With Hillary Clinton slipping in the polls, Democratic leaders are starting to think about plan B. It’s not just Vice President Joe Biden. Secretary of State John Kerry, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and even former Vice President Al Gore have all been floated lately as possible emergency fill-ins if Clinton truly implodes.
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, party elders are still looking for someone—anyone!—who can stop GOP front-runner Donald Trump. That’s brought 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s name back into the mix.
But even though we’re still nearly five months from the Iowa caucuses, any new candidates would face serious challenges based on the calendar.
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On the Republican side, the first filing deadline is fast approaching: Sept. 30, for the crucial South Carolina primary, the third nominating contest after Iowa and New Hampshire, and the first in the south, the party's stronghold. If Romney doesn’t make a decision and get his papers in order in the next 20 days, he won’t be on the ballot in the Palmetto State.
Democrats have a little more time, though not much. The first filing deadline for them is Alabama’s on Nov. 6, but that’s followed fast by Arkansas on Nov. 9, and, crucially, New Hampshire and Florida on Nov. 20 and Nov. 30, respectively. (Caucuses tend to have much later filing deadlines than primaries, if they have them at all. Democrats have until Jan. 22 to file for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus, scheduled for Feb. 1. Republicans aren’t required to file.)
By Jan. 1, both parties' deadlines for 16 states—including several that are important for their size or early date, like Ohio, Georgia, Virginia, Texas and Nevada—will all have come and gone.
But it’s not just the filing deadlines themselves that could cause problems. Different states have different requirements to get on the ballot, but many have onerous rules requiring a campaign to gather signatures from registered voters and/or submit forms to various state agencies. New York, for instance, requires a significant number of signatures from each of the state’s 27 congressional districts. That means campaigns must have a robust organization in place, including both volunteers to circulate petitions, and lawyers, campaign officials and administrative staff to handle the paperwork. And that's leaving aside the need to raise quickly raise millions of dollars.
It all means that the clock is fast becoming a factor. Romney might be viable even without qualifying for South Carolina, which doesn’t figure to be a friendly state for him anyway. But he certainly couldn’t afford to miss New Hampshire, where he’d need a strong showing to have any chance of gaining momentum.
As for Biden, who made a campaign-style Labor Day appearance in Pittsburgh, he has said he’s trying to determine whether he and his family have the emotional energy to run after the death of his son Beau in May, and he appears unlikely to make a decision until early October at the earliest. So the shadow campaign that his supporters are building, centered on the Draft Biden Super PAC, would need to be able to jump into action quickly. And he might not have the luxury of delaying a decision much past then.
Here are the filing deadlines for each state’s nominating contest, based on data collected by Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political news site run by the University of Virginia Center for Politics.