America / Politics / U.S. Domestic Policy

Possible Upside to a Drawn Out Primary?

Some political consultants have posited that a drawn out GOP primary that has already seen eighteen debates, including another this week in Jacksonville, Florida may be playing to the advantage of incumbent President Barack Obama. Politicians and analysts alike have expressed their displeasure with the numerous negative ads that these candidates are using to discredit their colleagues for personal gain. Some seasoned members of the GOP have spoken out against the large number of debates that have taken place to date because of how heated the competition has been. Some members of the media have commented that the GOP candidates are doing too good a job of dirtying one another with incessant mudslinging. Other commentators and conservative politicians have lamented the GOP’s lack of ability to coalesce around one candidate. I do not disagree with these observations.

However, contrary to some of the commentary I have heard, I do not believe that any of these concerns provides a sizeable advantage to President Obama. First and foremost, there is the idea that “any press is good press,” and while this may seem like a stretch in this case, this idea it is not untrue. A hotly contested primary and consistent cycle of debates allows each of the GOP presidential hopefuls valuable time in front of news cameras and opportunities for their words to be put in print. The reason that I believe this to be so crucial is that the central point of each of the GOP candidates’ platforms is that Obama needs to be voted out of office; the squabbles are over who should be voted into the White House as his successor. That point is continually hammered home each time one of the GOP candidates gives an interview, makes a campaign or fundraising speech, and throughout each debate. In my opinion, there have been too many negative attacks among candidates, but this is the nature of the era of 24/7 media coverage in which we presently live. There is also the possibility of very public missteps for each of the remaining candidates. But, in this instance, I am a firm believer that the benefits of this round the clock coverage outweigh the drawbacks.

Second, the idea that the debates hurt these candidates could be countered with the point that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum will need all the practice they can get if either goes on to win the GOP nomination (I do not believe that Ron Paul has a legitimate chance to win the nomination). Newt Gingrich is a proven debater, but Romney and Santorum could stand to gain more experience. Obama would quickly pounce on any missteps or wavering we have seen so far from either of these potential candidates. I would also add that, in theory, the longer the debate schedule, the more refined each candidate’s policies will get. If the GOP has any hopes of retaking the White House, it is imperative that their candidate be a very polished debater.

Third, and I have not heard many other people talking about this, but the Obama campaign has been investing in advertisements that specifically attack Romney. The Obama camp seems to believe that Romney will be the Republican nominee and has sunk a good amount of money into attacking him from the onset. Most of the incumbent’s strategy and marketing has been focused on Romney. If a different GOP hopeful wins the nomination, the Obama campaign will have to change its strategy to match its target. In this case, the GOP would benefit from its lack of an early appointed and clear-cut nominee. The longer the GOP primary, the longer Obama campaign will need to stay on its toes.

Finally, the GOP and its candidates should be appreciative for any media coverage and debate time they are allotted because it keeps the cameras off of President Obama. There will be considerable attention paid to the President’s State of the Union address, but the opposition party is always able to quickly offer a (less publicized, but also less scrutinized) rebuttal statement. Even after Obama’s big moment, there is another debate scheduled a mere two days afterward. Thursday night’s Republican debate in Jacksonville serves as a precursor to the very important Florida primary contest, which should shift media attention back to the GOP candidates. In an election year all media coverage of politics increases greatly, but until the head-to-head between the Republican and Democratic nominees has been decided, much of the discussion will focus on the primaries for each party. With Obama is the incumbent, so he is established as the Democratic Party’s nominee. Therefore, the longer the GOP primary lasts, the more attention the party and its potential nominees will receive at the expense of the their future competition. Thus, maybe an elongated primary and extensive debate schedule may not be as detrimental to the future of the GOP as pundits would have the public believe.

-Max Rava

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