It’s good to know what’ll happen in the coming year, and good to be humble about what’s unknowable. On this day, four years ago, Joe Biden was running third in Iowa, and would end up doing worse than that — before winning the nomination anyway. Donald Trump’s internal polling showed him winning re-election easily. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was alive, limiting the right’s ambitions for the Supreme Court. COVID hadn’t come to America yet. No-excuse mail-voting was mostly something Republicans did, and one share of Tesla stock cost $29.
What do we know? When things are supposed to start happening. Here’s a guide to the coming political year — the primaries, conventions, debates, and ballot deadlines that everyone’s going to navigate. It’s too early to predict most of Donald Trump’s trial schedule, or what will happen to legally-challenged congressional maps in New York and Wisconsin. But most of the calendar is set, and here it is.
Jan. 10: CNN will host the year’s first primary debate, in Des Moines, with a 10% polling threshold. Right now, only Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Donald Trump would make it, and Trump isn’t going — he’s got a Fox News town hall that starts right when the debate does. (Expect to hear some rumination about Trump skipping the final pre-caucus debate in 2016, when he lost, but was roughly half as popular with GOP voters as he is now.)
Jan. 15: Iowa Republicans will vote in their presidential caucuses, in person, at 7 p.m. central time. Eight years ago, they broke party turnout records — nearly 187,000 Republicans showed up to give Ted Cruz his 3-point victory over Donald Trump.
Three things will become clear quickly: Whether turnout rose or fell, whether any campaign changed the electorate, and whether DeSantis did well enough to stay in the race. Iowa Democrats will start getting “preference cards” in the mail on Jan. 12, but they won’t be tallied until March 5, to get right with their party’s new primary calendar.)
Jan. 23: New Hampshire primary day, despite the best efforts of the Democratic National Committee. We’ll know early in the night whether Haley could upset Trump, and how many non-Republicans have crossed over their primary. Democrats expect low turnout for their own contest, where the president isn’t on the ballot against Marianne Williamson and Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, and his supporters are running a write-in campaign. Some Republicans expect that to help Haley, by freeing up more crossover votes. (ABC and CNN have more scheduled debates right before the vote, on Thursday and Sunday.)
Feb. 3: South Carolina Democrats will hold their primary, which the national party wants to use as a test of Black voter outreach. Turnout nearly hit 540,000 in 2020, when there was no Republican contest attracting moderate independents; it was closer to 370,000 in 2016, when the Clinton-Sanders race never got competitive in South Carolina.
Feb. 6-8: On a Tuesday, Nevada will hold its presidential primary; two days later, Republicans will ignore the non-binding primary results and vote in their caucuses. Haley’s the only active candidate on the Tuesday ballot; she didn’t file for the caucuses, but Trump, DeSantis, Chris Christie, and Ramaswamy did. (Democrats are binding their delegates to their primary result, and Phillips entered the race too late to make the ballot.)
Feb. 13: Long Island voters will pick a successor to George Santos — Democrat Tom Suozzi or Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip. Suozzi won the seat by 13 points in 2022, then left to run for governor; Santos flipped the open seat, which had been slightly re-drawn to include more Republican votes.
Feb. 21-24: The 50th annual Conservative Political Action Conference will be held just outside Washington, at a troubled moment for the hosts. Matt Schlapp, who took over the American Conservative Union 10 years ago, has faced months of pressure to quit over a sexual misconduct lawsuit and its costs. (He denies any misconduct.) Last year’s conference was noticeably smaller, with fewer non-MAGA stars, and this year’s will be another heat check.
Feb. 24: South Carolina Republicans will hold their primary — possibly a showdown between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, possibly a Trump walkover if he won New Hampshire one month earlier. Despite Haley’s extensive ties to the state as a former governor, there are very few signs of weakness in Trump’s armor there.
Feb. 27: Michigan holds its earliest primary in years, after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer worked with the DNC and her state legislature to move it up. Two longshots, Christie and Phillips, have talked about making their stands here, a big “open primary” state where moderate swing voters can determine the winner. (John McCain did it in 2000; Bernie Sanders did it in 2016).
March 2-4: The avalanche of GOP primaries and caucuses gets underway — caucuses in Idaho and Missouri on March 2, a D.C. primary on March 3, and North Dakota caucuses on March 4. There are 134 delegates at play, less than 6% of the total.
March 4: As of now, that’s the trial start date for Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 cases, which his team is working diligently to change.
March 5: Super Tuesday, which effectively ended the last presidential primary: Votes in Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Vermont. A few of those states are holding state primaries, too — House contests on a new Republican-drawn map in North Carolina, Senate and House contests in California.
The California race could determine how tens of millions of Democratic dollars get spent. Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Katie Porter raised a combined $43 million through September, and if both make the runoff — or Rep. Barbara Lee makes it — two of the party’s best fundraisers will be raising to beat each other. But Republican ex-LA Dodger Steve Garvey has moved into 2nd place in some polls, potentially setting up a red/blue race that neither party would spend in.
In two of these states, North Carolina and Utah, it’s also the final day to submit petitions for an independent presidential candidate — the first test of whether Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West have built organizations that can qualify them in big states.
March 19: Primary day in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Ohio. Two of those states, Arizona and Ohio, are top U.S. Senate targets for Republicans. In both, Trump has endorsed candidates who’ve built public personas around their support for him – Kari Lake and Bernie Moreno.
Mid-April: No Labels, which had planned to hold a Dallas convention in this period, will now poll members internally about whether to field a presidential “unity ticket” in 2024. That decision is contingent on the GOP primary, and whether the major parties have settled on a Biden-Trump rematch.
June 25: New York’s primaries may be held in new districts, after a commission meets to redraw its map and after appeals in the gerrymandering case are exhausted. In Westchester County, Rep. Jamaal Bowman will face County Executive George Latimer — Bowman’s first race since being censured over setting a false fire alarm. It’s also the first of several primaries where Israel critics are being targeted for defeat.
July 15-18: The Republican National Convention will be held in Milwaukee, which hosted a ghost DNC four years ago during COVID, but prepped for a real one.
August: Over the month, twenty-three states will close their ballot lines. It’s crunch time for Kennedy, Cornel West, Jill Stein’s Green Party, and anyone else running outside the Democratic and Republican primaries. At this point in 2020, Kanye West’s campaign was being sued off the ballot in swing states.
Aug. 6-13: State primaries in Missouri, Michigan, and Minnesota will settle the fight between the party’s left-wing “squad” and pro-Israel donors. They have challengers lined up against Missouri Rep. Cori Bush on Aug. 6 and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar on Aug. 13; they are still hunting for a challenger to Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Aug. 6. (The busy schedule has helped the squad in the past. In 2018, Tlaib won her primary, then headed to Minneapolis to campaign for Omar, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez headed to St. Louis to help Bush.)
Aug. 19-22: The Democratic National Convention will be held in Chicago, which has hosted 11 previous party conventions, but only one became a horror story for modern liberalism. Policing and security around these events has grown since then, but Democrats have already fretted about pro-Gaza ceasefire protests coming to the city and spreading.
Sept. 16: If the Commission on Presidential Debates gets its way, the Democratic and Republican nominees will meet in San Marcos, Tex., joined by any other candidate polling at 15% or higher. This year? Republicans voted to ditch the “biased” CPD and prevent their nominee from appearing at their events. If they happen, the rest of the CPD’s debates are scheduled for Oct. 1, and Oct. 9, and with vice presidential candidates on Sep. 25.
Nov. 5: Election Day.
Dec. 17: The Electoral College meets to submit all 538 votes for president. Usually a formality, it faced intense new political pressure in 2000 and 2016 (from Democratic activists who wanted “faithless electors” to block the loser of the popular vote) and 2020 (from a Trump campaign that got most Republicans on board with rejecting the result). In a normal political year, you won’t care about this date at all.