Friday, February 25, 2011

Unemployment Makes a Comeback (Presidential Campaign Version)

I wrote about this recently in the context of the extremely unlikely possibility of Newt Gingrich winning the GOP presidential nomination, but it's worth an item of its own: there's an excellent chance that the current cycle will mark the end of at least one significant nomination streak.

Beginning in 1988, every presidential nominee has had one thing in common -- they've all been employed as elected officials. That's two sitting VPs, four Senators, and three governors. (Yes, Bob Dole was technically out of work for the fall campaign, but he was in office when he captured the nomination).

Before that, however, three consecutive (out-party) nominees were out-of-office pols (ex-governors Carter and Reagan, and former VP Mondale). And the conventional wisdom was that it was a significant advantage to be unemployed, the better to have the time to meet every single voter in Iowa and New Hampshire in the three years leading up to the caucuses and primaries there.

This time, however, it sure looks as if the streak will be broken. Trying to list candidates during the invisible primary stage is always messy, but for now I'll start with two lists published today by Washington insider journalists.  Of the leading active candidates listed by Mike Allen and First Read, only Haley Barbour [SEE UPDATE BELOW] currently holds electoral office -- Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and longshot/joke candidates Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingirch are all out of office. First Read also lists a next tier of possibly active candidates; of those potentially serious contender Mitch Daniels and potentially extremely amusing sideshow Michele Bachmann are current office-holders, while plausible nominee Mike Huckabee and whatever Sarah Palin counts as are not. Might as well finish off the list...on the employed side, Chris Christie gets a mention from First Read, while Ron Paul, Jim DeMint, and Rick Perry do not. Out of office? First Read mentions a few others there, but the only one who is a plausible nominee is Jeb Bush, and unlike the others mentioned in this paragraph he really doesn't appear to running any kind of campaign at all.

So of those who I think have a relatively decent chance of winning, only Barbour, Daniels, DeMint, and Perry would keep the streak alive, with Paul and Bachmann the only others even on the horizon. For what it's worth, the combined Intrade chances of the currently employed total around 25%. That actually seems a bit low to me -- if I were to get into that market, I'd be buying DeMint and Perry -- but at any rate, it does look as if the streak is very likely to end.

[Update: Josh Putnam points out more kindly than I deserve that I totally forgot that Barbour's term expires in January 2012, so he'll be a former office holder during the primaries, caucuses, and general election. So it's even less likely that a currently serving politician will win the GOP nomination]


  1. Perry does kind of stand out, doesn't he? He's the longest-serving governor in the U.S., he's the governor of the GOP superstate, as far as I know he doesn't have any of the various factions mad at him, and maybe he could ride some of that "Texas vs. California" crap. I mean, I have no idea what his actual record has been, but neither does or will anyone else, so whatever.

  2. Well, Barbour will be out of a job next January when his term is up in Mississippi. How do you rate someone who is in public office during the invisible primary but not during the nominating contests? Employment status as of the point of having won enough delegates to secure the nomination? If he were to win the nomination he will have wrapped it up out of office.

  3. Under what logic are Daniels and Pawlenty more serious contenders than Bachmann?

    Bachmann polled higher than Daniels and Pawlenty in Gallup even though her name recognition is probably not as high as theirs. I recognize that there's a huge myth out there that nobody knows who Daniels and Pawlenty are but that's just not reflected in the polling. The people who know them just don't support them (it's similar to the myth that Palin is that much more well-known that Huckabee or Romney or Newt).

    Once again, national polling matters contrary to what everyone says. There simply isn't that much of a chance of states acting a completely different manner than what the national polling suggests unless you really believe that only people in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina watch the news.

    Can someone outline a scenario for a Romney victory in this race: Palin/Huckabee (only one runs), Pawlenty, Daniels, Romney, Huntsman?

  4. By the way, I agree that Bachmann has no chance. She's simply a spoiler right now for Romney and the more moderate candidates.

    the problem for Romney is that there are more Daniels/Pawlenty types getting into the race than Bachmann types.

    I don't see why you would believe Perry is strong. The DailY kos pollster found him behind both Palin and Huckabee in Texas.

  5. Anonymous:
    I would put Bachmann as a less serious contender than almost anyone on the planet. She's routinely says absolutely bat-shit crazy stuff. Justin Buchler has a fun little project where he tracks how many epithets come up in Google when you search for pols, and Bachmann trips every single one of those. While the GOP base is embracing the ideologically crazy, Bachmann is just too far out there. Her name recognition is actually very high, according to the Google measure at least. I found one survey that shows she has 60% name recognition amongst potential GOP voters in Iowa, so that ain't too bad, probably higher than Daniels or Pawlenty.

    Or, if you go off intrade, she's running at 3.8%, whereas Daniels is running at 11.2 and
    Tpaw at 11.1, so the hive mind thinks they're more likely.

    And, for a Romney path in that field: places 2nd in IA to Huck, wins a relatively uncontested NH, places 2nd in SC to Huck again, and has the money to beat Huck into the ground in FL/Super Tuesday. It's a plausible path, I think. I still don't think it holds, though...I don't think he'll do very well in SC at all, and I'm just not sure that he will want to spend as much of his money this go around as he did last time. So, like you, I'm relatively down on his chances.

    Of course, as Jon has noted more than once, this is an odd field. Almost every one of them has a fatal flaw. Not just a flaw, but the kind of thing that should prevent them from getting the nomination. But someone has to win. I wouldn't be surprised if Romney won. But, right now, I'm placing all my bets on "I have no clue who will win"

  6. Matt,

    I don't think you guys recognize how much of a joke the New Hampshire GOP electorate is to most Republicans. It's the same way you guys felt towards the West Virginia Democrat Party electorate. Both electorates are just stray way too far from the average Republican electorate to have any real significance.


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