- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Richard M. Nixon, running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, refused to campaign until the last moment, filing his candidacy and driving into New Hampshire just six weeks before that state’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Forty years later Pat Buchanan, a veteran of that Nixon campaign and a New Hampshire primary winner himself in 1996, still chuckles at the strategy, which was so successful it chased Mr. Nixon’s opponent, George Romney, out of the race.

But Mr. Buchanan says it probably can’t be repeated.

With 10 months to go before the first primary vote is cast, every serious campaign has a full operation — promising a long, drawn-out affair that is likely to fatigue voters and the candidates themselves.

“All of this strategy is really about donors and timing, what’s going to be best to raise money, rather than what’s going to be best for keeping voters’ interests in your campaign,” said Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who studies voter turnout.

With a giant set of primaries increasingly likely for Feb. 5, the 2008 nomination will depend far more on television ads, and candidates will need a large bank account to compete.

Chuck Larson, an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s operation in Iowa, which traditionally holds the first caucuses, said the campaign is definitely starting earlier.

“In 1999, for example, eight years ago, we took our first trip down to meet then-Governor Bush on approximately March 3, to encourage him to run for president,” Mr. Larson said. “Here we are almost eight years to the date and we have had campaigns with field staff on the ground in Iowa for nearly a year.”

Still, he doubts Iowans will get fatigued, saying they enjoy their position with the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, said voter fatigue is a myth and when it comes time to vote, voters do their duty.

“On the elections, the major elections, when there’s something to decide, people vote,” he said.

Mark J. Rozell, another George Mason professor, said the problem is that political insiders already are dissecting and speculating about the campaigns, though the public isn’t paying attention.

“We’ve had lots of polls and predictions already, and many more to come — but we’re all just talking to each other,” Mr. Rozell said. “By the time the public gets seriously interested, anything important that there is to say about the candidates has already been said by leading observers.”

If the campaigns seem early and intense to voters, to the campaign staffs it’s only natural, said Katon Dawson, chairman of South Carolina’s Republican Party.

“If anything it started late,” he said. “This race is over this time next year. We have races for mayor that last seven months.”

With a May 15 Republican debate scheduled for Columbia, S.C., Mr. Dawson said it’s possible some candidates “may not make it off that stage.”

The grind of a long campaign is exactly what kept Mr. Nixon out of New Hampshire, Mr. Buchanan said. In his losing bid for the presidency in 1960, Mr. Nixon realized he wore himself out, which he thought was part of the reason he looked so tired in the famous decisive televised debate with John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Buchanan said Mr. Nixon told him waiting also would give the press time to beat up on his New Hampshire opponent, Mr. Romney.

“Let them chew on him for a little while,” Mr. Nixon told Mr. Buchanan.

And once Mr. Nixon entered the race, he still only campaigned two or three days out of the week, spending the rest of the time recharging in Florida, using television ads to keep a presence. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, exhausted himself by doing a long series of events each day.

The strategy worked beautifully. On Feb. 28, two weeks before the primary, Mr. Romney took himself out of the running, delivering the state to Mr. Nixon.

Mr. Buchanan and Mr. McDonald both said the one potential candidate who could afford to wait this time around is former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat.

Mr. McDonald said Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, also could have tried that, but he ended up jumping into the race to convince donors he is serious about running.

“The amount of money that’s going to be spent in this campaign, the candidates have a real incentive to get that fundraising apparatus going,” Mr. McDonald said.

Mr. Dawson said with a winner probably chosen in early February, the real difference this time around will be the long gulf between the time the nomination is settled and the nominating conventions, which will come in September.

“I can’t imagine the search for a VP candidate — that’s what’s going to consume some of the down time, along with fundraising and party building,” he said.

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