Thursday :: Oct 23, 2003

Lessons from History: The 1988 Primary Campaign


by CA Pol Junkie

by CA Pol Junkie

The vultures are already starting to circle around the Democratic presidential wannabes, the first casualty occurring two weeks ago when Bob Graham's campaign folded because he was unable to "close the gap in organization and fund-raising." All but one of the remaining serious candidates will stumble, fade, or get a reality check from the voters. The blood, sweat, hopes, and money behind each failed campaign will be reduced to abstract notions of shaping and expanding the Democratic Party, bringing issues into the debate, strengthening the eventual nominee, or perhaps getting the VP nomination.

Jacob Straus of the University of Florida political science department lists five reasons why campaigns failed in 1988:

1. The candidate withdraws because of a primary defeat
Candidates in this category have a weak campaign and need early success to continue. Bruce Babbitt ended his 1988 campaign after New Hampshire, where he got less than 5% of the vote. Joe Lieberman is most likely to suffer this mode of defeat. He has already backed out of Iowa and may do the same in New Hampshire, postponing the day of reckoning to February 3rd. Either way, if he can't put in a solid performance by then, it will be over for him.

2. The candidate cannot reverse the effect of defeat before the convention
This mode of failure starts with early defeat. Although the candidate persists, lacking the momentum and positive media from an early win eventually spells defeat. In 1988, Paul Simon lost to Gephardt by 5% in Iowa and his campaign went on a downward spiral from there. He persisted until after the Wisconsin primary, which was the 29th state to vote - equivalent to after March 2nd in this year's race. Al Gore was in the race one primary longer than Simon, but his early defeats left him tagged as a regional candidate and unable to build a national base. An Iowa loss by Gephardt or a New Hampshire loss by Kerry could take the wind out of their campaigns, starting the slow and agonizing death of their aspirations.

3. The candidate cannot win enough delegates to impact the party convention
A candidate in this category persists until the convention, but does not have the delegates to win outright or control who does win in the event of a brokered convention. Jesse Jackson (and Jerry Brown from 1992) fit this category. Dean has stated that his campaign will continue to the convention even if he is not the winner, or the eventual non-Dean may choose to continue campaigning even if Dean has the nomination wrapped up.

4. The candidate cannot raise enough money to stay competitive
Being a good candidate means nothing if you can't buy the TV ads. March 2nd will separate the rich from the poor this time around, as the big delegate states California, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Minnesota, Maryland, and maybe Texas will all need advetising simultaneously. Gephardt failed this test in 1988 - he made it through Super Tuesday, but quit the race after losing Michigan badly with his campaign running on fumes. For reference, here are the third quarter fundraising totals and cash on hand from the latest FEC reports:

Dean: Q3 $14.8M, Cash $12.4M
Kerry: Q3 $4.0M, Cash $7.8M
Gephardt: Q3 $3.8M, Cash $5.9M
Edwards: Q3 $2.6M, Cash $4.8M
Lieberman: Q3 $3.6M, Cash $4.1M
Clark: Q3 $3.5M, Cash $3.4M

Candidates will need strong fundraising during the primary season to have enough cash for March 2nd. If your fundraising lags, you don't make it to the finish line. It's that simple.

5. The candidate gets caught in a scandal
See Hart, Gary. The top 6 candidates seem to be pretty squeaky clean - let's hope there aren't any skeletons...

CA Pol Junkie :: 9:20 AM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!