 1984 move out of compliance with the provisions of this rule.
For 2016 the Republican National Committee has adopted strict penalties for states holding contests outside the window:
any state or state Republican Party violates Rule No. 16(c)(1) of The
Rules of the Republican Party, the number of delegates to the national
convention shall be reduced for those states with 30 or more total
delegates to nine (9) plus the members of the Republican National
Committee from that state, and for those states with 29 or fewer total
delegates to six (6) plus the members of the Republican National
Committee from that state. The corresponding alternate delegates
shall also be reduced accordingly." (Rule 17 - Enforcement of
The RNC rules also have a bit of an
incentive to encourage
states not to all bunch up on March 1. States holding contests
March 1 and March 14 must use proportional allocation of delegates,
while states going later can choose a proportional or winner-take-all
The Democratic National Committee has less strict
penalties than the RNC:
“...the number of pledged delegates elected in each category
allocated to the state pursuant to the Call for the National Convention
shall be reduced by fifty (50%) percent, and the number of alternates
shall also be reduced by fifty (50%) percent." (Rule 20(C)(1.a.)
The DNC has incentives to encourage a more orderly process. States holding contests in April will get a 10% bonus in the number of delegates, and states going in May and June will get a 20% bonus. Additionally there is an incentive to encourage regional clustering; three or more states holding contests on or after March 16, 2014 will get a 15% bonus.
Finally, another important provision of RNC rules is
"Each candidate for nomination for President of the United
States and Vice
President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a
majority of the delegates
from each of eight (8) or more states, severally, prior to the
presentation of the name of
that candidate for nomination."
The national parties' rules alone do not set the
calendar. Individual state legislatures,
secretaries of state and
state parties determine when to hold their contests. For example,
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp worked to put together a
Southeastern Regional Primary to be held on Super Tuesday, March
1, 2016 (>),
Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner always waits until he is
absolutely certain of his state's first status before finalizing the
primary date, but Feb. 9, 2016 is on everyone's calendars and it would
huge shock if that were changed. In the 2012
cycle, for example, not until Nov.
2011 did he annouce Jan. 10, 2012 as the
date of the first-in-the-nation primary, and
May 29 was not set until March 1, 2012 due to legal
battle over redistricting. In the 2008 cycle (>),
For 2016 the parties' rules on timing
actually held, and the Iowa caucuses occured on Feb. 1, 2016 as
observers point to the penalties the RNC imposed on the Florida
delegation in 2012 as a major factor (>).
factor in scheduling a state's presidential
primary. An early, stand-alone presidential primary can generate
more presidential campaign activity, but consolidating presidential and
statewide primaries on the same day saves money.
Josh Putnam's Frontloading HQ tracked all the developments on presidential primary scheduling.
How Donald Trump vanquished a field of 16 other
will be a subject of analysis for years to come. Underlying voter
anger was a major factor, and Republican voters divided their support
number of mainstream/establishment candidates clearing a path for
the brash New Yorker.
Normally, for both parties as the
primaries and caucuses unwind candidates drop out along the way and
eventually a candidate
emerges with enough delegates to win that party's nomination.
These are the
In 2016 it appeared quite possible that on the
Republican side no candidate would achieve the requisite number of
delegates, the magic 1,237. The last time a contested
convention occurred was in 1976 in Kansas City when President Gerald
Ford narrowly edged out former Gov. Ronald Reagan. By late 2015
the large Republican field and the
Donald Trump led observers to start considering this possibility, that
there could be a contested (open, deadlocked or brokered) convention in
Cleveland. For example, The
Washington Post reported on a Dec. 7, 2015 meeting of
Republican leaders over dinner in Washington where the
subject "dominated the discussion." (+) Many in the GOP
remained uncomfortable with the prospect of Trump as their
Trump signed a loyalty pledge (+), but in
March 2016 backed away from that, and there were concerns that he might
find a pretence for mounting an
bid. However, following Trump's win in the May 3 Indiana primary
his last two challengers, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich, bowed
out, making Trump the presumptive nominee.
Given the stakes, more attention than usual focused on
selection of the delegates themselves and on what the delegates can or
cannot do. In
some states the campaigns work to put together delegate slates and the
primary results determine which of those delegate candidates will
become actual delegates to the Republican National Convention. In
others the primary determines the delegate allocation, but the
delegates are chosen over the next several months; often precinct
caucuses lead to county conventions followed by congressional district
conventions (where the CD delegates are selected) and a state
convention (where the at-large delegates are elected). In some
states the winning candidates select their delegates. Delegates
are seen as bound on the first ballot, although there is a countering
reading of the rules that says the delegates are not bound and are free
to vote their consciences (+).
Republican National Convention started in Cleveland, the 56-member RNC
Standing Committee on Rules
considered the rules, taking the rules used for the 2012
Convention as its starting point. Trump supporters prevailed in
Hillary Clinton, long seen as the inevitable nominee,
facing a surprisingly strong challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clinton launched her campaign with a huge organization, fit for an
incumbent, as well as the support of much of the establishment.
Sanders started as almost a fringe candidate, but his authenticity and
clear message appealed to a significant portion of the Democratic
electorate, most notably young voters. Benefitting from
unprecendented success in small dollar contributions, Sanders was able
to wage a strong and competitve campaign. However, the math for
Sanders was always difficult.
Throughout the primaries Clinton's campaign emphasized its lead in pledged delegates, who are chosen proportionally in primaries and caucuses (1, 2). There is another category of delegates, the unpledged superdelegates, consisting of DNC members, party leaders and elected officials who are automatically delegates by virtue of their position and who are free to support whichever candidate they choose. These account for 15-percent of the total delegates (714 of 4,765), and they overwhelming supported Clinton (one tally in Feb. 2016 put the balance at 360 to 8). Sanders supporters and others saw this as un-democratic, and emphasized pledged delegate counts. “We believe any accurate read of pledged delegate counts show that Sen. Sanders is closing fast on Secretary Clinton and that neither candidate will have a pledged delegate majority of 2,383 at the conclusion of voting," Sanders campaign chairman Jeff Weaver stated on April 9 (+). Sanders continued his campaign, but on June 6 AP reported that Clinton had obtained the requisite number of delegates, and on June 7 Sanders fell short after an all-out effort in California. Sanders worked to see that some of his ideas were included in the Democratic platform before finally endorsing Clinton on July 12 (+).
The belief among some Sanders supporters that the DNC was biased toward Clinton proved to have some justification. On July 22, just in advance of the Convention, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails (>) from top DNC officials which appeared to show that some of them had not been entirely neutral in the primary campaign. Also unsettling to Sanders supporters, a group called Election Justice USA reported "multiple instances of voter suppression and election fraud have occurred throughout the 2016 presidential primaries." According to their report, "Democratic and Republican candidates have been affected, but demographics favoring Senator Bernie Sanders (e.g., younger voters, independent/ unaffiliated voters) have been most heavily affected." [PDF] Academics can debate these points and our democracy can always be improved, but Clinton headed to the Convention as the presumptive and all-but-certain nominee.
Pew Research Center reported that, "More than 57.6
or 28.5% of estimated eligible voters,
voted in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries...close
to but not quite at the record participation level set in 2008 (>)."
In particular, there was record turnout in a number of Republican
contests due to interest in Donald Trump; GOP turnout dropped markedly
after the Indiana primary, when he became the presumptive nominee and
only remaining candidate.
During the period between the
end of the primaries and
the conventions, the
presumptive nominee seeks to position for the general election.
Typically he or she bolsters his or her campaign
the national party committees to prepare for the general
election. Conventional wisdom has it
that the presumptive nominees must move back to the center after
to more committed or extreme elements of their respective parties to
win in the primaries. How effectively a candidate uses this time
important consequences on his or her success in the fall.
By most measures the Trump campaign fell short
in this period. He continued to provoke controversies and raise
doubts about his temperament and qualifications to be president.
Quite a few prominent Republicans refused to support him. Trump's
campaign organization made some additions but remained a fraction of
the size of Clinton's team. The advertising imbalance was
staggering. Whille Clinton and allies, particularly Priorities
USA Action, made significant buys in battleground states, the Trump
campaign itself ran no ads and allies made only minor buys. NBC News
reported on July 6 that Clinton and allies had outspent Trump allies in
TV and radio by more than $40 million. Center for Public
Integrity's Michael Beckel reported on July 12 that from June 8 the
Clinton campaign had aired 30,719 ads compared to zero for the Trump
campaign and the pro-Clinton super PACs had aired 17,162 ads to 1,368
by pro-Trump groups. Also in the lead up to the convention the
Clinton campaign effectively used the platform process to build bridges
with the Sanders camp.
In 1992 Bill Clinton used the month of June to regroup following a
tough passage through the
In 1996 Bob Dole had essentially won the nomination by mid-March, but he faced the period from April to the convention with virtually no funds. In June, Dole gained much attention when he surprised everyone by resigning his Senate seat.
Again in 2000 the post-primary period proved important. Gov. George W. Bush effectively secured the Republican nomination on March 7, 2000; during late March and April he introduced a reading initiative, a plan to clean up brownfields, a "New Prosperity Initiative" to help people move from poverty to the middle class and a health care plan. More such proposals followed in the months leading up to the convention. For Vice President Al Gore, however, there were some bumps. He moved his campaign headquarters to a third location and brought on a new campaign chairman, while weathering concerns about his polling numbers. In June Gore launched a "Progress and Prosperity" tour.
In 2004 the calendar again led to early selection of the Democratic nominee. Sen. John Edwards, the last major challenger to Sen. John Kerry, withdrew from the race on March 3. In the months leading up to the convention Kerry engaged in record-breaking fundraising efforts.
In 2008, on the
Republican side, Sen. John McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination
on March 4,
leaving almost six months until the convention. In
early April McCain did a week-long "Service to America" tour
designed to highlight elements of his biography; later in the month he
"forgotten places." McCain also did a lot of fundraising in this
period. Sen. Barack Obama took a risk in his trip to the Middle
East and Europe from July 18-26.
In 2012, although former Gov. Mitt Romney was seen as the frontrunner from the start of the campaign, there was a lack of enthusiasm among some Republicans, and he endured ups and downs. Former Sen. Rick Santorum finally suspended his campaign on April 10, former Speaker Newt Gingrich suspended his campaign on May 2, and Rep. Ron Paul continued to May 14. Romney devoted a lot of attention to fundraising, doing more than thirty fundraisers a month in May, June and August. From June 15-19 he did a stretch of retail campaigning in an “Every Town Counts” bus tour, visiting six states that Obama carried in 2008. A highlight of Romney's pre-convention activity was his overseas trip in late July; he travel to London for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and to Israel and Poland.
For 2016, RNC chairman Reince Priebus pushed to hold a
convention so that the several-month period between the time
when the Republican nominee is determined
and when he (or she) can start spending on the general election
campaign is reduced.
An undercurrent of vice presidential speculation
occurs throughout the presidential campaign cycle (+).
so much to win the nomination as to
advance their vice presidential prospects.
Once a presidential candidate gains enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee, speculation on possible running mates accelerates markedly. People advocate for or against various prospects. All sorts of rumors develop, but there is little reliable information. Behind the scenes the campaigns do extensive vetting of vice presidential prospects, for the presumptive nominee does not want any unpleasant surprises as happened with Tom Eagleton in 1972 or the Dan Quayle choice in 1988.
weighs many factors. The most obvious criteria is that the vice
be capable of ascending to the presidency in the event of the
unexpected. Compatability is a
concern. The vice presidential pick should also add balance to
geographically, ideologically or in terms of experience.
At least seven names figured in Donald Trump VP speculation. These included Sen. Joni Ernst (IA) (Trump met with, but did not seem to go further), Sen. Bob Corker (TN) (withdrew from consideration), retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL) (seen as more of an advisor, but recall that Dick Cheney headed George W. Bush's search). Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (+), Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) and Gov. Mike Pence (IN) appear to be in the final three, but only Trump knows for sure. Hillary Clinton VP speculation included Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Sen Tim Kaine (VA), Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and retired Admiral James G. Stavridis.
the announcement must be considered as well. In recent election
VP announcement has
most frequently been done a couple of days to a couple of weeks before
draws the period of speculation out and creates further interest in the
candidacy, in addition to allowing for a triumphal tour into the
convention. In 2012 Mitt Romney announced his choice of Rep. Paul
Ryan a bit more than two weeks
ahead of the convention.
One can envision a
where an early VP announcement might help a candidate pursuing the
party's nomination. The most notable example of this occurred in
1976. Ronald Reagan, on July 26, 1976, challenging Gerald
Ford for the Republican nomination, announced that he would pair with
Richard Schweiker (R-PA). This cycle Sen. Ted Cruz reportedly
tried to form a "unity ticket" with Sen. Rubio but
was rebuffed; he then selected Carly Fiorina ahead of the
Indiana primary, but it did not help. In March 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua
Green reported that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum had engaged in
negotiations to form a "Unity Ticket" starting in early Feb. 2012, but
they could not agree upon who would head the ticket. During the
were suggestions that
Sen. Clinton, trailing in the Democratic race, might
try this approach.
In 2010 there were a number of musings that President Obama might or should replace Vice President Biden. A number of commentators suggested that he be replaced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but nothing came of it.
measures are taken to keep the
selection secret until the announcement, and that certainly was the
case with the Ryan pick. The location of the
announcement can also have significance; in many cases the presumptive
nominee has opted for his home state. In 2008 John McCain made
the Palin announcement in the battleground state of Ohio; Mitt Romney
had planned to make his announcement in New Hampshire but the shootings
at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI pushed that off, and the event
ended up in another battleground state, Virginia, fittingly in front of
the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin.
Vice Presidential Annoucements
||New York, NY
||Aug. 11 (1)
||Aug. 29 (1,
||Little Rock, AR
Observers described Romney's choice of Ryan as bold.
Conventional wisdom was that Romney would probably choose a "safe" pick
such as Sen. Portman or former Gov. Pawlenty. More than anything,
the Ryan choice signaled an emphasis on fiscal responsibility.
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was best known as the
architect of "The Path to Prosperity" budget proposal (+).
Choosing Ryan was seen as likely to motivate conservatives and Tea
but on the downside may have helped Democrats turn out their
supporters, particularly on
the Medicare issue. Ryan brought youth to the ticket, he may have
helped affect the Catholic vote, and he put Wisconsin firmly into the
battleground state category.