Chapter 9: Nominations and Campaigns AP GOVERNMENT With about half a million elected officials in this country, there is always someone somewhere running for office. Campaigns in American politics can be divided into two stages: first, nominations, and second, campaigns between the two nominees. The prize for a nomination campaign is garnering a party’s nod as its candidate; the prize for an election campaign is winning an office. THE NOMINATION GAME A nomination is a party’s official endorsement of a candidate for office. Anyone can play the nomination game, but few have any serious chance of victory. Generally, success in the nomination game requires money, media attention, and momentum. Campaign strategy is the way in which candidates attempt to manipulate each of these elements to achieve the nomination. Deciding to Run Campaigns have become more physical and emotional taxing than ever. In most advanced industrialized countries, campaigns last no more than two months according to custom and/or law. In contrast, American campaigns seem endless; a presidential candidacy needs to be either announced or an open secret for at least a year before the election. Competing for Delegates In some ways, the nomination game is tougher than the general election game; it whittles a large number of players down to two. The goal of the nomination game is to win the majority of delegates’ support at the national party convention-the supreme power within each of the parties, which functions to select presidential and vice presidential candidates and to write a party platform. There are 50 different roads to the national convention, one through each state. From February through June of the election year, the individual state parties busily choose their delegates to the national convention via either caucuses or primaries. Candidates try to ensure that delegates committed to them are chosen. The Caucus Road Before primaries existed, all state parties selected their delegates to the national convention in a meeting of state party leaders called a caucus. State party leaders could control who went to the convention and how the state’s delegates voted once they got there. They were the kingmakers of presidential politics who met in smoke-filled rooms at the convention to cut deals and form coalitions. Today’s caucuses are different from those of the past. In the dozen states that still have them, caucuses are now open to all voters who are registered with the party.. Caucuses are usually organized like a pyramid. Small, neighborhood, precinct-level caucuses are held initially-often meeting at a church, an American Legion Hall, or even someone’s home. At this level, delegates are chosen, on the basis of their preference for a certain candidate, to attend county caucuses and then congressional district caucuses, where delegates are again chosen to go to a higher level-a state convention. At the state convention, which usually occurs months after the precinct caucuses, delegates are finally chosen to go to the national convention. Since 1972 the state of Iowa has held the nation’s first caucuses. Because the Iowa caucuses are the first test of the candidates’ vote-getting ability, they usually become a full-blown media extravaganza. Well-known candidates have seen their campaign virtually fall apart as a result of poor showings in Iowa. Most important, candidates who were not thought to be contenders have received tremendous boosts from unexpected strong showings in Iowa. Iowa has become so important that citizens of the state can expect at least one presidential candidate to come through the state every week during the year preceding the caucus. THE PRIMARY ROAD Today, most of the delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions are selected in presidential primaries, in which voters in a state go to the polls and vote for a candidate or delegates pledged to that candidate. The presidential primary was promoted around the turn of the century by reformers who wanted to take nominations out of the hands of the party bosses. The reformers wanted to let the people vote for the candidate of their choice and then bind the delegates to vote for that candidate at the national convention. The increase in the number of presidential primaries occurred after the Democratic Party’s disastrous 1968 national convention led many to rethink the delegate selection procedures then in place. Minorities, women, youth, and other groups demanded a more open process of convention delegate selection. The McGovern-Fraser Commission had a mandate to try to make Democratic Party conventions more representative. As a result of their decisions, no longer could party leaders handpick the convention delegates virtually in secret. All delegate selection procedures were required to be open, so that party leaders had no more clout than college students or anyone else who wanted to participate. One of the unforeseen results of these new rules was that many states decided that the easiest way to comply was simply to hold primary elections to select convention delegates. Because state laws instituting primaries typically apply to selection of both parties’ selection of delegates, the Republican Party’s nomination process was similarly transformed. Few developments have changed American politics as much as the proliferation of presidential primaries. Whereas once many of the delegates were experienced politicians who knew the candidates, today they are typical people who have worked on a candidate’s campaign and who owe their position as a delegate strictly to that candidate’s ability to pull in primary votes. The Democratic Party became so concerned about the lack of a role for party leaders at their convention that starting in 1984 they automatically set aside about 15% of their delegate slots for public officeholders and party officials. These politicians who are awarded convention seats on the basis of their position are known as superdelegates. The addition of these delegates to the Democratic national convention was designed to restore an element of “peer review” to the process, ensuring participation of the people most familiar with the candidates. However, to date the primaries have proved to be far more crucial than the superdelegates. The primary season begins during the winter in New Hampshire. Like the Iowa caucuses, the importance of New Hampshire is not the number of delegates or how representative the state is, but rather that it is traditionally the first primary. At this early stage, the campaign is not for delegates, but for images-candidates want the rest of the country to see them as front- runners. The frenzy of political activity in this small state is given lavish attention in the national press. In recent years, over a fifth of TV coverage of the nomination races has been devoted to the New Hampshire primary. At one time, it was considered advantageous for a state to choose its delegates late in the primary season so that it could play a decisive role. However, in recent years, states that have held late primaries have found their primary results irrelevant given that one candidate had already sown up the nomination by the time their primaries were held. With so much media attention being paid to the early contests, more states have moved their primaries up in the calendar to capitalize on the media attention. This frontloading of the process resulted in two-thirds of both Democratic and Republican delegates being chosen within six weeks of the New Hampshire primary in 2000. State laws determine how the delegates are allocated, operating within the general guidelines set by the party. Some are closed to only people who are registered with the party, whereas others are open. Week after week, the primaries serve as elimination contests, as the media continually monitor the count of delegates won. Candidates who fail to score early wins get labeled as losers and typically drop out of the race. Usually they have little choice since losing quickly inhibits a candidate’s ability to raise the money necessary to win in other states. Primaries and caucuses are more than an endurance contest, though they are certainly that,; they are also proving grounds. Week after week, the challenge is to do better than expected. To get momentum (“mo”) going, candidates have to beat people they were not expected to beat, collect margins above predictions and-above all else-never lose to people they were expected to trounce. Momentum is good to have, but it is no guarantee of victory because candidates with a strong base sometimes bounce back. Evaluating the Primary and Caucus System Primaries and caucuses are here to stay. That does not mean, however, that political scientists or commentators are happy with the system. Criticisms of this marathon campaign are numerous , but here are a few of the most important: Disproportionate attention goes to the early caucuses and primaries. Prominent politicians find it difficult to take time out from their duties to run. Money plays too big a role in the process. Participation is low and unrepresentative. Although about 50% of the population votes in November, only about 20% vote in primaries. The system gives too much power to the media. The Convention Send-Off At one time party conventions provided great drama. Great speeches were given, darkhorse candidates suddenly appeared, and numerous ballots were held as candidates jockeyed to win the nomination. Multiballot conventions died out in 1952, however, with the advent of television. Today, the drama has largely been drained from the convention because the winner is a foregone conclusion. No longer can a powerful governor shift a whole block of votes at the last minute. Delegates selected in the primaries and open caucuses have known preferences. Without such drama, the networks have substantially scaled back the number of hours of coverage in recent years. Although conventions are no longer very interesting, they are a significant rallying point for the parties. Modern conventions are scripted to present the party in its best light. Delegates are no longer there to argue for their causes but merely support their candidate. The parties carefully orchestrate a massive send-off for the presidential and vice- presidential candidates. The party’s leaders are there in force, as are many of its most important followers-people whose input will be critical during the general election campaign. The conventions are also important in developing the party's policy positions and in promoting political representation. In the past, conventions were essentially an assembly of party leaders, gathered together to bargain over the selection of the party’s ticket. Almost all delegates were White, male, and over 40. Lately, party reformers, especially the Democrats, have worked hard to make the conventions far more3 demographically representative. Meeting in an oversized, over-stuffed convention hall in a major city, a national convention is a short-lived affair. The highlight of the first day is usually the keynote speech, in which a dynamic speaker recalls party heroes, condemns the opposition party, and touts the nominee apparent. The second day centers on the party platform-the party’s statement of its goals and policies for the next four years. The platform is drafted prior to the convention by a committee whose members are chosen in rough proportion to each candidate’s strength. Any time 20% of the delegates to the platform committee disagree with the majority, they can bring an alternative minority plank to the convention floor for debate. In former times, contests over the platform were key tests of candidates’ strength before the actual nomination. In recent times, contests over the platform have served mostly as a way for the minority factions in the party to make sure that their voices are heard. The third day of the convention is devoted to formally nominating a candidate for president. One of each candidate’s eminent supporters gives a speech extolling the candidate’s virtues; a string of seconding speeches then follow. Toward the end of the evening, balloting begins as states announce their votes. After all the votes are counted, the long- anticipated nomination becomes official. The vice-presidential nominee is chosen by roll call vote on the convention’s final day, though custom dictates that delegates simply vote for whomever the presidential nominee recommends. The vice-presidential candidate then comes to the podium to make a brief acceptance speech. This speech is followed by the grand finale- the presidential candidate’s acceptance speech, in which the battle lines for the coming campaign are drawn. Afterward, all the party leaders come out to congratulate the party’s ticket, raise their hands and bid the delegates farewell National and Regional Presidential Primary Proposals Some people advocate a national primary. A national primary is a proposal by critics of the caucuses and presidential primaries and replaces them with a nationwide primary held early in the election year. Another proposal by critics is a regional primary system. In this system, primaries would be held in each geographic region and replace the established primary and caucus system we have today The Campaign Game Once nominated, candidates concentrate on campaigning for the general election. Campaigns involve more than organization and leadership. Artistry also enters the picture, for campaigns deal in images. The campaign is the canvas on which political strategists try to paint portraits of leadership, competence, caring, and other images Americans value in presidents. Campaigning today is an art and a science, heavily dependent-like much else in American politics-on technology. The High-Tech Media Campaign The new machines of politics have changed the ways campaigns are run. During the first half of the 20th century, candidates and their entourage piled onto a campaign train and tried to speak to as many people as time, energy, and money would allow. Voters journeyed from miles around to see a presidential whistle-stop tour go by and to hear a few words in person from the candidate. Today, television is the most prevalent means used by candidates to reach voters. Technology has made it possible for candidates to speak directly to the American people in the comfort of their living rooms, or in front of their computer monitors. At the grass-roots level, some candidates now distribute 10-minute videotapes of themselves rather than the old-fashioned political pamphlet. Most money spent in political campaigns in spent on the media. The computer revolution has also now overtaken political campaigns. Perhaps the most important use of computer technology in campaigns thus far has been the use of targeted mailings to prospective supporters. The technique of direct mail involves locating potential supporters by sending information and a request for money to huge lists of people who have supported candidates of similar views in the past. The accumulation of mailing lists enables candidates to pick almost any issue, and write to a list of people concerned about that issue. Direct mail induces millions of people each year to contribute $1 billion to various candidates and political causes. Candidates must use the media and computer technology just to stay competitive. The most important goal of any media campaign is simply to get attention. Media coverage is determined by two factors: (1) how candidates use their advertising budget and (2) the “free” attention they get as newsmakers. Many observers worry that we have entered a new era of politics in which the slick slogan and the image salesperson dominates-an era when Madison Avenue is more influential than Main Street. Most political scientists, however, are concluding that such fears are overblown. Research has shown that campaign advertising can be a source of information about issues as well as about images. Most candidates believe that their policy positions are a crucial part of their campaign, and they are willing to pay substantial sums to communicate them to voters. Candidates have much less control over the other aspect of the media, news coverage. The media largely determine for themselves what is happening in a campaign. Campaign coverage seems to be a constant interplay between hard news about what candidates say and do and the human interest angle, which most journalists think sells newspapers or interests television viewers. Apparently, news organizations believe that policy issues are of less interest to voters than the campaign itself. The result is that news coverage is disproportionately devoted to campaign strategies, speculation about what will happen next, poll results, and other aspects of the campaign game. Once a candidate has taken a policy position and it has been reported, it becomes old news. News coverage of presidential campaigns tends to emphasize campaign details and poll results. Most political coverage by the media during a presidential campaign deals with the campaign game; who’s ahead in the polls, what candidate’s X’s new strategy will be and speculation. Organizing the Campaign In every campaign, there is too much to do and too little time to do it. Every candidate must prepare for nightly banquets and endless handshaking. More important, to organize their campaigns effectively, candidates must: Get a campaign manager. Get a fund-raiser. Get a campaign counsel. Hire media and campaign consultants. Assemble a campaign staff. Plan the logistics. Get a research staff and policy advisors. Hire a pollster Get a good press secretary. Establish a website. Very important are policy advisors-often distinguished academics-who feed the candidates the information they need to keep up with events. Money and Campaigning There is no doubt that campaigns are expensive and in America's high-tech political arena, growing more so. Candidates need money to build a campaign organization and to get their message out. Many people and groups who want certain things from the government are too willing to give it; thus, there is the common perception that money buys votes and influence. The Maze of Campaign finance Reforms As the costs of campaigning skyrocketed with the growth of television, and as the Watergate scandal exposed large, illegal campaign contributions, momentum developed for campaign finance reform in the early 1970s. In 1974, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act. It had two main goals: tightening reporting requirements for contributions and limiting overall expenditures. The 1974 act and its subsequent amendments: Created the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC is a bipartisan body which administers campaign finance laws and enforces compliance with their requirements. Provided public financing for presidential primaries and general elections. Limited presidential campaign spending. Required disclosure. Limited contributions. Although the campaign reforms were generally welcomed by both parties, the constitutionality of the act was challenged in the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo. In Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme court struck down, as a violation of free speech, the portion of the act that had limited the amount individuals could contribute to their own campaigns. Another loophole was opened in 1979 with an amendment to the original act that made it easier for political parties to raise money for voter registration drives and the distribution of campaign material at the grass-roots level or for generic advertising. Money raised for such purposes is known as soft money and is not subject to any contribution limits. In 2000, an unprecedented amount of money flowed into the coffers of the national parties through this loophole. The McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 tried to remedy soft money contributions. The McCain-Feingold Act: (1) banned soft money contributions; (2) increased the amount that individuals could give to candidates from $1,000 to $2,000 and indexed the latter amount to rise in the future along with inflation; and (3) barred groups from running "issue ads” within 60 days of a general election if they refer to a federal candidate and are not funded through a PAC. Overall, there is little doubt that campaign finance legislation since 1974 has made campaigns more open and honest. Small donors are encouraged, and the rich are restricted-at least in terms of the money they can give directly to a candidate. All contributions and expenditure records are now open for all to examine, and FEC auditors try to make sure that the regulations are enforced. Nowhere else do scholars and journalists find so much information about the funding of campaigns, and the openness of Americans about the flow of money stuns many other nationals accustomed to silence and secrecy about such traditionally private matters. The Proliferation of PACS The campaign reforms of the 1970s also encouraged the spread of political action committees, generally known as PACs. Before the 1974 reforms, corporations were technically forbidden to donate money to political campaigns, but many wrote big checks anyway. Unions could make indirect contributions, although limits were set on how they could aid candidates and political parties. Political Action committees (PACs) are funding vehicles created by the 1974 campaign finance reforms. A corporation, union, or some other interest group can create a PAC and register it with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which will meticulously monitor the PAC’s expenditures. Buckley v. Valeo extended the right of free speech to PACs. PACs can now spend unlimited amounts indirectly, that is, if such activities are not coordinated with the campaign. As of 2003, the FEC reported that there were 4,027 PACs. A PAC is formed when a business association, or some other interest group, decides to contribute to candidates whom it believes will be favorable toward its goals. The group registers as a PAC with the FEC and then puts money into the PAC coffers. The PAC can collect money from stockholders, members, and other interested parties. It then donates the money to candidates, often after careful research on their issue stands and past voting records. One very important ground rule prevails: All expenditures must be meticulously reported to the FEC. If PACs are corrupting democracy, as many believe, at least they are doing so openly. Candidates need PACs because high-tech campaigning is expensive. PACs play a major role in paying for expensive campaigns. Thus there emerges a symbiotic relationship between the PACs and the candidates: Candidates need money, which they insist can be used without compromising their integrity; PACs want access to officeholders, which they insist can be gained without buying votes. Most any lobbyist will tell their clients that politicians will listen to any important interest group but that with a sizable PAC donation they’ll listen better. There are an abundant of PACs willing to help out the candidates. Critics of the PAC system worry that all this money leads to PAC control over what the winners do once in office. On some issues, it seems clear that PAC money has made a difference. Most PACs give money to candidates who agree with them in the first place. The impact of PAC money on presidents is even more doubtful. Presidential campaigns, of course, are partly subsidized by the public and so are less dependent upon PACs. Moreover, presidents have well-articulated positions on most important issues. Money matters in campaigns and sometimes also during legislative votes. Although the influence of PACs may be exaggerated, the high cost of running for office ensures their continuing major role in the campaign process. Are Campaigns Too Expensive? Every four years, Americans spend over $2 billion on national, state, and local elections. What bothers politicians most about the rising costs of high-tech campaigning is that fund-raising has come to take up so much of their time. Many American officeholders feel that the need for continuous fund-raising distracts them from their jobs as legislators. Public financing of congressional campaigns would take care of this problem. Some lawmakers support some sort of public financing reform; however, it will be very difficult to get Congress to consent to equal financing for the people who will challenge the for their seats. Incumbents will not readily give up the advantage they have in raising money. Perhaps the most basic complaint about money and politics is that there may be a direct link between dollars spent and votes received. Few have done more to dispel this charge is political scientist, Gary Jacobson. His research has shown that “the more incumbents spend, the worse they do.” This fact is not as odd as it sounds. It simply means that incumbents that face a tough opponent raise more money to meet the challenge. When a challenger is not a serious threat,, as they all too often are not, incumbents can afford to campaign cheaply. More important than having “more” money is having “enough” money. The Impact of Campaigns Almost all politicians presume that a good campaign is the key to victory. Many political scientists, however, question the importance of campaigns. For years, researchers studying campaigns have stressed that campaigns have three effects on voters: reinforcement, activation, and conversion. Campaigns can reinforce voters’ preferences for candidates; they can activate voters, getting them to contribute money or ring doorbells as opposed to merely voting; and they can convert, changing voters’ minds. Five decades of research on political campaigns lead to a single message: Campaigns mostly reinforce and activate; only rarely do they convert. The evidence on the impact of campaigns points clearly to the conclusion that the best- laid plans of campaign managers change very few votes. Given the billions of dollars spent on political campaigns, it may be surprising to find that they do not have a great effect. Several factors tend to weaken campaigns’ impact on voters: Most people pay relatively little attention to campaigns in the first place. People have a remarkable capacity for selective perception-paying most attention to things they already agree with and interpreting events according to their own predispositions. Factors such as party identification-though less important than they used to be-still influence voting behavior regardless of what happens in the campaign Incumbents start with a substantial advantage in terms of name recognition and an established track record. In tight races, a good campaign can make the difference between winning and losing. Understanding Nominations and Campaigns Throughout the history of American politics, election campaigns have become longer and longer as the system has become increasingly open to public participation. ? Are Nominations and Campaigns Too Democratic If American campaigns are judged solely by how open they are, then certainly the American system must be viewed favorably. America has an entrepreneurial system in which the people play a crucial role at every stage from nomination to election. In this way, party outsiders can get elected in a way virtually unknown outside the United States. Throughout American history, presidential campaigns have become more and more democratic. By appealing directly to the people, a candidate can emerge from obscurity to win the White House. In a sense, the chance to win high office is open to almost any highly skilled politician with even a small electoral base. The process of selecting American leaders is a long and convoluted one that has little downtime before it revs up all over again. Some analysts have even called the American electoral process “the permanent campaign.” Given so much democratic opportunity, many citizens are simply overwhelmed by the process and stay on the sidelines. Similarly, the burdens of the modern campaign can discourage good candidates from throwing their hats into the ring. The system may be open, but it requires a lot of fund-raising to be able to take one’s case to the people. Today’s campaigns clearly promote individualism in American politics. The American campaign game is one of individual candidates, by individual candidates, and for candidates. Do Big Governments Lead to an Increased Scope of Government? Today’s big campaigns involve much more communication between candidates and voters than America’s Founders ever could have imagined. The Founders would probably be horrified by the modern practice in which candidates make numerous promises during nomination and election campaigns. States are the key battlegrounds of presidential campaigns, and candidates must tailor their appeals to the particular interests of each major state. Promises mount as the campaign goes on, and these promises usually add up to new government programs and money. The way modern campaigns are conducted is thus one of the many reasons why politicians usually find it easier to promise, at least, that government will do more. Furthermore, with their finger constantly to the wind assessing all the different political crosscurrents, it is hard for politicians to promise that the scope of government will be limited through specific cuts.
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