WASHINGTON, D.C. – The horses are out of the gate. With Sen. Ted Cruz’s Liberty University speech, the Texas conservative became the first candidate to officially announce he’s running for president in 2016.
It’s now only a matter of time before other contenders add their names to the list, but the question many are asking is: When will that be? The truth is there’s just as much planning that goes into determining when to announce a candidacy as there is in every other part of a campaign.
For candidates without much of a national profile, for example, announcing early has many advantages, according to Bill Adams, a professor of public policy at George Washington University.
“Announcing early removes any doubt about their intentions. This can help line up activists, donors, and rank-and-file party members and can also boost their media mentions, forcing their name into every discussion of candidates,” Adams says.
Remember “Dark Horse” candidate Jimmy Carter? He declared his entry into the 1976 presidential race two years before the election when he had little visibility outside his home state of Georgia, but eventually went on to become the nation’s 39th president. According to Adams, that tactic has appealed to many long-shot candidates ever since.
Cruz has been a mainstay of the national political conversation since entering Congress in 2013, but the Tea Party- leaning senator also has long been considered a divisive figure in the Republican Party. Being the first to announce could give him a much-needed boost with a politically-starved media that’s itching to talk 2016 hopefuls.
“Cruz was getting edged out of the nomination conversation with all the attention to up-and-coming Scott Walker, establishment heavy-weight Jeb Bush, and increasingly serious Marco Rubio,” Adams says. “I assume the Cruz camp believes becoming the first official candidate forces them into the conversation.”
But announcing early also may hamper candidates because of what may ultimately be the most important factor when running for president: fundraising.
Candidates who wait longer to launch their campaigns and file with the Federal Elections Commission have more time to raise funds, set up Super PACs and communicate with outside groups unconstrained from FEC rules.
Once a candidacy is launched, most of those talks become illegal and all campaign contributions over $5,000 must be divulged.
“The spending of the money and the coordination rules apply after you announce you’re a candidate. It means a candidate and a Super PAC or another outside group can’t plan strategy together,” says Viveca Novak, spokesperson at the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s no secret among presumptive 2016 favorites Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
“In the case of Jeb Bush,” Novak says, “now he can go around and raise all kinds of money, and he will be more constrained after he declares.”
Clinton has been hounded for almost a year over her intentions to run, but Adams says the longer she waits the smarter she is.
“For a more prominent candidate, there is no particular advantage in officially announcing unusually early and may even look too obsessively eager,” he says.
Nevertheless, candidates have proven increasingly eager to announce over the years.
In the 2012 race, the first serious Republican candidate, Newt Gingrich, didn’t announce until mid-May of that year, but Cruz’s announcement comes 596 days before Election Day. We probably won’t have to wait much longer for the next announcement.