|Home||Student Resources||Chapter 14: The Campaign Process|
Campaigns start long before most of us notice them. Trial balloons are floated years before the active campaigning starts. Often political candidates make special efforts to work hard for their party in the run-up to announcing that they would like to be the party's nominee for an office. Some aspirants to political office start out in the local school board or appointive offices first, all the while harboring desires to run for ever more powerful offices. Some candidates are cajoled, teased, and begged to run by friends, family, their party, the news media, or others. However, all candidates are similar in that each of them makes a decision at some point to run for election.
So once the decision is made, how does one run for election? What happens during a campaign?
The Structure of a Campaign
All political campaigns can actually be looked at as a series of several campaigns that run simultaneously:
The Nomination Campaign-aimed at the party leaders and activists within the party who choose nominees in primaries or conventions. Quite often, the need to appeal to activists pushes a candidate to an ideological extreme, while party leaders are interested in electability.
The General Election Campaign-the ultimate goal for all candidates is to win the general election so he or she must avoid becoming too extreme during the nomination phase because that may alienate the more moderate voters in the general election.
The Personal Campaign-the candidate makes personal appearances, often with family and supporters, to meet voters, hold press conferences, and give speeches.
The Organizational Campaign-behind the scenes, every candidate needs an organization that can write press releases, distribute literature, organize events, raise money, and contact voters. Among the many people working on this aspect of the campaign are consultants, campaign managers, finance chairs, and more. Many are paid, but more of these workers are volunteers.
The Media Campaign-all campaigns use media whether paid or free, print or electronic. Paid media are television and radio commercials extolling the candidate's virtues or the opponent's vices. Free media is coverage on the news or press. The campaign tries to attract lots of free media, but only positive free media, so they often try to "spin" or influence the coverage.
Conventional wisdom seems to tell us that all of the campaigns we just spoke of are the most important factor in winning or losing. Campaign organizations spend tons of money on consultants, pollsters, and professionals. Campaigns are precisely manipulated, candidates are "handled," and appearances are scripted. However, the single most important factor in any campaign is the candidate!
Campaign techniques can downplay weaknesses and emphasize strengths, but they cannot make a poor candidate win an election most of the time. Most people vote for a candidate not a slick campaign. Campaigns can enhance the positives and reduce the negatives of a candidate and poorly-run campaigns can lose elections. But a well-run campaign with a lousy candidate has few chances of winning.
The Media and Campaigns
Politicians and their staff would like to control the media, but generally do not succeed. They still try to manipulate it, though. Sometimes staffs insulate a candidate from the media to prevent gaffs or embarrassments. Campaigns often stage media events designed to offer images, slogans, and sound bites that will be irresistible to the media, and therefore garner the campaign some free media coverage. And handlers and consultants try to spin their story. In other words, they work to put a favorable interpretation on a day's events, a candidate's activities, a rumor, or whatever. We saw an excellent example of this in the 1999 Iowa Straw Polls where Elizabeth Dole came in third. Her handlers convinced the press that she had exceeded expectations and so actually "won."
Campaigns pay for ads on television and radio. Therefore, the content of paid media is determined by the campaign. Ads can be positive or negative. Ads can contrast voting records, personalities, or issue positions. Using inoculation ads, ads designed to stave off the attacks of the other campaigns often before they have occurred, has become popular. Many campaign managers believe that "an attack unanswered is an attack agreed to" and so they respond to negative ads quickly.
In addition to paid ads, campaigns try to garner the attention of the media to cover their campaign and candidate. The campaign does not have control over free media coverage, though the campaign tries to orchestrate photo ops and other types of media exposure that will benefit their candidate.
Debates are a hybrid of paid and free media. Debates today are mostly well-practiced and well-scripted, but there are still slips of the tongue and some spontaneity. The importance of debates is usually overrated. They usually firm up a voter's opinion and rarely change anyone's mind; although debates probably do sway some undecided voters.
Campaigns often fax dozens of statements a day to key journalists in hopes of garnering positive press coverage. These tactics often fail because journalists are wise to the tactics and don't like being manipulated.
How the News Media Cover Campaigns
During campaign season, the news media report a lot of political news. However, no broadcast or print media source has unlimited resources and unlimited space, so what they show or print is a matter of choices. These choices are made by editors and producers. So what we are shown or read is a selection of a much broader campaign. How the information is presented also represents a choice. On TV, a report can show actual footage of a speech or a reporter can simply say that candidate A made a speech on health care today and so on. In a newspaper, editors can choose to print an entire speech, excerpts, or just a reporter's account of what was said. Alternatively, the media could choose not to report the speech and focus on personal matters like a candidate's marriage or college grades. How and why are these choices made?
Many components go into these decisions. The nature of the media, for example, often determines what gets reported. TV is more likely to go for active and visual images. Print media are more likely to focus on the storyline in words. TV tends to have very short reports and print media can often go more in-depth. What else happened that day matters. If there's a tsunami or a huge local story that day, routine campaign activities will get far less coverage. Polls matter. Candidates that have a chance of winning get more media attention than those who are perceived as potential losers. The media outlet's perspective on their audience matters as well. What do the editors and producers think their readers and viewers want to see? Of course bias matters as well...but bias isn't as easy as liberal/conservative. There are many different kinds of bias in the media including "bottom line bias" - worries about how a story will affect their sales or viewership.
The media not only report the news, they reflect their environment as well. Stories running in New Hampshire are going to be different than those in Arizona. Rural papers may present stories differently than city papers. National papers may report stories differently than regional, state, or local papers. TV stations with younger audience demographics will do things differently than those with older audience demographics. When you watch media, think about all of these different issues and how they affect what you see or read.
Voters want information and tend to think that media coverage is more credible than campaign literature. So campaigns strive to get media coverage that is positive and beneficial to the campaign. To do this, campaign managers use a number of strategies. Because candidates might accidentally say something that could hurt the campaign, many campaign managers limit press access to candidates. The media press for free access to the candidate and chafe at the limitations. Campaigns stage media events or photo ops for the media and craft speeches with sound bites that are positive and easily useable by the media. Consultants practice the art of spin. Spin is interpretation. For example, when Howard Dean lost the Iowa Caucus in 2004, his campaign used spin to try and reinterpret the results in a positive light. However, spin doesn't always work and can backfire. Candidates also appear on talk shows, such as Oprah and Larry King Live, where they can present their views in a less critical atmosphere.
Technology and Campaign Strategies
In the late 50s, the advent of television changed the nature of campaigning. In 2004, Howard Dean pioneered new uses for the Internet in campaigns. TV, Internet, and other technological advances have enabled candidates and campaigns to reach voters more quickly and more often than any other time in history. Consequently, large numbers of political volunteers are less necessary today than they were in the past. This reduces a candidate's need for party support. It has also been one factor in making campaigns more candidate-centered.
These advances have also created a need for speed. Campaigns today practice rapid response techniques, inoculation ads, containment strategies, and opposition research-an array of techniques to fight the fast moving "war" as many political professionals see it (the Clinton campaign even called their HQ the War Room). Specific examples of these techniques include recorded phone messages by the candidates or those who endorse them (begun in 2002), video streaming of candidate speeches, and 24/7 information on the campaign and how to donate money to it.
Sources of Political Contributions
Campaigns are VERY expensive. House races in 2004 averaged around $1 million. Senate races cost much more; the average winner of a Senate race spent $6.5 million. The most expensive race for the House in 2004 was in Dallas and pitted two incumbents against one another due to congressional redistricting. Representatives Pete Sessions (R) and Martin Frost (D) spent in excess of $9 million. Sessions won the race. In the 2004 Senate race in South Dakota, the candidates spent $33.8 million, with Tom Daschle (Senate Minority Leader) pouring in $19.7 million and Republican challenger John Thune, $14.1 million. House and Senate candidates who competed in the 2004 general election raised $985.4 million and spent $911.8 million, and increase of roughly 20 percent over 2002.
All political money is regulated by the federal government under the Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1971, 1974, and 1976. The goal of this post-Watergate legislation was to reduce the impact of money on elections and limit the influence of big donors. In 2002, a new law was passed called the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCFRA) (formerly McCain-Feingold), but this act did not take effect until after the 2002 congressional elections.
Due to Supreme Court decisions, individuals, PACs, and parties may spend unlimited amounts of money directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate as long as the expenditures are not coordinated with the campaign. The only limitation is that any money spent on ads directly mentioning the support or defeat of a candidate must be hard money. Soft money can only be used for issue-based ads that don't expressly mention candidates. Thus instead of reducing the cost of elections, the new law seems to actually allow for even more money to be spent.
The BCFRA of 2002 amends the FECA in several important ways. It bans soft money donations to campaigns, increases the amount of hard money individuals may donate to candidates, and imposes new restrictions on political advertising close to an election.
Under the new system, the parties cannot accept "soft money" contributions for such things as party-building and get out the vote campaigns. This money must come from individuals or PACs as hard money and be counted in the campaign finance limits.
Individuals are allowed to donate up to $2,000 per candidate, per election (instead of $1,000), up to $25,000 to each national party committee each year (up from $20,000), and up to $15,000 to each state or local party committee per year (up from $5,000). Individuals are allowed to make a total of $95,000 in political donations during a two-year election cycle (so per congressional term). Previously the limit was $25,000.
Hard money from PACs remains unchanged under the new law. There was a discussion of indexing contributions to inflation, and thus allowing the limits to creep up, but this was not included in the final bill.
The third and most controversial aspect of the new law seeks to close the loophole in the previous law on issue ads. Under the old law, groups ran ads that were obviously in favor of, or opposed to, a candidate but didn't use the terms "vote for" or "vote against" and so were not considered advocacy ads and not covered under campaign finance limits. Under the new law, any incorporated group (corporations, interest groups, trade unions, etc.) is prohibited from "electioneering communications." In other words, no more ads referring to a specific candidate for federal office can be run by these groups. Individuals and PACs may still do "electioneering communication," but if they spend over $10,000, there are strict disclosure laws and PACs may not use corporate or union funding on such ads. Many groups plan to fight the new law in court.
The impact of this law was underwhelming. Instead of reigning in spending, campaign 2004 was the most expensive ever and included "new" organizations that spent huge amounts of money; 527 corporations (so named by the part of the tax code that governs their existence).
Soft Money and Issue Advocacy Advertisements
Soft money is money not covered by FEC rules. The last election cycle under the old rules was 2001-2002 during which $403 million was raised and spent by both parties. The money was used to pay for issue advocacy ads that never expressly mentioned a candidate, but in reality, favored or injured one of the campaigns.
Independent party expenditures rose dramatically in 2004 under the new campaign finance rules. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) spent $48.2 million and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent $34.2 million (according to reports filed with the FEC for activity between Sept. 1 and Oct. 28). The national party structures spent large amounts on the presidential election as well. The DNC spent $87.8 million to oppose President Bush and $4.5 million to support Senator Kerry in the two months preceding the election. The RNC spent $4 million to support Bush and $11.5 million to oppose Kerry during the same period. These numbers are based on reports filed through December 2004, actual spending will be higher once all reports are filed with the FEC.
Political Action Committee (PAC) Contributions
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of campaign finance are PACs. Some see them as corrupt special interests buying candidates and elections. Others think they are more benign. PACs are criticized as being representative mostly of affluent white people and ignoring the interests of the poor and minority groups. Most political scientists see PACs as normal, and a natural outgrowth of interest groups and pluralist, democratic politics.
Modern PACs are an outgrowth of campaign finance reform in the 1970s. But it is unclear whether PACs cause interest groups to be more influential or even if there is more interest group money in elections now than prior to 1971.
The charge that PACs only represent certain groups is a serious one. PACs that have "parent organizations"-corporations, labor unions, and trade PACs-have an advantage. The parent can pay for administrative costs, overhead, and so on. PACs formed by individuals must raise money to pay those costs.
Not all PACs are created equal! A mere 4 percent of PACs contribute 57 percent of the total dollars to congressional candidates. However, PACs do not contribute the bulk of campaign finance, individuals do!
Political Party Contributions
Candidates also get money from their party. The Democratic and Republican Parties have state and national organizations that regularly donate money to campaigns. Each house of Congress also has a branch of the party that raises and gives money for campaigns. In 2004, the two major parties gave $52 million through direct contributions and coordinated expenditures to their party's candidates.
Member to Candidate Contributions
In Congress and state legislatures, incumbents who have large campaign war chests and secure seats give money to their party's candidates who need financial help. Some members have their own PACs. In 2004, two Democratic senators established a PAC that contributed $3 million to 221 House and 19 Senate candidates. In the South Dakota senatorial race in 2004, the Republican challenger, Larry Diedrich, received
$423,000 from other members of Congress.
Candidate's Personal Contributions
The Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) that no limit can be placed on a candidates' own spending. He or she can spend as many of their personal funds as they like. The Court equated spending ones' own money with free speech. There are a few candidates who spend millions of their own money, but most candidates put less than $100,000 of their own money into their campaign. In 2004, a candidate for the Senate seat in Illinois, Democrat Blair Hull, spent $29 million of his own money but he lost in the primary election. In 2002, twenty candidates for Congress spent over $1 million of their own money on their campaigns. Only one of them won, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).
Only presidential candidates are eligible for public funding. Public funds come from general tax revenues and candidates must qualify to receive them. Once a major party candidate has raised $5,000 in individual contributions of $250 or less in 20 states, he or she becomes eligible for federal matching funds. The government will match whatever money you raise in increments up to $251. This money comes from a check-off box on your taxes where you designate $3 to go to the campaign fund (fewer than 20 percent of Americans do this). For the general election, each candidate gets a lump sum payment ($75 million in 2004) and they are limited to spending this amount. Third-party candidates receive smaller amounts proportional to their vote total in the last presidential election as long as they broke the threshold of 5 percent of the vote. They only get their federal funds after the general election, though.
In 2004, both candidates (John Kerry and George W. Bush) opted out of public financing and so they did not have to abide by spending limits during the primary. John Kerry accepted the $75 million lump sum and its concomitant spending limits for the general election, Bush did not accept public funding and thus had no spending limit.
A Summary of Contributions and Expenses, 2002
A typical Senate campaign looked like this:
|party and candidate||7%|
Senate campaign expenditures looked like this:
|polls, travel, etc.||44%|
Challengers have a harder time raising money than incumbents. However, they actually need to spend more to gain the name recognition the incumbent already has. It's no wonder that most incumbents win reelection!
Future Campaign Finance Reform
Many problems remain in the financing of political campaigns. Fund-raising records and spending records were shattered across the board in 2004 despite a new law on campaign finance. 527s spent huge amounts of unregulated money in 2004. At a minimum, greater transparency is needed to determine who the 527s represent and from whom they get their funding.
The Internet has the potential to change campaigning dramatically. Raising money online can cost less than mass mailings or fund raising events. Howard Dean raised large amounts of money on the Internet, over $50 million, and his tactics are being copied by PACs, other candidates, and parties.
Bringing It Together: The 2004 Presidential Campaign and Election
Election 2004 was a close race throughout. The two major party candidates, George W. Bush for the Republicans and John Kerry for the Democrats, were neck-in-neck at the national level right up to the end.
Since the Republican candidate was the incumbent president, the Republican primaries got little attention. The Democrats, on the other hand, had ten candidates at the beginning of primary season (Table 14.2 gives a list of the candidates and their strategies) and garnered lots of media attention.
Howard Dean seemed to have momentum in the fall of 2003. His grassroots Internet campaign and strongly anti-Bush rhetoric were newsworthy. Dean was endorsed by prominent Democrats including Al Gore and Tom Harkin. Despite these endorsements, he came in third in Iowa behind John Kerry and John Edwards. This surprised everyone. Dean was supposed to win. Kerry hadn't stood out at all and John Edwards was a total neophyte-albeit pledged to run an optimistic and positive campaign. Dean's liabilities seemed to be his temper (later he was immortalized in JibJab.com's animated short "This Land is Your Land" screaming) and his campaign made some poor choices in how to spend their money. In addition, since the nine other candidates had named Dean the one to beat, there was a lot of mud being thrown at Dean. Some of it stuck. Kerry eventually won the primaries without much trouble.
9/11 became in an issue in a number of ways. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 came out during the campaign and the 9/11 Commission held hearings during the summer as well. President Bush refused to testify publicly. Condoleeza Rice, the National Security Advisor, also refused but eventually testified due to a public outcry. Richard Clarke, a former member of the Bush administration, wrote a book claiming Bush had ignored Clarke's warnings about al Qaeda. Joseph Wilson also wrote a book decrying the fact that the Bush White House leaked the identity of his CIA agent wife (Valerie Plume) that put her in danger. He claimed the leak was revenge for his criticism of White House policy toward Iraq. And there were other attacks on Bush as well.
Given all these criticisms of the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, and so on, Kerry ought to have had a field day, or not? Americans might also have had reservations about changing leaders during a crisis (the war on terror and in Iraq) or electing an untried leader during the crisis.
The Third Force
Compared to 2000, third parties were insignificant. Ralph Nader, who won 3 percent of the vote in 2000 on the Green Party ticket, didn't receive federal funding for the 2004 race and chose not to run as a Green Party candidate instead running as an independent and endorsed by the Reform Party. Nader was officially on the ballot in 34 states and DC (9 fewer than in 2000).
The conventional wisdom in 2000 asserted that Nader had been a spoiler, tossing the election from Gore to Bush in key states. This affected both major party strategies in dealing with Nader in 2004. Republicans reportedly gave money to Nader and helped him with ballot access, and Democrats were reportedly trying to thwart his campaign. For a variety of reasons, Nader got few votes in 2004.
The Democratic Convention
John Edwards was named vice presidential running mate by John Kerry prior to the convention. This was earlier than the usual vice president announcement. Edwards was chosen to balance the ticket with a southerner (from North Carolina), a moderate, and someone who worked their way up (didn't inherit or marry money). He also brought youth, energy, and campaign skills to the Kerry campaign.
The convention was held in Boston, July 26-29. Both Clintons and former president Jimmy Carter spoke at the convention taking shots at Bush and endorsing Kerry. Ron Reagan, former President Reagan's son, also spoke. Reagan spoke about embryonic stem cell research, something the Bush administration opposes. But it was Barack Obama who stole the show. A Democratic Senate candidate from Illinois, the son of a Kenyan immigrant father and a poor Kansas-born mother, was the highlight of the convention. He spoke about creating opportunity and unity in America and launched himself onto the national political stage. The convention focused a lot on national security issues and ended with Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam Vet, and Kerry's swiftboat crewmates testifying to Kerry's leadership and strength.
The Kerry-Edwards ticket had a solid convention but didn't get a "bounce" from it - their poll numbers didn't jump up as they usually do. Bush and Kerry were neck-and-neck.
The Republican Convention
The Republican convention was held in New York City from August 30 to September 2. Despite rumors of a change in vice president, Bush named Dick Cheney once again as his running mate. Moderate Republicans dominated the stage: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain spoke on behalf of the Bush ticket. Bush's record in the war on terrorism was among the main themes of the convention. The Republicans also invited a Democrat to speak, Senator Zell Miller (D-GA), who attacked the Democrats and Kerry on national defense issues.
There were a number of protestors and hecklers but the Republican convention was declared a success and President Bush got a 2-percent bounce in the polls.
The Presidential Debates
Debates rarely sway voters. However, in the 2004 contest, the race was so close and swing votes so essential, that this time the debates did have an effect. There were three presidential and one vice presidential debates. Each was 90 minutes and presented in a different format.
The presidential debates each had a theme: the first was a foreign policy debate moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS; the second was a town hall meeting at which undecided voters asked questions with ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson; and the third focused on domestic issues and was moderated by CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer. John Kerry had been behind in the polls before the debates and finished tied with Bush. Most analysts thought the rise in poll ratings was due to the debates.
The Fall Campaign and General Election
The race was so close that many Americans feared a tie in the Electoral College or another election like 2000 decided by recounts and court actions. The race was especially close in several states: Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Iowa, and Wisconsin.