In what’s expected to be a large 2016 GOP presidential field, the first decision is over when to decide.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says he’ll pray about what to do during the upcoming holidays and will announce his decision after that. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he has until the spring to decide, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the 2012 contest relatively late, says he has until May or June to make an announcement about 2016.
“They were frustrating lessons in 2012, 2011,” Mr. Perry said in New Hampshire this week. “Not the least of which is that you have to really spend a lot of time in preparation to ask the people of this country to be their nominee, much less stand up and ask them to be their president.”
The timing decision, political strategists say, hinges on a variety of things, including a candidate’s name ID, fundraising prowess and the strength of potential rivals. Longer shots, like Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum in the 2012 cycle, tend to jump in as soon as possible.
“If you are going to take the Rick Santorum strategy of really working Iowa, Pizza Ranch to Pizza Ranch, which he did a great job of doing, then earlier is better,” said Stuart Stevens, a top strategist for Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, referring to the Iowa pizza parlors that are a staple of caucus campaigning. “If you feel that you need to announce to start raising money, then earlier is better.”
Mr. Santorum, who visited every county in Iowa, appeared to be on a fool’s errand, languishing in the back of the pack until just ahead of the 2012 caucuses, when his stock soared among caucusgoers who had tested and discarded all the other non-Romney options. Mr. Santorum ended up winning a narrow victory over Mr. Romney in the caucus.
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“I generally think that no one has been hurt by announcing too early,” Mr. Stevens said. “It tends to be candidates getting in later that are more problematic.”
That was indeed a problem for Mr. Perry, who stormed into the 2012 primary late but rode a wave of high expectations. While his fundraising was solid, he didn’t live up to the advanced billing on the campaign trail and had washed out by the end of January.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas recently dodged questions about when he would make a decision, saying the presidential field would form between January and June.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said his decision could come this year, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, have said they’ll likely announce their intentions early next year — though Mr. Christie has also said there is no rush.
Mr. Paul, meanwhile, is eyeing a mid-March timetable.
“Senator Paul’s priority remains re-election to the U.S. Senate, and no decision on other potential races will be made until the spring,” said Sergio Gor, spokesman for Mr. Paul’s political action committee, Rand PAC.
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With the 2014 midterm election in the rearview, much of the political world is already shifting its focus to the next presidential cycle and the question of when White House hopefuls will take the plunge.
For his part, Mr. Paul also faces lingering questions about whether state law will bar the freshman lawmaker from running for president without giving up his Kentucky Senate seat.
Hogan Gidley, who worked on Mr. Santorum’s 2012 campaign, said that he expects most of the candidates to make their minds up before the end of March, and warned that candidates who enter the race too soon open themselves up to additional scrutiny.
“You don’t want to jump in too early,” he said. “There’s an old Southern adage that the turkey with the raised head is the one that gets shot at.”
The story on the Democratic side is a little different, where most potential rivals for the party’s nomination are waiting to see what former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton does.
Political analysts generally agree that since Mrs. Clinton is so well known and so well connected to the party’s top donors, that she has more leeway than others — though the pressure could build on her as Democrats look to put the disastrous 2014 midterm elections behind them.
“I think she will put off a formal announcement as long as she can so she doesn’t have to answer every question we expect a presidential candidate to answer,” said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “She can form an exploratory committee this year and do the formal announcement in March.”
But, he added, “She can’t wait too long, because others may sense a vacuum and seek to fill it.”
Mrs. Clinton formally kicked off her 2008 presidential run with an announcement on her campaign website in January 2007. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama entered the race the following month during a frigid event in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the eventual GOP nominee, also announced in February.
Four years later, the field was slower to develop on the Republican side, with the candidates entering the race in either the late spring or sometime over the summer — ranging from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s announcement in May to Mr. Romney’s in June and Mr. Perry’s in August.
GOP strategists believe the race will start earlier this time around.
“When we had about a dozen candidates running in that clown-car primary in 2012, you knew only a couple of them were actually viable candidates who could raise the money [and] convince the donors and activists to get on their side,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “This time around, you have a plausibility [of] between five and eight of them actually being able to make a credible case.”
The likely challengers for the GOP presidential nomination have already made dozens of visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, which host the opening contests in the race. They’ve also been working to recruit campaign staff and met with local kingmakers in the hopes of developing relationships that could strengthen their candidacies.
“It’s all about relationship building at this point and getting a feel on the ground,” said Mike Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist advising Mr. Perry.