The pre-campaign period comprises the two year span from the last presidential election to the mid-term congressional elections.  This is a time for potential candidates to determine if they have 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.

Laying the Groundwork
The pre-campaign period, that is the time between the Nov. 2, 2004 presidential election and the Nov. 7, 2006 mid-term elections, is a critical time for potential presidential candidates to position themselves, test messages, establish contacts, and attract talent.  About two dozen Republican and Democratic presidential prospects worked hard during 2005-06 to support their respective parties' candidates around the country.  They spoke at candidate events, made the rounds at state party conventions and other partisan events, visited key early states, notably Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and connected with activists.  Most of the potential candidates formed leadership PACs to pursue these activities.  A major objective at this stage of the campaign is achieve credibility as a possible presidential candidate.  The more active prospects started to build organizations in selected states, putting in a staff person or two and announcing chairs, co-chairs and advisory committees, ostensibly to help their work on the 2006 elections.  Fundraising ability is an important indicator of credibility.  Media coverage, notably feature articles in national magazines, provides a boost.  Finally, there is grassroots support.  On their own initiative, activists took steps to promote some of the potential candidates, evidenced by various draft websites on the Internet (Supporters and Opponents on the Web: Early Activity).  It must be noted that while most of the presidential prospects were busy laying groundwork during 2005-06, several "late bloomers" only came to attention relatively late in the cycle.

Active pre-candidates can lay the groundwork for potential presidential campaigns through such measures as:

Also during the pre-campaign period, elements of the 2008 nominating process were put in place.  After extensive study and discussion Democrats added an early caucus in Nevada and an early primary in South Carolina to their nominating calendar.  A number of state legislatures moved primary dates and more may do so.  Both parties considered proposals from a handful of cities to host their national conventions in 2008, and the Republicans settled on Minneapolis-St. Paul.  The mid-term elections were closely fought, and the Democrats' success in gaining control of Congress and picking up half a dozen governorships will be a key factor shaping the political landscape in 2008.

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 to 2008 during the pre-campaign period.  Likewise, while news organizations may occasionally run stories that have a 2008 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.

Coy and Noncommittal
About two dozen individuals were seen as presidential prospects.  A few, when asked, admitted to "seriously thinking about it" or "testing the waters."  A second group of pre-candidates were more noncommittal, stating that they wanted to "keep the door open" or were "too busy to think about it now."  Some of these individuals were genuinely undecided about a run, wanting to see the shape of the political landscape after the 2006 midterm elections.  Other prospects may be planning to run but do not want to get in "campaign mode" two or three years out from an election.  Likewise, for potential presidential candidates who face re-election, it is not prudent to start aggressively chasing a presidential dream and put their current positions at risk.  Some on the speculation list likely did 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 engaged in early jockeying to be considered for the vice-presidential nod.

The Field of 2008 Republican Presidential Prospects as it looked in 2005-06
The most frequently mentioned 2008 Republican presidential prospects included five U.S. Senators (Allen, Brownback, Frist, Hagel and McCain), three Governors (Huckabee, Pataki and Romney, all of whom will be former Governors come January 2007), two former elected leaders (Gingrich and Giuliani), and, despite her repeated disavowals of interest, the Secretary of State (Rice).  These eleven have a tremendous range of experience from pastor to doctor to naval aviator to professor.  Their philosophies range from solid social conservative to moderate.  They come from every part of the country -- from the Northeast (Giuliani, Pataki and Romney), the Midwest (Brownback and Hagel), the South (Allen, Frist, Gingrich, Huckabee and Rice) and the West (McCain and Allen, transplanted).  On Inauguration Day Jan. 20, 2009 the youngest, Brownback, will be 52 and the oldest, McCain, will be 72.  Three have served in elective office for 20 or more years (Gingrich, McCain, Pataki), while others have more limited experience in public office (Romney) or have not sought elective office (Rice).  Finally, Illinois businessman John Cox was the leading Republican longshot.

The 2006 mid-term elections winnowed the field slightly as Allen lost his Senate seat and Frist, whose tenure as Senate Majority Leader did not earn many plaudits, opted to return to private life (Nov. 29).  At the same time however, the field grew with the late additions of a Congressman (Hunter) and two former Governors (Thompson and Gilmore).  At year's end, according to conventional wisdom, McCain was seen as the frontrunner, and he had done most to line up support and build an organization.  Romney and Giuliani were seen as the most formidable challengers to McCain.

The Field of 2008 Democratic Presidential Prospects as it looked in 2005-06
The most frequently mentioned 2008 Democratic presidential prospects included seven U.S. Senators (Bayh, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Feingold, Obama and Kerry), two Governors (Richardson and Vilsack), three former elected officials (Edwards, Warner and Daschle), a military man (Clark), and, despite his disavowals of interest, the former Vice President (Gore).  Obama was not really seen as a potential '08 candidate until the last quarter of 2006.  In terms of regional variation, there were Northeasterners (Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Kerry), Midwesterners (Bayh, Feingold, Obama, Vilsack, Daschle), Southerners (Edwards, Warner, Clark), and a Westerner (Richardson).  On Inauguration Day Jan. 20, 2009 the youngest, Obama, will be 47 and the oldest, Biden, will be 66.  There are political veterans such as Biden (first elected to public office in 1970) and Dodd (first elected to Congress in 1974) and relative newcomers such as Edwards and Clark.  Finally, there is a longshot in former Sen. Mike Gravel.

Before the end of 2006 the field narrowed as Warner (Oct. 12), Feingold (Nov. 12), Daschle (Dec. 2) and Bayh (Dec. 16) decided against White House bids.  Adding to the field, Congressman (Kucinich) threw his hat in the ring.  According to conventional wisdom, Clinton and Obama were seen as the frontrunners; Edwards was also seen as a very strong challenger for the nomination.

Reaching a Decision
By late 2006 or January 2007 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.

2008 Indicators
Early states including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina get a lot of attention in the pre-campaign period.  From Nov. 3, 2004 to Nov. 7, 2006 major major party presidential prospects made at least 130 visits totaling 220 days to Iowa and 106 visits totaling 154 days to New Hampshire.  This tally does not include two longshot declared candidates, former Sen. Mike Gravel (D) and businessman John Cox (R), who spent a lot of time in these states.
Eleven Democrats made 60 visits totaling 108 days led by former Sen. John Edwards (13 visits, 23 days), Sen. Evan Bayh (9 visits, 20 days), Sen. Joe Biden (6 visits, 17 days), former Gov. Mark Warner (7 visits, 13 days) and Sen. John Kerry (8 visits, 10 days). 

New Hampshire
Twelve Democrats made 54 visits totaling 85 days led by Sen. Joe Biden (8 visits,15 days), Sen. John Edwards (8 visits, 12 days) and Sen. Evan Bayh (6 visits, 11 days).

Visits to Other States-Cattle Call Watch:

  • Campaign for America's Future's "Take Back America 2006," Washington, DC, June 12-14, 2006.
  • Yearly Kos Convention 2006, Las Vegas, NV, June 8-11, 2006. >

    Thirteen potential candidates made 70 visits totaling 112 days led by Gov. George Pataki (10 visits, 20 days), Gov. Mitt Romney (12 visits, 18 days), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (6 visits, 14 days), Sen. Sam Brownback (8 visits, 12 days) and Sen. Bill Frist, M.D. (6 visits, 10 days).

    New Hampshire
    Eleven Republicans made 52 visits totaling 69 days led by Gov. Mitt Romney (11 visits, 12 days) and Gov. George Pataki (10 visits, 11 days).

    Visits to Other States-Cattle Call Watch:

  • Southern and Midwest Republican Leadership Conference, Memphis, TN, March 9-12, 2006.
  • 33rd Annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Washington, DC, February 9-11, 2006.

  • Raising Money and Supporting Democratic Candidates and Causes:
    Bayh | Biden | Clinton | Clark | Daschle | Dodd | Edwards | Feingold | Kerry | Obama | Richardson | Vilsack | Warner
    Leadership PAC Finances (through mid-2006)
    Raising Money and Supporting Republican Candidates and Causes:
    Allen | Brownback | Frist | Gingrich | Giuliani | Hagel | Huckabee | McCain | Pataki | Romney
    Leadership PAC Finances (through mid-2008)

    Bringing Talent on Board and Building an Organization:
    Bayh probably did the most to build a national organization; his Camp Bayh program put about 50 people on the ground working for campaigns around the country in fall 2006.
    Bayh | Biden | Clinton | Clark | Daschle | Dodd | Edwards | Feingold | Kerry | Richardson | Vilsack | Warner
    Iowa Leadership
    New Hampshire Leadership
    Bringing Talent on Board and Building an Organization:
    McCain and Romney did the most to build up the rudiments of a national organization; Pataki was strong in Iowa and New Hampshire; Huckabee and Frist had people in Iowa.
    Allen | Brownback | Frist | Gingrich | Giuliani | Hagel | Huckabee | McCain | Pataki | Romney
    Iowa Leadership
    New Hampshire Leadership

    Media: Feature Articles Media: Feature Articles

    Activist Buzz: >
    Bayh | Biden | Clinton | Clark | Daschle | Dodd | Edwards | Feingold | Kerry | Obama | Richardson | Vilsack | Warner | Gore | More
    Activist Buzz: >
    Allen | Brownback | Frist | Gingrich | Giuliani | Hagel | Huckabee | McCain | Pataki | Romney | Tancredo | Rice | More

    See Also:
    ABC News Political Unit.  "2008 Presidential Invisible Primary Ratings, Vol. 1."  March 23, 2006. 

    Copyright © 2006, 2007, 2008  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action