In Defying the Odds, we discuss the early stages of the 2016 campaign, when many candidates were unknowns. We are now in the early stages of the 2020 race.
“Most candidates then and now are running way before they announce that they’re running,” said Joe Trippi, who ran Dean’s campaign in 2004. “The candidates that make the big mistake are the ones that say I’m not going to start running until I decide I’m running. Much better to start running until I decide I’m not.”
The announcement itself, though, represents a major moment for a campaign, one of the few times when a candidate is completely in control of the story. It is also the most opportune time for a candidate to build the most valuable tool in his or her arsenal: an email list that can be mined for donations and volunteers.
“Everyone is going to seize that moment through content they control in a way that helps them build their list,” said David Wade, a longtime adviser to Kerry.
Some candidates have used their more formal announcement speeches to deliver a message they hope sets the narrative for the campaign ahead. Obama’s announcement in 2007, on the steps of the Illinois state capital in Springfield, attracted a large crowd despite the frigid weather, showcasing his grass-roots support.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced his 2016 bid at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, intending to show his roots as the son of Cuban immigrants.
This year, candidates are much more likely to make their case on social media, in carefully crafted videos aimed at going viral.
“Twenty years ago, 30 years ago, people waited, and an announcement itself was a unique opportunity for media attention. And that’s just completely been turned on its head, between social media, content that you can control,” Wade said. “The whole notion of a big formal ceremony is effectively gone.”
The demands of a modern campaign, with months on the trail and countless hours on the phone with donors and activists, are likely to mean a wave of announcements in the two months between the midterms and the holidays.