Monday, August 11, 2003

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So you want to run for governor..

Mickey Kaus is covering just about every possible angle in the California recall election, but here's a question from reader E.J. that hasn't been answered directly:

Can you help me to understand what possible motivation is there for the 95th percentile of candidates to be involved in this race when there is such a field of heavy-weights arrayed for battle?

Even the likes of Bill Simon and Peter Ueberroth – what, outside of ego-massage, can these guys possibly get out of running in this race? Where is the practical pay-back considering the expense and their long-shot odds? Is it dues-paying for the future? Potential influence garnered from relative performance?

OK, as a political scientist, I should be able to answer this question. And the answer is, there are multiple answers. In no particular order:

1) The barriers to entry are low. In modern American politics, the barriers to becoming a candidate are daunting. There signatures to collect in order to get on the ballot, party primaries to win, money to raise, and a lengthy campaign season.

Contrast this with the California recall election. Getting on the ballot required only some paperwork, "65 validated voters' signatures and a $3,500 check" according to USA Today. There are only sixty days to the election. There are no annoying party primaries. Why, it would be stupid not to run!!

2) The barriers to winning are also low. Because of the plethora of candidates, many of which are trying to cater to the same voting demographics, it is highly unlikely that the winner will command a majority. True, at the moment, Schwarzenegger holds an early lead in opinion polls. If, however, his balloon were to burst, then the winner might only need 25% of the vote.

3) Publicity. California founded the celebrity culture, and as publicity stunts go, running for governor is on the cheap and easy side of the spectrum. Running for governor is a way to get or keep one's name in the news.

It works, too. When was the last time you thought about Gary Coleman? Think about this from Coleman's point of view -- what's the more dignified route to jumpstart a career, running for governor or celebrity boxing?

4) Horse-trading. Because the threshhold for winning is lower, any candidate that attacts a loyal cadre of voters equivalent to a few percentage points in the polls might be willing to throw his/her support to a major candidate in return for something, be it policy or patronage. This is how it works in parliamentary democracies in which there is a low minimum level for winning a seat, i.e., Israel. Expect to see this in California around late September.

Think about it -- two months of politicking in return for a plum job or a coveted policy shift? Not a bad rate of return in politics.

5) You could win. Jesse Ventura was not considered a serious candidate when he ran. Howard Dean was mocked when he decided to launch his bid for the presidency. You never know when lightning strikes.

posted by Dan on 08.11.03 at 11:55 AM


But when it gets nasty, will it be because the stakes are so small?

posted by: Stephen Karlson on 08.11.03 at 11:55 AM [permalink]

I just wanted to get a little more specific about the first point, not being a political scientist. I imagine lots of people are running simply for the fun of it, and to look back and say they ran for governor in the future. I'd be tempted to do so myself.

posted by: Justin McAleer on 08.11.03 at 11:55 AM [permalink]

PLEASE CAN YOU TELL ME, what is the age limit for running for governor, because im gonna run but im not 18 yet what is the age limit. OHH AND I know i wont win but I still wanna run, just for FUN! PLEASE EMAIL ME BACK

posted by: Lindsey on 08.11.03 at 11:55 AM [permalink]

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