|During the pre-primary
period--the year following the mid-term elections--the field of presidential
candidates takes shape, the race for money and campaign talent unfolds,
and differences on issues between the candidates begin to crystallize.
A candidate's formal announcement speech sets the tone for his or her campaign. In a symbolic location, surrounded by family and cheering supporters, the candidate outlines the themes that he or she will call upon repeatedly during the course of the campaign. Oftentimes the candidate will do an announcement tour, delivering the same or similar speeches at several stops. Thereafter come countless stump speeches to local Rotary Clubs, to chambers of commerce, to state party conventions, and to assorted other gatherings in school auditoriums and American Legion halls around the country.
Race for Money
To attract money and talent, a candidate must convince the party activists and donors that he or she can wage a winning campaign. Some candidates seek strong showings in various straw polls to demonstrate appeal. Major policy speeches draw attention. Favorable media coverage, poll results, major speeches and other developments all become fodder for campaign newsletters and updates as the campaigns seek to show growing support.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the campaign must lay the groundwork for qualifying for the ballot in the 50 states. Each state has its own rules--some are tortuous, others expensive and others, like New Hampshire, are relatively straightforward. In November and December, filing deadlines start coming up in individual states. In a vital, but little noticed part of the campaign work goes on to line up full delegate slates, so that if the candidate actually survives the early contests, he or she will not be knocked out by default in later states.
Campaign Heats Up
While debates and forums rarely prove decisive, they do offer voters a good chance to compare the candidates. Some of the forums are actually joint appearances rather than debates featuring direct exchanges between the candidates. Quite a few of the primary debates are televised nationally on CNN, C-SPAN or, sometimes, the other networks, thus reaching a wider audience.
The debate sponsor may be a news organization (or organizations), the state party, or another group. How informative a debate is depends on which candidates are invited, which candidates choose to attend, and very importantly, the format. Controversies sometimes arise about underdog candidates who are not invited. Alternatively, if there is a strong frontrunner, he or she often chooses to duck all but a few forums. When ten or more candidates are vying for a party's nomination, it can be very difficult to produce a coherent event. In the past, some debates have come to resemble game shows, or have been badly chopped up with advertising breaks.
Exit Stage Left
Copyright © 2002, 2003 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.