Posted on December 14, 1998 in Washington Watch

The 2000 race for the U.S. Presidency is about to begin. It will gain in momentum during the next few months.

While the national news continues to be dominated by coverage of the never-ending impeachment saga, several Republicans and Democrats are preparing themselves for the 2000 contest.

Recent national polls show Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush to be strong favorites to win their respective parties’ nomination. The respected Wirthlin Polling group shows Bush besting all other prospective Republican challengers receiving 43% support. Bush’s nearest challengers are Elizabeth Dole at 13% and former Vice President Dan Qualye and former Vice President candidate Jack Kemp both at six percent.

On the Democratic side, Vice-President Al Gore is the commanding favorite at 51%. His nearest competitors are former Senator Bill Bradley, Jesse Jackson and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, all at around 10%.

This, of course, is an early poll, and a great deal can happen between now and 2000. In an effort to discount these poll results, some analysts have suggested that they are merely “name recognition”–especially since most of the names drawing the highest results are the names of past presidential candidates. G.W. Bush, is of course, the son of the former President. Elizabeth Dole is the wife of former Senator Robert Dole who ran as the Republican Presidential candidate in 1996. Dan Quayle was Vice President from 1988-1992, and Jack Kemp ran for President in 1988 and was the Republican Vice President nominee in 1996.
In other words, it might be fair to say that “name recognition” is the principal factor behind those early results or, in Bush’s case, positive feelings about his father’s Presidency.

Nevertheless, the early polls do matter in two important ways. The 2000 contest will be very expensive. It is estimated that in order to be a serious contender in 2000, a candidate must raise between $20-25 million before January 2000. In the race for money, good name recognition and high poll numbers are an asset. Thus, it should be easier for Bush and Gore to raise money than their less known challengers.

The downside of having an early lead is that it invites both the attacks of competitors and intense press, some of which may be unfavorable.

At this point there are more than one dozen Republicans and Democrats considering entering the race, though none of them have formally announced their candidacies. Formal announcements are legal requirements imposed by federal election laws. However, before a candidate announces their intent to run they are allowed to speak out on issues and determine voter interest in their candidacies (called “testing the waters”)–but they are prohibited from asking for direct support.

After they announce they can actually ask voters to support them, but every dollar they raise and spend on behalf of their candidacy must adhere to rigorous federal guidelines.

Thus far 17 Republicans and Democrats have taken at least some steps in the direction of announcing their candidacy for 2000.

On the Republican side:
· Lamar Alexander, former Reagan Cabinet member has run in both 1992 and 1996. He has already taken a number of steps and will announce in March 1999.
· John Ashcroft, Senator from Missouri has sought to become the candidate of the religious right. He will most probably announce in January 1999.
· Gary Bauer, a leader of the religious right who has expressed frustration that candidates seek their support and let them down–therefore, he may run on his own.
· Steve Forbes, has been running ever since he lost in 1996–he’s sought to shift his positions to court the religious right.
· Dan Quayle, former Vice President. He is considered a strong contender.

Other Republicans who hinted that they may run include: Rudy Guliani, moderate Mayor of New York City; John Kasich, fiscal conservative and Congressman from Ohio; John McCain, war hero and Senator from Arizona who has led the fight for campaign finance reform; Jack Kemp, popular moderate and former 1996 Vice President candidate.

Interestingly the most popular of the Republicans, George W. Bush, is the one who has done the least to indicate any interest in running. So far, more than any actions of his own speculation about his running for President has fueled anticipation about his possible candidacy.

On the Democratic side, in addition to Vice President Al Gore who most certainly will run, there are six other possible candidates:
· Bill Bradley, has already formed a committee to explore his candidacy and will probably announce in January 1999.
· Senator Paul Wellstone, a traditional liberal with a flair for grass-roots politics. He too has formed an exploratory committee and will probably announce in early 1999.
· Jesse Jackson, former candidate for President in 1984 and 1988. He may decide to run to challenge the “rightward” drift of the party and to gain further recognition for African Americans in Democratic Party decision-making.
· Senator Bob Kerrey, of Massachusetts and Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri may also run–but Gephardt may decide to skip the race in hopes of becoming Majority Leader should Democrats gain control of the House in 2000.

All of the above (with the exception of George W. Bush) have taken some steps toward running, short of formal announcement. All have made frequent visits to Iowa and New Hampshire to deliver political speeches and to support candidates running for local office in 1998. A few, like Alexander have been to each state more than 20 times this year and have actually hired staff in both states. Since Iowa and New Hampshire are the first states to hold caucuses and primaries in the presidential nomination process, early visits to these states are good indications of a candidate’s intentions.

Seven of the 17 (Kerrey, Forbes, Alexander, Ashcroft, Bauer, Kemp and Quayle) have established political action committees (PACs). These PACs provide prospective candidates with another way to build on organization and raise money to support their possible candidacies.

Since the 2000 presidential campaign is wide open with a large field of candidates, the race can be expected both to formally begin in the next few months and to continue certain trends that were observed during the past three presidential races.

This election will be more “front loaded” than the past three. Instead of moving slowly from state to state from March to June 2000, there will be at least 20 states holding their primaries before the end of March. As a result, candidates will need to raise at least $20-25 million early in order to pay for massive television advertising if they want to compete in 20 states all at once. The candidate with the most money early in the race will be favored to win.

This election will continue the trend of witnessing an intensely charged internal policy debate within both parties. G.W. Bush if he runs and if he runs as a moderate Republican will be strongly attacked by the religious right. They feel that they have been taken for granted by the Party leadership and are desperate to reassert their power within the Party. Since the emergence of the religious right in the late 1980s, for a candidate to win the Republican Primary he or she has had to adopt this group’s agenda. Once they have won the Republican nomination, however, these candidates have been unable to broaden their appeal to win the national election.

Democrats are going through the same internal debate as well. Bill Clinton represented the victory of centrist ideas in the Democratic Party. Candidates like Jackson and Wellstone will attempt to remind Democrats of their African American, labor union and liberal base and seek to alter the centrist drift of the party in 2000.

The struggle to define the ideas of both Republicans and Democrats will be intense in 2000.

Despite early polls and early work by prospective candidates, the real campaign for 2000 has not yet begun. When it formally gets underway in early 1999, and when it emerges from under the cloud of the impeachment process–it will be a breathless race to the finish.

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