Once upon a time, back in March of 2007, I was working on opening the Iowa Independent for the Center for Independent Media. It was very early spring...I had quite literally just turned 30 4 days earlier, and I was in a hotel in Des Moines interviewing people to be the Managing Editor of the new site.
Sitting in Iowa in 2007, looking for people to work for a politics-focused blog, one of the first things you're going to discuss is what is happening with the caucuses. It was still 10 months until caucus day (maybe more -- I can't remember the real timing of the original, pre-leapfrog caucus date). However, we were already 4 months into heavy campaigning thanks to Iowa's governor jump starting the process less than 4 weeks after the 2006 election.
If I remember right, Vilsack had just dropped out of the running. The general consensus with most Iowans I met was that he was urged to enter the race, and enter it very early, in order to help the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign was believed by many to think the nomination would be won by whoever had the most money to spend. It was assumed that the combined fundraising power of a New York Senator/former First Lady and the former President of the United States would be totally dominant, and the longer the race lasted, the more expensive it would be. Since announcing first, especially that early, would be too obvious, Vilsack was allegedly talked into being the stalking horse that would force the rest of the candidates to declare.
In March of 2007, it seemed like an excellent plan. Clinton had the very early positioning of the front-runner status. She had a very loyal base. She quickly became the one to beat. And with her name recognition, her endless pool of money, and her early mobilization of supporters, she pretty quickly ended up with the mantle of inevitability. Sure there were some problems. The people who liked her really liked her, but the people who didn't? Let's say there were some pretty high negatives involved. Some were rational, others, not so much.
As the primaries continued, it only got worse. Probably the true death knell of her candidacy was the Michigan primary, where she left her name on the ballot. Sure, she played exactly by the rules, but for a lot of people it just didn't seem exactly fair or right somehow. For her supporters, they didn't understand why other people were upset since they were simply campaigning and running. But for those who didn't support her, the wedge was deeper, and the negatives grew.
Clinton's campaign was right about one thing -- it was a long campaign, and the person with the most money won. But no one expected that a relative political newcomer could ever raise the kind of funds he did. They also underestimated the desire many people had to see a new name in the running for office. After so many years of Clinton and Bush White Houses and the same names and faces running over and over again for different positions, "change" became mostly a desire to see someone new do (hopefully) something different.
I'd been working on this post ever since Fecke put up his Entenza piece, because I see a lot of parallels between Matt Entenza and the early Clinton campaign. Both candidates were seen as early on favorites due to finances, name recognition, and, in some ways, by this weird political idea of "it's my turn." Both candidates had extremely high positives, but for those who didn't like them, they REALLY didn't like them. Both have done things in campaigns that weren't necessarily officially unethical, but could be seen by their dissenters and coming dangerously near the line if not crossing it. Both were running early, long campaigns at a time when, let's be honest, a democrat really should have an excellent chance to win.
There are a few large differences, though. The most significant is that in a national election, a third party candidate is usually not that much of a factor (yes, 2000 aside). But we lost the governor's house in 2006 in part because the Independence Party ran a candidate who was often more progressive than the DFL's own nominee. Minnesotans do not just hold their nose and party vote. If they did, we probably wouldn't have just sworn in a senator last week.
Is Matt Entenza the most winnable candidate running right now? Perhaps. He certainly has more name recognition, money and staff than the others involved. For those who gauge a political race on weighing those factors then yes, he probably would be the inevitable candidate.
But we are still 16 months before the election. We are still almost a year until we even have a nominating convention. There are more candidates to declare, and, much of the "he's ahead, don't talk about negatives" talk seems to be a push to keep the "inevitable" meme in place so these candidates don't run.
From the point in which I started drafting this post to now, Fecke once again nailed it with this piece about inevitability. Inevitability is a game you play when you are trying to keep the race exactly as it is at this moment. Inevitability is a fear of change in circumstances.
16 months is a long time in real life, and an even longer time in politics. The trend of ridiculously long campaigns that start less than two months after the last election may be a boon for those of us who are peripherally involved in politics, but have the disadvantage of making people want to declare races over before they even begin. The only thing inevitable at this point is that there are many, many months before we will have a candidate, and hopefully that candidate will be decided on by the strength of her or his stances on bettering our state, and not on who has the most money or their communications team organized the earliest.
(Note: I think I have made it no secret that I am hoping to support a female, pro-choice gubernatorial candidate. But in case you have somehow missed that about me, go here.)