For all the very orchestrated hoopla about to be heaped on American voters over the next few weeks, presidential announcements have become, more often than not, vestigial remnants of the way presidential politics were once conducted (or at least the way they are remembered).Edwards is expected to campaign on a domestic policy platform, with his main focus an anti-poverty agenda. This tack represents key strengths for his campaign: One, Edwards will not waste time searching for a central campaign theme. Two, he'll stand out from both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- his main competitors -- who so far have not articulated central messages for their candidacies. Edwards has worked on social policy issues since losing on the Kerry-Edwards ticket in 2004, and he's a Southern Democrat -- a huge asset in recent presidential elections.
Rather than being big moments in which candidates lay down ideological markers and discuss what they would do as president, announcements are more of a pro forma exercise of the obvious. Campaigns grab at a political opportunity for attention with events that, ultimately, are of relatively small consequence.
For Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Romney, Mr. Edwards and Mr. McCain, it would be noteworthy, after all they have done, if they were to announce that they were not running. Mr. Edwards’s 2008 campaign arguably began on Election Day 2004, when he lost as his party’s vice-presidential candidate.
But if formal announcements hold little drama, they are hardly meaningless. Their timing and staging reflect how presidential politics are changing in the United States in 2008, and offer a glimpse at problems each candidate faces one year before the Iowa caucus. The announcements are an insight into how campaigns are adapting to the pressures of the Internet, the demands of fund-raising, the broad range of avenues for reaching voters and mobilizing supporters, and the particular dynamics of the ’08 campaign, crowded with candidates, many of them celebrities.
Most strikingly, the announcements are being made extraordinarily early. In the 1992 cycle, Bill Clinton did not formally announce his candidacy until October 1991, three months before the Iowa caucus. When Mr. Edwards announces, with a round of morning talk show interviews and a press conference in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, he will become the third Democrat to enter the race formally.
As of now, about a half-dozen candidates have formed presidential exploratory committees, a step that allows them to raise money as they take soundings about a race. And Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, told reporters Tuesday that he planned to set up his exploratory committee next month.
In this crowded field, few candidates in either the Democratic or Republican Party can afford to wait and risk watching a rival pick off big-name elected officials, campaign consultants and contributors. And since aides to many of the candidates say they are likely to bow out of the public campaign finance system and raise money on their own, there is pressure to start raising money now.
“Timing is becoming much more of an issue,” said Joe Trippi, who managed the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean. “You’re seeing it now in the urgency of these people to get out and announce.”
Understandably, candidates are going to do what it takes to get publicity. Mr. Edwards’s aides said they chose this slow-news time of year, and the backdrop of New Orleans neighborhoods ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, in part to command the maximum amount of attention. Camera crews will be permitted to film Mr. Edwards as he helps with the cleanup efforts.
But there are less obvious advantages as well. Mr. Trippi said that when Mr. Dean declared for president in June 2004, they timed his announcement for a week before the deadline for the release of campaign finance reports. The idea was that the excitement built by the announcement in Vermont would result in a surge of contributions that would allow Mr. Dean to surprise the political world with a display of his grass-roots financial support. Mr. Dean’s big fund-raising report that month proved to be one of the biggest boosts of his campaign.
Mr. Edwards, who is arguably the most Web-savvy candidate in the ’08 race to date, is using Thursday’s event to try to gin up his supporters via the Internet. He sent out an e-mail message earlier this week, saying he was on the verge of making a decision that his aides say has, in fact, already been made.
The decision of how to time the announcements also reflects the particular needs of the candidates.
For Mr. Edwards, there is clearly interest in trying to win attention after two months in which Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama dominated the coverage of the Democratic contest.
An Edwards White House bid, built on an anti-poverty agenda, will be one of the most exciting things to emerge out of the Democratic primaries. Edwards is not a shrill, Bush-hating, antiwar, redistributionist Democrat. He's accepted that Americans expect the poor to hold jobs and gain the skills needed to promote individual self-sufficiency. The country badly needs to reduce poverty levels, though new policies must avoid the disastrous promotion of governmental dependency that marked the Great Society-era programs.
See my earlier post on poverty in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the federal governments new social policy push there, which is being considered "Ground Zero" in a new war on poverty.