Monday, January 17, 2011

Revisiting Candidacy Announcements: What's Different About 2012?

Sometimes we get grumpy here at FHQ. Sometimes we hate apples to oranges comparisons but fail to see an ounce of goodness in them for the, uh, fruit trees. I don't like the 2012 to 2008 candidacy announcement timing comparison because I think it is a flawed one mainly based on the structural differences between the two elections (in this case, the presence or lack of an incumbent). My preference is to use a similar election to which to compare 2012. However, that can draw the ire (and that's perhaps putting it a little strongly) of others. [If you haven't had a chance to read the comments to yesterday's post -- linked above -- please go do it now. Each makes its own fabulous point.]

Yes, 2012 and 2004 have some similarities, but there are also some significant differences between the dynamics of candidate entry. I don't know that my intention was to put all that much stock into the formation of presidential exploratory committees. Rather, I came across the information and felt that it would be disingenuous for me not to include. What I think I failed to adequately discuss -- and was rightfully called on it -- was the fact that the significance of the exploratory committee is on the decline. This is the simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating thing about the study of the presidential nomination process: the metrics are always changing. They are especially onerous when it comes to campaign finance rules. And that, of course, is where the exploratory committee piece of the puzzle lies. It is a campaign finance creation.

In the aftermath of Obama shunning the federal financing system in the general election in 2008 and in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the mile markers of campaign financing within and among campaigns have changed. To be sure the federal campaign finance system has been eroded, but the raising and distribution of funds from the political action committees of prospective presidential candidates has also changed the game.

What's been lost is that step, that mile marker that was present before, the formation of the exploratory committee. Without that step, what's lost is a concrete metric for demonstrating proximity to jumping in to the presidential nomination race. PACs still do that, but candidates can run for 2012 without actually running in 2012. Candidates can roll any and all PAC efforts into a future senate or gubernatorial or another, but actual presidential bid. [And yes, it should also be noted that candidate visits to early primary or caucus states or the hiring of staff/renting of office space there are also good indicators of this as well.]

At the end of the day, we have a pretty good idea who is running for the Republican nomination. All we're lacking are the official announcements. That said, those candidates are moving more slowly in doing that than other recent candidates. Okay, fine, but why? That's the important question. Part of it is structural. I made the argument for that yesterday. But part of it also has to do, I'd argue (and so too would our trio of commenters from yesterday), with the changing landscape of campaign finance. More specific to 2012, some of these prospective candidates probably want to see how the relationship between the president and the Republican-controlled House plays out -- for a little bit at least -- first.

Regardless, this has been a different progression to the invisible primary than anything witnessed in quite a while. It is an interesting game of "who can hold out the longest" brinksmanship.

[Thanks to MysteryPolitico, Matt and Anonymous for their comments that led to this post.]

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Matt said...

Agree with most of this, and it's a game of chicken right now. But I would disagree about one thing. You say:

At the end of the day, we have a pretty good idea who is running for the Republican nomination.

I think that outside of Romney and Pawlenty, the odds of any other specific major candidate (Palin, Barbour, Gingrich, Huckabee, etc) running is less than 75%. What's fascinating to me is that we have no idea what the final field will look like. And the Iowa caucuses are less then 13 months away - and maybe less than 12 months away - oh wait a minute - that's your job to figure that out.

Josh Putnam said...

I'll grant you that point. There is a higher level of uncertainty surrounding the prospective candidates for this nomination than what we have witnessed in the recent past. My unscientific reading on it is that of the top tier of Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin and Romney, Palin is the true wild card and the other three are in barring some intervening factor (ie: Palin getting in the race, scandal, health issues, etc.) are running. I agree that there is some variation there, though. There is no 100% certainty among any of them.

PS: I think we're less than 12 months away from Iowa. Until some of the state legislatures in these February primary states act in accordance with the parties' rules, I have no reason to believe that Iowa and the other exempt states will go on the dates the Democratic Party has specified.