The 5 big political events to watch this summer

The 2024 election cycle is heating up with summer about to officially start and a handful of key political events to watch fast approaching.

The summer will see both President Biden and former President Trump formally become their respective parties’ nominees for the White House; the first criminal sentencing of a former commander in chief; and the first debate between Biden and Trump since 2020.

Here are five political events to watch for this summer:

Presidential debates

After months of uncertainty about whether Biden and Trump would actually participate in the traditional quadrennial debates that have been a mainstay in presidential elections for almost 50 years, the candidates quickly agreed to terms for two debates to happen this summer.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which has hosted these events every election year since 1988, had already scheduled three debates for the fall, as per usual. But the Biden and Trump campaigns essentially sidelined the commission swiftly last month in agreeing to two separate debates to be held in June and September.

The first one will be held in less than two weeks, on June 27, hosted by CNN in Atlanta. ABC will host the second one on Sept. 10.

The events will be the first time Biden and Trump meet to debate the issues since they opposed each other four years ago. That year included the infamous first debate that went off the rails when Trump regularly interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace.

A vice-presidential debate may happen as well, but logistics still need to be sorted out, with the Biden campaign accepting an offer from CBS to host it and the Trump campaign accepting an offer from Fox News. The campaigns have also differed on the possibility of holding additional debates.

Regardless, debates are regularly memorable parts of an election, and they will be happening earlier in the election calendar than ever before.

Trump, Hunter Biden sentencing

Another unprecedented aspect of the 2024 race is that one of the two major candidates is the first former president and presumptive major party nominee to be convicted of a crime.

Trump was convicted in the first of four criminal trials he is facing after the New York jury found him guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The case concerned payments that the jury determined Trump made to try to cover up alleged affairs he had in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11, just four days before the start of the Republican National Convention, where he is set to officially become the GOP nominee. Although Trump is unlikely to receive a steep sentence as a first-time offender convicted of a low-level felony, the sentence depends on the discretion of the judge and could include incarceration.

While the other cases may not go to trial ahead of Election Day, Democrats will try to seize on Trump’s conviction to demonstrate that he is unfit for office.

At the same time, Trump allies may seek to muddy the waters with President Biden’s son, Hunter, having been convicted on Tuesday of three felony gun charges. Hunter Biden is the first child of a sitting president to be convicted of a crime, and he will likely also be sentenced this summer.

The president is not involved in the case against Hunter, and the charges against him and Trump are quite different, but Republicans have sought to use Hunter’s legal challenges, including the tax case against him set to go to trial in September, to paint Biden’s family as untrustworthy.

Nominating conventions

The presidential nominating conventions are typically the high point of pomp and circumstance for the major parties, a multiday gathering that features the top party leaders.

Per tradition, the Republican Party, as the party not holding the presidency, will host their convention first, from July 15 to 18, and the Democrats will follow from Aug. 19 to 22. But both conventions could look at least a little different than usual.

Organizers for the Republican convention are reportedly planning for the possibility that Trump will not be able to attend, in part because of his sentence being handed down four days earlier. NBC reported that preparations are underway for Trump to accept the nomination in Milwaukee or his Mar-a-Lago property, though a Trump campaign adviser told the outlet that convention planning has only included Trump accepting the nomination in person.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was put in a tough spot with Biden potentially unable to make the ballot in Ohio because of the state’s Aug. 7 certification deadline. The Ohio Legislature has yet to fix the issue, and so the DNC plans to virtually nominate Biden in a roll-call vote ahead of the convention.

Candidates have also historically seen a slight polling bump after their conventions, which could give a boost to either candidate, at least temporarily.

Key congressional primaries

Though the presidential primaries have concluded, states across the country will hold notable primaries for major congressional races all throughout the summer.

Two of the most significant primaries are coming up in the next two weeks with incumbents trying to hold off well-financed challengers for their seats.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is running for the nomination Tuesday against state Sen. John McGuire. Good is among the most conservative members of the House, but Trump has endorsed McGuire, in part because Good originally endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for president before backing Trump.

One week later in New York, Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman will try to fend off a challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer for his House seat in a race that has become a proxy battle between moderates and progressives.

Later in the summer, the match-ups for key Senate races that will determine which party controls the body will be set. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Republican Kari Lake are likely to win their parties’ nominations in Arizona in late July, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) will likely become the Michigan Senate nominees during the state’s August primary.

An early surprise

Some unexpected development has historically occurred in presidential races that shake up the contest before the election, even in less unprecedented elections than this one. Polls have continued to show 2024 will likely be a razor-tight race despite all that has happened so far, but a surprise affecting one or both candidates could certainly change the situation.

This type of development has historically been referred to as an “October surprise” that roils the election just weeks before voters go to the polls, but one of course could happen sooner.

Biden and Trump are the two oldest presumptive major party nominees in U.S. history, and health events requiring one or both candidates to leave the race remain at least somewhat more likely than for most others who have run for president before.

Wars are already ongoing in Ukraine and Israel that the U.S. is supporting, but a wider clash, stemming from these conflicts or elsewhere, more directly involving U.S. forces could direct national attention away from the current main policy discussions.

Meanwhile, another surprise that’s not anticipated at all — something like the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. in March 2020 — could end up dominating the race.

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