U.S. Election 2016: Brave New World

Article by Flinders University PhD Candidate and former Washington Internship student, Jesse Barker Gale: 

The next two months are critical for the 2016 Presidential contenders. The Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary are the ‘giant killers’ that (theoretically) test the electability of those on the ballot for the nation’s top office. In recent history, the only person to lose both the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary and still go on to win their party’s nomination and then the Presidency is Bill Clinton. However, Clinton is an anomaly, as his support base in the Southern states, unrivalled by any Democrat of this (or that) era, allowed him to weather the setback and regain his momentum. Also, as a Governor of a distinctly Southern state, there is a strong argument to be made that he was uncompetitive compared to Iowa winner (and Iowa Senator) Tom Harkin, and New Hampshire winner Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas.

But what does this have to do with the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primaries? For one: the presumptive frontrunner and prohibitive favourite to be the Democratic nominee in the general election, Secretary Hillary Clinton, is ahead, but not dominating in Iowa, and has been eclipsed in New Hampshire by populist rival Senator Bernie Sanders. In a crowded field and pre-Citizen’s United, Clinton’s struggles would have been enough to bring serious questions to the viability of her campaign. However, the Democratic field is not crowded and poor (in all senses) candidates raising of vast sums of money is not as inconceivable as once it was (ping Jeb!). Rather, this new style of campaigning allows candidates to remain competitive beyond the natural lifespan of their campaign.

Secretary Clinton’s troubles in Iowa and New Hampshire would be fatal to her campaign were there any serious rival who could benefit from her stumbles. Her saving grace is that Senator Sanders has hit his natural limit in terms of campaign support, and his support is largely bound to the Northeast progressive movement. Sanders flourishes only where Clinton falters. Where she is seen as a wooden candidate, he cuts a scruffy endearing grandfatherly figure railing against the ‘special interests’ that prey on middle America. Where she is seen as an establishment figure with strong ties to Wall Street and the Obama Administration, he is the outsiders’ outsider, an outspoken socialist still fighting for the 99 percent. She has lived for more than half her life in the public eye, from First Lady of Arkansas and the United States, to United States Senator, to Secretary of State. Whereas he, an Independent-cum-Democratic politician from Vermont, has never faced the same level of media and public scrutiny as that on the presidential trail.

Candidates announce for the presidency anywhere up to nine months before the first caucuses and primaries. The better known the candidate, the later they tend to announce, not having to work to build name recognition and a fundraising network. It is at least a year from the campaign beginnings until the party conventions (Cleveland for the Republicans, Philadelphia for the Democrats), and then the nominee has a brutal four month dash for the presidency. All up, close to 18 months beginning to end. It is unrelenting and takes a huge psychological toll on the eventual winner, and then they have to assume the presidency.

In short, a combination of (virtually) unlimited money from political patrons and a weak (and largely untested) field of contenders allows less animated candidates like Clinton (and in 2012, Romney) to survive long enough to outpace the others. Add to this the seeming inevitability of her nomination, and you have a candidate and campaign that looks far beyond the old limits of Iowa and New Hampshire.


Disclaimer:  this is the view of the author and Flinders University does not take responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the material and does not accept responsibility for, or endorse the contact or condition of, any linked website.

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