Labor Day in the United States marks the unofficial end of summer as well as the moment every four years when presidential campaigns get truly serious. As the leaves fall and the weather gets colder, the political stakes only increase for presidential hopefuls. Negative ads start to fill the airwaves in early states and candidates no longer have the luxury of a day off or the hope that an off-message comment might slip by unnoticed. But that doesn’t mean that the summer has been uneventful in the presidential campaign. These are the five important lessons we have learned about 2016 so far.
Donald Trump is for real
The entrance of billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump into the presidential race was viewed as an entertainment event as much as a political milestone. The longtime reality television host had flirted on and off with a presidential bid since 1988 and few seriously believed that he would throw his hat into the ring. Since then, Trump has emerged as a political juggernaut who has built an unlikely coalition spanning white nationalists and Reagan Democrats and established himself as the Republican frontrunner.
The laws of political gravity do not seem to apply to Trump. Remarks that would end most political careers have only helped the New York businessman in the polls as he has careened from controversy to controversy in the past few months. At this point in the race, with Trump building up real political organizations in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire and his lead in the polls holding strong, he can’t be discounted.
Super Pacs aren’t everything
2016 was supposed to be the election in which campaigns no longer mattered. Instead, Super Pacs – organizations independent of the candidates’ campaigns which, unlike the campaigns, may raise unlimited amounts of money from individual donors – would handle most of the heavy lifting while campaigns would become far less important, shriveling to take charge of only the most essential tasks. That model hasn’t quite worked this year. Presidential candidates who are most reliant on Super Pacs – the likes of Jeb Bush and Rick Perry – have run into financial woes. Perry has been forced to lay off almost all of his campaign staffers and depend almost entirely on a Super Pac while Bush’s campaign has laid off fundraisers and forced staffers to take pay cuts. This doesn’t meant that Super Pacs are unimportant. But it is difficult to run a successful campaign relying solely on outside money for success.
Hillary Clinton is vulnerable
Hillary Clinton came into the Democratic presidential primary as the thousand-pound gorilla, poised to easily claim her party’s nomination. But that hasn’t been the case . Plagued by a constant dribble of negative news stories about her use of personal email while serving as secretary of state and facing a populist insurgency on the left of the Democratic Party, Clinton is now trailing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire and seeing her support drop dramatically in Iowa , whose caucus comes a week before the New Hampshire primary. Her weakness has given vice-president Joe Biden an opportunity to enter the race as well if he so chooses. Clinton is still the favorite to be her party’s standard-bearer in November 2016, but it is by no means a sure thing any more.
Outsiders are in
Both Democratic and Republican primary voters haverejected veteran politicians in favor of outsiders. In the Republican primary, voters seem to be shying away from anyone who has even served in political office; the two most popular candidates for the GOP nomination, Donald Trump and Ben Carson , have never before appeared on a ballot in their lives. In contrast, both Jeb Bush, the son of one president and brother of another, and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who has served continuously in elected office for over two decades, have sunk dramatically in polls.
On the Democratic side, while Bernie Sanders has spent over two decades in Washington, the acerbic self-described democratic socialist has never exactly been seen as a member of the Beltway elite. While Sanders has emerged as Hillary Clinton’s main challenger, voters have not warmed to former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, a longtime loyal Democrat who has stressed his executive experience and whom the Clinton campaign once saw as their most formidable opponent.
In it for the long haul
Conventional wisdom in presidential primaries has long been that it is necessary to focus as many resources as possible in the four states with the earliest contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. That isn’t the case this year. Instead, candidates are devoting resources to states which rarely see presidential visits, with the so-called SEC primary states in the deep south – named for the NCAA’s Southeastern Conference – receiving a multitude of visits and presidential hopefuls making campaign swings to locations as varied as Alaska and Puerto Rico. The result has transformed the campaign into something that more closely resembles a national primary than it has in years past.
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