Sunday, January 16, 2011

2012 is not 2008. Not Even Candidacy Announcements

Is it just FHQ or are all these comparisons that are popping up comparing the relative lack of presidential candidacy announcements for 2012 to those at this time in 2008 flawed (Dave Weigel, Wall Street Journal)? Structurally speaking, there is a fundamental difference in the motivation to throw one's hat in the ring in a year with an incumbent president running for reelection and one in which both parties have contested nominations (Yes, incumbents can be challenged, but you know what I mean.). 2012 falls into the former category while 2008 does not. 2008 is also different because for the first time since 1952, no representative from the then-current administration was going to seek the, in this case Republican, nomination in 2008. In other words, there was some urgency to jumping into the race in both parties ahead of 2008 simply because both were so wide open.

The result is a false comparison or worse yet, a comparison that is only drawn to have something about which to talk. Look, FHQ wants to talk about the 2012 presidential election process as much as any site or media outlet. Outside of, say, GOP12, we are as guilty as anyone when it comes to talking about 2012. [And there is absolutely nothing wrong with what Christian Heinze has been doing over there since late 2008. That site serves as a solid chronology of actions taken toward what FHQ has called candidate emergence.] But if we're going to talk about 2012, let's at least talk about it in terms that actually advance the conversation in a meaningful way.

If one wants to compare candidacy announcements for 2012, then, one would be better served comparing it to another similar election, like, say, the pace with which Democrats announced their candidacies for the 2004 Democratic nomination. The truth is that at this point in 2003 very few Democrats had done much of anything toward a presidential run either as the table below indicates.

2004 Democratic Presidential Candidacy Announcements
Exploratory Committee FormationCandidacy Announcement
Wesley Clark--September 17, 2003
Howard Dean----
John EdwardsJanuary 2, 2003September 16, 2003
Richard GephardtJanuary 4, 2003February 19, 2003
Bob Graham--May 6, 2003
John KerryDecember 1, 2002September 2, 2003
Dennis KucinichFebruary 18, 2003--
Joe Lieberman--January 13, 2003
Carol Moseley-BraunFebruary 19, 2003September 22, 2003
Al SharptonJanuary 21, 2003--
Source: P2004
*News on Dean's exploratory committee and candidacy announcement is not clear on the actual dates, but several articles on the formation of the Kerry campaign's exploratory committee describe Dean as being the "only declared candidate" in December 2002.

How does the 2012 Republican field compare to the Democrats in the 2004 cycle in terms of either the formation of exploratory committees or announcing their candidacies? No Republican has officially announced that they intend to run for the Republican nomination and only Herman Cain has formed an exploratory committee. In other words, there has not been all that much activity. But how active were prospective Democrats at this time in 2003? They had been far more active on the exploratory committee front than actually officially entering the 2004 Democratic nomination race. Heading in 2003, Dean was officially in and Kerry had announced an exploratory committee. Early in January 2003, John Edwards and Richard Gephardt had filed the necessary paperwork establishing their presidential exploratory committees with the Federal Elections Commission and Joe Lieberman had announced his candidacy.

At this time in 2003, then, there were two candidates in the race and another three who had formed exploratory committees. That's more activity than we've seen from the prospective 2012 Republican candidates, but not by much.

...and that serves as a much better baseline for comparison than 2008.

[H/t to Jonathan Bernstein and John Pitney for the Weigel and WSJ links.]

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astrojob said...

By the middle of January 2003, Kerry, Edwards, Dean, Lieberman, and Gephardt had all at least formed an exploratory committee. That's all of the eventual "first tier" candidates except Clark. In contrast, so far this time, all we have is Herman Cain, who probably has less than a 1% chance of winning the nomination. That seems like a fairly stark contrast to me, especially since leading candidates like Romney and Pawlenty are already saying that they won't announce until at least March, and Huckabee says he won't announce until at least the summer.

The distinction between "having an exploratory committee" and "being an official candidate" doesn't seem like a meaningful one to most of the candidates, as candidates who are just in the "exploring" phase do all the same things as those who are "officially in". I mean, both Kerry and Edwards even participated in debates when they were just "exploring a run". The actual announcement of candidacy was treated as something of an afterthought.

What may be new this time around is that the distinction between just having a PAC and being a candidate is blurring as well. Here's a story about Santorum visiting NH for the 8th time:

He's made a similar number of trips to both IA and SC. Yet he's "not really a candidate yet", and doesn't even have an exploratory committee. He's already spending a lot of time running for president, even though he isn't technically running for president yet. Has this sort of thing happened in past cycles to this extent? Where candidates would spend so much of their time "campaigning" before they've even formed an exploratory committee?

Matt said...


I'm with the other commenter. By this time in 2003, 5 major candidates had said something official, either running or exploratory. And you could also argue that all the major candidates who were thinking about it at the time (excluding Clark and Graham) made an announcement - making it 100%. Include Clark and Graham, and it's 5 of 7 for 71%. This year, 0%.

You say "That's more activity than we've seen from the prospective 2012 Republican candidates, but not by much. " I would say the difference, 100% vs 0% could not be any larger.

For what it's worth, I think the reason is the right-wing news media. The pseudo-candidates can get their message across to primary voters through Fox News and its brethren, without having to announce.

Anonymous said...

I third the sentiment above. A PAC is the new exploratory committee: you run while saying you don't know and raking it in, dodging the law on campaign finance (as reports show Romney, Pawlenty, Palin and some others doing), courting donors, visiting Iowa etc, media tour, hiring staff. There are a couple who we don't know if they're running, Palin and Huckabee, who have financial incentive to get in late.

Josh Putnam said...

Great and valid comments. I hate to uproot us all, but my response was too long and I've worked it into a separate post.

Have at it.