Wednesday, January 12, 2011

...and away they go

Why are official announcements of presidential campaigns moving slower this cycle?  Does it tell us anything about the 2012 election?

I'll take the second question first...I think it's very unlikely that it matters, in that sense.  It's incorrect to say no one is running yet; what's happening is that formal announcements, and perhaps some other formal steps, haven't happened.  Yet of course Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and others -- including Sarah Palin -- are running for president, at least for now. They're basically doing the same things they would be doing had they announced their candidacies. 

So, why the lack of announcements?  It may be really be the case that there's a larger-than-usual group of ambivalent candidates, politicians who want to run, but aren't convinced that this is the right cycle for them, and don't want to be labeled quitters or losers if they back out later in 2011.  It may be that changes in fundraising or changes in the media environment have changed the value, or perhaps the optimal time, for making things official.  One or both of those things could be concentrated in longshot candidates, who typically announce first.  That's because longshots are most in need of being "taken seriously," which they need in order to win endorsements, raise money, and otherwise gain support.  Typically, longshots also need name recognition, and an early announcement has traditionally been seen as a good route to national press coverage that otherwise is hard to come by. 

So, Tim Pawlenty may feel that an announcement is superfluous.  Getting in officially isn't going to make GOP opinion leaders take his campaign more seriously than they do now.  A similar story may be the case with John Thune.  Rick Perry may just be taking some time to retreat from his election-cycle-based claims that he isn't running.  For all three, the efficiency of the partisan press may suggest to them that when they time comes, it won't be hard to get their names to less-attentive primary voters.  For the fringe candidates (Dave Weigel mentions Herman Cain and John Bolton), there may be plenty of access to free media that doesn't depend on whether they are actual candidates or not. 

All of that changes once the debates begin, which won't be long now.  At that point, the fringe candidates and longshots certainly should be in, because they won't want to pass up the chance to appear on even terms with the leaders of the field.  In turn, the leaders won't want to lose that status by allowing someone else to "win" a debate and move up in national horserace polls, so they'll have a stronger incentive to formally announce. 


  1. Jonathan,
    There's another reason for GOP candidates to hold back on formal announcements: The Tea Party. A "potential candidate" that is "testing the waters" can risk angering them and pull back a statement or re-word it. A potential candidate currently serving in office can risk angering them, slightly, over legitimate concerns of governance.
    However, a formally-announced candidate is often held to higher standards and their performance, if they are currently in-office, is expected to be more politically-focused than policy-focused.
    I expect that candidates are treading lightly because they don't want to be forced to take hard stances this early.

  2. These 2012 to 2008 comparisons don't work for me. There is a structural difference to the presidential nomination races in those two cycles. One is a rare, open-seat presidential race with no one from the sitting administration running. The other is one that has but one competitive nomination race with an incumbent awaiting a challenger. If we want to compare when candidates threw their respective hats in the ring, we would be better served by comparing the actions of the prospective 2012 candidates to the prospective Democratic candidates of 2004.

    I complained about this in late 2009 when Iowa and New Hampshire were bemoaning the fact that the candidates for 2012 were not coming to their states as early and often as they did in the 2008 cycle.

    I'm also trying to talk myself into something similar to what Anon128 pointed out, namely the Tea Party. Are the prospective candidates playing the waiting game to see how the Tea Party-infused House will interact with the president and more importantly how that plays in the media and how it is perceived amongst the public? On the surface that seems like a moderately logical explanation. ...but it is also a dangerous waiting game. On the one hand, why go out on that limb as a candidate only to have it collapse and potentially take your candidacy with it if Obama emerges from a stand-off with Republicans with the upper hand? On the flip side, why wait at all? Presidential candidates have been known to alter their positions.


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