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By Jay Cost

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The GOP's 2012 Problem?

I think Barack Obama is going to be tough to beat in 2012, but for few of the reasons that Ed Kilgore lists in this column.

For starters, how's about this:

[S]mart Democrats understand that one of their chief liabilities right now figures to be an asset in 2012: the shape of the electorate. Turnout in midterm elections invariably skews toward older and whiter voters. Yet Obama's 2008 performance varied inversely with age categories and also depended on a historic ethnic-minority turnout that isn't about to be repeated in a midterm election.

Maybe, but context is important. The Baby Boomers split their vote between Nixon and McGovern in 1972. Eight years later, they were tilted toward Reagan. By 1988 they supported the seriously unhip George Herbert Walker Bush. The lesson? Don't count younger voters as a secure part of your coalition. They're young. Their circumstances and their perspectives can change. And so also can their partisanship.

I'd note that Gallup right now has Obama at 58% among adults aged 18-29. In 2008, he won 66% of voters in that age group.

Kilgore continues:

The 2012 electorate...should look more like that of 2008. Not content with their midterm advantage, Republicans have done a lot to brand themselves as the party of angry old white people: the GOP's conspicuous identification with the Tea Party movement, and the campaign to mobilize Medicare beneficiaries against healthcare reform are two examples.

Because white people are the only ones who receive Medicare? Because the Democrats didn't mobilize Medicare beneficiaries in 1996?

Let's get something straight: if Republicans win 60% of the white vote in 2012, they stand a great shot at winning the White House. Here's the math:

-In 2008, McCain won 55% of whites, who accounted for 74% of all voters.

-If the Republican nominee wins 60% of whites and they again count for 74%, then the GOP's share of the vote will go up by 3.7% if everything else stays the same.

-But these voters will be coming from Obama's side, so Obama's share of the vote will go down by 3.7%.

-That makes for a total swing of 7.4%.

-Obama won the 2008 presidential vote by 7.27%. So, if 5% of white voters shift from Obama to the GOP nominee and everything else stays the same, the GOP would win the popular vote by 0.13%.

So, that's the popular vote. It would probably swing the Electoral College. The Democratic vote is clustered in big states like Illinois, New York, and California that are simply not in play. It would be mathematically possible for the GOP - whose voters are more beneficially distributed across the 50 states - to suffer the same fate as Gore in 2000, but it is pretty unlikely.

Is 60% of the white vote infeasible? Well, right now Gallup has Obama's approval among white adults at 39%.

Oh, and Obama is at 62% approval among Hispanic adults according to Gallup. He won 67% of Hispanic voters in 2008. Such a drop-off would result in about a one point swing in the nationwide popular vote. A GOP popular vote victory of 1% or more would almost certainly tip the Electoral College.

Another thing known to tip the Electoral College? A measly reelect number of 46%.

Of course, I can cite you numbers and statistics to push back on the "emerging Democratic majority" theme until you and I are both totally exhausted. Lord knows I've been doing that for the last year and a half. But I think it's time for us to learn to coexist with this argument - it ain't going nowhere. Its advocates have enough ad hoc addenda they can toss onto it to account for anything at all. Dems are winning? Emerging Democratic majority! Dems are losing? Emerging Democratic majority!

But the last year and a half indicates why coexistence should not become capitulation. This theory has a ton of problems. It's one thing to win a single election. That does not make for a realignment - because "realignment" suggests that some voters switch parties and then they don't switch back. That in turn suggests that the victorious party governs to the satisfaction of the new voters. So far, Obama has failed to do this. Whether Kilgore likes it or not, angry white people were a major factor in Obama's victory in 2008 - and they do not at present appear to be supporting the 44th President. If Obama can't hold them in his coalition, then he's going to lose. Sorry, but the Democrats' long-anticipated demographic eschaton just ain't here yet. George McGovern's grandson might be able to win in a walk by 2050, but it's still just 2010.

When it comes to ad hoc addenda, nothing quite beats the following chestnut. According to Kilgore, the biggest reason the GOP is in trouble in 2012 is because the field right now is just a bunch of retreads:

Republicans, like or not, are probably stuck with the presidential field they now have. And it's not a pretty sight.

Polls now show three Republicans bunched at the front of the pack -- Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. Romney is almost certainly running, but he failed to make an emotional connection with GOP voters in 2008. And doing so in 2012 will be even tougher, now that Romney is stuck trying to explain to Republicans the difference between Obamacare and the plan Romney imposed on Massachusetts.

This is really something, coming as it does from a Democrat. The last four times Kilgore's party has taken the White House from the GOP - in 1960, 1976, 1992, and 2008 - they did so with somebody who was a dark horse. And these weren't just your standard, run of the mill dark horses like Franklin Pierce or James Garfield or Warren Harding. These dark horses were a Catholic, an African-American, and two moderate Southern governors in the post-McGovern era of the party.

So, the GOP can't find a dark horse? Wasn't McCain just a little dark-horsey? The MSMers in the I-95 Corridor didn't think so circa 2006. They loved McCain, but then again they're not really major players in GOP electoral politics.

Toward the end of the piece, it becomes pretty clear that Kilgore's disregard for the GOP is fogging the lens just a little bit:

Sure, there some dark horses (sic). Tim Pawlenty has some insider support but no discernable rationale for a candidacy -- and a personality that makes Mitch McConnell look charismatic. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a conservative favorite, could try to become the first sitting House member to win a presidential nomination since 1896. John Thune's main qualification seems to be that he looks very pretty on television. And then there's Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour -- just in case Republicans want to nominate a former big-time professional lobbyist who also sounds like Foghorn Leghorn...

Yep. Because Hillary Clinton had a "discernable rationale for a candidacy" and Barack Obama's "main qualification" was not that he gave a great speech in 2004. And, as we all know, Southerners with a twang have done horribly in presidential politics in the last 50 years...besides LBJ, Carter, Clinton, and Bush 43.

Two lessons emerge from this piece. One, you can't predict a presidential nomination contest more than two years out. Two, the opposition really can't do it.

Update, 2:45 PM: Ed Kilgore puts up a feisty, enjoyable response to my piece here, suggesting that the goal of his piece was merely to curb Republican enthusiasm about 2012 - and that I, as a well-known thrower of cold water on both parties, could certainly agree to that. Well, yes I can! But Ed has two sets of reasons for tossing his bucket of cold water. One set is strong, the other weak.

Here's the first set, which was basically the focus of his Salon piece:

I made three basic points: (1) the very turnout patterns that will help Republicans in 2010 will likely be reversed in 2012, with the current GOP focus on appealing to older white voters becoming a handicap rather than an advantage; (2) for all the talk of "fresh faces" emerging from the midterms, it is extremely unlikely that any of them will emerge quickly enough to run for president as Republicans in 2012; and (3) the existing Republican presidential field is at least as weak as the 2008 field, and could produce a weak nominee.

I think each of these is very weak. Point (1) deserves extra attention. I agree that demographic patterns will be different in 2010 versus 2008/2012, but whether that is an actual advantage depends on how the Democrats govern. This is something that I think has always been missing from the emerging Democratic majority thesis, which Ed leans on very heavily in his Salon piece. The Democrats have a clunky electoral coalition that they are not handling very well at the moment. It's one thing to promise the Earth, the moon, and the stars above to voters in 2008 when George W. Bush's job approval is at 25% and just about everybody is ready for a change. It's another thing to hold that coalition together through four years of governing. Polling data of adults (and thus including every conceivable presidential election voter) shows that, at this point, they need to make some improvements.

I'd be willing to meet Ed half-way and say that while the 2012 electorate will look better for the Democrats than 2010 electorate, the bigger question - and the whole issue of who should be optimistic or pessimistic - is whether it looks good enough for them.

Moving on to Ed's other points, I think his point (2) sets up a meaningless distinction between "fresh face" and "dark horse." I see people like Daniels, Pawlenty, Thune, and Pence as fresh faces, dark horses, whatever. I don't think the GOP needs somebody to come out of nowhere to save it in 2012 - and anyway, if such a savior emerged, I doubt Ed would think very much of him, either! Also, I think Ed's point (3) is really more of a reflection that, as a Democrat, he doesn't think much of Pawlenty, Thune, and Pence (all of whom I think could be formidable). If Ed wants to offer up an actual argument about why Thune would have limitations, I'd be interested in reading that. But it just rings hollow for him to emphasize the alleged facts that Thune's appeal is superficial (so was Obama's) or that Pawlenty does not have a compelling national interest driving a candidacy (neither did Hillary Clinton!). I say alleged because Thune isn't just superficial - he defeated Daschle in 2002, which was a big deal politically. And Ed is free to dismiss Pawlenty's Sam's Club angle all he wants, but (i) I think the Douthat/Salam thesis is a good one and (ii) doesn't this mean that Pawlenty does have a real reason to run?

Ed then outlines a second set of reasons that is substantially stronger:

That's all totally aside from the facts that the economy could improve by 2012, that the president remains relatively popular, and that Republicans may be unable to offer a credible alternative agenda for the country.

I agree with all of these entirely - and I would add two more big ones. First, historically the most stable governing coalition has strangely enough been divided government. If the GOP wins one or both chambers of Congress in 2010, a vote for Obama could thus become a vote to retain divided government. In that case, advantage Obama. Second, 2011-2012 seems like it will be the time for a major budget deficit showdown. Historically, these are brutal because politicians have to identify voters who will be losers - be it those who pay more in taxes, those who receive fewer benefits, or both. In the 1990s, the Republicans had a less-than-great experience with the politics of deficit reduction. It worked against George H.W. Bush in 1992 and against Bob Dole in 1996. It helped the GOP in the 1994 midterm, but they had no governing role in the 103rd Congress. Additionally, the Republicans could be fighting a budget battle from the relatively weak position of controlling just one chamber of Congress. Republicans should be concerned that they will not win enough seats in 2010 to fix any of the problems the country finds itself in, but just enough to get the blame.

I'll make a prediction for 2012 right now: whichever nominee does a better job of assigning blame for the nation's budget fiasco to the other guy will be the victor of that contest.

Now, Ed... how's that for some cold water!

Is Sarah Palin Running for President?

She might be. She's doing the same "will she/ won't she" dance with reelection that Tim Pawlenty was doing just a few months ago - and we all know how that ended with T-Paw. This is from Politico:

Top Republicans and Democrats across Alaska are quietly lining up to run for governor amid growing speculation that Sarah Palin will not seek reelection in 2010.

No candidate, including Palin, has yet filed papers with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Palin's office declined an opportunity to explain her thinking on the 2010 race, and the Republican Governors Association said it would not comment on discussions it has had with the governor.

But a number of Democrats and Republicans in Alaska and Washington who spoke to POLITICO believe her silence is a sign she will not pursue a second term as governor so that she can play a larger role on the national political stage.

A "larger role on the national political stage?" Hmmm...

Why would reelection as governor interfere with playing "a larger role?" If she was simply looking to be a more prominent spokeswoman for the Republican party, being a sitting governor would be an asset. However, it would probably interfere with a presidential run. For starters, the logistics of balancing the jobs of Alaska governor and presidential candidate would be burdensome, to say the least. Juneau is nearly a two day, 2000-mile drive from Seattle. Having Alaska as a home base while traveling around the country would be extremely expensive and time-consuming. McCain, Clinton, and Obama demonstrated that ambitious pols can still technically serve in the Senate while campaigning for President in the age of the permanent campaign - but it's another story when contemplating a run for the presidency from a position in Alaska.

But is that what she's up to? I'm not entirely convinced. Obviously, if she ran, she would be a fundraising dynamo. She would probably be quite strong in the southern primaries and midwestern caucuses. However, she has two big obstacles that stand in her way.

First, her negatives are very high. Pew recently found her net favorability at just +1, with 44% of Americans having an unfavorable view. Other polls have shown similar results. This is actually an improvement for her relative to the Pew poll from October, 2008 when her net favorability was negative. For whatever reason, Palin seemed to have been a proxy battle in the ongoing culture war last cycle, which was otherwise on hold because the two top contenders didn't want to engage in it. This is not a good position from which to launch a presidential candidacy. Ideally, you want a very high net favorability - or, barring that, a large percentage of people who have no opinion of you either way. My hunch is that Republican primary voters in many blue states will be less enamored of her - and their votes, while irrelevant in the general election, really count in party primaries.

Second, she's the governor of Alaska. There's an informal hierarchy for political jobs in this country. It's such that only a few positions have been stepping stones to the presidency: general, vice-president, senator, secretary of state, and governor. That pretty much covers it. As chief executive of Alaska, Palin technically fits the bill. However, Alaska is a thinly populated state. It has fewer people than every state but Vermont, North Dakota, and Wyoming. In fact, the mayor of Indianapolis is responsible for more people than Sarah Palin. Will the public think a single term as governor of Alaska is sufficient preparation for the presidency? I have my doubts. I'm reminded of Dennis Miller's crack about Howard Dean's candidacy in 2004: "What did you ever do in your life except be the head guy in a state where your main job was to come out once a year, pound a nail into a tree and hang a bucket off it?"

I think Palin's best bet is to win election to the Senate. That would be a way to burnish her credentials. It might also give her an opportunity to improve her public image. She might follow in the footsteps of Harry Truman - who was thought to be the "Senator from Pendergast" until he made a name for himself going after wartime waste and corruption from his perch as the chairman of the Special Committee Investigating National Defense. The problem for Palin, of course, is that her first shot at that job is not until 2014. She won't challenge Lisa Murkowski, which means that a run against Mark Begich in five years would be her first opportunity.

We'll see what she does, but I think it would be a real stretch for her to run for the presidency in 2012. I think she has enormous political talent, and that she was treated unfairly last cycle (though that's the breaks in politics!) - but I just don't think she's well-positioned for a run next cycle.

-Jay Cost

Republicans Would Do Well To Consider Pawlenty

This week, the Minnesota Post reported that Tim Pawlenty is laying the foundation for a run at the Presidency:

Since at least April -- well before he announced his decision not to run for a third term -- Gov. Pawlenty has been laying the organizational and financial groundwork for a potential run for president.

Fund-raising is under way for an organization that would allow Pawlenty to travel around the country, showing his face, developing his message and forming alliances with like-minded Republicans. Professional political fund-raisers are working on this.

Pawlenty has directly addressed groups of potential donors, and checks have been written.

Republicans would be well advised to give Pawlenty some serious consideration. I can think of two reasons.

First, his home state. The following chart tracks the Democratic "tilt" of Minnesota from 1968 through 2008:

Minnesota Tilt.jpg

From the Civil War to the Great Depression, Minnesota was a reliably Republican state - only defecting in 1912, and even then it supported Teddy Roosevelt. Then came the Great Depression - and ever since Minnesota has been solidly Democratic. While Eisenhower carried it twice at about the same level he won the nationwide vote, it has been a tough nut for the GOP to crack. The size of the Democratic tilt was once such that only Nixon - with his landslide victory in 1972 - could carry it. Not coincidentally, the state has provided Democrats with two of the nine presidential candidates from that chart.

But George W. Bush came close to winning the state in 2000 and 2004. Though Obama's victory was decisive last year - it was not far off from his nationwide share of the two-party vote. Thirty years ago, a Democrat who won 54% of the nationwide two-party popular vote would probably have won upwards of 60% in Minnesota.

The bottom line is that, for Republicans, running a candidate from Minnesota implies a very strong chance of picking up its 10 electoral votes, something the party has not done since 1972.

Second, Pawlenty could provide a nice tonal contrast to Barack Obama. He was, of course, a contender for McCain's vice-presidential slot - but the rap on him at the time was that he was not exciting enough. That was probably a fair criticism last year. Given the macro forces working against the GOP - McCain was smart to think he needed a veep candidate to shake things up.

But matters could be different in 2012. Generally speaking, reelection campaigns are all about the incumbent. If the public approves of Obama's performance - he'll be reelected regardless of what the Republican party does. So, when the GOP is mulling which contender to nominate, the best approach is not to ask which one can make the race close, but rather which one can best capitalize if the race is close. And in this way, Pawlenty could be a good candidate precisely because he is a bit on the boring side.

President Obama is regularly credited with being an electrifying speaker with a charismatic presence. If, however, the public comes to sour on his job performance by the next election, it might be drawn to the opposite qualities. This has happened several times in the last 20 years. George H.W. Bush was seen as non-empathetic. Bill Clinton was full of empathy, and could capitalize on the contrast. Clinton came to be seen as lacking moral rectitude. George W. Bush seemed upright, and could again capitalize. Finally, the younger Bush came to be seen as overly certain. Obama took advantage by emphasizing his ability to see shades of gray.

In other words, when incumbent presidents lose their luster, those with qualities opposite theirs can stand to gain. If the public sours on Obama, his pizzazz and speechifying abilities could be rebranded as a negative - "all sizzle and no steak." In that situation, the GOP might do well to have somebody who can't make a political rally look like a Beatles concert. Boring could be pitched as competent, sensible, and able to get the job done.

Of course, it's still very early. My point is simply that the contrast between Obama and Pawlenty might be a beneficial one for the GOP to offer if the public has soured on the incumbent. If it hasn't - it really does not matter what the party does. Popular incumbents never lose.

-Jay Cost


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

Public Financing Is Dead

In a recent interview with the Washington Times, John McCain made the following point:

Sen. John McCain, an architect of sweeping campaign-finance reform who got walloped by a presidential candidate armed with more than $750 million, predicts that no one will ever again accept federal matching funds to run for the nation's highest office.

"No Republican in his or her right mind is going to agree to public financing. I mean, that's dead. That is over. The last candidate for president of the United States from a major party that will take public financing was me," the Arizona Republican told The Washington Times.

The subtext of McCain's comment is a criticism of the Obama campaign. Much of this is valid, as the President explicitly promised to negotiate a deal with Senator McCain on public financing, but never did. However, the death of public financing cannot be pinned solely, or even mostly, on President Obama. It was a long time coming. In fact, I'd wager that some of the other '08 Republican contenders would have refused public financing if they had won the GOP nomination.

Ultimately, the big trouble with public financing is that it is not keeping up with the realities of electoral politics. There are two specific problems.

The first problem is timing. Senator McCain does not mention it (at least in the clip provided by the Washington Times), but one half of public financing has been finished for eight years. Presidential candidates are entitled to public financing in the primaries in the form of "matching funds." However, there is a catch. The government matches a portion of the money you receive from individual donors, but it also places a spending cap on you for the primary seasion, which does not technically end until the conventions.

This greatly damaged Bob Dole in 1996. Dole was stuck in a tough primary battle against Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, and Lamar Alexander - and to win, he had to spend through most of his primary funds. This left him running on a bare-bones budget for months. Meanwhile, President Clinton was flush with cash, thanks to the fact that he was unopposed in his primary. The DNC, labor groups, and the Clinton campaign spent the spring and summer blasting Dole, who was unable to offer a response.

The primary financing system fails to account for the fact that the general election campaign now begins well before the conventions. After Dole was shellacked because of the system's antiquated notion of the general campaign, it was only a matter of time until the serious contenders balked at primary funds. George W. Bush refused them in 2000 and 2004 - as did John Kerry.

The second problem is quantity. John McCain - who also declined financing for the primaries - received $84 million in public money at the beginning of September. This is a paltry sum compared to how much a presidential candidate can potentially raise. To appreciate this, consider the following chart, which tracks fundraising by the national party committees back to 1988.

Fundraising by National Party Committees.jpg

What is really amazing about this chart is that eliminationg soft money in 2004 did not reduce party fundraising. It slowed down its rate of growth, for sure, but in 2004 both parties raised more than they did in the last presidential cycle where soft money was allowed (2000).

You can chalk this growth up to increased party capacity to raise cash. The parties have become much more professional over the last twenty years, and thus more able to raise dollars. They also have access to new communications technology like the Internet. Another factor is likely the polarization of the electorate, especially among political elites who have the money to donate to politics. Now more than any time since the Great Depression, there are clear ideological differences between the parties. This distinctiveness gives people a greater stake in the outcome of the election - and possibly an enhanced incentive to contribute to the cause.

I'd also note that this chart only captures a fraction of the total federal dollars raised. Factor in the hundreds of millions of dollars raised by candidates for the House and Senate - which have also been on the rise over the years - and we can appreciate just how many potential dollars are out there. Above all, consider that Obama and Senator Clinton raised a combined $880 million during the 2008 campaign, and yet that did not stop the Democratic Party from smashing its previous fundraising records. Bottom line: the parties have found many new sources of money over the years, and the evidence implies that there are sources yet to be found.

So, why would a presidential candidate accept $85 million when s/he instead has the opportunity to raise hundreds of millions? Only a guy like John McCain - who had a hand in creating the current finance regime and who was honor bound to participate - was so obliged.

Ultimately, these two problems point to the same malady: the public financing system is outdated. It has not kept up with the evolving dynamics of the electoral campaign. The basics of public financing were created during a different era of presidential campaigning (via the 1974 amendments to the Federal Elections Campaign Act). The electoral campaign has changed drastically since then, but the financing system remains essentially the same. Its inability to fit the times has been evident for the last fifteen years or so - thus, it was only a matter of time before it would finally be discarded.

Until Congress updates the basic structure of public financing and/or the system is made mandatory, presidential candidates will skip it. It is so antiquated that it no longer serves their needs. A candidate who follows it will surely be made worse off if his opponent does not.

-Jay Cost

Sarah Palin Starts a PAC

It's called "SarahPac." There is not much detail up on the web yet. The only description is some boilerplate GOP rhetoric about energy independence and building an economy that recognizes hard work.

Candidate PACs such as these were not really around 15 years ago, but today they are commonplace. I've noted on this blog that our campaign finance system has many rules that facilitate legal money laundering. The parties do this, and so also do high-profile politicians via candidate PACs. Those in safe seats often raise money through their network of contributors to give it to worthy candidates facing tough races. This is one of the many wonderful loopholes in our campaign financing system - maximizing dollar contributions to those who need it while keeping accountability to a minimum. [Gee - you'd think it was developed by candidates themselves. Oh wait...it was!]

Why might Palin be setting up a PAC? Think of it this way. She gives a candidate a nice contribution in 2010 and the candidate responds with support, appreciation, gratitude, consideration for her future ambitions. This matters a lot when you are running for President. Both parties, but especially the GOP, have something called the "invisible primary." This is the time before the actual primaries when candidates run around the country looking for establishment support, which brings money, early endorsements, and hopefully crowds out competitors in time for the actual contest. As a frame of reference, think of Tom Vilsack's aborted campaign for the presidency. We'll never know exactly what happened, but it stands to reason that Vilsack had problems in the invisible primary, i.e. he wasn't getting support and/or money. So, he dropped out and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Mitt Romney was a master of the invisible primary, pulling in endorsements, outraising his competitors and even driving Giuliani and McCain out of Iowa. Of course, that just goes to show that the invisible primary is not determinative.

An important caveat: a future presidential candidate will inevitably set up a candidate PAC like this, but everybody who sets up a candidate PAC isn't going to run for president. So, Palin might not be running - though this is certainly an indication that she intends to have some role in national party politics.

If Palin does run, we'll probably get a pretty good read on it. Most every presidential candidate comes out to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina to meet local party officials prior to a declaration of candidacy. That's part of the "testing the waters" phase. Presumably, Palin would do the same. Unlike other candidates, though, she wouldn't be able to do it casually. If she's laying down the cash to fly to Manchester or Charleston or Davenport - she's seriously considering a run.

-Jay Cost