Monday, December 12, 2011

Candidate, Organization, Message and MONEY!

Any political campaign needs four things to be successful.
  1. Candidate
  2. Organization
  3. Message
  4. MONEY
The most important elements in a campaign are the candidate and money.  With enough money you can pay for the organization and get smart political consultants to craft a message.  However, it is hard to win with a bad candidate no matter how much money you have.  It is also hard for a good candidate to win with little money.

We saw how these four elements came together 4 years ago for Barack Obama.  He was a new, fresh face that was articulate and charming on the campaign trail.  He energized a lot of people and was able to build an impressive volunteer organizational base.  He developed a simple message of "Hope and Change" and brought in truckloads of money.

How do the factors apply to the Republican Presidential Primary?

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have each distinguished themselves in the debates.  In fact, were it not for the unprecedented number of televised debates, Newt Gingrich would probably have been out of the race several months ago.  He has elevated himself as a candidate to the top of current polls almost solely on his abilities in those debates .  Romney has shown himself to be a top tier candidate based on his solid performance in the debates.  Contrast these candidates with Rick Perry who has struggled in the debates and hurt his candidacy despite raising a lot of money (see below).  

Herman Cain was propelled to the top of the polls based on his likeability as a candidate and his simple message of 9-9-9.   He is the only candidate that was able to craft a simple, memorable message that connected with voters.   However, he had almost no real professional organization in his campaign and would likely have struggled in many primary states due to this fact alone had he not imploded.

During the course of the debates I came to believe that Romney, Gingrich and Santorum were the best candidates.  They each showed that they have the depth and breadth of experience to be President.  Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Huntsman do not seem to me to be ready for prime time.  Ron Paul seems to me to be past prime time.  He strikes a chord on some issues but I think he comes across as the crazy uncle who lives in the attic bedroom upstairs for most voters.

However, MONEY is still the kingmaker of most campaigns.  Let's take a look at the money factor as it relates to the major Republican candidates.

These figures are for the period through September 30, 2011 per the Federal Election Committee (FEC) website for each of the major candidates.

                                   Total Receipts                                    Cash on Hand

Mitt Romney                 $32.6 million                                       $14.7 million
Rick Perry                     $17.2 million                                       $15.1 million
Ron Paul                       $12.8 million                                       $   3.7 million
Michele Bachmann       $12.1 million                                       $   1.5 million
Herman Cain                 $ 5.4 million                                        $   1.3 million
Jon Huntsman                $ 4.5 million                                       $      .3 million
Newt Gingrich               $ 2.9 million                                       $      .4 million
Rick Santorum               $ 1.3 million                                        $     .2 million

Mitt Romney has clearly shown the greatest ability to raise money for his campaign followed by Rick Perry.  He also has a large war chest that should mean he will have staying power deep into the primary process.  Most of the other candidates will need early successes to bring needed money in to fund later primaries.  This is absolutely critical for Newt.  If he does not break away from Mitt and the others by the Florida primary at the end of January he will likely be done.  His funding will not be there and his slim resources to this point have hurt his organizational efforts in many states.

Romney's money allows him the luxury of being able to stay around to wait to see if Newt makes a mistake.  He just has to make sure that he avoids a big mistake.  He also needs to develop a message that will resonate to take him above what appears to be his core support of 20% in current polls.

The primary schedule is very interesting with the January schedule featuring the Iowa Caucus on Jan 3 followed by the New Hampshire primary (Jan 10), South Carolina (Jan 21) and Florida (Jan 31).     Romney, Perry and Paul have the resources to go beyond January even if they have not won one of these four contests.  If the other candidates do not do well in these January contests it is unlikely they will have the money to continue.

Most of the February activity are state caucuses where organization can be critical.  After Florida, it is 4 weeks before the next two primaries-Arizona and Michigan- on February 28.

This leads up to the Super Tuesday on March 6 with 25% of the total delegates in play on that one day. However, at this point only 40% of all delegates will have been selected, and if the race is not decided by this point, it could be a long battle where money will become increasingly important and the candidates will have little time to raise it.

Here is the full primary schedule which is in an interesting column by Rhodes Cook for Sabato's Crystal Ball who argues that the primary schedule actually leaves the door open for a late-starting candidate to still enter and win the nomination.

 Cook explains how the primary schedule could still produce some surprises.
(The primary schedule) is less condensed at the front, much more loaded with events at the back, with the prospect of a viable, late-starting candidate quite real.
This is not to say that it will happen, but simply to note that it could. Such a scenario could not have unfolded in 2008, when the early January events were followed in short order by an early February Super Tuesday vote-fest that involved nearly half the country.
But the elongated layout of the nominating calendar this time provides the opportunity for a late-starting candidate to emerge. Should Mitt Romney stumble badly in the January events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, another establishment Republican could enter the race in early February and still compete directly in states with at least 1,200 of the 2,282 or so GOP delegates. Many of them will be up for grabs after April 1 when statewide winner-take-all is possible.
Similarly, should non-Romney alternatives led by Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry fall flat in the January contests, there would be time for the conservative wing of the party to find a new champion to carry its banner through the bulk of the primary season.
In some respects, the layout of the 2012 primary calendar resembles that in 1976, starting in the dead of winter with events in Iowa and New Hampshire and building to a crescendo with California in early June. That year, President Gerald Ford and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan battled delegate for delegate until Ford prevailed at the convention that summer in Kansas City. It was the most closely contested and longest-running Republican nominating contest in the last 40 years.
On the Democratic side, the “back-loaded” arrangement of the primary calendar encouraged two late entries in 1976, Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. Each won several spring-time primaries. But they mounted their campaigns too late to offset former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s long lead in the delegate count.
Eight years earlier, Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York was a far more successful late starter. He entered the Democratic race after the New Hampshire primary and proceeded to run off a series of high-profile primary victories, culminating with a winner-take-all triumph in California in early June. Had he not been shot the night of his California victory, Kennedy might have gone on to wrest the nomination from Vice President Hubert Humphrey. As it is, Kennedy’s unfinished campaign is one of American history’s more intriguing “what ifs.”
Who will come out on top when all is said and done?  I have no idea right now but the winner is likely to be the one who best balances all four elements that a political campaign needs.  Romney is best positioned right now across all four key elements.  Gingrich is stronger in a couple areas right now but he needs money to go the distance to get the organization he needs to last until the Spring.

Prepare for an interesting 6 weeks ahead but keep in mind that there are 6 months of primaries ahead of us before it may all sort out.

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