Posted on February 27, 1995 in Washington Watch
Last week, nine Republican 1996 Presidential hopefuls traveled to New Hampshire to speak at a state Republican party dinner and, in the process, formally launched the 1996 Presidential primary.
The nine who appeared were Kansas Senator and Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, Senator Phil Graham of Texas, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, California Representative Robert Dornan, former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, former Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, former Maryland Senate nominee Alan Keyes and CNN commentator Pat Buchanan.
Dole, who has failed to win in New Hampshire in his two previous Presidential runs, appeared to be the most seasoned of the group. Riding high in the glow of polls showing him to be the strong favorite in New Hampshire, he seemed to be optimistic and upbeat, and was energetic enough to speak before nine large audiences in three days.
Graham boasted the support of New Hampshire’s senior Senator Bob Smith an challenged Dole’s conservative credentials. “I am more conservative than Bob Dole and I am more committed to fundamentally changing America than Bob Dole,” he announced. But Graham has irritated New Hampshire voters by his association with a challenge to that state’s right to hold the nation’s first primary – a privilege they hold as central to their political identity.
Lugar came to New Hampshire as an underdog. Not yet an announced candidate, he decided only recently to enter the race. Lugar is running on his record in world affairs and hopes to pick up the Indiana-based support that is available now that Dan Quayle, who is also from Indiana, is not running.
Specter spoke on his support for abortion rights, for the role of the federal government in setting standards for programs like welfare and education. He was critical of the far right in his party, and essentially courted moderate Republican support, of which there is relatively little in New Hampshire.
Dornan is a wild Congressman from California. In the House he has been an occasional embarrassment to the Republican leadership, but is a favorite of the far right. He criticized Clinton and Graham for not serving in the military, and if nothing else his presence in New Hampshire is guaranteed to make the debate both energetic and colorful.
Alexander’s appearance at the Republican dinner was the end result of a full year of preparation. A year ago he was a little known but respected long shot, but today he boasts one of the best organizations both in New Hampshire and nationally.
Martin is campaigning against the right-wing domination of the party –a role she played at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston. She has no chance of winning but is, at present, the only woman in the race so her name will be considered on many vice-presidential lists.
Keyes, the first African American Republican to enter the race is a far-right conservative who draws little support except that he adds some depth to the far right of the field.
Buchanan, according to political analysts, appeared more serious a candidate than in his 1992 outing against George Bush. His message is the simplest and cleanest of the group (since his is the most ideological and purely conservative message as well). It is the “America First” theme that propelled him in 1992. As one analyst put it, “he can’t win, but he can make mischief in New Hampshire.”
Although the New Hampshire primary election is nearly a year away (it will be held February 20, 1996), there are good reasons why the campaign has begun so early.
1). The Republican List is Long
When four Republican stars (Quayle, Kemp, Cheney and Gingrich) announced in the past few weeks that they wouldn’t be running, that left nine leading figures who are almost certain to run. This list of hopefuls does not include at least four more prominent Republican governors who, because of political considerations in their states, are not yet free to declare their intentions. With a list this long, it is important for prospective candidates to declare their intentions early enough to hire key campaign operatives, sign on major supporters and get commitments from major fundraisers. Early declarations also help the candidates focus on their campaigns.
The importance of announcing early can be seen with the example of Dan Quayle. One of the reasons Quayle withdrew from consideration was because many of the key fundraisers and political organizers he had hoped to sign to work with his campaign had already made commitments to other candidates.
Within the current field of nine there will be serious competition over who can enlist the support of the party’s moderate and conservative wings. Of course, a few candidates will also attempt to establish their credentials as the candidate who can best win support from both wings and unify the party. The earlier a candidate can ensconce themselves among Republican supporters, the better positioned that candidate will be to do well in the primary.
2). The 1996 Presidential Primary Will be Expensive
It is generally accepted that to successfully compete – let lone win – the Republican primary, a candidate must raise $20-25 million by the end of 1995. This amounts to over $60,000 per day – a huge amount by any measure. This will be all the more difficult, since current campaign law stipulates that any individual can contribute only $1,000. Needless to say, this will be a difficult task requiring extensive organization and a strong base of support.
There is another reason why the candidates are running early. To lose the support of a major fundraiser (who has the ability to raise a million dollars on a candidate’s behalf) to another candidate would be a crushing blow to a prospective campaign.
As it currently stands, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, Senator Phil Graham of Texas and former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander have locked in the largest base of contributors and fundraisers. Other candidates have targeted more narrow groups to fund their efforts, such as Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (who is relying on moderate Republican and Jewish community support), or CNN commentator Pat Buchanan (who is relying on the same hard-line conservative support network that fueled his 1992 challenge to then-President George Bush. These candidates, and a few others have no prospects of winning but are in the race to influence the debate on issues. In the case of Specter, for example, the hope is for a more moderate stance on social issues such as abortion, or in Buchanan’s case he hopes to move the party to adopt a harder conservative line on social issues.
3). The 1996 Race Will be Largely Decided in the First Six Weeks
A final reason why the campaign has begun so early is that the 1996 primary season will be such a short one. More states are moving their election dates to the early months of 1996 so that by the end of March that year the outcome will most probably be determined. This doesn’t give candidates the luxury of a slow and steady process of weeks of campaigning in different states so that even if they lose in one state they may be able to win in the next.
There was a slower pace in the 1984 and 1988 campaign, when new strategies were developed each week to meet the needs of each state the campaign was entering. But since in most weeks in 1996 there will be elections in a number of states, a candidate must begin to campaign now and raise funds in order to be able to run a large-scale television advertising campaign in all those states at once.
This makes it more important for candidates to raise money now, win supporters now and begin to campaign now. They must lock in support and build campaign organizations as early as possible so as to be positioned to run a fast-paced campaign when the actual election begins in New Hampshire next February 20.
As it currently stands, the Republican primary is shaping up to be a three-way race. In the top tier of candidates are Dole, Graham and Alexander.
Dole is the current frontrunner, polling well over 45% in every state. His nearest rival is Phil Graham who gets under 15% – closer to 10% in most states.
Dole’s status as Senate Majority Leader and his high name recognition are the main factors in his favor at this time. Graham and Alexander have built powerful fundraising groups and substantial political organizations, however, and as their visibility increases among voters their polling numbers will rise as well.
Quayle’s withdrawal from the race releases the support he would have received from the Christian right wing of the Republican party, which supported his strong emphasis on family values. While all of the remaining candidates are trying to swing that support over to themselves, it will be a difficult task.
Both Dole and Graham are vocal supporters of making the Republican party more inclusive – which in Republican terms means they support the inclusion of Republicans who don’t agree with the party’s anti-abortion platform. (Graham has recently even announced that while he personally opposes abortion, he might accept an abortion-rights supporter as his running-mate.
As a warning to other candidates who might take such a view, the head of the Christian Coalition – the leading political voice of the Christian right wing – recently announced that his group would not support a national Republican ticket which included an abortion-rights supporter. Since the Christian right is a powerful and active force in the Republican party – a dominant voice in at least 17 states – their support will be critical to the chances of any Republican seeking to retake the White House in the 1996 elections.
While Dole and Graham and Alexander are all strong conservatives on most economic and social issues, they also seek to be progressive enough to win a national majority. Their efforts to be progressive while courting the right wing at the same time will be a difficult process – and one that will be both interesting and important to watch.
Another factor that bears watching is the role of pro-Israel forces. Although pro-Israel Jewish groups are not typically as strong a force in the Republican party as they are in the Democratic party, the coalition of neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalists (both ardent supporters of the Likud line) makes the issue a potentially volatile one for the Republican primary.
Dole is clearly not a favorite of this group and they are not comfortable with Alexander, either. In fact, everyone on their preferred list of candidates (Quayle, Kemp and Gingrich) has withdrawn from the race. They realize that Specter will not win, so these groups may feel that Graham is their only choice.
Finally, there will be an early test for potential candidates to pass: the character question. Dole has apparently passed this test in the eyes of the national media, having emerged unscarred on this issue after three separate national campaigns. Closer scrutiny of Graham may shed unwanted light on some of his questionable financial dealings which many Texans have known about for some time. Alexander has not been put under the national media’s microscope yet, so it is uncertain what the press will find and disclose once they’ve taken a look.
Should any of these candidates falter early on, or should they fail to capture the major voting blocs within the Republican party, it would be likely that one or more of those who are currently in will drop out and some popular sitting Republican governor may decide to enter. Among the governors who would have either a natural constituency or the possibility of raising large-scale money or both, are Massachusetts’ Bill Weld, Pete Wilson of California, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of Michigan and Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey.
Meanwhile back at the White House, President Clinton and the Democrats are watching the friction among Republicans Presidential candidates with some amount of satisfaction. As the Congressional Republicans show a level of unity not matched by their Democratic counterparts, the national Republican Presidential hopefuls are exposing the same divisions that cost them the 1992 Presidential race.
The question is whether the Republicans can find a candidate who, in the words of Bob Dole, can “both win the Republican nomination and the general election.” That is, the party must find a candidate conservative enough to win the Republican primary while being inclusive and progressive enough to win the kind of broad-based national support it takes to win a presidential election.
In any case, the race to find the answer to that dilemma is now officially underway.
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