Home > General > Historical Odds Not Good For Candidates not named Romney, Giuliani, or Palin

Historical Odds Not Good For Candidates not named Romney, Giuliani, or Palin

A long list of candidates have historically no shot of winning the GOP race, and they include: Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul, Jon Hunstman, Herman Cain, and the rest of the rest of the rest. They are basically the NFL practice squad of GOP politics or the undrafted free agents snatched up in the pre-season to give the starters a break until the “real” game starts. Yet there goes the establishment picking “Tim Pawlenty,” he of no name recognition and 5% poll standing as the guy who can beat Obama! And then they go, “there’s Huntsman” he of even less name recognition, 1% standing and the poor man’s Mitch Daniels. Who himself was a poor man’s Pawlenty. You know Daniels, the guy who is a really poor man’s Mitt Romney.

Perhaps it’s in the name of interest and of keeping things “exciting” that GOP establishment pundits toss around names for candidates who could steal the GOP nomination away from one of the big three. That Santorum guy, he could really snag some of that evangelical vote, they remind us. To whom Americans quickly reply: Who?  But history shows that the likelihood of any candidate not named Romney, Giuliani, or Palin winning the GOP nomination for President in 2012 sits somewhere in between not likely to not existent (and “not likely” just left through the back door and ain’t coming back). In fact, over the last 3 decades, no nominee for either party could have been considered a “surprise” at this point in the race, and we will look at that in a minute.

The reality is this: Romney and Palin are the only two candidates to consistently score 15+ points in polling data, much less hit double digits with any consistency. The latest polls by Reuters/Ipsos, ABC/Washington Post, Quinnipiac,and Suffolk all had Romney and Palin in the 15-25% range with no other candidate breaking double digits. And the most recent Gallup and CNN polls had them both in the top spots, with a Ron Paul and Herman Cain here and there thrown in. And whenever Giuliani was polled (less frequently) he fared well, up in the Romney-Palin range.

And this isn’t to say I disregard The Pawlentys and Bachmanns and wish them luck. But let’s be honest, there isn’t much difference in the image of a Pawlenty (or Huntsman) than there is to a Romney. And Romney already has the built-in benefits of money, backing, poll standing, and name recognition. Ditto with Palin. Bachmann and Cain are fine, but they couldn’t bring the cash, the crowd, or the interest that a Palin could. And even her absence would not make either of the “tea party” types more viable. And if you disagree, find me a time in history where it has happened. And while Giuliani sucked the big one, tactically speaking, in 2008, he still has the name recognition and star power to make him a threat.

But the reality remains: it simply hasn’t happened, at least not for the last three decades that I looked at where a no-named, 5% polling candidate suddenly emerged past a handful of candidates polling in the 20% range.

In 1980, against incumbent Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan had been the frontrunner for the GOP nomination since about 1976, when he almost took out Ford in a hot Primary. Needless to say, by this time in 1979, he was already planning his strategy to defeat Carter. Four years later, former Vice President Walter Mondale was the odds on favorite to win the Democrat nomination, and so he did. But it is worth noting, that Gary Hart did come close to being the first “surprise” nominee for a major party that year. But still, he didn’t. In 1988, George H.W. Bush, as Reagan’s V.P., was always a front-runner to win the nomination, which he easily did. meanwhile for the Democrats, once Gary Hart was forced out because of a sex scandal, Michael Dukakis emerged with Jesse Jackson as the two frontrunners for the nomination.

In 1992, the year that would be considered closest to “man outta nowhere” status, Bill Clinton was part of a depleted field as Democrats felt Bush was unbeatable. But Clinton benefited from being part of a laughable field that included Jerry Brown, who actually led most polling for 1991. But even as the poll leader, Brown averaged under 15% in polls, which means he was weak at best and there really was no favorite. Clinton averaged about 4th (so yes, in the Herman Cain-ish area). But again, even with little name recognition Clinton was only about 6% behind the leader. (Compare that to today, where without Palin and Giuliani, Romney is 15%+ ahead of the competition.)

Skip ahead to 2000: Al Gore polled over 50% for almost all of 1999, while George W. Bush was polling in the 50% range since at least March of 1999, almost a year before the primaries. No surprises. In 2004, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman were the top two candidates according to polling data for the first 6 months of 2003. And you can’t blame name recognition as John Kerry was polling a close second to Lieberman with just 50% name recognition (right about where Pawlenty is, so no excuses).

Finally, in 2008, that guy, what’s his name? Barack Obama. Oh yeah, he came out of nowhere, right?  Sorry, wrong again. Although it was a surprise that he would eventually beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination, Barack Obama had polled in the top 2 for well over a year in primary polling data. In January of 2007, Obama trailed Clinton but still had 23% of the vote, 9% higher than third-placer John Edwards at 14%. By June, of 2007 (hey, about where we are right now!) Obama even landed at 36%, to 37% for Clinton in a Gallup poll. In fact, for all of 2007, I could not find one poll that had Obama below 2nd place at this point, and was always well ahead of former VP candidate John Edwards. And as for John McCain in 2008? He too polled in a tight group of three for almost all of 2007, usually getting over 20% in polling along with Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. Was anyone surprised that McCain won the primary in 2008? It certainly wasn’t out of the blue. (Now if Huckabee would have won… but that’s the point — he didn’t.)

And here were in 2011. Almost all of the Republican nominees were either former Vice President’s or Vice President candidates or had finished well in the prior primary season in which they built name recognition. Or, in the case of Bush, had the help of a famous last name. The only exception, Bill Clinton, benefited in a situation where Democrats liked none of the candidates and no one was willing to run. This is not the case this year. While Huckabee surged in 2008, that only gave him a leg up for 2012. Same with Romney.

The history is simple: if you aren’t a top contender at this stage, you do not win the nomination, unless it is 1992 and their is no top contenders. There are three top contenders right now. One is in (Romney), one is likely to get in (Palin), and one never knows what he is doing (Giuliani). So, if you are Romney, Palin, or Giuliani, you have a good shot of being the Republican nominee for President. If not, see you in 2016 (or 2020).

On the Republican side, Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush, and McCain were all predictable nominees. A year out, they would have been chosen as a likely if not probable winner. For the Democrats, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and Obama were always top 2 or 3 in the polls. The lone exception of course being Clinton, where there were no favorites for most of the year. While there is a lot to like about Cain, Bachmann, and the others, the simple reality is that voters like to know a candidate exists for more than 6 months before giving them a nomination. And while supposed analysts and commentators like Charles Krauthammer and Dick Morris talk about the wonders of candidates like Pawlenty, Huntsman, and Bachmann, there is simply no political basis to expect any of these candidate will emerge. While it might not be fun to say that the GOP nomination is down to three candidates, that remains the biggest likelihood, only changeable by the least likely of circumstances. So, unless all three top candidate do not run, one of them will be the nominee.

Categories: General
  1. ayamo
    June 13, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Agreed. The primary will be a battle between Palin and Romney. Pawlenty is a nice man and stood his ground against intensive “interrogation” from Wallace on FNS yesteday, but he’s … well “who”? Perry is an interesting man, though. Could you offer us some insight as to what effect Perry’s candidacy (propably announced by June 14th) might hurt/help Palin?

  1. June 13, 2011 at 8:43 am

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