Happy New Year, 2020
Earlier this week, revelers in Times Square braved the rain and beefed up security presence to say goodbye to 2018 and to welcome in 2020. You read that right: in the political world, 2019 may as well not exist. For all intents and purposes, history tells us that it now might as well be 2020.
In February 2007, only one month into the 110th Congress – and two years into his first term as a U.S. senator – Barack Obama (Ill.) announced his intention to seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. The gentlewoman from New York, Sen. Hillary Clinton, already was in the race, having announced her candidacy weeks earlier, on Jan. 22, 2007.
Republicans weren’t going to be left behind. The eventual 2008 GOP nominee, the late Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), formed an exploratory committee months before his Democratic rivals, in November 2006, and confirmed he would run in an interview on the Late Show with David Letterman in February 2007. By the end of that month, nine other Republicans had formed exploratory committees of their own or had officially declared their candidacies. The race for the White House was officially on at the start of the new year.
In the 2012 election cycle, the Republicans who would challenge then-President Barack Obama waited a bit longer to launch their campaigns. Sen. Ron Paul (Ky.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) entered the race in May 2011, but the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, didn’t declare until June, as did former Sen. Rick Santorum (Penn.), former Gov. John Huntsman (Utah), and Rep. Michele Bachman (Minn.).
With a relatively popular lame duck president heading into the 2016 race, candidacies began blooming in spring 2015 as President Barack Obama entered the second half of his second term. Hillary Clinton waited all the way until … April … to make her campaign official. (Of course, her campaign had informally kicked off quite a bit earlier.) So did Bernie Sanders.
Former Gov. Martin O’Malley (Md.) entered the race in May and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) hopped into the fray in June. On the GOP side, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) was the first to enter the race, doing so on March 23, 2015. He was followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) in April. The eventual nominee, sitting President Donald Trump, traveled down the golden escalator at Trump Tower to announce his bid on June 16, 2015.
Just how epic was the 2016 election? An article in The Atlantic noted “parents who were rocking a newborn when Ted Cruz declared his candidacy” were “running after a toddler” by the time he exited the race. Also: in the 14,328 hours that made up campaign 2016, “we could have instead hosted approximately four Mexican elections, seven Canadian elections, 14 British elections, 14 Australian elections or 41 French elections.”
In 2015, Mic staff writer Zeeshan Aleem noted that the longest Canadian election ever lasted just 10 weeks. (The election later that year, in which Justin Trudeau became prime minister, was longer. By one week.) In the United Kingdom candidates can only spend $30 million before an election (in 2016, U.S. presidential candidates spent $2.4 billion before any outside money was tallied) and in Germany, they’re allowed just one – one – 90-second ad. Somewhere in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, voters are very jealous.
Indeed, Americans want a break. A May 2017 poll by Ipsos and the Center for Public Integrity found 71 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 66 percent of independents want shorter elections. Nearly half of all voters say campaigns should start no more than six months before Election Day. (Remarkably, five percent of voters say campaigning should begin four years before the next president is elected.)
It hasn’t, of course, always been this way.
But the trend goes back further than voters today might realize. Like Hillary Clinton in 2008, President Jimmy Carter announced his intention to run for the White House in January the year before the election. Republicans running to oust President Carter four years later began organizing early in 1979, though some would argue the eventual nominee and winner of the 1980 race, President Ronald Reagan, had been preparing years before that.
The decade prior, things were different. The eventual winner in the 1960 race, John F. Kennedy, didn’t formally announce his candidacy until less than a year before the election, in January 1960. Eight years later, another Kennedy, Robert, waited until March 1968 to formally launch his campaign, just eight months before Election Day. Eventual winner Richard Nixon had entered the race just a month prior. In 1960, Nixon was the sitting vice president and the favorite to win the GOP nomination. New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller launched a fierce challenge – but didn’t get into the race until December 1959, just three months before the first primary and seven months before the party’s convention.
Those days are long gone.
There have been murmurings about a John Kasich challenge to President Trump almost since the president’s 2017 inauguration (the website for Kasich’s PAC, A New Day for America, continues to regularly post new news) and there already is a long list of Democrats hoping to oust the current commander in chief.
Soon-to-be-former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) has been a declared candidate for president since the middle of 2017. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) officially announced her candidacy on New Year’s Eve, after her top aides were spotted last month in Boston shopping for campaign office. The list goes on: Former secretary of House and Urban Development Julian Castro has launched an exploratory committee; Sen. Kamala Harris’ chief of staff moved to the senator’s campaign arm last month; Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) is said to be interviewing potential top campaign aides; Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) is preparing another run; and, former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Del.) in 2017 launched a political action committee that many believe he will use to fund a 2020 White House campaign.
But one of the most telling signs: in the early primary state of New Hampshire, a Democratic rainmaker said he received calls over the holidays from no fewer than 12 potential candidates.
In Washington this week, all the focus continues to be on the extended, partial government shutdown. Once that is resolved, there will be budget bills, debates on immigration and infrastructure, and plenty of investigatory hearings. Just don’t expect those matters to grab the headlines. Starting now, the political world will shift its attention to Iowa and New Hampshire. Welcome to 2020.