World·Analysis

Republican presidential race: Why so many long shots are running

When John Kasich announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination this week, the Ohio governor entered an already crowded field with 15 other candidates, most of whom have little or no chance of winning. So what's in it for them?

There are three main reasons why candidates run for president, only one involves winning

Ohio Governor John Kasich announced earlier this week he is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Though a two-term governor and former congressman, he seems to have little name recognition in the crowded GOP field. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

When John Kasich announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination this week, the respected Ohio governor was entering an already crowded field with 15 other candidates, most of whom have little or no chance of winning. 

Kasich joined, among others, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki — all of whom, despite facing embarrassingly low polling numbers and daunting odds, have decided to forge ahead with their campaigns.

So why do long-shot presidential candidates go to all the trouble — not to mention time, energy and millions of dollars — on a venture unlikely to produce a successful result?

"I do think that in order to get into politics you have to be able to get up in the morning and look in the mirror and say 'Good morning, Mr. President,'" says Daniel P. Franklin, a political scientist at Georgia State University and the author of Pitiful Giants: Presidents in their Final Terms. 

"Politics is a business in a sort of a metaphorical sense," he says, "and the top of the business is the presidency. So anybody who's worth their salt gets into that business with the idea that one day they'd like to be at the top."

That notion also takes into consideration, as Franklin outlined in a recent article in Newsweek, that anyone has a chance.

In that piece, he cited the famous example Jimmy Carter, the one-term governor of Georgia who came out of nowhere in 1976 to claim the Democratic Party nomination and win the presidency.

And then of course there's the case of the former first-term senator from Illinois, a guy named Barack Obama.

'Well, why not me?'

"I think when Obama started off he was pretty much a long shot," Franklin said in an interview. "He was a senator who hadn't finished a single Senate term. And he had no military experience and no executive experience, and he goes on to win."

"So that's what Pataki or Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina, or some of those other people are looking at. They're looking at it and saying 'Well, why not me?'"

At the same time, as consumer advocate and former presidential Green Party candidate Ralph Nader suggested somewhat cynically in a recent column in the Los Angeles Times, "short of winning the presidency, however, there are many other rewards for running."

"You can fatten your mailing list and your Rolodex for future opportunities," Nader wrote. "These can include lucrative jobs, retainers, paid speeches or book advances."

Also, by staying in the limelight, as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee did after his failed attempt at the Republican nomination in 2008 — he signed on to host a talk show on Fox News — once and future candidates can set themselves up for a second run.

For someone like Huckabee this would almost certainly be a last shot. But for younger candidates, the so-called long game is certainly another reason for entering the field.

While the odds of winning are slim, they benefit from getting their name out there and possibly securing a convention speech and creating buzz for the next cycle (as Obama did).

People like Huckabee, though, or Rand Paul or Rick Santorum for that matter, also run to represent an ideological wing of the party — for Huckabee and Santorum, it is the social conservatives, for Paul, the libertarians. 

"Ideological candidates represent the purists in the party," Franklin wrote in Newsweek. "And because purist money doesn't dry up just because their candidate is losing, true believers can stay in the race for longer."

Single-issue candidates

Similar to the purists are the single-issue candidates. Billionaire businessman Ross Perot, for example, ran as an independent in 1992 and as head of the Reform Party in 1996 mostly to bring attention to budget deficits. And publishing scion Steve Forbes was all about campaigning for a flat tax when he sought the Republican nominations in 1996 and 2000. 

In a more realistic way, some long shots may simply be hoping that a decent run could net them a gig as vice-president or some kind of a cabinet position, says Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Candidates like Pataki, Graham (a long-serving congressman, now senator) or Kasich — perhaps particularly Kasich who comes from the battleground state of Ohio — all have the resumés to be considered running mates.

Republican presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, became a bit teary-eyed when his parents were mentioned at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

"I think Graham is one of those guys who's reached a point in his life where you give it a try, and when you don't embarrass yourself you can parlay that into other things," O'Connell said.

O'Connell whittled it down to three reasons as to why anyone runs, including those with a good chance of winning and those who almost certainly will lose.

"The first is they're looking for a media deal —  radio, bump up their name identification. Second is that they're potentially looking to run for a cabinet position of another office down the line.

"And the final one is they're actually in it to win it."

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