Wild-Card Candidates Gain Momentum In Early 2024 Primary States

While Tim Scott and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. lag in national polls, strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire could lead them closer to the presidency.

What’s happening: Democratic candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Republican candidate Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina are showing momentum in early primary states. Both candidates face an uphill battle, yet polling and intraparty political dynamics show a path forward for them in Iowa and New Hampshire. While Scott and RFK lag in national polling, strong performances in early states could change the course of the 2024 election.

Tim Scott’s play: Despite trailing behind Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, Scott holds an advantage: a sizable $22 million from past Senate campaigns, dwarfing Nikki Haley's $4 million and Trump's $14 million. Without the support of a super PAC, Scott is spending his war chest on ad buys in the traditional early primary states: Iowa and New Hampshire. This strategy positions him to rise to third in those important states, ahead of Pence and Haley, according to recent polls.

Why it matters: A nomination for Scott is still improbable, ****but his popularity rises alongside Trump’s. Support for DeSantis, however, seems to be falling. The takeaway here is that Republican contenders aren’t siphoning votes from Trump but are instead competing among themselves, making DeSantis's journey to the presidency more complicated and Scott’s almost impossible.

RFK Jr.’s plan: President Joe Biden has proposed making South Carolina the first-vote primary state instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, citing S.C.’s diverse demographic. This opens the door for dark-horse candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to swoop in and win those other traditional primary states. Despite the media’s dismissive attitude toward Kennedy and the Democratic National Convention’s refusal to hold debates, Kennedy has a shot at gaining votes in two critical states. He is apparently campaigning “vigorously” in New Hampshire.