Is It Too Late?

Some very wise political analysts wrote that things have changed since 1992 when Bill Clinton got into the race late and managed to win. The need to build a national campaign network, raise money and meet the demands of 24/7 campaigning without making a single mistake are hurdles that put late joiners at a serious disadvantage. Mitt Romney has been raising money, performing in debates, bringing in endorsements and satisfying local political committees necessary for the early primaries. He can do it because he has a network in place to do most of the work for him, leaving him free to focus on interviews, debate prep and meeting with the big donors. Gov. Perry, as a relative late-comer, is floundering by comparison. The overwhelming demands on his time in places he has no network and from people with whom he has no intermediaries have strained his ability to focus on improving his debate abilities. His big lead has slumped and he is at risk of simply fading away. By the time he gets a full national campaign in place, his mistakes may have made him irrelevant. Soon Herman Cain will face the same problems. These were the reasons various pundits said Christie should definitely not get into the race. It was too late, even if he had changed his mind.

But is it too late? Being in early and ahead in the polls is no guarantee of success. The pages of campaign history are littered with the failed campaigns of big names, with national support and early planning. Perhaps the right question is not whether it is too late, but rather is it too soon? It is clearly too late to get into the race and compete against the established campaigns. There is not enough time to get a national campaign up and running effectively between now and the early primaries while simultaneously engaging in frequent televised debates. But, that doesn’t mean it is too late to get into the race at all. It just means it is too early to be a late entrant.

Look at the poll numbers Perry pulled in just due to hype. Christie saw the same, although he ended up not running. Cain made one great debate appearance and his numbers shot up. However, Perry and Cain now have to find a way to sustain that popularity for months before it can translate into votes. Just ask Michele Bachmann how that straw poll victory is treating her now. Frankly, getting in early opens the door to constant attacks by a vengeful media and the inevitable mistake that will get blown out of proportion just to have a news story to report. Romney and Paul are somewhat immune to these problems because they were already attacked in the last election and there just isn’t much new to attack them with. Their names are already out there and they have a base of support in place, so they don’t need the big performance to gain a position in the rankings. They just need to not trip over themselves and wait it out until the primaries get closer and they start spending the piles of money they built up. Everyone else has an uphill battle and has as much to fear from sudden success as from a major mistake.

With so many primaries happening so close together and so early in the year, a late entrant could ride the newcomer media hype to a handful of early victories. Then, by absorbing the staff and network of candidates who are forced to drop out, basically walk into a national campaign with enough time remaining to still effectively raise funds for the general election in November. This would not work for just any random candidate, but there are some big names who stayed out who have the skills, policy knowledge and connections to pull it off if they time it right. A December entry could steal the nomination.

I’m not saying that is what should happen, will happen or would be desirable. It is just that the old logic that there is a time after which a new campaign cannot succeed is very likely no longer valid. Like it or not, the media does manipulate public opinion in elections. Playing the media against itself may be a better strategy than traditional campaigning. After all, then Sen. Obama had nothing to offer on policy or experience, but the media carried him to victory. The media may be generally against conservatives, but they just can’t help themselves from hyping anyone new. Even if the hype is full of negatives, it raises the recognition of that candidate and usually results in a rise in the polls – at least until the hype dies down or the candidate withers under the spotlight.

A well-timed late entrant would face significant challenges, but could play the media hype into a surge in the polls just in time for it to translate into real votes. I’m sure Rick Perry wishes the early primaries had been in August when he was the talk of the town. Had they been, he’d probably be in this against Romney alone instead of falling back into a still crowded pack. The lack of consensus on a candidate and the infighting between them during the debates could be justification enough for one of the big names that decided not to run many months ago (when Obama looked stronger) to reconsider and come in to ‘unify the party against Obama’. While such an entry would never work if it came this month or in November, it could potentially play in December – especially if the field doesn’t slim down between now and then.

Second Thoughts?Who could pull off this last minute capture of the early primaries and the nomination? There are two that immediately come to mind: Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels. Conversely, two names that couldn’t pull it off are Sarah Palin and Chris Christie. They both bowed out too recently to change their minds so soon. Barbour and Daniels could be ‘drafted’ back in if they plan such an effort. They are not the only ones, but the ones with the best name recognition (Daniels) and existing connections (Barbour) to generate the necessary media hype and channel it into sudden victories. With the voters still divided, no real excitement for the ‘inevitable candidate’ and a compressed primary schedule, there may never be a better time than December to capture the race without having to face the withering pressure of public scrutiny of every minor decision they ever made. With so many of the big names that got out early still sitting silently and not endorsing anyone, one has to wonder if they are pondering the same thing I am. But, only one could pull it off. If two jumped in, they would both lose. If Barbour and Daniels go to dinner, Romney should start to worry.

3 Responses

  1. From your words, to God’s ears (or in this case eyes).

  2. “Better late than never”

  3. Perry, Cain, Donnelly (LIFO)

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