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Our Way-Too-Early 2024 Republican Presidential Primary Draft

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarah (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): We’re still more than three years away from November 2024, which means we have no idea who is actually running in 2024 — although we are already busy watching what potential candidates do — but it’s not too early for us to make some terrible (and not so terrible) picks as to who will win the 2024 GOP nomination in our first waaaayyy too early 2024 draft.


Why some Senate Democrats voted against raising the minimum wage

It’s been a while, so the rules are as follows: Four rounds, so between the five of us, 20 potential 2024 Republican nominees, and we’ll be doing a 🐍 snake-style 🐍 draft. And remember, the goal is to pick the actual nominee.

The order is:

  1. Geoffrey
  2. Nathaniel
  3. Alex
  4. Nate
  5. Sarah

And I used random.org to determine the order (so it’s clearly not rigged).

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): I get the boring pick.

sarah: It’s so funny to me that everyone thinks there is already an obvious choice for 2024. 🤔

alex (Alex Samuels, politics reporter): Don’t steal my pick, Nathaniel!

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): I’m stealing it, Alex!

South Dakota Gov. signs autographs during the CPAC

Related: Ignore What Potential 2024 Presidential Candidates Say. Watch What They Do. Read more. »

sarah: Alright, Geoffrey. You’re up!! What is this obvious pick of yours? 

alex: 👀

geoffrey.skelley: The Republican Party is currently the party of one Donald J. Trump. So while we’re still a couple years away from presidential campaign announcements, I think I have to pick the former president. 

It’s too early to go crazy about polls, but Morning Consult found in February that 59 percent of Republicans want Trump to have a major role in the party, and a majority also said they’d support him in a primary against many of the leading GOP alternatives. 

The last time a defeated president ran as a party’s nominee four years later was in 1892, when Democrat Grover Cleveland ran again after losing reelection in 1888. Perhaps we’re due for another comeback. Trump himself is teasing a run, so I’m going to take the idea seriously.

sarah: I should have known this was coming as a Round 1 pick, but I guess I just don’t buy that taking a page out of Cleveland’s playbook is a good electoral move. That said, Trump certainly has surprised me before.

nrakich: Yeah, to me, the biggest question is whether Trump runs again. If he does, I think he would clear the field of all other serious candidates (other than perhaps an anti-Trump protest candidate, like Bill Weld in 2020). If we’ve learned anything from the last four years, it’s that other Republicans are scared to go up against Trump lest his loyal followers turn on them.

sarah: I’m not so sure about that. I think there still would be a melee. It isn’t a scientific poll, but I thought it was telling that far more CPAC attendees (95 percent) wanted Trump’s policies/agenda to survive than for him to run again (68 percent). And yes, 68 percent is a lot, but considering CPAC had a gold statue of Trump… support could have been much higher.

But OK, you’re up, Nathaniel!

geoffrey.skelley: Now things will get interesting.

nrakich: With the second pick of the draft, I choose Sen. Ted Cruz. 

President Biden’s victory in the 2020 Democratic primary made me think a lot about the value of name recognition and starting off with a known brand. 

And right now, other than Trump, there are only a handful of Republicans who have near-universal national name recognition (as measured by polls asking whether people have an opinion of them): Cruz, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell … and McConnell is obviously not running for president. So between Cruz and Pence, I think Cruz is a much more dynamic campaigner and more willing to emulate Trump’s bomb-throwing style. So he gets the edge for me.

alex: You didn’t take my pick, but I’m surprised you put him as No. 2 considering how disliked he is in GOP circles.  

nrakich: But that’s the thing: He’s not! According to an article I wrote in early February, he has a 69 percent favorable rating among Republicans and only a 17 percent unfavorable rating. 

alex: His approval among Republicans took a nosedive post-Cancún, right? Plus, I thought the close O’Rourke-Cruz race said a lot about Cruz’s likability here in Texas. That said, I do think he would be a formidable challenger for his party’s nomination.

nrakich: It actually didn’t decrease that much, Alex. It’s now at 60 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable, per YouGov/The Economist. And I bet that will rebound as the Cancún “scandal” fades from memory.  

sarah: Yeah, I think part of what we forget here (I do, anyway) is that Republican voters have long liked Cruz much more than his fellow Republican lawmakers.

geoffrey.skelley: The GOP also has a history of nominating former runner-ups in primaries, so Cruz would fit into this pattern after his 2016 bid. See Mitt Romney in 2012 after his run in 2008 and John McCain in 2008 after coming up short in 2000.  

sarah: OK, Alex, you’re up!


CPAC and the broader Republican Party agree: It’s Trump’s party for now

alex: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. We know he’s a rising star in GOP circles and I think the CPAC straw poll (though flawed) pointed out his popularity among the Trump wing of the Republican Party. Another poll, too, revealed that DeSantis topped the list of potential contenders in 2024 after Trump. (With Trump removed as an option, DeSantis garnered 22 percent support, while Cruz came in at 19 percent.)

Plus, being from Florida gives him an edge in a competitive state. To me, it appears that at this point, people like DeSantis because his policy priorities are similar to Trump’s, but he lacks the former president’s ego and baggage. 

sarah: Stole my first round pick!!  

geoffrey.skelley: DeSantis isn’t terribly well known, but I suspect we’ll see him try to correct for that in the coming months. He may be coy for a while about his plans, though, because he needs to win reelection in 2022, and we know that would-be candidates want to take care of the home front first.

nrakich: Yeah, I think DeSantis is a smart pick. He’s doing all the right things — picking fights with Democrats, going on Fox News a lot …

sarah: Could not agree more. There is no autopsy report yet of the 2020 election from the GOP side (and I doubt we’ll ever get one), but one thing that stands out to me is something Echelon Insights pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson wrote for the Washington Examiner in February, “Trump’s legacy in the party isn’t policy, and it isn’t a person. It’s a posture — a fighting posture in a moment where Republicans think the fight is what matters most.” 

I bring that up because something Anderson and her organization have found is that many GOP voters want someone who will fight for them.

And I think you saw DeSantis really lean into that “I’ll fight for you” mode at CPAC. He distanced himself from the GOP establishment, saying he’ll never allow the return of “the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear.” And he signaled his readiness for a fight when he said, “When the left comes after you, will you stay strong? Or will you fall?”

But OK, you’re up, Nate.

natesilver: I’ll take former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

nrakich: LOL

alex: Ooooof Nate …

nrakich: I’m pretty sure Nate is trolling?

natesilver: No!

sarah: Damn it! That was my other first-round pick.

geoffrey.skelley: I think that’s a reasonable pick.

nrakich: OMG

alex: I’m #TeamNathaniel here.

natesilver: Why would I be trolling?

nrakich: She was literally last on my board.

geoffrey.skelley: Nah, that’s Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, aka Jon Huntsman Jr. 2.0 — a moderate media favorite with really no chance of winning the GOP nomination.

nrakich: (Larry Hogan wasn’t even on my board.)

natesilver: She’s third on PredictIt.

nrakich: That right there is reason not to pick Haley, Nate!

natesilver: LOL

sarah: But OK, OK. Why Haley?

natesilver: I think you folks are too confident that a Trumpist is going to win.

I mean yeah, probably … but three years is a long time, and she’s probably the most compelling non-Trumpist, especially if the GOP sees itself as making continued gains with nonwhite voters.

geoffrey.skelley: Haley also has the potential to win over the “somewhat conservative” bloc that often decides GOP nominations. While the party has grown more conservative, those were still the voters who helped push Trump into first in 2016.

sarah: And excluding Pence, Haley is about as qualified as they come. She has an impressive resume. She also managed to be loyal to Trump without always agreeing with him, which is also pretty impressive.

alex: Haley criticized Trump at some points, though, so I don’t think she’d get far in a primary (assuming a Trumpy candidate wins).

The GOP republican elephant, but the top half is sliding off towards three stars in the lower left corner

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nrakich: Haley is also the exact kind of candidate who appeals to media elites but not actual primary voters. I don’t think voters are looking for a kinder, gentler tone like the one Haley offers.

natesilver: But what happens if the GOP has a bad 2022? Say, sort of a replay of some of the Senate races from the Tea Party era where they nominate a bunch of wacky Trumpist candidates and lose races they should have won?

At that point, “electability” becomes kind of a thing.

sarah: Speaking of electability … I’m up ….

geoffrey.skelley: Sarah, you get two picks, in fact.

alex: 🐍

geoffrey.skelley: 🐲

sarah: Oh, even better. I’m going to lay out two different directions for the party. Nate already stole my thunder a little here — not to mention, both Alex and Nate swooped in on my picks — but in continuing with the idea that we’re all still a little drunk off CPAC when it comes to divining the future of the GOP, I think there’s a real possibility that the GOP takes a page out of the Democrats’ playbook and nominates a more middle-of-the-road candidate in 2024. And who is more middle of the road than Mike Pence?

I know he upset some Trump diehards by refusing to block the certification of the election results on Jan. 6, but he survived all four years in the Trump administration — no easy feat — by being Trump’s right-hand man and more “respectable” counterpart. He lent an air of legitimacy to every Trump tweet, so while the pieces that he’ll be a weak candidate are already coming, I’m not so sure that’s true.

He certainly doesn’t have the charisma of Trump, but he might be able to unite the party in a way so that Republicans can win. And he certainly is thinking about running. He’s speaking in South Carolina next month. He’s also the second after Trump by a large margin in a Morning Consult poll that asks who people would vote for if the Republican primary was held today.


Confidence Interval: Republicans Will Win Back Congress In 2022 | FiveThirtyEight

natesilver: Good pick.

nrakich: Yeah, Pence has led almost every 2024 poll so far that hasn’t included Trump. It goes back to what I said earlier about name recognition — a lot of the time, the early front-runner wins and you don’t have to overthink it.  

geoffrey.skelley: Pence was my No. 2 pick for these reasons. Plus, vice presidents who run for the presidency have a pretty good history of winning nominations! Think of Joe Biden, Al Gore, George H.W. Bush, Walter Mondale. As Nathaniel wrote back in 2019, it’s often been a successful stepping stone to the presidency.

alex: Not bad, Sarah! But to play devil’s advocate: If Trump doesn’t run, but the GOP is still the party of Trump in 2022 or 2024, would someone who didn’t overturn the election go far?

sarah: Excellent point, Alex, which brings me to my second pick. Pence isn’t the most charismatic, and as has been pointed out, the idea that the GOP moves in a more moderate direction might not be the direction the party is interested in heading in. And while I know some like Geoffrey are convinced that Trump is gonna pull a Cleveland and run again — as I said up top, I don’t buy it — I think Republicans are going to be OK with someone else at the top of the ticket as long as they stick to Trump’s agenda. And if I’m right, who better than Trump’s eldest son, the heir apparent?

If “cancel culture” is going to be a huge flash point moving forward — and the GOP certainly wants it to be, even if many Americans don’t know what it is — he has the bona fides. From long taunting liberals as fragile snowflakes, he just wrote “Triggered” in 2019 and “Liberal Privilege” in 2020, both of which are diatribes about how the Democratic Party is radical and seeks to silence conservative voices. 

It’s grievance politics 2.0 that maybe has the potential to win back Republicans in the suburbs.

geoffrey.skelley: Oh man. DJTJ?

alex: AHHHH, Sarah, you stole my pick!

natesilver: Do Americans like political dynasties?

nrakich: My main doubt about Don Jr. is that I’m just not sure he will run. But yes, if he does run, he would obviously have his father’s support and that would go a long way.

alex: Wow, Nathaniel and I really are on the same team so far! I don’t think Don Jr. is going to run either.

nrakich: Except for Cruz 😛

alex: Well, you were WRONG there, clearly!!!!

geoffrey.skelley: Back to Nate.

natesilver: Gov. Kristi Noem is my second-round pick. Consider she came in second behind DeSantis in that non-Trump CPAC poll.

sarah: Good pick. Maybe even a better pick than Haley?

nrakich: A nonscientific, totally unpredictive poll!

But yeah, not a bad pick. Noem is also from South Dakota, which is right across the river from … Iowa! (And the most Republican part of Iowa, too.)

We also know Trump likes her: He has called on her to primary Sen. John Thune in 2022. (She says she’s not interested.)  

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, she’s certainly becoming a favorite among the Trump crowd, and during the 2020 election she even popped up in Iowa, among other states.

natesilver: Well, I also think that there are some complicated dynamics where GOP voters feel as though they’re better insulated from charges of racism and sexism if the party doesn’t nominate a white man.

So it’s not a total coincidence that my first two picks are women.

But yes, she’s also become a sort of “star” for the right-wing crowd during the pandemic. The issue for both her and DeSantis is that the pandemic could fade as an issue by 2024.

A promo image for the chat with an orange background and a word bubble reading “The GOP is still the party of Trump, and I think his speech Sunday night proved a lot of that.”

Related: What Did CPAC Tell Us About The Future Of The GOP? Read more. »

nrakich: I agree with you on the racism point, Nate. But Republican women have a really hard time getting elected, in part because they are perceived as more moderate than men.

sarah: OK, Alex, you’re up!

alex: Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. He says he’s not running, but as Geoffrey mentioned earlier this week, that really doesn’t matter this early on. And he’s clearly laying the groundwork for a 2024 run. Hawley could be the new anti-establishment guy and he’s already attempting to make a play for Trump’s base: He voted against certifying the Electoral College results and he’s trying to appeal to working-class voters, which could help bolster the GOP’s recent pivot to the party of the working class. 

(Please don’t roast me.)

geoffrey.skelley: Every move Hawley makes screams “I’m running,” even if he’s not saying it out loud. He’s voted against more Biden Cabinet nominees than any other senator, for instance.

natesilver: My critique is mainly aesthetic, which is that I think Hawley comes across as phony.

sarah: Hawley is Paul Ryan 2.0 in the sense that he’s the wunderkind conservative (he made Time’s 100 in 2019, with Cruz writing that he is “a force to be reckoned with”). And as Bill Scher wrote for Politico in early January, Hawley’s whole gambit is that he can take Trump’s populist vision and turn it into a governing vision, but as Scher also pointed out, being the chosen conservative intellectual elite doesn’t necessarily translate into primary votes.

And so yeah, that’s why Hawley’s biggest liability can be pretty much boiled down to what Nate said: Hawley won’t be able to move outside of the wonk territory, and will be perceived as a phony by many primary voters.

alex: I personally think Hawley (if he runs) could do better than Cruz. 🤷‍♀️

nrakich: His name recognition and favorability are kinda meh, too. Only 51 percent of Republicans have an opinion of him: 35 percent favorable, 16 percent unfavorable.

geoffrey.skelley: Plenty of time to change that, though. How well known he is in, say, the middle of 2023 will be important.

sarah: Nathaniel, you’re up!

nrakich: I’ll go with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. To me, this is the “smart” Haley pick — as Nate said, I think a lot of Republicans will like the idea of nominating a person of color because it can be used to shield them against accusations of racism. But unlike Haley, Scott has not explicitly broken with Trump (and he can still probably appeal to moderate Republicans).  

sarah: His speech at the RNC last year was just so powerful: “Our family went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” he said, recounting how his grandfather had been forced out of third grade to pick cotton, but Scott (his grandson) ended up in Congress — representing South Carolina, a notoriously hard state for a Black politician to win statewide in.

That would, indeed, be a powerful message for the GOP to channel in 2024. The only thing that gives me pause is I kind of believe Scott when he says that his 2022 reelection bid will be his last. That’s probably naive, but I’ve gotten the sense in interviews he’s done with all the politics and being the lone Black Republican

natesilver: Good pick, although I think he’ll be seen as part of the establishment.

Again, though, I’m not as convinced as the rest of you that the establishment is dead for 2024.

sarah: Hey, I picked Pence!

It’s too soon to say the establishment is — or isn’t — dead, but I do think a super-crowded field where the candidates hash this out is unavoidable.

geoffrey.skelley: My next two picks share a taste of both the unexpected and the traditional presidential fare. 

With the last pick of the second round, I’m taking Tucker Carlson, Fox News host extraordinaire. Carlson isn’t Trump, but his stature in the media business echoes some of Trump’s appeal circa 2016 as a big-time star. 

Carlson has the highest-rated primetime cable news show in TV history and over the years, his politics have shifted from a more libertarian-conservative ethos to a thoroughly Trumpy worldview. He’s denied interest, but we know that doesn’t mean much at this point.  

alex: F*@$ YOU STOLE MY PICK. 

geoffrey.skelley: I couldn’t resist. Carlson is such a huge media star on the right now that if he decided to go for it, he’d have a natural base of support — assuming, of course, Trump isn’t running.

sarah: What’s your next pick, Geoffrey?

geoffrey.skelley: On the flip side, I’m going to take former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He spent much of his time in Trump’s Cabinet visiting far-off destinations like … Iowa. So you know he wants to run. And interestingly, the most recent poll I could find on his favorability from December 2019 put him as both well-known and well-liked among Republicans, with 60 percent favorable and 12 percent unfavorable. Pompeo was especially engaged with issues related to Israel, which would appeal to evangelical Christian voters, too.

Not to mention, he’s also very connected to Trump and tried to maintain the farce that Trump might get a second term despite having lost.

alex: That was also my next pick … 

nrakich: Interesting. I didn’t realize he was so well known.

sarah: He certainly seems to already be signaling his own ambitions. This is a countdown to Election Day 2024 he tweeted out the day after Inauguration Day 2021:

But alright, Nathaniel, you’re up again? Is that how this works? (🐍 drafts are too long.) 

nrakich: I pick Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Popular governor of a delegate-rich state.

alex: I hate to burst your bubble there … but Abbott is not … my top pick.

nrakich: Oooh. Given your experience covering Texas politics, that actually does make me think twice …

natesilver: I mean, to us non-Texans, Texas feels like it’s sort of a success story.

alex: Texans are probably more in favor of a DeSantis/Noem type, I’d think, especially during the pandemic. Anyways: I’ll go with Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. This is a controversial take, I know. But he’s firmly in the Trump wing of the party (save for refusing to join some Republicans in the Electoral College challenge), which could be good in a GOP primary. And what’s working in his favor, besides the obvious Trumpism, is he’s an Army vet and checks off conservative boxes on almost all the major issues. 

BUT I get he’s controversial because of the New York Times op-ed he wrote in June.

geoffrey.skelley: That op-ed, though, which argued that Trump should use the military to subdue protests following the police killing of George Floyd, is probably the kind of position that’ll win some votes in a GOP primary.

nrakich: Yeah, I don’t think Cotton is a bad pick, but he’s … not very charismatic, to put it kindly.

sarah: I was going to say, we’ve been debating a little here about the value of “establishment” picks vs. more Trumpy picks, and I’d argue nobody straddles this better than Cotton: He courts news media like The New York Times for his op-eds but still has a very conservative, Trump-aligned track record overall.


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natesilver: I think he’s got as much charisma as a dead fish.

nrakich: 🐟

alex: Rude! But I do think Cotton has some likability issues too, like Cruz.

sarah: OK, Nate, you’re up.

natesilver: I mean, we’ve really worked though most of the good picks here, I think.

sarah: Lowering our expectations?

nrakich: There are 2-3 good ones left, IMO.

natesilver: I guess I’ll go with IVANKA.

nrakich: That was not one of them.

sarah: Damn it!

natesilver: I’m not proud of the pick, but it was my duty.

geoffrey.skelley: I think we should make sure to take all of Trump’s children here with the final picks, just to be safe come 2024.

alex: Have 3/4 of your picks been women, Nate?

sarah: It’s true that Ivanka and Jared are now essentially social pariahs among the Manhattan elite, but I think it’s a smart pick. There’s still an opportunity for her in the party, especially if Don Jr. sits it out. 

This is an old piece from Anne Helen Peterson, but I think she captured the essence of the Ivanka voter so well, and that we shouldn’t count her out as a way for the GOP to win back the suburbs … 

alex: Yeah, Ivanka could help win over the suburban women that her dad lost.

geoffrey.skelley: Plus, Ivanka Trump isn’t running against Marco Rubio in the 2022 Florida Senate primary, so maybe she’s set her sights on something higher …

sarah: Alright, I’m up twice now — but ⚡️LIGHTNING ROUND, TIME⚡️

natesilver: Oh no, there’s ANOTHER round?

geoffrey.skelley: Got to get an even number of picks for everyone. Someone has to take Hogan for the eye-rolls (I’m not actually taking Hogan).  

sarah: OK, it’s telling that he’s only coming up now in the draft, but Rubio is definitely testing the waters for another run (that tweet won’t make sense if you somehow mercifully missed “Neanderthal”-gate, so read up on that there). And given the GOP gains among Hispanic voters in 2020, especially in Florida and Texas, it might be good for the party to lean into this part of its base.

I’m just not so sure that Rubio (or Cruz) has proven that they have any special ability when it comes to winning Hispanic voters.

geoffrey.skelley: Rubio is a good value pick this late in the draft. He’s definitely pondering another run — it’s rare for a former candidate to lose the presidential bug — and may still have some of the appeal that made us think he was a strong option in the 2016 primary before he stumbled there.

natesilver: I burned up all my faith in Rubio’s electoral prospects in 2016.

sarah: OK, last pick — phew — I’m channeling some Eric Swalwell energy over here in that I think Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene might throw her name into the ring. 

As we know, the House isn’t a natural stepping stone to the presidency, but she has already worked to position herself as a staunch Trump loyalist in the House.

Plus, she echoes that same fighter rhetoric we were talking about earlier. Take the debate about whether she should be stripped of her House committee assignments. She said in response to McConnell’s criticism that her “loony lies were a cancer” that the real enemy in her view was “weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully.” She would fight, and GOP voters want a fighter.

geoffrey.skelley: I was thinking about picking Greene. She would have some serious appeal among some in the GOP, as Kaleigh Rogers and I pointed out in our recent look at her rise.

alex: That would be fun to cover.

sarah: Fun is one word for it, but OK, Nate, you’re up! Bring that last pick energy!!!

natesilver: I literally am googling “list of GOP governors.”

nrakich: Nate forfeits.

geoffrey.skelley: LOL

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natesilver: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

geoffrey.skelley: That’s a fun one. Swing state governor and term-limited ahead of the 2022 midterms, so he could look ahead to a presidential run, maybe. He’s also personally wealthy. But he does have some issues with his right flank because he defended Arizona’s election results in 2020 and restrictions put in place because of the pandemic.

nrakich: Good pick.

Alex?

alex: Rep. Elise Stefanik. She became a national star during the House impeachment inquiry, and could help the base win back the suburban women that Trump lost. I think that since Trump lost reelection, Republican women will likely provide the leadership for rebuilding the party. (We already saw this in both 2018 and 2019.)

Full transparency: I actually think she’d be a serious contender for VP if she doesn’t run herself.

natesilver: That’s a good last-round sleeper.

nrakich: Agreed. As a representative from New York, she has no obvious higher office to run for other than president.

My last pick is Florida Sen. Rick Scott. He has won three elections (2010, 2014 and 2018) that I didn’t think he’d win, so I have learned not to underestimate him. And he’s personally very wealthy, which could put him at an advantage.

geoffrey.skelley: And with my last pick, I’ll stick with the conservative media lane and give Candace Owens a go. She has a massive following in right-leaning circles — 2.6 million Twitter followers! — and will turn 35 in 2024 (the constitutional age requirement to become president). She’s even hinted at the idea. So she’s worth a flyer here.

nrakich: You are all sleeping on Ben Carson.

natesilver: I remember 2016!

sarah: Below are everyone’s picks. Readers, let us know who you think has the best one.

FiveThirtyEight’s first 2024 primary draft
Round Geoffrey Nathaniel Alex Nate Sarah
1 D. Trump Cruz DeSantis Haley Pence
2 Carlson T. Scott Hawley Noem D. Trump Jr.
3 Pompeo Abbott Cotton I. Trump Rubio
4 Owens R. Scott Stefanik Ducey Greene

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Sarah Frostenson is FiveThirtyEight’s politics editor.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Nathaniel Rakich is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Alex Samuels is a politics reporter at FiveThirtyEight.

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