Where Are All The Republican Candidates?

[ Posted Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 – 18:08 UTC ]

We are now roughly twenty months away from the next presidential election. But, rather surprisingly, only one Republican has announced he's running for president -- and he's not exactly a "top tier" candidate. So one has to wonder, where are all the Republicans?

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying it is a bad thing (or, for that matter, a good thing) that the 2012 election cycle hasn't gotten off the ground yet. Presidential races, according to conventional wisdom, just get longer and longer by starting earlier and earlier each time. The joke right after the midterm congressional elections last year was that the next day was the kickoff for the '12 campaign. But the conventional wisdom has turned out to be wrong this time around. Because there is no "field" of candidates yet on the Republican side.

Exactly four years ago, in the winter of 2007, both major parties had a full slate of candidates. For the Democrats, everyone had already announced their candidacy, either formally or informally. The list of Democratic contenders, at the beginning of March, 2007, consisted of: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, and Tom Vilsack. There were other names being bantered around as possible contenders (such as Wes Clark), but none of them wound up running in the end.

On the Republican side, all the heavyweights had already announced, as well as a few less-than-heavyweights. Their fringier candidates, for the most part, had held back and jumped into the fray later on, but in March, 2007, the following Republicans were already in the race: Sam Brownback, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Several other names were being batted around, some of whom went on to run and some of whom did not: Newt Gingrich, Chuck Hagel, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, and Tommy Thompson. One vanity candidate jumped in the Republican race very late in the game, but Fred Thompson never went much of anywhere after he formally announced.

Of course, the 2008 election had a very different dynamic than 2012. To begin with, it was an exceedingly rare "open" election for both parties -- since sitting Vice President Dick Cheney had said very early on that he would not run. This meant that for the first time in a long time, there were no sitting presidents or vice presidents in the race -- on either side. Because of the open nature of both primary races, jumping in early was seen as the right thing for all candidates to do.

Next year's race will be very different, since there will be a sitting president running for re-election. This all but guarantees that the Democratic primary race is going to be a foregone conclusion, even if Obama faces a primary challenge (the smart money, at this point, is that he won't face anyone of any stature, merely fringe and vanity candidates).

On the Republican side, however, the field is just as open as it was four years ago, and yet only Herman Cain has either formally or informally announced his candidacy. My reaction to hearing his announcement was likely the same as yours: "Herman who?"

Of course, this hasn't stopped pundits everywhere from reading the tea leaves (pun intended) on who else will throw their hat into the Republican ring. The Republicans do not have a shortage of people who are considered plausible candidates at this point, a list which includes names such as: Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and a whole handful of others. But amidst all the speculation, none of them has actually declared their intent to run. A few Republicans have pretty much ruled out running this time around, such as Chris Christie, but most of them are still playing it awfully coy for the time being.

This doesn't mean it is going to come as any surprise when the top tier folks do announce. I don't think there's a person alive who follows politics who doesn't think Mitt Romney's going to run, for instance. But even in the top tier, there are doubts about some very big names. Mike Huckabee may decide to wait until 2016. Newt Gingrich looks more serious about mounting a run than normal (Gingrich has played the media's "will he or won't he" game for pretty much the last three election cycles, but he's never actually run). Whether Sarah Palin runs or not is anybody's guess at this point (I'm guessing she will, but I could very easily be wrong about that).

Perhaps the reluctance of prominent Republicans to declare their intentions stems from the fact that President Obama is looking a lot better in the polls than he was just a few months ago (more on this tomorrow, in our monthly "Obama Poll Watch" column). Perhaps the younger of the Republicans on the speculation list are thinking deeply about the wisdom of perhaps skipping 2012 and concentrating on 2016. This could mean the Republican nomination might be captured by a longshot candidate (as happened on the Democratic side in 1992, for instance).

Republicans normally nominate whichever prominent politician's "turn" it is. But this conventional wisdom may prove to be wrong, too. The specter of Bob Dole's loss in 1996 still hangs over the party, to some extent. And when you get right down to it, any conventional wisdom may prove to be wrong this time around, with the Tea Party Republican contingent completely changing the landscape of the race for the first time. If Republicans did follow their normal course of electing who is "next in line," then Mitt Romney would likely take the nomination (since John McCain will almost certainly not run again). Or maybe Mike Huckabee, who also had a strong showing in the 2008 primaries.

But this sort of speculation is incredibly premature. Because we don't even know who is actually in the race yet. But that's going to have to change within the next month or two. Because the first "race" in the presidential race is the money race -- tying up big Republican donors and amassing the biggest campaign chest you can, in order to scare off everyone else. This race is likely already being contested, out of view of the public. There are a handful of candidates who could jump in at any time during the race -- even quite late -- without impacting their fundraising ability, for very different reasons. Ron Paul's supporters are so loyal that it probably wouldn't matter if he jumped in next week or at the end of the summer -- he'd still probably raise about as much money, and then go on to lose. Huckabee and Romney have both run national campaigns previously, so they score high on "name recognition." Having low name recognition is one of the strongest reasons for jumping in early (if nobody knows who you are, then you've got to start early to get your name recognized by a significant percentage of the voters by primary day). And of course Sarah Palin (and Newt Gingrich, to a lesser extent) already has sky-high name recognition among the voters, so either Palin or Gingrich could formally announce very late in the game indeed. I could see Palin waiting until Thanksgiving to get into the race, and she'd still likely do about the same as if she announced tomorrow, because everyone already knows who she is. Love her or hate her, everyone knows her -- and the media already follows her every tweet breathlessly, so she doesn't have much to lose by being the last into the ring.

It may simply be that they're all waiting for each other to go first. Perhaps there will be a frenzy of announcements within a period of a few weeks, as this dam bursts. It likely wouldn't even matter who went first, if a bunch of announcements happen around the same time -- the public's not going to remember such trivia in a year's time.

But I still find it interesting that the upcoming primary race for the Republican presidential nominee seems to be bucking the trend of "earlier is better." Maybe they'll all wait until late spring or even early summer to announce, who knows? Until then, I guess I should do some research on Herman Cain... since he's got the whole 2012 Republican field to himself as of now.


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Where Are All The Republican Candidates?”

  1. [1] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:

    Early....It's always about the money anymore.

    Remember last (Presidential) cycle when there was open & early speculation about who could and could NOT survive past Iowa? (Iowa!)...
    because a poor showing there might cause the money to dry up?

    Typically, Chris has this base (the money race) covered....i.e.
    "This race is likely being contested,..out of view of the public".......
    no doubt!

    As the Titanic captain famously said:
    "I pray I'm wrong..but FEAR I'm right"

    In this,..the first Presidential primary season since "Citizen's United"... Chances are excellent that every BIT of what we think of as the conventional wisdom is absolutely irrelevant.

    If I sound like someone in a "Fear-Sweat" about having had the entire electoral process hijacked out from under us....and not even KNOW it's because I absolutely AM!

    I've never been a paranoic and have always been averse to conspiracy theories...even those that might seem to align with my own (very partisan) beliefs.

    But I will admit the following forthrightly:
    I DON'T KNOW feel comfy about the answer to the following question.

    (Hint to intrepid journalists...particularly those with the initials "CW" here!!..ahem)

    With unlimited, anonymous, soft money contributions (even from foriegn entities!)
    now protected "speech" and perfectly legal.....

    What is to prevent a "stealth candidate" to have ALREADY amassed such a prohibitive war chest as to make all other serious contenders opt out?

    For Example:

    What if.. (strictly a facetious example)

    The "God Fearin' Amerikan PAC"...
    With P.O.Boxes in Talahasse, Fl., Bhopaal, India, Bejiing, China and Kennebunkport, Maine...
    Turned out to have 825 gazillion dollars to file on come the FEC deadline next year?


    What if we learned from a disgruntled, former "GFApac" staffer's tell-all book that they:
    Merely CONVINCED Newt, Huck, Adeli Stevenson..(otherwise known as Romney),Sarah and the rest...that they HAD the money...but DIDN'T...
    Thereby winning the Presidency through a BLUFF in a game of "hold 'em" (Texas?) at a table to which the electorate wasn't even INVITED!

    DISCLAIMER: While I have meant every word of this post, and could continue...
    I have simultaneously been experimenting with a new (to me) technique for italicizing certain words...which I may or may not have learned from CW.Com.
    Forgive me for abruptly closing see if it works

  2. [2] 
    tommymccarthy wrote:

    By Jove I think I've GOT it!

    As in life.. the mistakes highlight the successes!

    I always assume I'm the dullard in the class
    (a well-founded assumption when it comes to computers).

    Simply put:
    Everyone ("experts" included) should, time permits..
    Scroll to the bottom of the page...adjacent to "LEAVE A REPLY"..and click on the purple-highlighted "Commenting Tips" link ...
    Suffice to say: There's good stuff in there....easily understandable too!

    For only the 100th time....Thanx Chris

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    I'll have what HE'S ^^^^^ having.... :D

    Sorry, just COULDN'T resist.. :D


  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    tommymccarthy -

    Well, thank you for the kind words on the "Commenting Tips" page! I did work hard on that, but have wondered ever since if it's actually helped anyone or not.

    I did have to fix an html tag or two in your first post, but in your second comment, you seemed to have mastered the technique.

    I posted a comment for you under the "My Class Warfare Rant" article thread that I think you'll be interested in, too, just FYI.


    Everyone is encouraged to check out the "Commenting Tips" page, no matter what your skill level may be.


  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    I too was wondering whether Citizens United is behind this oddly vacant field of challengers. I was thinking that perhaps political strategists have decided it's impossible to scare anyone out of running.

    Then there's the example of Howard Dean: as the early front-runner, he was the one for everyone else to attack. The supposedly-inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton didn't go too well either.

  6. [6] 
    Moderate wrote:

    I think a lot of it is the name recognition factor. The front-runners are all fairly well known, and I think a few of the lesser lights might be reluctant to throw an unknown name into the mix before some of the big guns come out.

    Look at Cain. I think he's done irreparable damage to his campaign by coming out into a completely open field with zero name recognition. Everyone's first thought was "Who?" and since there's nobody else to take the focus away from him, he comes across like that kid from school who always hung around in the corner at parties because nobody knew who the hell he was.

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