Jingle Bell Time Is a Swell Time to Decide About a 2024 Political Campaign

From a New York Times story by Trip Gabriel headlined “Jingle Bell Time Is a Swell Time to Decide About a 2024 Campaign”:

For everything in politics, there is a season. A period of primaries to winnow the field. Party conventions in the summertime. The Labor Day kickoff of the general election.

To such well-known mileposts of the political calendar, there must be added one more: talking with your family over the holidays about your next big campaign.

A Who’s Who of American politics has said recently, when pressed if they would run for federal office in 2024, that they would hash it out with family members during the next two weeks. Democrat or Republican, whether testing a bid for Senate or aspiring to the White House, politicians have deflected, when asked if they’re jumping into a race, by resorting to nearly identical language.

“It’ll be a discussion that I have with my family over the holidays,” Senator Jon Tester of Montana told “Meet the Press” when asked if he would seek re-election in 2024 to one of the Democratic Party’s most vulnerable seats.

“I will spend the upcoming holidays praying and talking with my wife, family and close friends,” Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said about a possible run for an open Senate seat.

And Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona, when asked on MSNBC if he would mount a 2024 challenge to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who left the Democratic Party to become an independent, replied, “I’m going to listen to my family over the holidays — I have a big Latino family that’s going to come in over Christmas.”

Everyone with a weighty political decision to make, it seems, is waiting for the end of the year to glean the opinions of a spouse, a wise uncle or a quixotic adolescent, solicited over mugs of eggnog or while trimming the tree with carols curated by Alexa. Political family summits are planned during holiday gatherings by President Biden as well as by potential Republican presidential hopefuls including Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Larry Hogan. So many discussions are to take place that it sounds as if some family get-togethers will turn into mini-Iowa caucuses around the yule log.

Republican and Democratic strategists said that candidates who say they’re waiting for the holidays might be dodging questions about campaigns they’ve already decided on but aren’t ready to announce — or might be genuinely seeking buy-in from loved ones.

“Campaigns are absolutely grueling and not just for the candidates,” Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist, said. “It’s absolutely a real thing to do the gut check with the whole family and make sure everyone knows what they’re signing up for.”

Some of the toughest conversations, she added, involve relatives in one particular age group: “Teenagers hate their parents campaigning.”

The timing in this political cycle is fortuitous. The weeks of Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s fall after the end of one election (the 2022 midterms) and before the increasingly early kickoff of the next one (the 2024 races for Senate and the White House). The holidays have become the family-summit sweet spot.

Mr. Gallego, a four-term congressman from Phoenix, seems increasingly likely to challenge Ms. Sinema in 2024. He has a polling firm already in the field and has consulted major donors. But in an interview, he said that he had not definitively made up his mind and that the feedback of his large family was important. Two of his three sisters were coming from Chicago with their husbands to his Arizona home for Christmas, and he was looking forward to their input, along with that of his wife and mother.

“I’ve gotten a little preview of their thoughts over our family text thread, but it all comes down to what’s said after a night of eating and drinking and probably some board games — that’s when the real truth starts coming out,” Mr. Gallego said.

Rather than a formal sit-down, he was expecting days of casual conversations with dinners of tacos, pizza, his mother’s arroz y frijoles, maybe a brisket on the backyard smoker.

“We’ll sit around and watch TV and drink beer and gossip, and that’s when it usually comes up,” he said. “Someone asks me a question, and we riff from there.”

While the Gallego clan meets in Phoenix, Mr. Tester’s family will gather in Big Sandy, Mont.

A third-generation farmer and Democratic senator from a state that former President Donald J. Trump won by 16 percentage points in 2020, Mr. Tester has a seat that Republicans hope to flip, as they seek to win a Senate majority in two years. Mr. Tester has promised a decision on whether he seeks a fourth term in the new year.

He’ll spend Christmas with his wife, Sharla, and their son, daughter and grandchildren, a spokeswoman, Sarah Feldman, said. “Prime rib, potatoes, gravy and pies are on the menu,” she added. “They’ll eat, enjoy each other’s company and watch some football and basketball.”

With polls showing Republican support for Mr. Trump sliding after the defeat in the midterms of many of his high-profile endorsed candidates, the stakes have climbed for potential rivals in the Republican presidential primary.

At least three Republicans — Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina; Mr. Hogan, a former Maryland governor; and Mr. Pence, the former vice president — have said they will look closely at the race over the holidays.

“We are taking the holidays to kind of look at what the situation is,” Ms. Haley told a crowd at Clemson University. Mr. Pence has said he and his wife, Karen, as well as their three adult children would give “prayerful consideration” to a decision as they discuss it over the holidays.

The Pence gathering in Indiana will be the first time the whole family has been together in at least three years because of the military deployments of his son, Michael, a Marine pilot, and a son-in-law who is a Navy pilot.

Mr. Biden, who has expressed his intention to seek a second term, indicated after the midterms that he would consult with family members, particularly Jill Biden, the first lady. He said he hoped to “sneak away for a week” to have “discussions about it.”

All of this is not exactly new in politics.

In December 2018, Kamala Harris, then a senator from California, said she would decide on a 2020 presidential campaign after talking with her family “over the holiday.” (She got in.) Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said the same month that “during the holidays” he planned to “take a lot of stock about what I want to do next.” (He got in, too.)

The politicians of America will be happy to learn that, for the most part, what happens in a family holiday summit stays in a family holiday summit. A number of current and former elected officials and their aides were reluctant to divulge details of even long-ago family discussions.

At least one such conversation, however, is part of the public record.

Mitt Romney allowed a documentary filmmaker, Greg Whiteley, to record him and his family over a period of six years, during his two unsuccessful presidential campaigns.

In December 2006, Mr. Romney, jotting notes on a legal pad, led a family meeting at his Utah home with a fire blazing, as shown in the documentary, “Mitt,” which is available on Netflix. Mr. Romney polled his adult sons and their wives about the pros and cons of whether he should run for president in 2008.

“I think emotionally it would be hard on everybody, but it would be an amazing experience,” one of his daughters-in-law said.

“If you don’t win,” his son Tagg said, “the country may think of you as a laughingstock,” adding: “And that’s OK. But I think you have a duty to your country and to God to see what comes of it.”

Mr. Romney ran, but lost in the primaries to John McCain. He came back to win the 2012 Republican nomination but was defeated by President Barack Obama.

Paul Shumaker, a Republican strategist in North Carolina, said he has often advised his clients in years past to hold similar discussions with relatives: “Take time over the holidays to reflect upon it.” He gave that advice to Thom Tillis barely a week after the 2012 election. Mr. Tillis, he said, followed the advice, got buy-in from his wife, Susan, announced a run for Senate and eventually won the seat. “By the end of that cycle in 2014, Susan Tillis was sending me emails about polls with her own analysis,’’ Mr. Shumaker said.

Kristin Davison, another Republican strategist, said the big talk with family doesn’t necessarily happen on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

“Could be a random Tuesday,’’ she said. “I think these types of conversations look different for everyone. I’m sure someone has an eggnog summit to figure out future plans, and someone doesn’t talk to his or her family at all but goes for a hike and figures it out.”

And Ms. Davison hopes potential candidates don’t forget something about the holidays: to spend time “celebrating with their families, not just talking politics.”

Trip Gabriel is a national correspondent. He covered the past two presidential campaigns and has served as the Mid-Atlantic bureau chief and a national education reporter. He formerly edited the Styles sections. He joined The Times in 1994.

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