New-Style Campaigns; Looking Ahead to 2008

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Byline: Barry Casselman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As presidential campaigning has evolved, there are five general stages of such a campaign today. The first stage, now concluded, is what I call "Getting To Know Me." In this stage, the hopefuls lay out the stories of their biography, meet and greet party leaders and funders across the country and try very hard to stand out from the crowd of their rivals. The relationships between the candidates are relatively cordial, with most criticism aimed at the other party or the incumbent president if he or she is from the other party.

For this cycle, it began in 2006 (for most candidates), and concluded this spring, The second stage is what I call "My Space and My Issues." In this stage,the candidates and their advisors assess what they think will be the most critical issues of the campaign ahead and where to position themselves among their competitors in the primaries and caucuses that will follow. Fund-raising prowess has by now been established, as has much of the name recognition process. So-called frontrunners and first-tier candidacies are now more or less fixed. This stage, which normally goes from the summer through the holidays, has also been concluded.

The third stage is what I call "Party Combat." This stage, which usually coincides with early primaries and caucuses, is the time when the competitors in each party become confrontational with their opponents. In the past, Iowa and New Hampshire began this process in isolation, followed by South Carolina and other southern states, before a Super Tuesday sometime in late February or early March.

Not so long ago, it was even more drawn out than that. In 1984, for example, Gary Hart won most of the early contests and had considerable momentum, but most of the large northern and western states came much later, giving Walter Mondale time to regroup and recover. In this cycle, Iowa will be first, but Nevada, another caucus state, will follow soon after. New Hampshire will be the first primary, but South Carolina follows almost immediately. Then, on Feb. 5, will occur the mother of all Super Tuesdays, with more than half the delegates being determined on that day alone. Meanwhile, individual states such as Florida have "poked" themselves onto the early calendar.

As it has turned out this year so far, on the Democratic side, Mrs. Clinton seems likely to clinch her nomination early, provided that she wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, as now seems probable. …