Notwithstanding the GOP money men who are urging Christie to jump in the race, it’s hard to imagine that he’d have the kind of financial advantage over the 2012 Republican field that Clinton held over his 1992 Democratic rivals. Mitt Romney has a formidable fundraising team left over from his unsuccessful 2008 White House run, and Perry hails from one of the Republican Party’s fundraising Meccas: Texas. If Christie joined the race tomorrow, does anyone really think he’d hold a 50 percent fundraising advantage over Romney or Perry by the end of 2011?
Clinton also had a favorable primary and caucus calendar in 1992. With Harkin seeking the Democratic nomination, the press and all of his rivals readily conceded that he’d easily win his home state Iowa caucuses. That meant that Clinton and the rest of the Democratic contenders didn’t have to worry about the painstaking and costly process of building a grassroots political apparatus in that state, which is usually essential for success. Basically, the 1992 Democratic presidential contest headed straight to New Hampshire and ignored the Iowa caucuses, which Harkin handily won but received not an ounce of momentum for his victory.
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But in the 2012 GOP race, the Iowa caucuses will not be an afterthought and Christie will have to think long and hard about skipping them and trying to jump start his campaign in New Hampshire whose Republican voters Romney has spent years courting.
And just like this year, in 1992 states were jockeying to hold their primaries earlier in the nominating calendar to gain more influence over the process. In mid-January of that year, the Georgia Legislature advanced its primary ahead of the rest of the Super Tuesday states by one week. The architect of that maneuver was then-Democratic Gov. Zell Miller, who backed Clinton. There was little doubt that Miller pushed an earlier Georgia primary to aid Clinton. Before that, in December, Miller had helped arrange for Clinton to recruit two of his top 1992 advisers, James Carville and Paul Begala, who had helped Miller get elected in 1990.
The early Georgia primary was a windfall for Clinton, a son of the South. With endorsements from three of the state’s top Democrats, Miller, then-Sen. Sam Nunn and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, Clinton knocked Kerrey out of the Democratic race in that battleground and swamped Tsongas. That gave Clinton a key momentum boost which one week later helped him roll over Tsongas in the Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas primaries. Tsongas captured the Super Tuesday contests in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but Clinton was the big winner that day and he rode that wave of momentum to crush Tsongas in the decisive Illinois and Michigan primaries the following week.
Is there a state early on the GOP 2012 primary and caucus calendar that could give Christie the kind of boost that Clinton got from Georgia? In 2008, Rudy Giuliani proved that you can’t wait until the Florida primary to energize a presidential campaign.
That’s not to say that the early Georgia primary date is what sealed the nomination for Clinton in 1992. The man who would become the 42nd President of the United States turned out to be the best candidate that year. But Clinton was ready for the task and he had some significant advantages going into that presidential race.
“Ambition is a powerful force, and the ambition to be President has lead many a candidate to ignore both his own limitations and the responsibilities of the office he currently holds,” wrote Clinton in his memoir, My Life, recounting his decision not to seek the presidency in 1988. Christie might do well to ponder those words as he considers tossing his hat into the 2012 ring.