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

June 29, 2015

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 25, 2015

June 24, 2015

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 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.

May 27, 2015

Poll Watch: Vox Populi/Daily Caller Early State Snapshot

Vox Populi, in conjunction with the Daily Caller, asked GOP primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina last weekend whether or not they would consider voting for a bunch of different Republican candidates. Across all three states combined, here were the totals (would consider/would not consider, with the remainder being neutral or don’t know):

  • Rubio – 56/19
  • Walker – 52/16
  • Carson – 48/20
  • Huckabee – 46/32
  • Cruz – 43/29
  • Perry – 40/31
  • Paul – 41/33
  • Bush – 42/36
  • Fiorina – 29/24
  • Jindal – 30/27
  • Santorum – 34/37
  • Kasich – 16/28
  • Christie – 30/46
  • Graham – 28/45

A few notes before we move on to the individual states: first, this is obviously great news for fans of Senator Rubio and Governor Walker. I am surprised at how high Ben Carson is on this list, though — at +28, he beats everybody except the two frontrunners. At +14, Huckabee has now sunk to match Ted Cruz, both of whom have little to no chance of winning the nomination at this point. Bush continues to poll poorly in these sorts of surveys, with a full 36% of GOP voters saying they would not consider voting for him. That’s the highest of anyone except Santorum, Christie, and Graham — indicating he will have the tiniest margin for error once this campaign starts in earnest. And finally, if you are Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, or Lindsey Graham, why even bother? At least Bush has the establishment money and campaign infrastructure. Those other three have nothing.

In the three earliest states, here are the percentage of voters who would consider voting for a candidate:

Iowa

  • Walker – 64%
  • Rubio – 57%
  • Huckabee – 57%
  • Carson – 54%
  • Cruz – 48%

New Hampshire

  • Rubio – 52%
  • Walker – 47%
  • Bush – 45%
  • Paul – 42%
  • Carson – 42%

South Carolina

  • Rubio – 57%
  • Walker – 49%
  • Carson – 48%
  • Huckabee – 47%
  • Cruz – 42%

Some parting thoughts: Graham doesn’t even register in the top five in his home state. Jeb Bush isn’t in the top five in Iowa or South Carolina, and he only gets considered by 45% of folks in New Hampshire. Those numbers are going to be huge problems for him if he can’t move them before the votes start being cast. Surveys like this make it evident why niche candidates such as Paul and Cruz are’t going to be the nominee (and, to a lesser extent, you can throw Huckabee in that group as well). Finally, Walker and Rubio have the highest ceilings in every state. This thing could easily come down to a contest between the two of them, and I suspect that would be a scenario most Republican primary voters would be okay with. Rubio is the only candidate with a ceiling above 50% in all three states.

May 26, 2015

Santorum, Pataki, Graham, Perry to Announce Over Next Ten Days

Over the next ten days, four Republican candidates are expected to announce their campaigns for President: Rick Santorum (May 27 in Pennsylvania), George Pataki (May 28 in New Hampshire), Lindsey Graham (June 1 in South Carolina), and Rick Perry (June 4 in Texas). None of the four are expected to have a realistic opportunity at the nomination, but each will influence the debates and discussion in a unique way. Rick Santorum, of course, will draw attention to social conservative issues, Pataki has promised to focus on infrastructure and economic issues, Graham will lead the charge for defense hawks, and Perry will focus on attempting to rehabilitate his damaged public image from his failed 2012 run. Lindsey Graham also potentially throws the meaningfulness of the South Carolina primary into question, depending on whether his poll numbers take off in his home state or not.

So with those four announcements penciled in, and with other candidates narrowing down their plans, we update our Candidacy Tracker:

March 22 Ted Cruz
April 7 Rand Paul
April 13 Marco Rubio
May 4 Ben Carson
Carly Fiorina
May 5 Mike Huckabee
May 27 Rick Santorum
May 28 George Pataki
June 1 Lindsey Graham
June 4 Rick Perry
June Chris Christie
June Donald Trump
After June 11 (after legislative session) Bobby Jindal
June or July (after legislative session) Scott Walker
Sometime this summer Bob Ehrlich
Before the August 6 debate John Kasich
Unknown Jeb Bush
Unknown Peter King

Not running: Bolton, Martinez, Pence, Portman, Romney, Ryan, Snyder, Thune

Dark green indicates an official candidate. Light green indicates a candidate who has indicated they will announce but has yet to officially do so. Yellow indicates a potential candidate who has formed an exploratory committee.

  3:34 pm George Pataki, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum  

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