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The Invisible Primary


·        It is the period between a presidential election and the first caucus / primary of the next presidential election, when candidates jostle for name recognition in the media and attempt to fundraise.

·       The invisible primary involves:

·       Writing an auto-biography: Obama re-released his “Dreams from my Father,” the story of his youth, after announcing his intention to run in 2008. Palin released two books two years before her expected 2012 presidential campaign (which eventually never happened).

·       Launching an Internet site: Howard Dean mobilised grassroots supporters through the Internet. Obama launched “Barack TV” on his website www.barackobama.com. Hilary Clinton announced her attention to run on YouTube in 2015.

·       Fundraising: Clinton had raised $26 million between announcing her candidacy and April 2007. In her likely 2016 presidential run, she is relying on funds from the Clinton Foundation.

·       Rick Perry raised $19 million in October 2011, explaining why he was able to continue despite lacklustre performances in the debates.

·       TV appearances and debating: The 2012 Republican candidates held more than 15 debates before December 2011. Perry’s “oops” moment damaged his campaign. Romney’s assured performances enhanced his standing.

·       The 2015 Republican debates saw record audience viewing figures, and each candidate was judged on how they responded to the threat of Doanld Trump. Marco Rubio won plaudits for his put down of Jeb Bush “Someone has told you it would good for you if you attack me.”

·       Campaigning in the states that will be first to hold a primary or caucus: Obama criticised Bush’s handling of the Iraq War in Iowa, traditionally the first state to hold a caucus.

·       The invisible primary is important for all of the reasons stated above and because…..

·       The primary season itself is getting shorter due to front loading (states bringing forward the date of their primaries to influence the election). This is particularly true now big population states (Florida) have moved their primaries forward. Advertising in these states is more expensive, increasing the need for money.

·       Candidates therefore need to fundraise BEFORE the primaries begin.

·       John Kerry announced his candidacy 423 days before the first primary. However, the Republicans were not as organised this time around.

·       Those who are ahead in opinion polls at the end of the invisible primary usually go on to secure their party’s nomination.

·       John Kerry and Barack Obama are the rare exceptions to this rule – they trailed in opinion polls to, respectively, Howard Dean and Hilary Clinton. 

Adversarial and consensus politics

Is UK democracy working as it is supposed to?