Indicators The pre-campaign period comprises the two year span from the last presidential election to the mid-term congressional elections.  In general, one can discern two groups of presidential prospects: the active pre-candidates and the coy and noncommittal

Active Pre-Candidates
A handful of presidential prospects have been actively engaging in campaign-like pursuits and, when asked, will admit to "seriously thinking about it" or "testing the waters." These active pre-candidates are laying the groundwork for probable campaigns, through such measures as:

  • set up a leadership political action committee to fund travel and support candidates (through fundraising events, joint appearances, direct contributions and endorsements)...note: other vehicles are possible, for example, an issue advocacy group or an exploratory committee;
  • find reasons to regularly visit the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire;
  • visit other key states in the nominating process;
  • make the rounds at state party conventions and gatherings;
  • speak to key constituency groups aligned with the party (for example, social conservatives, organized labor...);
  • position themselves on key issues so as to appeal to core constituencies.
Coy and Noncommittal
A second group of pre-candidates are more noncommittal, stating that they want to "keep the door open" or are "too busy to think about it now." Some of these individuals are genuinely undecided about a run, wanting to see the shape of the political landscape after the 2002 midterm elections. Likewise, for potential presidential candidates who face re-election in 2002, it would not be prudent to start aggressively chasing a presidential dream and put their current positions at risk.  Other prospects may be considering a run but not want to get in "campaign mode" two or three years out from an election.  Some on the speculation list probably do not even have presidential ambitions, but may enjoy and encourage the talk because it bolsters marketability and media coverage. Finally, there is also a B-list.  A number of officials and others are engaged in early jockeying to be considered for the vice-presidential nod.

Reaching a Decision
By late 2002 or January 2003 a decision on a presidential run becomes imperative.  Credible candidates must raise millions of dollars. In addition to money, if a hopeful waits too long, the top campaign talent will be locked up by other camps.

Each potential candidate needs to determine if he, or she, has the requisite fire in the belly to pursue a presidential race, can raise enough funds to put forth a credible effort, and can win, or at least shape the debate. The pre-campaign period provides a time to make that determination. 

Aside from a few thousand party activists and pundits around the country are who are paying close attention, most Americans, facing more immediate concerns, pay little heed during the pre-campaign period. Likewise, while news organizations may occasionally run stories that have a 2004 presidential campaign angle or a paragraph here and there on presidential race implications or even just use of the "likely presidential candidate" label, the glare of the media spotlight is elsewhere.

The lack of attention to a race that is still one or two years away is probably a healthy sign. At such an early stage of the process the waters are murky and confused, like a pond with koi flashing about.  Careful study can provide some insights, but there are a lot of meaningless polls and speculation and the "big fish" may be hard to spot.
 

...TheFlorida Democratic Party's 2002 Democratic State Conference, held April 12-14, 2002 in Orlando, attracted former Vice President Al Gore and Sens. John Edwards (NC), John Kerry (MA) and Joe Lieberman (CT), as well as Sen. Chris Dodd (CT). 

2004 Indicators
Visits to Iowa and New Hampshire
Visits to Other States: Cattle Call Watch
Raising Money and Supporting Democratic Candidates and Causes

Scorecards
 

Copyright © 2002 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.