August 19, 2015

POWER RANKINGS: AUGUST

  12:53 pm

1. Marco Rubio  U.S. Senator from Florida

Sen. Rubio at number one? How? Trump is leading! Breitbart News says Trump is the frontrunner! Well, August horse race polls are not the best indicator of how the race shakes out, as President Giuliani should remind you. Favorability and overall acceptability combined with organization and fundraising are better indicators of long term success. With Bush and Walker stumbling, Marco Rubio stands to benefit the most. Rubio was considered by many to be the big winner in the first debate, and he is trending up across the early states, leading Bush in both Iowa and Nevada. With the other establishment candidates faltering, the likable and charismatic Rubio is gaining, with a surge in fundraising added to his leading campaign haul. Soon, the establishment will need to decide to double down on the increasingly unfavorable Jeb Bush or, as the Democrats did in 2008, move their support to the young rising star.

2. Jeb Bush  former Governor of Florida

Gov. Bush slips from the top spot after a month of dreadful news for the dynastic presidential hopeful. Despite early leads in fundraising and organization, Bush’s numbers have continued to slide, partly due to the rise of Donald Trump, but also due to the lingering concern of a third Bush candidacy. The upward trends of Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich leave Bush with little room for error, as he trails Rubio in Iowa and is staring down a Kasich surge in the Bush firewall of New Hampshire. With his unfavorable numbers topping both Trump’s and Clinton’s, Bush’s argument of electability is now largely without merit. His Right to Rise super PAC is now hoping a massive media blitz will help stop the bleeding.

3. John Kasich  Governor of Ohio

Kasich’s late start hasn’t stopped him from making big inroads in New Hampshire, a state his campaign has focused heavily on. Kasich added the support of Tom Rath, who joined former Sen. Sununu in backing the Ohio governor, in a direct blow to Jeb Bush’s New Hampshire effort. Rath and the Sununu family have long standing ties to the Bush family, and this could be an indicator of more defections to come. Kasich also received the endorsement of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a longtime Mike Huckabee supporter who has clearly sensed that the tanking former Arkansas governor is finished.

4. Donald Trump  Chairman and President of The Trump Organization 

Xenophobic billionaire and prominent Democratic donor Donald Trump continues to lead with a small plurality in the fractured GOP field. Despite any conservative credentials, gravitas, or substance, Trump has proven resilient due to his bombast and star power combined with a saturation of press coverage from Democratic allies in the media. Still, the Planned Parenthood supporter has awful favorable/unfavorable numbers and still lacks a professional campaign organization. Also, unlike other wealthy self-funded candidates like Perot, Forbes, or Bloomberg, Trump has not yet committed substantial money to his campaign.

5. Ted Cruz  U.S. Senator from Texas

Cruz continues to be steady as he goes. With Trump filling the role of blowhard, Cruz seems almost substantive by comparison. He has stayed out of the fray, performed well in the first debate, and has watched as the numbers of his top social conservative opposition (Huckabee, Jindal, Perry, Walker) tank. As it stands, Cruz will benefit the most from the inevitable end of Trump and the fall of others such as Perry and Huckabee.

6. Scott Walker  Governor of Wisconsin

Walker was damaged the most in the first debate, with his numbers in free fall ever since. It seems that the Pawlenty comparisons he tried to shake have proven resilient. To make matters worse, Walker has flip-flopped on a number of issues in a desperate bid to chase headlines with Donald Trump. His trends don’t look good.

7. Ben Carson  former Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital 

Dr. Carson benefitted the most from the first debate, seeing a surge into to second place in multiple polls behind only Donald Trump. The former surgeon also has very high favorable numbers across the party spectrum, and has raised enough money to be a credible candidate. However, his organization has thus far been underwhelming, and his grasp of foreign policy is still a glaring weakness going forward.

8. Carly Fiorina  former CEO of Hewlett-Packard

The clear winner of the “kid’s table” debate, Fiorina has used her debating talents and media savvy to launch herself into the top ten and will likely make the main debate next month. Her consistent and substantive attacks on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton have earned her a devoted fan following, but her lack of funding will keep her from the top tier.

9. Rand Paul  U.S. Senator from Kentucky

Paul’s numbers have tanked in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally. He, along with Scott Walker, seem to have taken the most damage from the first debate. Things have gotten so bad that Rand has now trotted out Ron Paul on the trail in a desperate final bid for attention.

10. Chris Christie  Governor of New Jersey

The New Jersey governor has slipped out of the top ten nationally and is in danger of missing the next debate. To add insult to injury, his friend John Kasich has stolen the role of “straight talking governor” in New Hampshire. Christie is going for one final media push, but rumors are swirling that his campaign could end soon.

Drop Out Watch:  Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Jim Gilmore

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August 7, 2015

Gaming the Race Six Months Out – Part One, Candidate Overview

  3:58 pm

Now that the first debate is in the books and we are hitting the tail portion of the summer, the Race 4 2016 is beginning to really take some shape. I decided to put my analyst hat on for a bit here and try to game out the race the rest of the way. This is probably an exercise in futility and things could look very different six weeks from now, let alone six months. However, I think this will be a fun exercise.

First, here are some quick and, best as I can, impartial thoughts on the candidates, their performance thus far and their viability.

Governor Jeb Bush – Make no mistake, Jeb Bush remains the front runner. Still. Barely. His grasp on that position is tenuous, at best. All the money in the world will not be able to overcome what appear to be very real deficiencies in Bush as a candidate, especially against a field this strong. What was obvious last night was that even Bush’s best niche as a candidate – the serious, focused, “adult in the room” – was usurped by more talented candidates.

Dr. Ben Carson – Dr. Carson’s appeal, which I never really understood, was on display last night, at least at times. He is likable, genuine and he fills a nice niche as an outsider which will appeal to a segment of the party. Yet, as things begin to get closer to voting I see Carson’s support, and money, drying up.

Governor Chris Christie – Governor Christie was one of the stronger candidates on stage in last night’s debate and showed at least some of why he was once thought of as a front-runner. He is beginning to carve out a place as the tough guy in the race and his exchange with Rand Paul will at least win him a second look from mainstream conservatives, but he will remain strongly disliked by the far-right. He has work to do, a lot of it in fact, but it appears he will have some staying power.

Senator Ted Cruz – Senator Cruz is who we thought he was – the hardcore, far-right conservative. And that is a formidable position to hold in a GOP primary. Cruz’s appeal is largely with middle-aged, working-class white men in the rural and exurban South and Heartland who listen to talk radio, drink Bud Light and drive pickup trucks. His goal as the race moves into its next phase will be to consolidate his support among that group and, as I will explain in my next column, he is probably the candidate best positioned to do that.

Mrs. Carly Fiorina – Mrs. Fiorina demonstrated, forcefully, why she belongs on the main stage with the serious candidates. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO was sharp, articulate, quick on her feet and extraordinarily presidential. More importantly, as a woman, it is going to be hard for other candidates to attack her. That, coupled with her very obvious and real talents as a candidate, she appears poised to be in the race for the long haul if she can raise the necessary money.

Governor Jim Gilmore – A lot folks were not aware that Governor Gilmore was even in the race. After a largely forgettable performance in the afternoon debate yesterday, I am not sure many more know he is in the race now and I doubt he will be in the race much longer.

Senator Lindsey Graham – Senator Graham was largely disappointing in the afternoon debate yesterday. I found that somewhat surprising as Graham is a good communicator and his folksy demeanor plays well. Yet, as someone who was largely an afterthought going into yesterday he had to do more. He will not last much longer.

Governor Mike Huckabee – The former Arkansas Governor did well, as expected, yesterday. An excellent communicator with a loyal following, Huckabee has staying power in the race. His problem, however, is two-fold; one he not that strong of a conservative on issues beyond the social and he never has been much of a fundraiser. He needs to do a lot of work on both those areas if he is going to make it to the final round.

Governor Bobby Jindal – Governor Jindal performed strongly in yesterday’s debate, demonstrating a strong grasp on policy and a top-tier intellect. Problem is, in a field this large it is going to hard for a candidate like Jindal, with little name recognition and even less money, to stand out. Sans finding some kind of silver bullet, and firing it soon, Jindal will be an early exit. He will, however, make an excellent cabinet secretary in a Republican administration.

Governor John Kasich – Governor Kasich was very strong yesterday. As a late entrant into the race there were concerns Kasich had waited too long, that does not appear to be the case.  His very strong debate performance figures to bring a major boost both his name recognition and fund-raising ability. Being from Ohio and having a long resume of successful governmental experience will help too. Barring a major gaffe, which is a possibility given his penchant for speaking off the cuff, Kasich is a good bet to remain in this race for the long haul.

Governor George Pataki – The former Governor of the Empire State, who performed well in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and can boast being a three-term governor of a dark, dark blue state, did not perform badly in the afternoon debate. He was not great, either. And for a candidate that is near the very bottom of the barrel, that will prove highly problematic and Pataki will likely be forced to exit the race sooner rather than later.

Senator Rand Paul – Perhaps no candidate’s performance both in yesterday’s debate and the race at large has been more polarizing than Paul’s. He has a sizable and vocal base of support from libertarians and libertarian-leaning conservatives but his challenge has always been if he can expand upon that. Truth be told, I do not think we have a definitive answer on that yet. Even if the answer turns out to be no, and it the estimation of yours truly it is trending that way, Paul will have staying power, because of his base, as his father demonstrated. With his re-election to the Senate a virtual guarantee, Paul will likely remain in the race long-term to highlight the issues about which he and his base are passionate, even when it becomes clear he has no chance in hell to win the nomination.

Governor Rick Perry – On paper, Governor Perry looks like a very formidable candidate. He is a multi-term, widely successful governor of the nation’s second-largest state, a “checks all the boxes” conservative with charisma, a southern base of support and is one of only two veterans in the Republican race. Yet none of that has translated into support. It’s puzzling. And Perry and his team will have to solve that puzzle soon if he is to remain in the race much longer.

Senator Marco Rubio – Those of us who follow politics closely are all keenly aware of the very formidable strengths Senator Rubio brings to the table. Last night, the rest of the country got to see it as well. Rubio was good. Very good. He can sell conservatism in a way that appeals to such a broad segment of the electorate. Recent talk about the “Rubio summer slide” should be silenced after last night’s performance. As his supporters (which, full disclosure, yours truly is one) have been saying his slow-and-steady wins the race approach looks like a good grand strategy. He is going to be able to raise plenty of money, he is excellent on the stump, in interviews and, as we saw yesterday, in debates as well. Rubio will be in the race for the very long haul.

Senator Rick Santorum – Senator Santorum’s second run at the presidency looks like it will end a lot sooner than his first. It is hard to find a niche to which he appeals; others are better-equipped to go after blue-collar voters and hardcore social conservatives. However, he is a tenacious politician and he will not give up easily, quickly or without a fight. It is plainly obvious to everyone now that he is not going to win, or even get close, to the nomination, but it will take Santorum a lot longer to get out of the race than another candidate who found themselves in a similar position.

Mr. Donald Trump – Trump was nothing short of awful yesterday; he was the very definition of un-presidential. Many political observers, most especially yours truly, have struggled mightily to understand his appeal. So it is possible that Trump’s supporters – the ones who voted him the debate’s runaway winner in yesterday’s Drudge poll – liked what they saw last night and will continue to support him. However, it is hard to imagine that yesterday’s embarrassing performance did not hurt him at least somewhat. Trump’s death as a candidate will likely, unfortunately, be a long and slow one. There is a segment of voters who do genuinely like him, passionately, and the media cannot get enough Trump talk. To make a sports analogy, Trump is the Tim Tebow of the 2016 race.

Governor Scott Walker – Governor Walker had a steady performance last night. He really did not do anything to distinguish himself but he certainly did not make any gaffes or do anything damaging. He has been doing the ground work in Iowa where his natural appeal makes him an ideal fit for first in the nation caucus state. Yet, Walker is going to need to start doing more lest his charisma gap – which is very real – does not lead voters to at least start looking at other candidates.

Part Two of this piece, which is coming very soon, will make an attempt to game out the next eight months of the race. Stay tuned!

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July 29, 2015

POWER RANKINGS: JULY

  9:16 am

1.  Jeb Bush  former Governor of Florida

Gov. Bush returns as the default frontrunner, in part due to his historic fundraising strength, but more so due to the effects of the “Summer of Trump”. With the left-wing billionaire dominating media coverage of the race, lesser known candidates have been deprived of much needed air time. Bush, with his dynastic name, is somewhat immune to this effect, leaving him relatively unscathed in national polls. However, Trump does pose a bigger threat to Bush than other candidates running, mostly due to the unpredictable, anti-establishment history of the New Hampshire electorate. Unlike Scott Walker, Bush has been unable to maintain his early state lead, falling far behind Trump in the first primary state. The longer Bush stays behind a buffoon like Trump, the weaker he looks and the less likely a third Bush presidency becomes.

2. Scott Walker  Governor of Wisconsin

Walker has finally entered the race and immediately added to his commanding lead in Iowa. Walker’s early state strength is more impressive when you consider other candidates have seen their numbers crumble in the wake of the Trump media frenzy. Walker’s aligned super PACs have over $20 million in the bank, more than enough to build on and sustain his Iowa lead. However, Walker has become the new favorite target of the left-wing billionaire, and he must be careful how far into the weeds he wants to go in responding to the erratic and unelectable Clinton donor.

3. Marco Rubio  U.S. Senator from Florida

Sen. Rubio has seen some of his poll numbers fall as the Florida republican has receded from media attention, focusing more on fundraising and organization during the summer. His efforts have paid some off some, as his campaign raised the most money of any candidate, and his super PACs brought in the third most. Rubio has also avoided some of the more embarrassing elements of this summer’s campaign, namely getting dragged too deep in the muck by realty TV show character Donald Trump. Rubio has managed to retain his stunningly high favorability ratings, making him the most liked candidate in the field, something that bolsters his electability argument against the more unfavorable Jeb Bush and the rapidly declining Hillary Clinton.

4.  John Kasich  Governor of Ohio

Kasich’s late start hasn’t stopped him from making big inroads in New Hampshire, a state his campaign has focused heavily on. With a team that knows New Hampshire well, a local boost from the Sununu family, and solid PAC fundraising, Kasich may still become a top challenger to Bush on the establishment side. Now that it looks like he’ll make the debates, his momentum may continue to build. With the bursting of the Trump bubble looming, attention will turn to candidates who are not insane or a blight on party, and Kasich will be a top choice when that occurs.

5.  Ted Cruz  U.S. Senator from Texas

With the “bomb-throwing loudmouth” slot being filled by Trump, Cruz finds himself largely without his natural niche. He lame attacks on Sen. Mitch McConnell won’t win him back his status as Cruz is the only candidate in the field who hasn’t stood up to Trump’s more outlandish statements, leaving the Texas senator open to criticism for weakness and gutlessness. However, Cruz’s fundraising has put him in a position to capitalize on the collapse of other candidates in the far-right bracket of the primary process, making him the most likely of the fringe candidates to survive a longer campaign.

6. Chris Christie  Governor of New Jersey

Christie’s comeback has been very slow, but a few polls released since his announcement have him doing slightly better than expected. His unfavorables still need major work, and his New Hampshire-or-bust campaign needs strengthening, but he’s done enough to make the debates, where his talents can be most effective.

7. Rand Paul  U.S. Senator from Kentucky

Paul’s numbers continue to slide, a fact that was made more alarming but his horrible fundraising quarter, both by his campaign and aligned PACs. Paul’s “libertarian moment” seems to have passed him by. With so many candidates soaking up the media spotlight, Paul was supposed to have the money and an organization to give him an edge in the early states. It just hasn’t materialized.

8. Rick Perry  former Governor of Texas

Gov. Perry has been the strongest voice for conservatism in the face of the media-created Trump bubble, taking the liberal billionaire to task for a number of his leftist positions and idiotic statements. Perry, one of only two veterans running for the nomination, has earned a true second look for his courage in the face of media hysteria.

9.  Donald Trump  Chairman and President of The Trump Organization 

It is with great embarrassment and tremendous shame in my party that I have to include this buffoon in these rankings. Unfortunately, Trump’s numbers cannot be ignored. However, polls alone are not the decisive factor in primary elections, with money and organization at this early stage carrying greater weight. Trump has yet to put serious money into his campaign the way Ross Perot did, and his lack of a real ground game will show over time. The fact that the Koch brothers have cut him off to their database and research puts him in greater need of his own “yuuuge” financial resources.

10.  Mike Huckabee  former Governor of Arkansas

Gov. Huckabee followed his disturbing defense of Josh Duggar last month with an outlandish attack on the President this month, comparing him to the SS officers who committed mass genocide against the Jews during World War II. This pattern of nonsensical rhetoric was coupled with a disastrous fundraising quarter for the TV host-turned-also ran. On top of it all, Huckabee’s numbers in Iowa are tanking, leaving his chances of being the nominee on life support.

Honorable Mention:  Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal,  Ben Carson

No Chance: Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Jim Gilmore

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July 24, 2015

Friday Open Thread (Catholic Edition)

  7:00 am

I’ve been dilatory regarding Open Threads this week, but the gap has been well-covered.

Remember, if you’re tempted to drop an off-topic comment into another thread, bring it to this one instead.

As a conversation-starter:

 

2016 Is a Very Catholic Year

Historically, Catholics have leaned strongly to the Democratic Party, but that has been changing in recent decades. Nothing shows the change so clearly as this year’s Republican field, which features six (count ’em – 6) Catholics: Bush, Christie, Jindal, Pataki, Rubio, and Santorum.

Only three Roman Catholics have ever run for president on a major party ticket, and all were Democrats. But that may be about to change. So far six Catholics (including some early favorites) are running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

And that’s not all:

This bumper crop of Catholic presidential candidates comes at a time when the leadership of the Republican Party is, by many measures, becoming increasingly Catholic. For instance, the House of Representatives had 69 Catholic Republicans at the beginning of the current, 114th Congress – a group that has nearly doubled in size in the last six years and includes House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

In addition, a Roman Catholic, Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, was the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012. Ryan was only the second Catholic ever to run on the Republican ticket, the first being William Edward Miller (a New York representative who was Barry Goldwater’s running mate in 1964).

Martin O’Malley is the only Catholic in the Democrat’s race, though the first-ever Catholic VP, Joe Biden, is clearly thinking about jumping in.

I grew up in an era when the Democratic Party was the default home for Catholics. My Republican Catholic parents were viewed with bemusement by most of our fellow parishioners at St. Francis Xavier church.

 

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July 15, 2015

Fundraising: Huckabee, Jindal Flop in Money Race, But Super PACs Keep Them in the Game

  8:00 pm

On the eve of the Q2 campaign finance reports becoming public, we’ve learned that Governors Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal have flopped in their fundraising — but that their related Super PACs might be able to keep them in the race longer than would have been possible in the past.

Governor Huckabee raised just $2 million in the past quarter, a disappointing total that places him in the Fiorina/Perry league at the bottom of the group of 16. However, his Super PAC brought in an additional $6 million — another total that is disappointing when comparing it to other Super PAC totals, but enough to keep him alive. Likewise, Governor Jindal has raised just $579,000, a total which would have, in past campaigns, spelled his doom as a short-lived long-shot. However, his Super PAC hauled in an additional $8.7 million — again, not great as far as Super PACs go, but good enough to keep Jindal around.

The most important questions facing candidates like Perry, Huckabee, and Jindal, who are relying on Super PACs rather than traditional fundraising, are as follows: first, how a candidate can run a successful campaign when a vast majority of their funding sits with groups with which they cannot coordinate; and second, what happens when the billionaires propping up those Super PACs decide to cut off the gravy train. Gingrich and Santorum were kept on artificial life support in the 2012 campaign precisely because their backers saw a legitimate possibility of an upset against Mitt Romney. When one or more of these candidates can’t even make the stage for the debates, or shows no movement in early state polls, the support is likely to dry up and shift to other candidates.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum raised just $607,000 last quarter. His Super PAC has not announced their total yet, but it is expected to be just as disappointing. To make matters worse, his campaign only has around $230,000 cash on hand and has already managed to amass $130,000 of debt. With high name recognition combined with a minuscule amount of support and funds, it’s difficult to see how Santorum even makes it through the summer at this point.

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July 6, 2015

Which Polls Will Fox Use to Determine Debate Participants?

  4:35 pm

Today is exactly one month from the opening day festivities of this primary season: the Fox News debate in Cleveland, Ohio. One month from now, the top ten GOP candidates will share a stage and America will get to see them all, really, for the first time. The question everyone is pondering is this: which six candidates will be left out in the cold during that first rumble?

To really figure that out, though, we’ve got to dig one layer deeper: the methodology Fox is using to determine just who the top ten are. They’ve left their procedure quite vague — a move I assume is intentional, allowing themselves some leeway to massage the final makeup of the stage party — but here’s what we do know. First, candidates must file the official paperwork to be on the ballot in Ohio. Secondly:

“Candidates must place in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by Fox News leading up to August 4th at 5 PM/ET. Such polling must be conducted by major, nationally recognized organizations that use standard methodological techniques.”

Essentially, FOX News will select the five most recent national polls which meet their vague criteria, counting backward from August 4, average them together, and assemble the top ten. Although the parameters of what five polls will be eligible seem wordy, they actually don’t say much.

The part about “standard methodological technique” would seem to disqualify YouGov polls, among others, since they are conducted entirely online. What is less evident is whether PPP, who does partially online polls (and up until recently did all robocalls) would qualify as “standard” under Fox’s definition. Given the recent push by the RNC to limit the influence of Democratic media on the GOP nomination process, let’s assume that Fox will be using their discretion to discard PPP’s national poll as well. Finally, the one-off polls done regularly by various universities around the country would seem to violate the “major, nationally recognized” portion of the regulations, so we can likely discard them as well.

So who will make the cut? Well, since this is a FOX News debate, you can be sure that they will time the release of their own national poll to be one of the five. Both Fox and CNN have been consistent this year in releasing national polls at the very beginning of every month; therefore, since CNN will likely match the timing of the Fox poll, we can assume they will be the second poll of the five.

Those two are almost certain. The third and fourth are probable: NBC/WSJ and Quinnipiac. NBC/WSJ has consistently released their national poll towards the last week of each month. Their July poll will likely come out about one to two weeks prior to the debate, and given the slow pace of other national polling, that poll has a pretty good shot at being one of the five. Likewise, Quinnipiac has been timing about 5-7 weeks in between their national poll releases; if they were to release on the shorter end of that spectrum for their next poll, they could get it in prior to the August 4 deadline as well.

The fifth and final poll is a bigger question mark. There will likely be three pollsters vying for that final slot: ABC/WaPo, Monmouth, and McClatchy/Marist. An end-of-June or beginning-of-July poll would be off cycle for each of those three, but the chance to influence the debate stage could be impetus to do a survey off-cycle.

For now, let’s assume four out of the five polls are what we outline above: FOX News, CNN, NBC/WSJ, and Quinnipiac. Heading over to Pollster.com, we can create our own poll average with only those four polls in it — and when we do, this is how it ends up:

  1. Bush – 16.4%
  2. Trump – 12.3%
  3. Carson – 10.1%
  4. Paul – 8.2%
  5. Walker – 7.9%
  6. Rubio – 7.6%
  7. Huckabee – 6.0%
  8. Perry – 3.9%
  9. Cruz – 3.7%
  10. Christie – 2.7%
  11. —————————

  12. Santorum – 2.6%
  13. Fiorina – 2.0%
  14. Kasich – 2.0%
  15. Jindal – 1.8%
  16. Pataki – 0.1%
  17. Graham – 0.0%

Obviously, just using these four polls sheds a slightly different hue on the race than a full polling average, which is why it’s important to consider just which polls Fox will be using. And when we go to add our fifth and final pollster, it makes a big difference for some of these candidates. For instance, adding Monmouth as the fifth launches Santorum into the top ten… and knocks Chris Christie off the stage. Adding ABC/WaPo instead of Monmouth gives the two a tie for tenth place. Putting in McClatchy/Marist gives Christie a comfortable lead over Santorum and lands Fiorina into the realm of “missed it by that much.”

Regardless, there are some things that remain the same and are pretty easy to spot, given the current standings as well as the trendlines. We essentially have seven shoe-ins: Bush, Trump, Carson, Paul, Walker, Rubio, and Huckabee. Perry has low numbers but is trending in the right direction and will likely make the cut as the eighth.

Likewise, unless Jindal gets a miraculous announcement bump, he’ll likely miss the stage. Finally, we have two who aren’t going to make the stage unless hell freezes over: Pataki and Graham.

That gives us 8 on and 3 off, leaving five candidates battling for the final two spots on that stage: Ted Cruz (how far his campaign has fallen!), Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich. Those will be the five candidates to watch as the next round of polls are released. Missing that cutoff could be an early death knell to a campaign this year, while making it onto that stage might just be the needed boost to keep a candidate alive.

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July 1, 2015

The Primary Calendar: Strategy, Discipline, and Necessity

  2:55 pm

As we explored here on Race back in November, successful candidates for President generally view the primary calendar as unfolding in three phases:

There’s an old axiom in politics that voters don’t really start paying attention until Labor Day. Understanding that, then, we can roughly divide the primary calendar into three sections: pre-Memorial Day, Memorial Day to Labor Day, and post-Labor Day:

  • Pre-Memorial Day: Use this time to build your campaign team. Put the framework in place, fill it with talent, grease up the machine, and get ready to push the start button. This first phase is when you plant field offices, meet with early backers and surrogates, and most importantly, hire talent. At this early stage, the most important thing to do is build a lasting framework that will carry you through the next year and a half — and which will not require your attention during the crazier, busier seasons to come.
  • Memorial Day to Labor Day: Normal people don’t pay attention to politics during the summer months, so once you have a campaign framework in place take this time to do as many fundraisers as humanly possible. This is your chance to build a warchest with which to dispatch your opponents once the race begins in earnest. Lay low, don’t oversaturate, and fund that campaign.
  • Post-Labor Day: Campaign, campaign, campaign. This is when people start paying attention, so this is when you start introducing yourself to them. Media blitzes, interviews, ad buys, and public campaign stops in early primary and caucus states all start now and do not end until you bow out of or win the race.

These three phases might seem pretty obvious, but they’re not for many candidates. Without a long-term plan like this is place, many candidates will attempt to do all three things (campaign structure, fundraising, and campaigning) all at the same time, ending up doing none of the well. Additionally, many candidates will waste time holding public events and campaigning during the summer months, then enter the post-Labor Day race woefully low on funds (meaning they cannot campaign as much during the most important portion of the race because they will be fundraising) or having peaked too early with no way to continue momentum (see Romney, 2008).

Of course, none of these are hard and fast phases. They bleed together — every candidate will do some fundraisers during each stage, for instance, to keep the coffers from going empty. And media outlets will have dollar signs and ratings charts in their eyes, scheduling primary debates whenever they can throughout the calendar. But as a good general rule of thumb, sketching out a campaign according to that calendar is what leads to a successful nomination attempt.

Since we are in the middle of the second phase right now, it’s a good time to check in and see how our candidates are doing in following this framework. Obviously, with the primary campaign getting started late (by modern standards), phases one and two are blending together for many candidates. But the general principle is the same: do all the behind-the-scenes work before Labor Day, don’t oversaturate during the spring and summer, and then pull back the bow and launch strong in September. Generally speaking, this allows a candidate to peak at the right time and also allows him or her to build a sustainable campaign organization that will withstand the intense fall and winter months.

It also, as we will see front and center in the next week or so, allows them to report strong fundraising numbers when the FEC reports are due (they have to be submitted by July 15, but most candidates will announce their totals before that).

So right now, in other words, candidates should be cramming as many fundraisers into their schedules as possible, meeting with bundlers and donors and financiers, and building their infrastructure behind the scenes. None of that garners headlines or wins news cycles — but that’s the point: it’s not supposed to. Not yet.

It’s also the reason the polls at this stage don’t matter. Oh, sure, everybody says that about the polls early on in campaigns (especially the candidates who are trailing in them), but this year it’s even more true than usual. By this time in 2008 there had already been three debates and millions of dollars of advertising dollars spent. By this time in 2012, we had already seen two debates and a lot of political ads. This year? Zero debates and barely any ads (zero primetime television ads that I’m aware of). There has been no chance on a national stage for these candidates to introduce themselves yet, and no large events to shift the numbers one way or the other outside of individual campaign announcements.

Not all candidates are keeping their heads down and focusing on behind-the-scenes work, though. Many are out campaigning — and some are campaigning way more than others, breaking one of the cardinal rules of the calendar. Of course, some of these candidates with low name recognition (Fiorina, Cruz, Carson, et al) have to campaign in order to get people to start paying attention to them, which is the curse of the lesser known candidate. The calendar is never in their favor. But even some of the more well known candidates are wasting time right now on the campaign trail rather than doing the long, slow work of building the foundation for a successful campaign later on.

As one data point, let’s consider the state of Iowa. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register, here are the number of events each candidate has held in the Hawkeye State since March (with the number of events broken down by month afterward into Mar/Apr/May/Jun/Jul):

  • Huckabee – 39 events (6/4/9/13/7)
  • Santorum – 39 events (8/9/11/10/1)
  • Jindal – 28 events (1/5/3/5/14)
  • Perry – 24 events (5/5/11/2/1)
  • Cruz – 23 events (5/7/-/8/3)
  • Carson – 22 events (-/-/7/14/1)
  • Paul – 22 events (-/5/9/-/8)
  • Graham – 21 events (4/1/1/9/6)
  • Fiorina – 18 events (2/13/2/1/-)
  • Trump – 14 events (-/5/3/5/1)
  • Walker – 13 events (2/5/3/2/1)
  • Bush – 9 events (3/-/3/2/1)
  • Rubio – 6 events (-/2/-/2/2)
  • Christie – 5 events (1/-/-/4/-)
  • Kasich – 5 events (-/-/-/5/-)
  • Pataki – 2 events (1/-/1/-/-)

As you can see, Huckabee and Santorum have basically been living in Iowa, to the exclusion of ensuring their campaigns will remain viable long term. This communicates their obvious strategy: it’s Iowa or bust for these two with no plan beyond that. Given that they pull 5% and 4% support, respectively, in the latest Iowa poll despite pressing flesh for five months now would seem to indicate that they are headed straight for the bust column. Perry and Carson are in similar spots, with Perry saturating the state in May and Carson camping out there in June. Perry still only gets 4% in Iowa polls, where it looks like Carson’s campaigning is at least paying off with a small boost in support.

I’m more interested in the bottom of the list, however — the candidates who have basically ignored the state. Pataki’s numbers are to be expected, since he’s not going to compete in Iowa anyway, and Kasich and Christie are just now getting into the race. (They both held a number of events in Iowa in June.) But what of the other candidates? Specifically, the Big Three: Bush, Rubio, and Walker. All three have essentially ignored the state, especially in May and June. And all three are showing themselves to be more disciplined candidates than the rest of the field, taking time to do the fundraisers, hirings, and foundational work rather than hitting the campaign trail early. This is obviously tremendous news for Governor Walker; even while basically ignoring the state, he has a solid lead in Iowa. This also offers a glimpse into the Rubio campaign strategy – he’s saving the headlines and campaign appearances for later and focusing on other things right now. If he is indeed being informally advised by Romney and his team, this strategy makes complete sense: it’s the same one Romney used en route to victory in 2012. Bush is, of course, the big question mark: will he invest in Iowa at all during the later stages of the campaign? Or will he write off the state with token appearances and instead focus on New Hampshire?

So, I said all of that to say: it’s early. Disciplined, winning campaigns are doing what disciplined, winning campaigns do. Meanwhile, desperate second- and third-tier campaigns are doing what they do. It won’t be long until the wheat is separated from the chaff, so to speak, and the long-term planning pays off over the short-term quest for headlines.

Nobody really pays attention until Labor Day anyway.

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June 29, 2015

Monday Markets: Consolidation Edition

  10:28 am

A week ago we introduced you to PredictWise, the Microsoft Research project that uses futures markets to attempt to predict (among other things) political outcomes. It seems like a good way to start each week by checking in on the PredictWise numbers as a way to gauge the state of the race. So, here’s your first Monday Market update:

The big movement this week was in the consolidation of the Big Three — Bush, Rubio, and Walker. Each of them gained, to the detriment of the other 13 candidates, and currently comprise a whopping 81% of the odds (up from 72% last week). Paul is the biggest loser, but in all actuality the investors currently see the race as the big three and then just everybody else.

Candidate
Value
Change
Bush
38%
+5
Rubio
25%
+2
Walker
18%
+2
Paul
5%
-4
Carson
2%
E
Christie
2%
+1
Trump
2%
-1
Cruz
1%
E
Fiorina
1%
E
Huckabee
1%
-1
Kasich
1%
E
Perry
1%
E
Santorum
1%
E
Graham
0%
-1
Jindal
0%
-1
Pataki
0%
E

Also, don’t miss the updated Candidacy Tracker at the top of the page, now with the final three announcement dates added in.

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June 25, 2015

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