Jan 30, 2024 - News

Haley's uphill climb against Trump stands between Arizona's primary and irrelevance

A woman holds a microphone while standing in front of a large American flag backdrop.

Nikki Haley speaks at a rally Sunday in Conway, South Carolina. Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Unless Nikki Haley can pull off the increasingly unlikely feat of wresting the Republican nomination from former President Trump, Arizona's presidential preference election is doomed to irrelevance.

State of play: Arizona's presidential preference election (PPE) — it's not technically a primary — is March 19.

  • Trump's win over Haley in last week's New Hampshire Republican primary puts him a dominant position for the GOP nomination.
  • Haley vowed to continue running, and the next primary will be Feb. 24 in South Carolina, where she served as governor from 2011 to 2017.
  • If she loses in South Carolina, that'll likely be the last straw for her presidential campaign and will lock up the nomination for Trump.

Why it matters: The end of Haley's campaign would mean Arizona's PPE has no effect on the outcome of this year's presidential nominations.

  • The incumbent president's party usually doesn't have a PPE here. There is a Democratic race on the ballot in Arizona, though President Biden isn't expect to face anything close to a serious challenge.

Zoom in: In some years, Arizona's PPE has been relatively early on the primary calendar, on Super Tuesday or Mini-Tuesday.

  • This year, it's two weeks after the March 5 Super Tuesday election.
  • Former Gov. Jan Brewer proposed moving up the 2012 PPE so Arizona could have more sway in the nomination process, but the plan was scrapped after the Republican National Committee threatened to take away some of the state's delegates.

Of note: Unlike in Arizona's primary election in August, independents can't vote in the PPE.

  • You must be registered with a party to vote in its PPE.

1 big controversy: The biggest effect Arizona's PPE had on a race was for Maricopa County recorder, not president.

  • In 2016, a reduction in polling places led to hours-long lines across the Valley.
  • Democrat Adrian Fontes filed the next day to run against Republican incumbent Helen Purcell and went on to defeat her that November, beginning a political career that led to his election as secretary of state in 2022.

Catch up quick: Arizona lawmakers created the PPE in 1992 and the state held its first presidential primary four years later.

  • Longtime lobbyist and political operative Chuck Coughlin tells Axios Phoenix that lawmakers knew at the time that Arizona's presidential primary was unlikely to be relevant because it was relatively late in the cycle.
  • Though Arizona hasn't traditionally influenced the nominations much, veteran Republican operative Lisa James is still hopeful about the future, telling Axios Phoenix, "Never say never about Arizona politics, because as soon as you do something will happen that all of a sudden makes you wrong."
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