When then Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president, he said that one of the most important factors influencing his decision was whether he could win (obviously, the answer was yes). This is the sign of a serious candidate. In American politics, to run for the presidency – or any public office – requires tenacity, skill and an obscene amount of money. In the end, it will all boil down to voter turnout and a lot of luck for the one person who will win.
This begs the question, with the odds stacked so high, why do so many with no chance of being elected run for president?
As the pool of candidates grows ridiculously large for the 2016 presidential election there are legitimate differing camps of thought on how to run the country. The policy and ideological differences between the two major parties are rather stark, yet the intra party differences can often be just as extreme. Most of these candidates lack a key factor for success – an actual chance of winning – but still serve two major purposes in the upcoming election: To spread the party message and raise money.
There are three declared presidential candidates for the Democratic ticket. Hillary Clinton is considered the de facto frontrunner. She has the tenacity, skill, and will no doubt win the money primary. Nevertheless, she still has vulnerabilities with the diverse and progressive base that has been overwhelmingly supportive of President Barack Obama. There is also the very vocal far left that has never really supported the president or her. This is why popular Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have announced their candidacies.
A proud socialist, Bernie Sanders is technically an Independent but has long supported the Democratic Party. There is little chance Senator Sanders could raise the necessary funds – or votes – to win the nomination, but he provides an important counterpoint to Clinton’s more mainstream message. His “tax the rich, no war, candidate of the people not billionaires” message rings well with a large portion of the base.
Martin O’Malley has a much better chance than Sanders – at least on paper. The two-term Governor of Maryland has a slew of progressive policy successes to run on – without the baggage of Clinton’s 40 years of political activity. He also represents the mainstream more than Sanders. He has been billed as a viable alternative to Clinton, but lacks the name recognition to be truly competitive at this point. Still, with every campaign stop, he provides an opportunity to show how progressive policies work, even if he’s a long shot at putting them in practice on the national stage.
Most importantly, any attention to Sanders’ or O’Malley’s messages forces Clinton to acknowledge the large and powerful progressive portion of the party that feels she’s just not liberal enough.
Most of the media attention is focused on the spectacle that is the race for the Republican nomination. There are now nine declared candidates and five who are expected to announce in the coming weeks and months. Interestingly, only one of three so-called frontrunners has officially declared, as the others have spent a lot of time “exploring” their run as they amass an extremely large war chest of funds through their respective super PACs. Unlike on the Democratic side where most of the money is expected to flow to one candidate, there are several billionaire donors with differing agendas that are focused on ensuring their voice is heard with the right candidate. This has created a very crowded field of candidates that some would say have less than a firm grasp on reality.
Many of the Republican candidates are serving the purpose of message. Carly Fiorina is “the woman” to help the party levy attacks against Hillary Clinton to show they aren’t sexist. Ben Carson is there to show that they are also not really racist against black people. Tea party, evangelical, “hate the poor and more war” candidates are all represented in the increasingly large pool of surprisingly entertaining candidates. Each of these very active and powerful segments is enthusiastic and willing to part with their hard earned money for their candidates. The problem is their candidates don’t do well in presidential elections – and the party elite know this.
The eventual Republican candidate may not be conservative enough for the base, but their support – and money – will still be needed in the general election. This is one thing that both parties have in common. A Bernie Sanders supporter may not willingly give money to Hillary Clinton, and a Rick Santorum supporter would balk at the idea of supporting Jeb Bush. Even though these long-shot candidates will never make it to the White House, they will have an enthusiastic base who will listen to them. They may also have left over funds received from their supporters that they can give to the candidate of their choice.
When they announce the inevitable end to their campaign, they will enthusiastically get behind the eventual nominee – and hopefully so will their supporters.
The Quixotic journey of pursuing the job as the leader of the free world is not to be taken lightly. Though some of the choices presented may seem odd, it is very likely few of them truly believe they have a chance. In the end each will have done their part to unify the party around the eventual nominee. In return, they get a little time in the spotlight, money to support their lifestyle, and a paid regular guest spot on a cable news network.