08 August 2007

Primary Strategies

The candidates for the Republican nomination for President all seem to be playing different strategies as some candidates head for Iowa this weekend for the Iowa Straw Poll, while others are taking a pass on the event.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is clearly playing a 'momentum' strategy, or what one could call the 'Delaware Strategy'. In 2004, Senator John Kerry narrowly won the Iowa primary, then won the New Hampshire primary a week later. After that, John Edwards won in South Carolina only after devoting an incredible amount of time to winning his birth state - whereas at the same time John Kerry won in a host of other states, among them Delaware, a state that he never visited and spent precious little money on, suggesting that the Democratic primary voters in that state had decided coalescence around the Kerry candidacy was the right choice for them. Indeed, other than South Carolina, Kerry won every other primary contest. This time around, Governor Romney seems to be playing toward this same strategy of Iowa & New Hampshire and then letting the rest fall into place with the victory momentum. In a field that will still likely have at least three 'top tier' candidates in it, this strategy makes good sense. In pursuit of this strategy, Gov. Romney has been working Iowa and New Hampshire very hard, including a strong push for the Iowa Straw Poll this weekend in Ames, Iowa, and putting together aggressive field operations in both early primary states, as well as South Carolina and Florida.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani seems to have opted for a "February 5th/One Big Day" Strategy. Giuliani is the only GOP candidate with paid staff in every February 5 primary state, including Connecticut. In this "One Big Day" supposition, Giuiliani seems to be banking on a fractured decision from the January results - with perhaps Fred Thompson winning in South Carolina and Iowa, Romney winnning in New Hampshire, and Giuliani finishing a respectable 2nd or 3rd in each of those contests. Then on the "One Big Day", while the other campaigns hastily construct ad hoc campaigns in the February 5th states, Giuliani will rely on his pre-built network to deliver the majority, if not a sweep, of the "One Big Day" states. In this scenario, Giuliani would certainly have the most amount of delegates and then would slug it out with the other campaigns for the remaining delegates in the remaining primaries, but having caught the 'Big Mo' on the "One Big Day", ultimately emerge as the candidate.

It remains to be seen what former Senator Fred Thompson will do, though it seems that his effort is likely to be Internet driven and rely on a groundswell of grassroots support to deliver him to victory in the primaries.

For the other candidates, their work requires them to break into the first tier and generate enough cash to sustain their operations into the primary season. The frontloaded primary hurts them the most, one must surely believe, because they have the least ability and resources to compete on a national basis early on. One of the great things about having a 'state by state' primary process is that darkhorse candidates had the opportunity to emerge, like Bill Clinton in 1992. In an essentially nationwide primary, its the guys with the biggest bankrolls that will succeed. That is, of course, an ironic point for another post about the nature of living in a nation made up of states (there IS a point to it!). But alas, the complexity of many different systems in different places seems to baffle the media and intimidate state and federal legislators, who work to federalize the system against its better interest. I digress.

As the calendar for the primary season begins to shape up, look for updates on the Primary Strategies being employed by the GOP candidates for President.