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CNN Has an Interesting Take on the 2024 Primary Season

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden officially declared he was running for reelection. While he had indicated since the start of his administration that he planned to run again, there's room for concern, especially when it comes to his age. Editorials from normally friendly outlets like The New York Times mention as much, and recent polls confirm it. He's facing a couple of primary opponents so far with Marianne Williamson – who ran in 2020 as well – and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 

Biden hopes to go up against former and potentially future President Donald Trump, who is currently leading with wide, double-digit margins against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), though it's worth emphasizing DeSantis has yet to formally declare. That DeSantis hasn't announced yet doesn't mean Trump doesn't feel threatened. He and his campaign have released attack after attack against DeSantis, including a blistering statement from last Friday with comment from campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung. 

With that scene set, one could hardly call it a boring primary. One might wish Biden were boring, but that's not a luxury given the anxieties about the way the country's been run, despite what he promised. If it is boring due to a lack of primary debates, it's partly because the DNC is covering for him. Plus, for better or worse, nothing is really boring when Trump is involved.

Yet CNN's Harry Enten, who often provides thorough and/or thoughtful analysis, made such a claim on Sunday. "Why 2024 could be the most boring presidential primary season ever," the headline for his latest piece reads. 

Beginning with Biden, Enten writes, "President Joe Biden is expected to announce as early as Tuesday that he is running for reelection. No incumbent president has lost a state primary (where he was on the ballot) since 1980." Again, this piece was written before the official announcement but after the week in question had been announced as a sort of tease. "At this point, Biden doesn't look likely to break that streak," Enten continues before pointing out that regarding Williamson and RFK Jr., Biden "hasn't attracted a challenger who would be considered serious under most metrics."

While Enten may be right, Gerald Ford did lose the general after facing a primary from Ronald Reagan in 1976, and Jimmy Carter lost the general election after facing a primary from Ted Kennedy in 1980. 

When it comes to the Republican primary, Enten sees that race as pretty much decided as well. Enten thinks it's particularly noteworthy that Trump is "regularly at around 50% in national surveys." 

Enten writes: 

This 50% is key because it’s so rare for someone to be polling at that level at this early juncture and not win the nomination. Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000, Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 were the sole candidates running in incumbent-free primaries who were near, at or above 50% in early national polling.

All four of them were able to secure the nominations with relative ease, and Clinton was the only one who lost more than a handful of primary contests.

For an example of someone polling like Trump is now and then losing the party nomination, you have to look at primaries involving an incumbent. Ted Kennedy lost the 1980 Democratic primary to President Jimmy Carter, despite easily leading him in polling at this point in the cycle.

It’s possible that since Trump is the first former president to actively seek a presidential nomination in over 80 years, the early national polling means less than it normally does.

The endorsements are also noteworthy, Enten mentions, especially since Trump has nabbed countless endorsements from the Florida delegation. At least he did before his campaign released that statement from last Friday attacking DeSantis and his governing of Florida, from the left, no less. 

Curiously, Enten did not make much of how DeSantis has not yet declared. A column from Salena Zito on Tuesday mentioned how Huntingdon County Republican Committee Chairman Arnie McClure of Pennsylvania is looking forward to polling people once DeSantis does declare. 

There are still a few more weeks before it's really time for potential candidates to make up their minds about becoming declared ones. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-CA) mentioned on John Catsimatidis' "Cats Roundtable" earlier this month, Trump hadn't declared until June when he was running in 2015. "I think you can't rule out DeSantis," Gingrich also shared. 

"I think this is going to be a year when there are a lot of things up in the air, and then we'll have to wait and see how it sorts itself out. I'm not convinced that it's clear yet," Gingrich cautioned. "Many things can happen between now and the nomination, and a lot more can happen between now and the general election." It certainly doesn't sound like he thinks the primary will be boring, then. 

DeSantis is expected to announce sometime after the Florida legislative session ends next month. As Spencer covered on Wednesday, the state Senate just passed a bill allowing DeSantis to remain in office as governor while running for president. 

In his conclusion, Enten makes clear he's expecting a rematch of 2020. "Trump, like Biden, seems to have two things going for him: a large share of Republican voters and the party behind him. If those two were in opposition to each other, the primary season would have looked far more interesting," Enten writes toward his closing. "So unless something changes, we're looking at a recipe for primary success for both the current president and the man he succeeded."

Polls largely show DeSantis faring better than Trump against Biden, as Guy highlighted on Wednesday. This is true on the national level – with a Wall Street Journal poll – as well as in many competitive states.

According to polls highlighted by RealClearPolitics (RCP), Trump leads Biden by an average of +1.3 using polls from February 24-April 19, while polls from that same period show DeSantis leading Biden by an average of +1.9. 

Enten's analysis was featured in the Tuesday edition of RCP. 

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