Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

It's Not You. Presidential Campaigns Are Starting Earlier

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The 1992 election was just over a year away when the young governor of Arkansas at the time announced that he was going to run for president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL CLINTON: I believe that together, we can make America great again.

MARTIN: Fast forward to our present moment, and it feels like every week there's a new contender for the White House. And we are still a year and a half away from voting day. By that standard, Bill Clinton's announcement on October 4, 1991, seems sort of late. That's what we're going to talk about this week with commentator Cokie Roberts - presidential announcements. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: These things keep getting earlier and earlier. We all feel it. Our first question really gets to that. Let's take a listen.

PAULA DUPONT: This is Paula Dupont from New Orleans. When did presidential announcements start happening so early? I feel like it's a never-ending election cycle.

ROBERTS: Well, my fellow New Orleanian Paula is right. It is a never-ending election cycle. The announcements actually are getting earlier, but it's been happening as a trend starting in the 1970s. Here's Jimmy Carter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMMY CARTER: I remember when I announced for president in December of 1974, there was a major headline on the editorial page of the Atlanta Constitution that said, Jimmy Carter is running for what? I'm running for president.

ROBERTS: When he announced in December 1974, one of his chief rivals, Morris Udall, had already declared his candidacy a few weeks earlier.

MARTIN: What changed? What did Carter - and Udall, for that matter - sense that others before them hadn't?

ROBERTS: Well, the rules of the Democratic Party had changed, and by 1976, primaries were much more important in the nomination of a candidate. People wanted to get their names out. They wanted to raise money. And that's, of course, still true. And also, now, with so many candidates, the competition for staff is enormous. And, Rachel, in these days of 24-hour political media coverage, they feel the need to be part of the mix.

MARTIN: OK. Now we've got a question about how these messages come out about the staging of presidential announcements.

SARAH EGGERS: I'm Sarah Eggers, and I'm from Kansas City. My question is, who had the wildest or biggest party for a campaign announcement? I'm talking about the historical equivalent of jumping out of an airplane, hosting celebrity guests or putting on rock concerts.

MARTIN: That'd be kind of cool.

ROBERTS: (Laughter) It would.

MARTIN: Skydiving and announcing your run for president.

ROBERTS: Right. Nobody's done that yet.

MARTIN: Yet - right.

ROBERTS: They - and lately have been sort of low-key chummy to the camera videos, but staging does make a difference. Here's John F. Kennedy in 1960.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN F KENNEDY: I am today announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. The presidency is the most powerful office.

ROBERTS: The young Kennedy was standing soberly in the Senate caucus room, showing he was a serious statesman. Eight years later, his brother Bobby announced from the same spot. But then in 1980, Ted Kennedy chose a different venue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED KENNEDY: Today I formally announce that I'm a candidate for president of the United States.

ROBERTS: So by going home to historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, Kennedy not only summoned the spirit of the founding fathers, but he was in a place where he knew applause would follow his announcement and get his campaign off to a rousing start. Barack Obama did the same thing when he went to Springfield, Ill., before a huge crowd as he evoked the oratory of Abraham Lincoln. So there's a lot of stagecraft involved, but no evidence, Rachel, that these grand events work. It's clear when you look at the announcements versus the outcomes.

MARTIN: Well, we will see how many more presidential announcements are to come in the next months. Cokie Roberts - she answers your questions about how politics and government work. You can reach out to her at askcokie@npr.org or with the hashtag #AskCokie. Cokie, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.