Frontrunners Redux (Do Campaigns Matter?)
09-16-2010
I spent some time yesterday going back over my posts from last fall, when the state primary cycle that just concluded on Tuesday was first beginning to take shape. If you had asked me back then (and some did) to name the frontrunner in each of the contested primaries, I would have given you the following list: Lynch, Stephen, Ayotte, Guinta, Kuster, and Bass. In fact, my hunch is that this is the same list that most political observers would have provided, if asked to do so.
 
A year later the verdict is finally in, and the list of winners is, well, exactly the same. This circumstance has returned me once again to a fundamental question that political scientists have grappled with for many years: Do campaigns matter? Given how much blood, sweat, and tears (and money in some cases) the campaigns and their volunteers have expended over the past twelve months, one would certainly hope (as I do) that the answer to this question is yes.
 
But the winner in each case was the candidate who entered the race with the highest name recognition (except maybe Kuster), strongest institutional position, and deepest organizational roots – precisely the structural political features that made them frontrunners in the first place. In the end, whether or not they ran the strongest primary campaign was not the determining factor. I have yet to meet any political observer who believes that Kelly Ayotte ran a strong primary campaign, and my sense is that Annie Kuster would have won her primary even without running what was by all accounts a smart campaign.
 
So, I’m left still trying to figure out what role campaigns played (or could have played) in the drama we just witnessed. I understand that they can play an important informational role for some voters, and I would probably buy into the argument that campaigns can have an effect on electoral outcomes at the margins.  But the combination of structural political features and electoral conditions in our state’s political environment sure seemed to give that list of frontrunners an insurmountable advantage in the primaries.

Comments:


Posted On: 09-18-2010 08:18:55 by Jim Splaine
But how many of us projected that Barack Obama would be President a year before the election? Or Jimmy Carter. Or Ronald Reagan, for that matter. Or Carol Shea-Porter for someone a little closer to home. So of course campaigns matter. A great UNH professor mine, Bob Craig, with whom I took five political science courses so long ago, used to say the last 10 days of any political campaign is where it's ad. He later became Norm D'Amours first chief of staff -- a man elected to Congress during those last ten days of his own campaign, which propelled him ahead of the Republican that year. I remember it well because I helped. That Ovide Lamontagne almost made it hits home that you just never know the influence campaigns can have. And it's not how much money you have, it's how you spend it. The constant attention of the media, and some political commentators, on the who's-on-first in the money race discourages some great candidates with good messages from even giving it a try. Shame on our democracy to focus so much on the money in campaigns. Granny D's cause is needed more now than ever.


Posted On: 09-16-2010 20:29:53 by Don Noordsy
Dean...... I realize that Bill Binnie has lots of money, but do you suppose he is questioning the fact that he just spent several million bucks of his own and that he appears to have received very little return on it? Regards, Don


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