The Giuliani Lesson

It will take quite some time before political scientists are able to adequately understand how the accelerated primary schedule we began this year will affect campaigns and candidacies in the future.  With Super Tuesday still a week and a day off, and no one in either party looking to run away with the nomination, there’s still a lot about this new political calculus left to be worked out.

Still, thanks to Rudy Giuliani, there is one thing we can take away this early in the game.

At the beginning of the preseason, the political landscape was at its most unsure.  With so many states rushing to move up the date of their primaries, political strategists and pundits were struggling to adequately predict how this would change the characteristics of the race.

But the simple version of the story was that either the early states would count, or, because of the accelerated schedule, they wouldn’t.  The gamble every politician had to make was to either play retail politics in the early states just like you did in the past, or, you hold off and focus on a national campaign and maybe Florida, the early state with a high delegate count.

The latter strategy was a gamble, one that bet that the early states would be diminished in their power, and going after a national strategy early allowed the candidate to cut ahead of the rest of the field.  For the most part, only one candidate opted for this strategy, Rudy.

To be fair to Rudy, this may have been the only strategy open to him as he didn’t have a decent shot in either Iowa or New Hampshire, and there’s not even a point in mentioning South Carolina.

For a while it seemed as though it might work.  During much of the preseason, especially after immigration all but sunk McCain’s campaign, Rudy was a strong frontrunner in national polls.  But then the primaries began, and considering that Rudy did not even contest Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, or Nevada, he’s pretty much disappeared from major political headlines.

Now, his one last bastion of hope, Florida, is not only snubbing him, but seems very willing to show the Rudy Giuliani campaign the door.  Here I think we can take away the first lesson that this accelerated schedule has to offer us.

It is true that Rudy was never the perfect candidate.  Scandelous headlines followed him around like a hungry puppy chasing around a T-bone, his strange obsession over 9/11 beyond the boundaries of sanity may have made him a joke, but the fact that Rudy all but disappeared from the political wires really did him in.  The thing about headlines is that they’re free advertising, and in a contest that is about picking someone who is best suited to beat the other party, there’s simply no better advertizing than a nice juicy headline that says you’re a winner.

In fact, even if Rudy lost every single one of the other early states, he could have still done himself a favor by at least playing in a few of them.  At the very least, you give your spin team something to work with.  For instance, if Rudy had played in South Carolina and come up third, that could be spun into a huge win, especially given that Rudy should finish dead last, all things considered.

But instead he banked everything on a single state, and what’s worse, he did it on a state that’s so big it makes retail politics next to impossible.  And that’s exactly what we have seen.  While Rudy has been working the state non stop for some time, McCain and Romney have been duking it out around the country in the early states, getting their headlines for their wins, and guess who are now fighting for the top spot in the last state before Super Tuesday?

Thus, we have the Giuliani Lesson.  With the accelerated primaries, a candidate may not be able to break out and clinch the nomination based upon early states alone, but no candidate can afford to ignore them completely.  You simply can’t afford the loss of press coverage.

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  1. Alas Poor Rudy, We Knew Ye Too Well… » Comments from Left Field - [...] I pointed out earlier today, Rudy made a grave mistake; he miscalculated the effect the accelerated primaries would have…

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