Inside Washington's Headlines

by Ken Feltman

Radnor Inc.

March 2007

 

Legislative insight

Political intelligence

 

 

 

Ken Feltman is Chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and legislative relations firm in Washington, D.C. He is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists.

 

 

 

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2008: Over before it begins?

It ain't over till it's over.

-Yogi Berra

One of the toughest things to figure out in politics is when it's over. The 2008 nominees for president in both major parties may not be decided in Iowa, New Hampshire or anywhere else next year. They may be decided by the end of this year. Indeed, perhaps they are decided already.

Candidates face an entirely new political process, driven by the 24-hour cable news cycle, conservative and liberal talk radio and television, Internet bloggers and the bunching of state primaries and caucuses early in 2007. The pace is so rapid and concentrated that the nomination process may not wait for the voters to vote or the delegates to caucus. Certainly, we will not need to wait for the conventions to know the two nominees.

What remains? Perhaps only a slow awareness in the media that the people have spoken ? and the awareness by all of us that, this time, people everywhere across the country get to take part in the decisions, not just people in a few favored states. This means that there is more logic to the campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and to the cautious positioning by New York Senator Hillary Clinton than the news media may understand.

Let?s look at history. Into the 1950s, the party conventions in the summer before the election were where the nominees were decided. Backroom deals and cutthroat politics determined whether one or another candidate would prevail at the convention. Then, beginning in 1960, conventions were less important and the state primaries and caucuses to select delegates became more important. Since 1960, with one exception, the frontrunners in each party going into the election year have prevailed at their nominating conventions. The only time a frontrunner was not nominated was when Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) defeated New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller at the 1964 Republican convention. Otherwise, the frontrunner early in the election year won every time.

Now, things are accelerating. We saw that in the Democratic Party in 2004 when Vermont Governor Howard Dean took the lead in 2003 and carried it into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Then, strategists for Senator John Kerry and other Democratic Presidential contenders unloaded every bit of negative information?some of it untrue, it later turned out?on Dean and Dean dropped like a rock. The Iowa caucuses went for Kerry and led to Dean?s famous scream.

Virtual primaries could eliminate Iowa screams

The scream merely ratified what had been decided in December: Dean would not make it. Kerry rolled on to victory and, after Iowa, it was too late for Democrats to have second thoughts. Narrowly but inevitably, Kerry solidified the support he needed to prevail at the convention. In 2000, the Bush campaign realized that John McCain was mounting a serious challenge and determined to knock him from frontrunner status. They accomplished that in South Carolina, with a campaign that created wounds that have still not healed, but once Bush took the lead, he could not be stopped.

Why has the nomination cycle accelerated? The Gallup poll found recently that one in three Americans?including almost everyone who votes in a caucus or presidential primary?watches cable news stations frequently. The intensity of voter interest in around-the-clock political coverage is speeding up the selection process and forcing an early conclusion. The voters who tune in to the 24-hour news cycle are the same ones who get out for primaries and caucuses. They are the avid consumers of political polls and the pundits? prognostications.

These activists will have participated in a virtual primary every few weeks as one poll after another proclaims one candidate or another in the lead. This means that instead of forecasting the winners, or winnowing down the list of contenders, the results in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina will ratify the prevailing sentiment across the country. The national polls will be more predictive than the Iowa results or the endorsements of important party officials in key states.

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Giuliani has absolutely no reason to think that a normal Republican convention will select someone with his past positions on key conservative issues. But he has every reason to believe that he can be the national leader among the Republican candidates when we head into the last weeks of 2007. That alone could propel him to victory in Iowa, New Hampshire and at the convention.

Hillary Clinton recognized that she was taking a beating in Iowa from John Edwards and nationally from Barack Obama. She announced that she was running and campaigned aggressively for a few weeks. Her numbers in national polls zipped up and she probably has forged a small lead in New Hampshire. Obama?s numbers have declined after his initial spurt. This often happens with candidates who are media favorites. As the voters start to examine them, they fall in the polls. It will be difficult for him to regain the momentum, even with many in the media and Hollywood in his camp, unless Clinton makes a fatal misstep. In effect, Obama?s greatest strength as a candidate came before he announced?and his decline has continued despite his formal announcement. The key for Hillary and Rudy is to become the frontrunner and to hold that position into this fall. Frontrunner status tends to confer even more publicity (negative as well as positive, of course) with the 24-hour news cycle.

No more Jimmy Carters

A Jimmy Carter campaign will no longer work. A candidate cannot organize the party faithful without the media noticing. Nor can a candidate unveil a winning campaign at the last moment. Carter was Governor of Georgia as 1980 began. A few weeks later he appeared on a popular television show of the time, ?What?s My Line,? and the panel did not guess that his job title was Governor of the State of Georgia. Carter, however, had already done the things necessary at that time to win the Democratic nomination and it turned out that no other Democrat had.

In a blizzard in Springfield, Illinois, in December, 1979, very few candidates arrived at the state capitol to file their nominating petitions to get their names on the ballot for the March Illinois primary. Most sent them by mail and some local party organizations had one person file petitions for the whole slate in a given Congressional district.

Every person running for delegate or alternate delegate for Carter, with only a few exceptions, made it through the blizzard and waited in the snow for the capitol building to open so they could file their petitions individually and in person. The display of dedication and discipline was impressive. In Iowa several weeks later, Carter workers outnumbered and overwhelmed other candidates? workers and never seemed to take a day or night off. Early successes propelled Carter to the nomination.

I was asked in the fall of 2000 which candidate for president had the best campaign organization. I answered ?Hillary.? The reporter said, ?No, she?s not running.?

?Yes, she is, just not this year,? I responded. Hillary put together a better team than Gore (and alienated Gore in the process) and a better team than Bush as well. She honed and refined her team through the 2004 election and pruned and made additions after that. Then, the natural atrophy that seems to affect any political organization caught up with Hillary and her campaign team lost its edge.


Ken Feltman's January 2005 Inside Washington's Headlines ('Land of the Second Chance, the Hail Mary Pass and Redemption') has been recirculating among Republican officials and candidates, including possible Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Supposedly, Gingrich called that newsletter the best short summary of why Bush won and, just as importantly, why Kerry lost in 2004.

Gingrich also reportedly said that the January 2005 issue was the first to predict the Republican downfall in 2006, triggered by ethical scandals and Iraq. He encouraged Republicans to look to Feltman's predictions for 2008, saying that Feltman has an uncanny record of seeing the political future.

You may link to that newsletter below.


That gave Edwards an opportunity in Iowa and he seized it. It gave Obama an opportunity on the left and he seized it. Clinton went to work and the polls show that she has succeeded in recouping the lost ground. This means that Edwards and Obama will have to campaign differently?they will have to attack Hillary not just on issues but also personally. Four years ago, Kerry could get away with that in his attacks on the relatively unknown Dean. It is less likely to work with a candidate so well known as Hillary Clinton.

Conventional wisdom and counter-intuitive analysis

So despite all of the conventional wisdom that says that the Democrats like to shake things up and produce new faces and the Republicans like to go with predictable, old faces, a pretty good bet would be that Hillary and Rudy will face off in November 2008.

Loads of Democrats are saying that Hillary can?t win because the percentage of people who have a negative view of her are almost equal to those with a positive view. Again, do not trust the conventional wisdom. Millions of single women have not been voting in the numbers normally found among women nationwide. Single voters are much more likely to vote Democratic. Expect that single women will be a major demographic group turning out and voting for Hillary.

There you have it: The counter intuitive analysis. Of course, any number of events can change everything. Something may remind people why they dislike Hillary and prefer John Edwards or Barack Obama. One of the conservative back-in-the-pack Republicans may emerge and sweep the Republican right. National security and terrorism issues may boost Giuliani. Hillary may get a boost from her past advocacy of healthcare reform.

But if you must make a bet today on who will win, you would be hard pressed to make a better bet with better odds than Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Betting the frontrunners has worked out every time except for Goldwater?s upset of Rockefeller in ?64.

To have history on your side in November 2008, bet on Hillary.

 


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