During the pre-primary period—the year following the mid-term elections—the field of presidential candidates takes shape. The race for campaign talent and money, sometimes called "the invisible primary," unfolds. The candidates make their pitches in a variety of venues and forums. Differences on issues between the candidates begin to crystallize. Ad campaigns start. Some candidates pull ahead, and a few make early exits.
Launch: Big Picture
Each election cycle is unique. The 2016
presidential campaign was characterized on the Republican side by a
large field with no clear frontrunner in the early stages, while on
Democratic side former
State Hillary Clinton was seen as almost inevitable.
The campaign got
off to a fairly quick start for Republicans, while on the
Democrats' race was much quieter. Former Gov. Jeb Bush,
been rather low-key in the pre-campaign, started things off with a Dec.
16, 2014 announcement that he would "actively explore the possibility
of running for President of the United States" (+).
For the first four months of 2015 the field consisted
mostly of potential
using leadership PACs, 527 organizations, and 501(c)(4)s to conduct
their activities. Hopefuls then started "throwing their
hats into the ring"
as testing the waters, exploratory or full fledged candidates (+). On
and Hillary Clinton's long
anticipated entry into the race on April 12. May and June saw the
bulk of the
candidate announcements. Also during
this period a
number of high-profile prospects ruled out
White House runs. All in
all, the timing of formal announcements
in 2015 was fairly similar to what took place in 2011.
Nascent campaigns set to work raising money,
attracting talent, building organizations and staking out
positions. This cycle an unprecedented parallel campaign
also developed as ostensibly
independent super PACs
supporting the major candidates hired staff and raised millions
By the latter part of 2015, the campaigns were fully engaged. Advertising campaigns began. Seven Republican and four Democratic debates occurred before the first contest. Media attention increased Most resources focused primarily preparing for the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Vital, but unglamorous work went on to get on state ballots and line up full delegate slates, so that if the candidate actually survives the early contests, he or she will not be knocked out by default in later states.
As 2015 progressed the field became
candidates get prominent
coverage, while "the rest of the field" candidates face
the challenge of
not being taken quite as seriously and getting less coverage and less
coverage. The use of national poll numbers to determine which
candidates would participate in debates drew sharp criticism from
candidates who did not make the cut. Before the first votes were
cast six Republicans and two Democrats ended their bids after
failing to gain traction.
In terms of timing, there are a number of reasons why a presidential prospect may want to put off becoming a candidate. From a strictly financial point of view, a later start can mean a less costly campaign. A full campaign is a grind, requiring long hours, extensive travel and incessant fundraising demands. Additionally, once a hopeful launches, he or she has to give up many activities and becomes subject to the reporting requirements of the FEC. This cycle, several of the sitting governers (Jindal, Christie and Walker) wanted to get through their budget processes before announcing.
At the same time, there are reasons to get in
candidates often figure they will need more time to build up their
campaigns. Additionally if a nomination race looks like it will
very competitive and there will be a crowded field, the impetus may be
for candidates to announce earlier rather than later.
Also affecting calculations are the dates of the first
contests. In the 2008 and 2012 cycles, the Iowa caucuses were
January 3, and on the Republican side the Iowa Straw Poll in August has
large as well. It appears the 2016 cycle will start a month
the Iowa caucuses on February 1.
Individuals can take many
steps en route to becoming candidates and announcing their
candidacies. First they may use a variety of vehicles such as
leadership PACs, 527 organizations, and 501(c)(4)s to conduct
pre-campaign or one could say "pseudo-campaign" activities. For
example former Gov. Jeb Bush's Dec. 16, 2014
announcement that he had "decided to actively explore the possibility
of running for
President of the United States" was not a formal
step. As DNC communications director Mo Elleithee noted, "Isn't
this what he's been doing all along? I don't know what the
difference is between 'thinking about running and 'actively exploring'
running, but I suspect it has a lot to do with keeping his name in the
fact Bush established not an exploratory committee but a leadership PAC
and a super PAC, and he remained not a candidate until his announcement
months later on June 15. Many of the candidates followed some variation
of this approach.
Without filing with the Federal Election Commission, an individual can engage in very limited testing the waters activities such as "conducting a poll, telephone calls, and travel" for the purpose of determining whether he or she should become a candidate (1, 2). Although there is normally a $5,000 threshold that triggers candidate registration with the FEC, individuals can continue in "testing the waters" mode without becoming candidates provided they do not cross certain boundaries, such as referring to themselves as candidates or raising more money than is reasonably needed. If the individual does become a candidate, activities in the testing the waters period must be reported.
Oftentimes individuals forego the testing the waters
phase and file with the FEC to establish an exploratory committee (>)
committee, which brings with it the requirement of filing
reports on contributions and expenditures. Candidates are
required to file a statement of candidacy and a statement of
organization with the FEC. The committee must also be
incorporated. Once an individual has established an exploratory
committee it is likely, but not certain, that he or she will run.
The exploratory label provides time for the candidate and the campaign
team to gear up operations. Transforming an exploratory committee
into a full fledged campaign committee is simply a matter of amending
the statement of organization. [FEC-Candidate
Some candidates have
a tendency to draw the announcement out and try to milk as much
publicity out of it as possible. For example a pre-candidate may
on a talk show or
late night program, drop the news that he or she plans to establish an
committee, then some days or weeks later get a bit more news by
establishing an exploratory committee, and then still later on formally
announce that he or she is a full-fledged candidate.
A hopeful may choose to formally launch his candidacy with a announcement
In a symbolic location, surrounded by family and
cheering supporters, the candidate outlines the themes that he or she
will call upon repeatedly during the course of the campaign.
A couple of the Democrats did two-step announcements. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) made a low-key announcement on April 30, 2015 and held a formal announcement event on May 26. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton announced via video on April 12 and held an announcement event on June 13.
In addition to those who enter the race, there are those who decide
not to run. One can recall a number of examples of
potential candidates who came quite close to entering the race before
plug. Most famously in Dec. 1991 then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (D-NY) had
a chartered plane ready to take him to New Hampshire before announcing
that he would not run due to the demands of governing New York.
Then- Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) filed to establish an exploratory committee
on Dec. 5,
2006, but his effort only lasted until Dec. 16. In the 2012 cycle
Haley Barbour (R-MS) looked set to run, before
announcing in late April 2011 that he would not be a candidate.
This cycle, former Gov. Mitt Romney appeared to be tempted to make a
third run before finally ruling it out on Jan. 30, 2015.
In recent cycles there have also been a few late entrants;
Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) announced on Aug. 13, 2011, former Sen. Fred
(R-TN) formally entered on Sept. 6, 2007,
Gen. Wesley Clark (D) was a late entrant on Sept. 17, 2003 and Sen.
Hatch (R-UT) established an exploratory committee on July 1,
1999. There were several months of speculation
that Vice President Joe Biden might jump in the race until he finally
ruled it out on Oct. 21, 2015.
|- Former Gov. Jim Gilmore (VA)
|- Gov. John
||July 21, 2015 +
|- Gov. Scott
||July 13, 2015 +
|- Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
||June 30, 2015 +
|- Gov. Bobby
||June 24, 2015 +
|- Donald Trump (NY)
||June 16, 2015 +
Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)
||June 15, 2015 +
|- Former Gov.
Rick Perry (TX)
||June 4, 2015 +|
|- Sen. Lindsey
||Jun. 1, 2015 +
|- Former Gov.
George Pataki (NY)
||May 28, 2015 +|
|- Former Sen.
Rick Santorum (PA)
||May 27, 2015 +
|- Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR)
||May 5, 2015 +
|- Dr. Ben Carson, M.D. (FL)
||May 4, 2015 +
|- Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina
||May 4, 2015 +
|- Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
||Apr. 13, 2015 +
|- Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
||Apr. 7, 2015 +
|- Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
||Mar. 23, 2015 +
|- Prof. Larry Lessig (MA)
||Sept. 9, 2015 +
|- Former Sen. Jim Webb (VA)
||July 2, 2015 +
|- Former Gov.
Lincoln Chafee (RI)
||June 3, 2015 +
|- Former Gov.
Martin O'Malley (MD)
||May 30, 2015 +
|- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
||Apr. 30, 2015 + / May 26, 2015 +
|- Former Sec. of State Hillary
||Apr. 12, 2015 + / June 13, 2015 +|
|- Dr. Jill Stein (MA)
||June 23, 2015 +
|- Former Gov. George Pataki
||May 19, 2015
|- Gov. Bobby Jindal
||May 18, 2015 +
|- Donald Trump
||Mar. 18, 2015 +
|- Dr. Ben Carson
||Mar. 2, 2015 +
|- Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee (RI)
||Apr. 9, 2015 +
|- Former Sen. Jim
||Nov. 19, 2014 +
Testing the Waters:
|- Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
||June 18, 2015
|- Former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
||Apr. 9, 2015
|- Sen. Lindsey
||Jan. 29, 2015 +
Ruling out bids:
|- Gov. Mike Pence
- Former Amb. John Bolton
- Gov. Rick Snyder (MI)
- Former Gov. Mitt Romney
- Rep. Paul Ryan (WI)
- Sen. Rob Portman (OH)
- Former Gov. Jon Huntsman
- Former Gov. Mitt Romney
|May 19, 2015 >
May 14, 2015 +
May 7, 2015 +
Jan. 30, 2015 +
Jan. 12, 2015 +
Dec. 2, 2014 >
Oct. 8, 2014 >
many times, but wait...
|- Vice President Joe Biden (DE)
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)
|Oct. 21, 2015 +
Seemingly every presidential cycle, there is discussion about the
possibility that a credible independent
candidate could emerge, but by the end of the primary season it never
happens. In 2011 the
group Americans Elect set a goal of achieving
ballot status in all 50 states; it aimed to "nominate a nonpartisan
ticket that puts country before party, and
American interests before special interests." The effort showed
promise but proved to be a fiasco (>).
Sen. Jim Webb had a look at an independent run as did former
Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The contacts and networks built up during the
pre-campaign period provide a starting point for building campaign
organizations. A large pool of talent is available from 2014
mid-term election campaigns. In addition to their national
campaign teams, candidates must also build organizations in key
Intense efforts and
resources are focused on the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire,
Nevada and South Carolina, although some candidates' strategies may
involve bypassing or emphasizing one or more of those
states. Further bolstering the employment prospects of campaign
operatives, super PACs supporting the various candidates also need
talent for their operations.
Central to this building phase is money. Before
the first vote is cast in a caucus or primary, candidates engage in "the
for the third quarter 2015, ending on September 30,
will also be closely watched. In addition to considering how much
a campaign has raised, it is also important to look at its "burn rate,"
or how much it is spending. [FEC-Odd
Activity] The nominally independent super PACs have added
another dimension to the money primary as they can raise and spend
unlimited sums in support of a candidate.
donations at events, on-line, or via phone or mail, there are several
other ways that campaigns can
bring in money. Campaigns bring in a bit
of money by selling merchandise. Sitting Senators or
congressmen can start with a fundraising advantage for they
have the ability to convert funds from their re-election committees to
their presidential campaign committees. A wealthy
candidate can also boost his or her campaign; in 2007-08 Mitt Romney
made $44.7 million in contributions and loans to his campaign and
Hillary Clinton lent $13.2 million to her campaign. Donald Trump
is self financing his campaign. Ultimately,
campaign is probably better off if it can create enough enthusiasm so
money pours in as it did with then Sen. Barack Obama's campaign in
"money bombs" that helped Rep. Ron Paul's efforts.
Finally, for candidates who qualify by raising $5,000
contributions of $250 each of 20 states and agree to spending
limits, a voluntary system
of partial public
financing is still in place (>).
Matching funds are made available starting in January of the
presidential campaign year. In 2012 the overall spending limit
was $54.7 million. Major
system so as to be able
spend more than
the limit. In 2012, only Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson and Jill
To attract money and talent, a candidate must convince
the party activists and donors that he or she can wage a winning
are a key
part of establishing credibility. In the first half of 1999, for
example, then Gov. George W. Bush firmly established himself as the
frontrunner by lining up far more endorsements of elected officials
than any of the other contenders (>).
Looking to 2016, a number of congressmen and Senators endorsed former
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even in the pre-campaign period,
policy speeches and
strong showings in straw polls. Campaigns highlight favorable media coverage,
linking to it and forwarding it on as they seek to show growing
support. Candidates also seek to differentiate themselves from
other candidates in the field.
Meanwhile, pundits and media will tier-ize the
candidates; top tier candidates will receive ample coverage, while
lower tier candidates may have to struggle for attention and inclusion.
Tiers are not fixed; candidates
rise and fall based on their performances.
For both parties, there are many
"cattle shows" where
some or many candidates speak to party,
ideological or interest groups. Republicans have a number of
events focused on conservatives and faith voters.
Meanwhile Democrats seek to gain support from organized labor.
Straw polls provide early organizing tests for the campaigns.
Republicans, one of the biggest
such events of the pre-primary period in recent cycles had been the
Republican Party of
Iowa Straw Poll, held in Ames in August. However, on June 8, 2015
Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central
Committee voted to cancel the event. There are
many other gatherings where activists have the opportunity to compare
the candidates. Some are high profile, established events such as
the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action
Conference, regional Republican gatherings such as the Southern
Republican Leadership Conference, the Faith & Freedom Coalition's
Road to Majority and the Family
Research Council's Values Voter Summit. There are also more
exclusive, closed or limited press gatherings where half a dozen or
candidates appear before smaller groups of opinion leaders and
donors. Examples of such events include the Council for National
Policy gathering in Tyson's Corner, Virginia in May and Mitt Romney's
E2 Summit in Park City Utah in June.
High stakes broadcast candidate forums and
debates took place but,
was not quite
establishing a Standing
Committee on Presidential Primary Debates, which will sanction
events, and at its Winter Meeting in Jan. 2015 the party announced nine
sanctioned debates between Aug. 2015 and March 1, 2016 (+).
the candidates appeared individually (+).
(+) on May 5,
2015 that it wouldl sanction six debates starting in Fall 2015 "when
voters are truly beginning to pay attention." Further, the DNC
announced an exclusivity requirement wherein, "Any candidate or debate
sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to
participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process." The first
DNC-sanctioned debate occurred on October 13 in Nevada. Early on
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) advocated for a larger number of
debates as well as inter-party debates (+), but
it was former Gov. Martin O'Malley who made the most efforts to push
the DNC to
increase the number of debates (+).
To better mobilize supporters in key states, campaigns open state headquarters. State organizations line up support from activists and endorsements from county chairmen and elected officials.
The ad campaigns
also started. There were a few scattershot, targeted buys.
First on the air was Cruz for President with the
Easter weekend ad "Blessing" (April 3-5, 2015). Sen. Rand Paul's
campaign went up with "Defeat The Washington Machine" on April
13. Other campaigns ran an occasional ad. The Clinton campaign
started advertising on Aug. 4 and was on air fairly consistently from
then on. The Right to Rise super PAC started its ad campaign on
Sept. 15. But the real ad war involving those campaigns with
enough resources to play did not fully engage until November.
By Fall 2015 media and public attention turned more and more to the
four early states where a lucky few voters would finally have a
say. While a successful campaign will have been focusing most of
its attention on these early states, it will not have ignored other
states. Endorsements by officials are a key building block of a
state organization. Behind the scenes, a campaign must also lay
the groundwork for qualifying for primary ballots. Each state has
its own rules—some are tortuous, others expensive and others, like New
Hampshire, are relatively straightforward. In November and
December, filing deadlines
start coming up in individual states. For
Hampshire statutes state, "Declarations of candidacy shall be filed
between the first Monday in
November and the third Friday in November, or during such other time
period as the secretary of state shall announce." Campaigns must
start line up full delegate
slates, or they may run into problems later on.
For some candidates, the months of planning and
preparation, hard work and handshaking are not enough to make it to the
starting line, let alone secure the party's nomination. Reality
sets in, and it becomes impossible to continue without going into
debt. On the Republican side, the Iowa Straw Poll had
served as an important marker, where poor showings in the mega-event
usually prompted one or two candidates to drop out. There was no
Iowa Straw Poll this cycle; one commentator observed that Donald
Trump's candidacy had the same winnowing effect. Thus on Sept.
11, 2015 former
Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) whose campaign had been hurting financially,
became the first candidate to bow out of the race (+) and
several others followed.
|- Former Gov. Rick
- Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
- Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
- Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC)
- Former Gov. George Pataki (NY)
|Sept. 11, 2015 +
Sept. 21, 2015 +
Nov. 17, 2015 +
Dec. 21, 2015 +
Dec. 29, 2015 +
|- Former Sen. Jim Webb (VA)*
*may run as an independent
- Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee (RI)
|Oct. 21, 2015 +
Oct. 23, 2015
A candidate may give a speech upon leaving the race or more often may just do it by issuing a statement or video. If there is an event, emotions are high and a few tears may be shed as the candidate, surrounded by family and staff, announces the end of his or her quest. The speech can offer initial insights into what the candidate feels he or she accomplished and why he or she failed to gain more support. The candidate may also take this opportunity to throw his or her support to one of the remaining contenders.