The Race to the Nomination: A Sprint or Marathon

The Race to the Nomination: A Sprint or Marathon

The 2012 Republican Party primary presents an interesting case study with Mitt Romney’s drawn out, brutal and expensive fight to oust the likes of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

The primary could have been a quick and convincing victory to catapult Romney to the general election. Yet it turned into a battering and bruising that left him vulnerable heading into his clash with the president.

With both 2016 party primaries on the horizon which analogy is better suited to an effective strategy- the sprint or the marathon?

Surely there can be parallels made in which a sprint strategy could lead to a quick and efficient victory. In the early states, building momentum and being seen as capable of winning is more important than the delegate count.

A candidate who catches fire early and wins Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida (or even 3 of 4) would be very difficult to stop and could plausibly run the table to the nomination. Even if his/her organization is not nearly as strong in later states, the early momentum may be enough to ensure a knock-out punch.

There can also be a case made for running more of a marathon analogous campaign.

The winning candidate needed 1,144 delegates in 2012. There are a lot of states in contention and it is a long race to 1,144.

Very quickly the field weeds out those polling mere single-digits and few are left standing. Even those remaining could conceivably be poorly funded and have little organization or boots on the ground in the many upcoming contests.

With the right amount of enthusiasm, there is something to be said for a well-organized, well-funded and long-term oriented campaign.

The campaign can also seem at times like a battle of attrition. How long can the candidate go, maintain the enthusiasm of the base and minimize the amount of ‘47 percent comment like’ gaffes?

It seems evident that both campaign analogies have some merit and some flaw to them.

In order to build enthusiasm and funding, long-shot candidates need to try to sprint out of the gate and show that they are a contender. The 2008 Iowa Caucuses were essential in elevating the status of Barack Obama and proving him to be a real threat to Hillary Clinton.

Yet unless a long-shot campaign catches fire and can sustain the flame- it will very likely fizzle out. It is doubtful any of the GOP contenders in 2012 were well enough organized or funded to legitimately challenge Romney for the nomination all the way to Tampa. 

To be successful a campaign should be built to last, so that it can fight a long battle to the convention if need be.

But the campaign also needs to be opportunistic and capitalize if the chance is there to seal the deal or eliminate other candidates.

After his Florida victory, Romney was trending upwards while Santorum and company were showing blood. The opportunity was there to put away the nomination early yet Santorum bounced back to life with a one-day sweep of contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

The campaign can be ruthless and if an opponent is showing blood, it may be time to go for the dagger and the nail in the coffin to put him/her away.

Any attempt to surge or go for the knock-out punch is a risk, yet an even-paced, risk-free campaign will not capture the heart of America.

An effective campaign takes superior organization and fund-raising, timely surges, calculated opportunities to roll the dice and of course a little luck.

As for our racing analogy, the campaign should be prepared to go the marathon distance, yet execute well-calculated sprints and surges along the way.