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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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As George Will astutely noted last year, the presidential election process has now been fully transformed from the original intention of the Founders. They envisioned no popular campaign for office - and indeed, early candidates for the major parties typically declined to campaign on their own behalf. Today, however, we have reached a point where the presidential campaign never ends. Potential Republican candidates are already making trips to Iowa.

Potential GOP candidates already are touching down in the Hawkeye State. There's Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the GOP caucuses in 2008. More politicians have trips planned, starting with Nevada Sen. John Ensign today, followed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and another appearance by Huckabee.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, haven't visited Iowa yet but are expected.

And now, per Mike Memoli at Politics Nation, we might have to add Tim Pawlenty to this list:

Last week we noted that Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) planned to announce his future political plans "this summer." His timeframe appears to have sped up, with his office planning a press conference at 2 pm local time.

WCCO-TV reports that Pawlenty will not seek a third term. The decision is sure to trigger speculation that the "hockey dad" will focus his energies on a 2012 presidential bid. It may also ratchet up pressure on Pawlenty, who will eventually have to sign a certification of election in the contested Minnesota Senate race.

One has to wonder about the effects that this permanent presidential campaign is having on governance. Is it a good or bad thing? I can see it in both directions. On the one hand, it's a good thing to have the opposition party engaging in active opposition, which is what has happened in the last two presidential cycles. The candidates of the opposition party relentlessly criticize the incumbent party, which could ultimately have the effect of improving the latter's governance as it knows that the opposition is out there, ready to pounce on any mistakes. Relatedly, this might help unify Republicans. Even with a diverse field that will inevitably divide the loyalties of the partisan base - the fact that all the candidates basically agree on the issues and spend plenty of time criticizing the Democrats might help the party find its sea legs, now that it is wholly in the minority for the first time in fifteen years.

On the other hand, Mike's suggestion that Pawlenty is leaving the Minnesota governorship partly because of his presidential ambitions is somewhat disturbing. Choosing campaigning over governance? This is exactly what Obama, Clinton, McCain, and most of the contenders last cycle did. These are elected officials who have served with enough distinction that they are credible presidential candidate. Shouldn't we want them to continue to govern?

A related question: what effect will this permanent campaign induce in the presidency itself? I have wondered for a while if the extensive presidential campaigning during George W. Bush's candidacy hurt his political standing. For about four of his eight years in office, President Bush had high-profile Democratic candidates for president running around the country criticizing him relentlessly, with the media covering those critiques because they were related to the horse race. Did that have a negative effect on his job approval rating? Possibly.

If it did, or at least if the Obama White House thinks it did, how will it respond? George W. Bush was essentially silent for three-and-a-half of the four years that his opponents were going after him. He only responded beginning in the middle of 2004 - to the chagrin of many Republicans, who thought that the White House should have offered a more robust defense. That's a limitation of being President. It is difficult to engage your opponents before a certain date. Will the Obama White House work to change the restrictions on the President, to perhaps get Obama into the arena earlier? I'd note that this White House already has been in a bit of a campaign mode, holding town halls and the like. I wonder what its plan is to handle the early start of the Republican primary battle, and the ensuing critiques of his administration.

-Jay Cost