In our efforts to impose order on disorderly political phenomena, we like to think of the presidential nominating process as occurring sequentially. First there’s Iowa, of course, and then New Hampshire, and then our attentions shift to South Carolina and Nevada, and then the big multistate primary dates occur and it all gets crazy.
But, for the moment, all we need to think about is New Hampshire, right?
Well, sort of. Absentee balloting has already begun in South Carolina. Early in-person voting in one March 1 primary state (and a very important one), Georgia, began yesterday. It will begin in another, Tennessee, tomorrow, and a week from today in still another, Texas. Each state’s opportunities for early voting (whether by mail or in person, and with or without an “excuse”) differ. But they matter. One knowledgeable estimate is that one-third of Georgia’s primary vote will be cast early.
We tend to forget about early voting for a bit in presidential nominating contests because the first battleground is a caucus, where you obviously have to show up at the right place and the right time, and the second is a state that has no early-voting option and even makes absentee balloting difficult. That’s not the case in many later states on the calendar.
So the idea that, say, a John Kasich can finish ahead of Marco Rubio in New Hampshire and roll into the immediately upcoming states at some sort of advantage is highly questionable, unless some considerable planning has already gone into creating a pop-up organization very fast in some quite hostile territory (the Deep South states that make some people call March 1 the SEC primary are not places where Kasich’s argument that Jesus wants us to help poor people is a given). That may be why there’s some talk Team Kasich is already focused on Michigan, which votes in March 8. Kasich’s home state of Ohio votes a week after that. But he’d better make some noise: March 15’s the date on which over half of the Republican delegates for the national convention will have been selected. And as nominating-process wizard Josh Putnam points out, the candidate leading the Republican delegate count at that point usually wins and nails it down officially by the time another quarter of the delegates have been chosen. So, already, time’s a-wasting.