By Nathan Layne, Alexandra Ulmer and Gram Slattery
(Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump is leveraging his connections to loyalists in key primary states to lobby for voting rules and dates that could cement his front-runner status in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, his team and sources in several states told Reuters.
Trump’s campaign is reaching out to Republican state parties to push for the changes, as party officials set the parameters for contests that kick off early next year ahead of the Nov. 5, 2024 presidential election.
Several states adopted Trump-friendly rules in 2020 to ward off competition for the then-president, and a recent change in Michigan appears to have bolstered his advantage in the race to secure delegates who determine the party’s nominee. Now the Trump campaign is advocating for modifications in half a dozen additional states, his co-campaign manager told Reuters.
“We work with state parties all over the country to engage in the process,” Chris LaCivita said in an interview. “The challenge that we were given by the president was to win every day and win every battle. This is just part of that.”
While it is known that Trump’s team is trying to exert influence over the Republican machinery in important voting states ahead of 2024, the scale of the effort has not been previously reported.
Holding earlier votes in certain pro-Trump states could give the former president momentum over his Republican rivals. Holding caucuses instead of primaries could also give more weight to grassroots activists loyal to him, political analysts said.
LaCivita confirmed that Nevada – an early primary state with a Trump-friendly state Republican leadership – was one of the campaign’s targets. He declined to elaborate on the changes the campaign is seeking or to name the other states they are involved in.
In May, the Nevada Republican Party sued the state to be allowed to hold a caucus, arguing that being forced to have a primary infringed on constitutional rights.
LaCivita said Trump’s campaign was supportive of the lawsuit. A source close to the Nevada Republican Party told Reuters – prior to the lawsuit – that Trump’s campaign was lobbying for a caucus.
A source close to the Republican state party in Idaho told Reuters that Trump allies had been lobbying to hold a nominating contest before May. Idaho Republicans over the weekend decided to hold an early caucus instead of a primary, seemingly giving Trump an advantage in the state.
Trump’s lobbying efforts show a level of sophistication that his freewheeling 2016 campaign lacked and highlight how he stands to benefit now that several state parties are dominated by loyalists.
Trump is not alone in trying to shape the 2024 battlefield in his favor. The Democratic National Committee in February approved President Joe Biden’s shakeup of the party’s 2024 primary calendar, giving Black voters a greater say in the nominating process and carving an easier path for Biden.
The Democrats’ changes boosted the roles of South Carolina and Georgia among other states, and demoted the famed Iowa caucuses.
Jason Roe, a Republican strategist based in Michigan, said the Trump campaign’s machinations had the hallmarks of a strategy mapped out by LaCivita, a longtime Virginia political operative whom he called “a skilled convention vote counter.”
“Any time you can get delegates selected at a convention or caucus it is more advantageous for Trump than being on the ballot,” Roe said. “His base of support is significantly higher among activists than the rank-and-file.”
There are an estimated 2,467 delegates up for grabs in the 2024 Republican state-by-state nominating battle. The contest is often effectively over before all the states have a chance to vote, meaning those that vote relatively early like Nevada and Michigan can be of great importance.
In a win for Trump, Republicans in Michigan recently agreed to select more than two-thirds of their delegates via caucus meetings, where active members tend to have the most sway. The change was prompted by a decision by Democratic Party leaders to bring the state-funded primary date forward to earlier than was allowed under Republican National Committee (RNC) rules.
LaCivita said the Trump campaign made itself available as a resource to the state party and the RNC, but suggested they more or less let the process play out.
“Sometimes it requires a light touch and not a heavy one,” LaCivita said.
The Republican state parties in Idaho, Nevada and Michigan did not respond to requests for comment about outreach by the Trump campaign.
Lobbying for primary rule changes has been a staple of campaigns in both major parties for decades.
The team backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is monitoring Trump’s lobbying efforts and has identified three or four states where they also are advocating for changes, two campaign sources told Reuters.
His team is also reaching out to party officials in dozens of states in an effort to build goodwill with power brokers, build out the delegate slates that will represent the governor in the primary and study potential rule changes, according to those people.
Among the states they have been paying particularly close attention to, those people said, are Nevada and Idaho, where Trump’s camp has been active.
One source close to Never Back Down, the outside super PAC supporting DeSantis, said they were monitoring Alabama, where there could be movement on the minimum thresholds needed to win delegates. The campaign is also keeping an eye on Missouri, where Republicans are planning to hold caucuses but have yet to set delegate selection rules.
“You got to go state by state. This is not an easy process. You’ve got to be organized in order to do so,” said one source within the DeSantis campaign.
The behind-the-scenes battle must conclude by Oct. 1, when all states need to tell the RNC how they will conduct their nomination process.
One source within the DeSantis campaign and another within Never Back Down cast doubt on whether caucuses, which have a lower turnout and require more work from the voter to participate, would in fact be better for Trump.
The Trump campaign sees their supporters as impassioned and therefore likely to show up, while DeSantis’ side thinks wealthier, higher-education Republicans – with whom they often poll better – are more likely to have the time to attend.
(Additional reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)
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