Primary Concerns

Here’s what you need to know:

The 2024 Republican presidential nomination race gives a nod to Hemingway this week as the field, which has been building more gradually than any in recent history suddenly looks like it could get crowded. Both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. Senator Tim Scott launching campaigns this week and at least five other candidates may join them in the existing field of four. That means primary season is in full swing and if your public affairs operations has not been keeping track, it may find itself behind.

While a crowded field might excite political pundits, corporate public affairs professionals must stay attuned to how the campaign debate could impact their company’s or industry’s reputation and interests. That’s because what happens in the early primary states rarely stays in the early primary states, shaping the national policy debate and even the eventual nominee’s platform. Here’s what you need to know to stay ahead of the emerging candidates and how their thinking on key industries could evolve as they hit the campaign trail.

How Early States Shape The Debate

Even long-shot presidential candidates’ ideas have a history of gaining traction nationally, shifting the Overton window of debate, or even getting adopted by the nominee. Even if these ideas do not make it past Iowa, their champions could remain in contention for Vice President, Cabinet posts, other elected offices, or prominent positions in mass media or at advocacy groups.

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In 2024, this trend could become a real challenge for business, as each party is more dominated now by populist and progressive voices who are less friendly to business than even the recent past. Candidates competing in a field for voters’ eyes and ears will use charged issues to attract attention but may in turn bring scrutiny to key industries, including some that are newer to being campaign lightning rods. If not checked early, these issues could evolve from reputational damage to damaging policy. Declared or potential candidates have already called for unspent COVID aid to be clawed back, went after the Silicon Valley Bank for not deserving a bailout, and of course, targeted Disney for going ‘woke.’

In many cases, candidates are responding to incentives like media attention and grassroots accolades. The Republican presidential gauntlet still runs through early states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, and a failure to gain traction there will end even the most hyped of candidacies. That means building support among key players in those early states with their own interests and ideas they expect candidates to embrace. That makes these local and state officials and centers of influence just as important to understand and engage as the candidates themselves.

What To Do Before Politics Becomes Policy

Assessing and monitoring the 2024 primary field from the earliest stages is a crucial task for corporate public affairs professionals, and a fast-growing, late-starting field of candidates makes that task more difficult. Here’s how companies and industries with business objectives at risk can act before politics become policy:

  1. Know the Candidates’ Records and Hold Them Accountable: In the early stages of a campaign, candidates will often adjust and contort their positions to gain a leg up and win the support of whichever key players are most important at that time. Understanding candidates’ records and the personal histories that may affect their point of view allows your company or industry to cut through the noise and decipher their true beliefs on important policy issues. In addition to their own personal or professional backgrounds, determining who the candidates are listening to can help inform the positions they eventually take, including formal and informal advisors, donors, and any known close associates. These factors all come together to shape what the candidate is running on, when they engage, and how their approach can impact your company or industry.
  2. Understand How the Campaign Debate Will Unfold and Who Will Shape It: The dynamics of each early primary state — from the issues at the forefront of voters’ mind, the various political and community leaders candidates will try to woo, the interests of vital local industries, and other stakeholders both inside and outside the state — all help set the terms of the debate. To understand these dynamics, corporate advocacy teams should assess the landscape in each state to identify who could define the debate, anticipate the hot-button issues, and position your own for success.
  3. Build a System to Stay Ahead and Avoid Surprise: This week’s change in campaign dynamics highlights how fast the debate can change, and how much wider the range of players who can shape that debate has become. With such speed and volume of information, keeping ahead of not just the candidates but their advisors, surrogates, endorsers, pundits, and numerous third parties can be challenging. That makes a robust and systematic monitoring program a strategic priority to ensure you have actionable, forward-looking insights and the capability to respond quickly to potentially damaging ideas entering the debate.

Taking these steps early will ensure you can anticipate and prepare for policy and regulatory shifts. It also opens avenues for proactive engagement with candidates (and those who could shape their views) on industry-specific issues and aids in reputation management before campaign rhetoric can shape public opinion.

You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

With the presidential primary season heating up, those tasked with defending their organization’s brand or political and regulatory interests need an information advantage that ensures they can educate and inform their organizations on the risks and opportunities, and then take action to shape the debate before it is too late.

With a greatly diminished core of business-friendly political leaders, corporate advocates will have little time to ensure their interests are not vilified by politicians pursuing their White House dreams. At Delve, we are already tracking and assessing the field and the emerging campaign debate. If we can help you put your best foot forward and brave what is expected to be a highly contentious primary season, please reach out.