The question I get asked most frequently these days is about why it is taking so long for Republican presidential hopefuls to formally declare their intentions. It is true that by this time in the 2008 election cycle several high profile presidential exploratory committees were up and running for the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney, among others. But while delayed entry into the race seems to be the norm this time around, potential candidates are still engaged in the same sorts of invisible primary activities they always undertake, like visiting early contest states for party dinners, book tours, and other special events that bring them into regular contact with party elites, grassroots activists, and the media.
What I find most interesting (and entertaining) about this situation, however, is that all of the politicians currently included on the long speculative list of possible Republican candidates seem to crave the attention that goes along with their inclusion in the ongoing conversation among political observers, party elites, and the media. But clearly none of them wants to be the first to officially throw his or her hat into the ring. I can think of several plausible reasons for this:
First, the potential for a completely open race with no incumbent in 2016 is likely making some individuals hesitate. It’s more difficult to run against an incumbent with the power of the presidency behind him, even if he’s had a rough couple of years like President Obama. Second, some may be waiting to see if Obama and the economy continue to trend up over the next quarter, which would make his reelection more likely. Third, the ubiquitous nature of social media technology and our cable news culture have made it remarkably easy for candidates to build their national profile without the formal infrastructure of an exploratory committee. Fourth, I think the candidates realize that the first one to formally enter the race will be hit with a tidal wave of attention that could actually be counterproductive for building a viable campaign.
Finally, despite the endless speculation about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, I honestly don’t think the oft-mentioned candidate pecking order phenomenon is driving the delay here (i.e., I’m waiting to see if so-and-so gets in before I decide). It’s still reasonable to assume that some candidates will jump into the race by the end of April at the latest. At least that is what they now seem to be signaling to those of us who are eager for the games to officially begin.
Back posting on Wednesday.
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