Earlier primaries could hurt presidential latecomers

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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For candidates like Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Sarah Palin who may or may not be pondering a late entry into the presidential race, the news that Florida will likely move its primary to January 31, pushing earlier primary states back into the beginning of January, presents some unique problems.

“The only thing we know for sure is the filing deadlines advance, fast-forwarding the process for additional applicants,” Republican strategist Mary Matalin told The Daily Caller on Friday.

The filing period for New Hampshire is October 17 through October 28,* though the N.H. secretary of state has the power to shift that window. The deadline for Florida is even earlier — the end of October — and South Carolina’s filing deadline is the first of November.

Late-entering candidates could choose not to compete in early primary states if they miss the filing deadlines. But Davidson College political science professor Josh Putnam told TheDC “that strategy has not worked in the past.”

“Such a late jump in was the norm during the transition period post-reform (the 1970s),” Putnam added, “but has become less and less common as the candidates, states and parties have institutionalized the process.”

But Dan Hazelwood, a Republican political advertising consultant, told TheDC it was conceivable — but not likely — that a late-entering candidate who did not fare well in early primary states could pick up the slack later.

“We may be back to the point where a late entrant can become competitive in the later primary states. But the pace and rapid elimination of the field that will begin once we start having voting will quickly narrow the field down,” said Hazelwood. “So a late arrival if a credible candidate will get a splash, but many people will have rallied to the front runner and it will be a functional one-on-one which is much harder.”

Matalin said the short calendar means last-minute entrants will need to have done significant groundwork before jumping in. From the first day of October, a new candidate could have just over three months to pull together an organization and gain public traction.

“[P]resumably they wouldn’t get in if they didn’t have either close to turnkey operations in the states they each think are their respective maps to delegate accumulation, or access to enough donor strength to air-bomb, or some data that suggests their message is transcendent,” Matalin said.

That becomes even more difficult with the holiday season falling right before the probable primary dates.

Voters are less interested in hearing from people around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, making December campaigning difficult and shrinking the opportunity for newcomers.

Hazelwood noted that no matter how short their campaigns may be, entrants will have to contend with — and survive — an increased level of media scrutiny.

“The power of the media glare on any late entrants will be exponentially greater than even what we are seeing today. And a candidate that doesn’t immediately have poise under pressure and a clear, compelling message will end up looking like a ridiculous loser,” Hazelwood added.

*This article previously stated that the filing date for New Hampshire was in November. The New Hampshire Secretary of State announced the new filing date following publication.