The calendar now says 2011, but the political eyes of the nation are already looking ahead to 2012 when America will once again elect a president. While it may seem a bit early to focus on the Presidential Election the fact is the 2012 race is getting out of the starting block much more slowly than it did in 2008 when a term-limited President George W. Bush was getting ready to vacate the Oval Office.
Despite some sniping on the Left, President Barack Obama appears poised to claim re-nomination without facing any significant primary challenge. On the Republican side nearly a dozen names are in play, although no one has yet officially announced a White House bid. Formalities aside, the jockeying for position within the GOP has been going on for years and is now set to pick up speed.
Potential presidential candidates must lay a lot of ground work before entering the race. The nuts and bolts of mounting a national campaign are daunting. It is a process that consumes hundreds of millions of dollars, requires intricate grassroots organizing, detailed knowledge of the issues, along with intrusive and exhaustive examination by opponents and the media.
To get noticed on the road to the White House candidates employ different strategies. The current media age officially began with the infamous Nixon-Kennedy debate in the 1960 campaign. But it was Ronald Reagan who first harnessed the power of the media to build himself into a national figure. Already known as a movie actor and television host, Reagan wrote, recorded and broadcast over 600 radio commentaries from 1975-1979 that established him as a serious candidate and laid the policy groundwork for his campaign and ultimately his presidency.
Reagan’s proficiency at speaking earned him the nickname "the great communicator" which proved to be an invaluable asset in the White House. To this day Reagan’s speeches remain among the most moving and memorable of presidential orations. Subsequently, President Bill Clinton displayed an ability to connect with voters, and President Obama’s skill at reading from a tele-prompter resulted in soaring oratory that propelled his White House bid.
Today’s crop of would-be Republican presidential candidates have likewise turned to the media as a means of keeping them in front of voters and establishing themselves as viable presidential candidates. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee landed a prime-time television program on the Fox News network that has boosted his profile. The GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also have found homes at Fox as news "contributors."
Radio has also remained a popular venue. Santorum fills in a day each week on the nationally syndicated Bill Bennett morning program; Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza has a radio program; and Governor Huckabee has torn a page from Reagan’s playbook by airing commentaries on radio stations nationwide.
Even more candidates have turned to writing books as a means of raising their profile. Not only do the tomes provide biographical information to voters and lay the policy basis for campaigns, but the attendant book tours generate millions of dollars in earned media coverage.
The reigning queen of Best Seller list is Governor Palin whose initial foray into publishing with Going Rogue topped the charts. Her second book, America by Heart, sold fewer copies, but still posted impressive numbers. Governor Huckabee hit the media trifecta with his books, including a holiday-themed children’s book, Can’t Wait for Christmas, released last year.
Other presidential candidates have been busy at the computer keyboard. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney penned No Apologies: The Case for American Greatness; Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty authored Courage to Stand: An American Story; and Newt Gingrich wrote so many books we don’t have space to list them all here.
Before the first balloon drops on an announcement speech or the first official candidate for the Republican presidential nomination trudges through the cornfields of Iowa or the snows of New Hampshire voters will have been treated to a preview of the coming campaign. And while it may seem that presidential campaigns never end, the fact is primary voters will go to the polls having seen, heard, or read an amazing amount of information about the men and women who seek to lead our nation. And that is our electoral process at its best.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. He can be reached at lh[email protected])
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