July 2, 2015

Christie Web Video: This Is For My Friend Larry Hogan

As a Maryland resident, this resonates and is a bit more personal for me. Christie did a lot to help Governor Hogan (R) get elected and, for those outside of Maryland who haven’t heard, he recently was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s good to see Christie standing with Hogan and publicly praying for him.

I ask our readers to please do the same. Thank you.

  2:06 pm Chris Christie  

July 1, 2015

The Primary Calendar: Strategy, Discipline, and Necessity

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.

June 30, 2015

Chris Christie Official Announcement

This morning, Chris Christie became the 14th major GOP candidate when he launched the Straight Talk Express… er, I mean, the “Telling it Like it Is” Tour.

The New York Times actually summed up Christie’s bid, and entire political career, pretty succinctly in the first two paragraphs of their story:

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  1:51 pm Chris Christie  

June 29, 2015

Christie Announcement Video

Ahead of his formal announcement, Christie released this video announcement. The video’s entitled, “Telling it Like It Is.”

  12:53 pm 2016, Chris Christie  

Monday Markets: Consolidation Edition

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.

June 24, 2015

Chris Christie to Officially Announce Next Week

Politico has the story.

Chris Christie is in the final stages of preparing his 2016 presidential bid, with a formal announcement possible as soon as next week, according to several sources familiar with the discussions.

It was not too long ago that the Garden State Governor was leading the pack of potential candidates for 2016. His larger than life personality, verbal jousting with the media, record of enacting conservative reforms and success and popularity in a dark blue state gave many the impression he would be the man to beat for the GOP nomination. Yet a series of setbacks, some self-inflicted, others the result of an antagonistic and, in some cases, downright dishonest, media, have sent Christie plummeting to the lower tiers of the GOP pack.

I happen to be of the belief that Christie, whose raw political talents are rivaled only by Florida Senator Marco Rubio in this cycle’s lot of candidates, does have the potential to come back. If he can get into the debates, which is not a guarantee at this point given his polling numbers, he has a chance to make a surge.

What does the Race community think? Does Christie have a chance to make some waves in the nomination process or will he just be another also-ran? Have at it in the comments.

 

  12:04 pm 2016, Chris Christie  

POWER RANKINGS: June

1.  Marco Rubio  U.S. Senator from Florida

Sen. Rubio moves to the top of the rankings, a reflection of his broad popularity and acceptability as both a first and second choice in multiple polls, momentum among the donor and activist classes, and a rising conventional wisdom that he has the best chance to defeat Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.  Both Clinton and the GOP’s own dynastic candidate, Jeb Bush, tailored their first campaign speeches as responses to Rubio’s powerful declaration that “yesterday is over”. The clearest sign of his momentum was offered up by the New York Times, which engaged in a widely ridiculed attempt to smear the senator. Time will tell if the senator can handle the real scrutiny his top tier status will bring, and if he can withstand the upcoming negative onslaught from his fellow Floridian.

2. Jeb Bush  former Governor of Florida

Gov. Bush falls from the top spot, despite an expected record-breaking fundraising haul among his allied political action committees. Bush’s campaign shakeup and weak poll numbers have surprised the establishment, who thought he would’ve taken firm command of the race by now. The collapse of his Florida lead over Sen. Marco Rubio just adds to the growing anxiety around a third Bush candidacy. Despite his name identification and family influence, Bush is in a much weaker position than his father and brother ever were, with an alarming number of GOP voters saying than could never support him. Bush will have the resources for a long race, but he is increasingly being viewed as the wrong messenger at the wrong time, something that was best symbolized by the hashtag #NoMoreBushes, which trended nation wide during and after his announcement.

3.  Scott Walker  Governor of Wisconsin

Walker’s numbers have been less consistent than Rubio’s, rising and falling whereas Rubio’s have steadily risen. However, Walker has become the clear frontrunner in Iowa, making him the biggest target of the second and third tier candidates hoping to catch on. The Wisconsin governor is also facing a GOP rebellion at home over his state budget, something he will have to deal with effectively before his campaign launch.

4.  Ted Cruz  U.S. Senator from Texas

Cruz continues to impress social conservative and Tea Party activists and is closer to becoming their consensus choice than any one else. He lines up better with the activist base than any other candidate, and while purity doesn’t often win, it does give a big boost in early states. With more resources and higher upside than Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum, look for conservative activists to continue their effort to consolidate behind Cruz.

5. Rand Paul  U.S. Senator from Kentucky

Paul’s numbers continue to slide in Iowa and he seems more out of step with his party than ever before. While still polling well in general election match-ups, the Kentucky senator is finding a more hawkish GOP base and reluctant donor class than he anticipated. After all the work he’s done to separate himself from his father, he is quickly starting to occupy the same space in the field.

6.  John Kasich  Governor of Ohio

Kasich continues to frequent the early voting states, and has begun building a campaign infrastructure. The governor will need to improve his standing with the donor class if he is to make it into the top tier, but he certainly has the talent and the record to do just that.

7. Chris Christie  Governor of New Jersey

Christie seems finally poised to jump into the race, and some would say he waited to long. Maybe four years too long. His current New Jersey polling is bad and Bush has absorbed a sizable chunk of his fundraising base. However, his talent on the stump and in debates should not be underestimated.

8. Carly Fiorina  former CEO of Hewlett-Packard

The former business executive is making up for a lack of political experience with excellent performances on the stump and in interviews. Buzz for her long-shot bid, and her contrast with Clinton, continues to grow.

9.  Mike Huckabee  former Governor of Arkansas

It was an awful month for the former Fox News host. Another molestation scandal, a bizarre declaration that gay marriage would criminalize Christianity, and a dismissive position on the racist symbolism of the Confederate flag. There seems to be no niche issue that Huckabee won’t immediately dive into with the most cringe-inducing position possible. Not surprisingly, his numbers have begun to slide, both nationally and in Iowa.

10.  Bobby Jindal  Governor of Louisiana

Gov. Jindal begins his campaign at the back of the pack, but his experience and knowledge of the issues gives him the edge over the also-rans at the bottom of the polls. If he can get himself into the main debates, he could make some noise.

Honorable Mention:  Rick Perry,  Ben Carson

No Chance: Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump

 

June 15, 2015

Romney’s Alliances, His Kingmaking Role, and the Future of the GOP

This past weekend, Mitt Romney invited seven presidential hopefuls to Park City, Utah, for his third annual E2 Conference — an “intimate” summit to get Republican leaders together and talk about the issues of the day. But this get-together also had a more pressing agenda: it was, in essence, an audition to help Romney’s powerful donor network decide who they would back in the race for 2016.

There is a fascinating dynamic taking place in the Republican Party today, and it largely revolves around the Bush family, the Romney family, and the mythical Republican “establishment”. Recall that in the 2012 race, Mitt Romney wasn’t truly an “establishment” candidate — that is, much of the vaunted establishment didn’t support him or did so tepidly. The establishment, remarkably, didn’t have one of their own in the race, with calls to Daniels, Christie, Jeb, Barbour, and others to jump in the race being ignored. The Republican Party, as we’ve explored here before, half-heartedly and begrudgingly got behind Romney.

The side effect of that 2012 dynamic was that Romney was forced to develop his own donor network, and he succeeded wildly in doing so. Spread throughout the business world and the various organizations he’d worked with (and saved) in the past, Romney assembled a top tier group of wealthy donors and supporters. It was this group who was urging Romney to run again in 2016. When he declined, it left them all with a question: who do we support now?

Enter Park City. Not only did Romney invite the presidential hopefuls to his E2 Summit, he also invited upwards of 300 of his top donors. The weekend was filled with speeches from the hopefuls, but more importantly, with down time for the candidates to interact with and woo that massive group of money people. Rubio held a myriad of meetings with donors in his suite throughout the weekend, for instance, and even organized a flag football game with some of them at one point. Three hundred potential donors listened as the candidates laid out their arguments as to why they would be the best candidate — and why they would win.

It would be foolish to think these top donors would act in a monolithic manner and all come out in support of the same candidate; however, besides the individual donors, Romney’s Super PAC, Restore Our Future, is also up for grabs. And the donors are led by Governor Romney, who indicated during the E2 Summit that he would like to see the GOP coalesce around a candidate earlier this time around to avoid the chaos of the 2012 primary. If Romney (or Spencer Zwick, one of the leaders of Romney’s inner circle) indicates a preference for a particular candidate, it’s easy to see a scenario where a vast majority of that donor network jumps on board.

The fascinating dynamic here is that with Romney building an alternative infrastructure in the 2012 race, the GOP essentially has two different — and, to some extent, competing — groups now: the old establishment and the new establishment. The nebulous term “establishment” has never, nor could ever, be specifically defined, but broadly speaking it simply means the mainstream politicians in Washington along with the donor network who backs them. Because of the Bush family dynasty that ruled over GOP politics for several decades, most of the old establishment is comprised of Bush money men and politicians who owe their careers to the Bush family. Springing up alongside that group now, however, is Romney’s new network of money men and politicians who owe him a debt of gratitude (think Kelly Ayotte, Mia Love, Thom Tillis, et al). Because Jeb Bush is running, and because there will obviously be a different Romney-preferred candidate in the 2016 field, these two groups stand to be at odds with one another moving forward. After the 2016 race, it will be interesting to watch and see what becomes of these groups. A lot depends, obviously, on whether Jeb Bush or the Romney-backed candidate wins this year.

Who could that candidate supported by Romney’s New Establishment be? We can look at the guest list for this year’s E2 Summit to get a good idea. These six candidates were who Romney gave the chance to woo his network:

  • Chris Christie
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsey Graham
  • John Kasich
  • Marco Rubio
  • Scott Walker

We know Lindsey Graham has no shot at coming close to the nomination and is turning out to likely be a stalking horse for Marco Rubio — during an interview with Katie Couric at the E2 Summit, Graham even said, “Marco Rubio will be President one day” — so that leaves five candidates for Romney’s New Establishment to consider. Noticeably left off the guest list: legitimate second tier candidates like Huckabee, Cruz, Carson, Jindal, Perry, and Paul. Without the massive heft of the old or new establishment support, it’s highly unlikely those candidates (or any of the other longshots) will get anywhere in this primary campaign.

To buttress the support of his network, Romney is teaming up with an unlikely ally to try and make this as painless of a primary race as possible — Sheldon Adelson:

Mitt Romney is working with an unlikely collaborator — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign — in the hopes of ensuring that the GOP primary produces a mainstream conservative without any of the mayhem that marked his own race.

The two, who speak monthly, aim to convince the wealthy contributors bankrolling various candidates to work together to avoid the kind of primary election chaos that Romney believes laid the seeds for his defeat in 2012. The former Massachusetts governor is also considering endorsing a candidate to achieve his goal.

Adelson and Romney appear to share little common ground, with Adelson’s support of Gingrich hamstringing Romney’s campaign in 2012 being a major sore spot between the two. However, they may find a common interest in this campaign: Senator Marco Rubio. Although neither man has publicly endorsed Rubio, many of Romney’s former staff have signed on with Rubio’s team, and it’s been leaked by a half dozen insiders that Rubio is the “clear frontrunner” for Adelson’s support. At least two of the other top ten GOP billionaire money men are already fundraising for Rubio as well (Paul Singer and Norman Braman).

The support for Rubio all comes with a healthy dose of speculation, of course. Regardless, whichever of those five candidates above ends up earning the support of Romney’s new establishment and Adelson’s billionaire network will be a formidable opponent in this primary campaign. Depending how the cards are dealt, Romney could end up being the most powerful kingmaker in recent history — and Mitt is doing everything he can strategically to ensure just how those cards are dealt.

June 4, 2015

National Journal Power Rankings Drop Bush from Top Spot

It’s time for a change at the top. Jeb Bush has topped each edition of Hotline’s GOP presidential power rankings until now, but we’ve said all along that there was no true frontrunner this primary season, unlike some in the past. Now, a new name takes over the top billing after Bush ran into his first spot of trouble as a presidential campaign possibility explorer— or whatever we’re supposed to call him and his unofficial campaign activities.

Still, there have been no seismic shifts in a Republican race with three tiers that appear to be solidifying. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush look far more likely, as a group, to capture the nomination than anyone else. But another five candidates lurk in the second tier, waiting for their moments ahead of a third tier of seven true long-shot White House hopefuls.

We rank would-be candidates’ chances of winning the Republican nomination based on their individual strengths and weaknesses, political organizations, poll numbers, and other factors. Here’s where the race to win the GOP primaries stands right now:

More info on their reasoning for each ranking at the link. Previous ranking is in parentheses.

1. Scott Walker (Previous: T-2)
2. Marco Rubio (T-2)
3. Jeb Bush (1)
4. Ted Cruz (4)
5. Mike Huckabee (7)
6. Rand Paul (5)
7. John Kasich (8)
8. Chris Christie (7)
9. Rick Perry (9)
10. Ben Carson (14)
11. Carly Fiorina (12)
12. Rick Santorum (10)
13. Lindsey Graham (13)
14. Bobby Jindal (11)
15. George Pataki (–)

May 29, 2015

What if Iowa Holds a Straw Poll and No One Comes?

When Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would not compete at the (new and improved?) Iowa Straw Poll this August, all eyes turned to the other candidates to see what they would do. After all, Iowa’s own Republican governor publicly said the straw poll has outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to die, but the Iowa GOP voted to continue the circus for at least one more go round. Would anybody show up? Or would the conventional wisdom — a candidate has almost nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing — prevail, meaning the straw poll would be playing to an empty room?

The body blows continued: Shortly after he announced he was running for president, Lindsey Graham announced he would not be competing. Then Marco Rubio’s campaign said it would be “highly unlikely” the Senator would compete, either. And now, we might be able to write the pre-mortem for the Iowa Straw Poll everybody is itching to write.

The Iowa GOP held an informational meeting for campaigns who are interested in the August event, and only seven campaigns (out of a potential 18) showed up:

  • Ben Carson
  • Chris Christie
  • Ted Cruz
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Rick Perry
  • Donald Trump

Making it worse, one of those seven campaigns was Lindsey Graham’s, who made it clear they weren’t joining the straw poll but were just attending out of respect for the Iowa Republican Party. So in reality, only six campaigns are even interested in competing this year. Six out of eighteen — let that sink in for a moment.

Noticeably absent: Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. Rand’s father used to make a political career out of gaming straw polls; it looks like Paul the Younger has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Santorum’s lack of interest in the straw poll matches Huckabee’s in terms of seriousness: both have won the Iowa caucuses, but now face the reality of weakened support and severely negative press should they compete and lose here in August.

Scott Walker’s absence may be the most startling, however. With Bush and Rubio both bowing out, one would think this would be a prime opportunity for Governor Walker to score an early and easy victory. Plus, the Iowa caucuses are an absolute must-win for him come February, being a neighboring conservative governor, so the Straw Poll would give him a chance to put a slew of organizational pieces into place early. He must have decided the risk wasn’t worth it, though — and who could blame him?

So who is planning to compete? Donald Trump and Ben Carson. That’s it. Those are the only two candidates who have committed to attend the 2015 straw poll. Even if Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, and Perry all decide to get in (remember, Perry famously skipped the straw poll last time to announce his candidacy at the Red State event), that’s not much of a lineup to attract voters. While it might be a few minutes of fun to watch Christie bloviate all over a roomful of Iowans, nobody would mistake this for a serious event in any way, shape, or form. (Which is why I think Fiorina will ultimately skip it as well – she is desperately trying to be seen as a serious candidate, and running around at an event where Donald Trump could be the main headliner certainly doesn’t play into that.)

And so it is that the straw poll fizzles out and finally dies, with little fanfare or recognition. RIP, Ames Straw Poll, 1979-2015. It was fun while it lasted.

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