Why Everyone Is Running for President

It used to make sense to play coy about your ambitions, but not anymore.

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., talks to fellow Republicans at the Carroll County Lobster Bake, Sept. 7, 2013, in Wolfeboro, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Sept. 12, 2013, 4:10 p.m.

Less than 24 hours after Rep. Peter King first sug­ges­ted he was in­ter­ested in run­ning for pres­id­ent in 2016, the out­spoken New York Re­pub­lic­an was mic’d up and star­ing in­to a morn­ing tele­vi­sion live shot.

King had wanted a big­ger plat­form for his hawk­ish take on for­eign policy — es­pe­cially as his ideo­lo­gic­al GOP rival, Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, garnered ever more at­ten­tion for his dovish and liber­tari­an pro­nounce­ments. For King, float­ing his own name as a pres­id­en­tial hope­ful turned out to be just the trick. “I’m not do­ing this just to stop Rand Paul, be­lieve me,” King says. “But I do be­lieve we need a strong na­tion­al de­fense policy.”

In the months be­fore his Ju­ly pres­id­en­tial mus­ings, King had av­er­aged few­er than one Sunday show ap­pear­ance a month. Af­ter­ward? He was a mag­net for TV book­ers, spin­ning through the stu­di­os of CNN, ABC, CBS, and Fox News on four straight Sundays — the last of which pit­ted King op­pos­ite Paul. He was on NBC’s Meet the Press last week.

The King me­dia boom­let is the latest proof that hav­ing your name in the pres­id­en­tial hop­per is one of the most valu­able cur­ren­cies in Amer­ic­an polit­ics. It cre­ates an in­flux of me­dia at­ten­tion and a po­ten­tial na­tion­al base for cam­paign cash. Be­ing asked “the ques­tion” is of value, even if you’ve planted the query your­self or answered it without be­ing asked in the first place. “There’s al­most no down­side to feed­ing the be­gin­ning of the be­gin­ning of the con­ver­sa­tion,” says vet­er­an Re­pub­lic­an strategist Mike Murphy. “When the me­dia switches in­to who-is-run­ning mode, like they are right now, it costs you noth­ing to throw one of your logs onto their bon­fire.”

It’s why so many politi­cians are test­ing the pres­id­en­tial wa­ters these days — with vis­its to the key early primary states of Iowa, New Hamp­shire, and South Car­o­lina. They get a na­tion­al mega­phone for the price of a plane tick­et and a press re­lease. Off went former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., tour­ing the Iowa State Fair­grounds, corn dog in hand, last month. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose 2012 GOP bid flopped badly, an­nounced he’s mulling 2016 and head­ing back to Iowa this fall. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, vis­ited this sum­mer and made a show of re­noun­cing his Ca­na­dian cit­izen­ship. He’s headed back again to head­line an Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Party fun­draiser in Oc­to­ber. Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Min­nesota Demo­crat without any dis­cern­ible na­tion­al fol­low­ing, traveled to the leadoff-caucus state to speak to party loc­als this sum­mer. “It’s nice to be on the list,” said Klobuchar of the 2016 chat­ter dur­ing her Iowa vis­it, as if that wasn’t the point.

“You should nev­er say nev­er in this busi­ness,” failed 2004 Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate Howard Dean told CNN this sum­mer. No sur­prise: He’s keep­ing the door ajar for 2016.

No House mem­ber has as­cen­ded dir­ectly to the White House since James Gar­field in 1880. But Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is non­ethe­less talk­ing up a pres­id­en­tial run, hav­ing vis­ited New Hamp­shire and South Car­o­lina this sum­mer. The tim­ing of his tri­al bal­loon co­in­cided nicely with his “Stop Am­nesty” tour — doub­ling up on cov­er­age.

The 2012 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign gave Re­pub­lic­ans an un­usu­al in­cent­ive to run. Vir­tu­ally every de­clared GOP can­did­ate, from Rep. Michele Bach­mann to pizza mag­nate Her­man Cain to former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, graced the top of the polls at some point. And even the losers can end up win­ning: Gin­grich is the new co­host of CNN’s Cross­fire. The 2008 GOP run­ner-up, Mike Hucka­bee (who hasn’t “ruled it out” for 2016), got a show on Fox News.

The money game, too, en­cour­ages seri­al pres­id­en­tial ex­plor­a­tions. Steve King, for in­stance, watched last cycle as Bach­mann’s cam­paign helped her leapfrog him as the go-to voice for angry tea parti­ers — and the re­cip­i­ent of their cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. She raised more than $25 mil­lion last cycle; he raised $3.7 mil­lion.

In the age of su­per PACs, every can­did­ate is one rich pat­ron away from be­ing a con­tender. The 2012 GOP primary des­cen­ded at times in­to a proxy war between bil­lion­aire be­ne­fact­ors: Casino mag­nate Shel­don Ad­el­son and his wife poured $20 mil­lion in­to a pro-Gin­grich su­per PAC, while in­vestor Foster Friess spent $2 mil­lion on a group back­ing Rick San­tor­um (who re­cently vis­ited Iowa and, pre­dict­ably, is hint­ing about 2016). “I think 2012 set the ex­ample that, with one or two wealthy guys who want to fund you — why the heck not?” says Matt Strawn, chair­man of the Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Party dur­ing the 2012 caucuses.

There is an al­most in­verse re­la­tion­ship between how hard a politi­cian works to be men­tioned for 2016 and how ser­i­ous a can­did­ate he or she is. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton will be asked “the ques­tion” no mat­ter what she does. Rand Paul doesn’t have to say he’s run­ning; it’s pre­sumed. Same for Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla. Brown, on the oth­er hand, ac­tu­ally had to show up in Iowa after he’d passed on more-win­nable Sen­ate and gubernat­ori­al races in Mas­sachu­setts. For Peter King, hint­ing at high­er of­fice has be­come something of a pas­time. He toyed with Sen­ate bids in 2000, 2004, and 2010, and, briefly, a pres­id­en­tial run in 2012. He nev­er ran, but he al­ways got the pub­li­city.

The can­did­acy charade can go on only so long. Even­tu­ally politi­cians have to set up com­mit­tees, raise money, and hire polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives. Un­til then, it’s flirt­ing sea­son. “It’s like an eighth-grade kid say­ing he wants to be an as­tro­naut,” Murphy says. “Great! Let’s see who ac­tu­ally shows up at NASA for train­ing.”

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
7 REPUBLICANS ON STAGE
Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.

Source:
×