Monday, February 18, 2008

Why Being the GOP's No. 2 Isn't So Bad. (Historically)

Here is a good Washington Post commentary on coming in second in Republican primairies. Click here for the whole article.

Losers in presidential primaries have long been adept at moving from stinging criticism of the front-runner to fawning praise of the presumptive nominee, sometimes within hours. But if history is our guide, Romney's endorsement last week tells us something more interesting than that politics makes for strange bedfellows.

Romney's behavior follows a pattern that seems peculiar to the Republican Party. For political scientist Jason Berggren, who discussed in this column some weeks ago how Democratic and Republican front-runners often follow different paths to the nomination, what Romney's endorsement of McCain really tells us is who the Republican presidential nominee is likely to be -- in 2012 or 2016.

Republicans who lose presidential primaries fare very differently than Democratic primary losers do, Berggren has discovered. Democrats who come in second in presidential primaries rarely come back to win the nomination the next time around. Like Sen. John Edwards, who came in second in 2004 but third this time, Democrats who lose once rarely do better when they seek the presidency again.

Republicans who come in second, on the other hand, almost invariably come back to win the nomination the next time. Republican voters, in fact, seem to like nominees who have "paid their dues" by running, losing and being gracious losers. Seen in this light, Berggren said, Romney's endorsement of McCain might be less about his final bow in this campaign and more about his opening salvo for Republican support in the Iowa caucuses four or eight years from now.

"Romney might be thinking ahead," said Berggren, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. "He knows where the queue starts for 2012 or 2016. I can imagine Romney booking a flight to Des Moines the day after the general election."

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