Why do longshots run for president?
Candidates have more to gain than the presidency.
Tied for eleventh place in national polls, Lindsey Graham is way down in the GOP presidential primaries—but he’s not out.
The Senator from South Carolina, known for his tough stance on foreign policy in the Middle East, hasn’t once made it to the main Republican debate stage. He even failed to make it onto the last debate’s undercard event.
Candidates like Graham, Martin O’Malley and the John Kasich have flat-lined. But they’re not backing out. The same can be said for first term Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.
All in all, there are 17 candidates still running for Commander in Chief. Eventually that field will be whittled down to just two. So why are the longshots still running?
“In a political environment where political campaigns and candidates tend to be younger than they might have been ten to fifteen years ago, you have elected officials and political candidates who have a lot more to do later in their lives—so there’s more incentive today for more political candidates to jump into the arena because it’s not the end all be all,” said Lenny Alcivar, campaign strategist for Targeted Victory and the digital rapid response director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
“I’m thinking of Gov. Martin O’Malley on the Dem’s side—America is not going to suddenly catch O’Malley fever, and he knows it,” said Alcivar.
But, he continued, “Martin O’Malley has nothing to lose by running for this election.”
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said running for president also gives politicians political legitimacy.
“It helps your resume if you run again. One person may think that if you’re a ‘long-shot’ in 2016 you won’t be in 2024,” he said. “Mitt Romney did some of this by the time of his second run.”
Then there are the candidates running to promote a message or a cause. Zelizer said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, running on the Democrat ticket, is the best example of this.
“The idea that a Democratic Socialist can win is still inconceivable to a lot of Democrats,” Zelizer said. “He has a message about income inequality and the broken state of the system—that’s the impetus that’s what he was about. He wants Democrats to talk about a certain set of policies that he doesn’t think Hillary Clinton would deal with.”
The full benefits of running however may not become clear until the primary or even national race is over. That’s when the president starts filling up his or her cabinet.
“This will obviously help with the cabinet positions. By [running for president] you can elevate your stature by how you perform publically,” said Zelizer “I’m sure a lot of them think about that because this is the first pool where the winner will look for a Vice President because they’ve already been vetted.”
You don’t have to go far back in history to find examples like the Democrat’s 2004 nominee John Kerry who chose former primary competitor John Edwards as his running mate. Or Hillary Clinton who lost the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008 but was later named his Secretary of State. President Abraham Lincoln in 1860 also famously stacked his cabinet with three former rivals.
“Any presidential candidate at this stage who says they are open to cabinet position isn’t a credible candidate for president—that being said I think there are some candidates that are clearly, once their campaigns have come to an end, will absolutely make terrific cabinet picks,” said Alcivar.
Names that come to the top of his head include Carly Fiorina who Alcivar says has “put herself in the best position to serve in the cabinet in some capacity.”
Alcivar also points to Lindsey Graham and Gov. Bobby Jindal—who recently dropped out—as two other candidates whose records could help them into a cabinet position.
And if your party doesn’t it make it to the White House, there never seems to be a dearth of campaign books or talk show opportunities. There could even be a job available in the much-despised media.
Take Mike Huckabee, who landed a show on Fox in 2008 after his failed presidential run. Sarah Palin became a Fox News contributor in 2010 after her running mate, John McCain, failed to beat Barack Obama for the presidency in 2008.
“Some are in it solely for self promotion—for book sales or to get future TV/ radio gigs. Some are running to raise their profile for future offices. Some are running as the last thing they will do in politics…some are running to shape the agenda,” Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant at Ozean Media said.
And then, he said, there are the few “others who think they can win and be President.”