We are approaching the Olympics of political campaigns. The same way the quadrennial sporting event changes cities’ skylines and countries’ economies while making hometown heroes into global stars, the presidential cycle defines the course of a nation, invariably reshapes the consulting industry and makes stars out of a handful of the thousands of practitioners who compete in the cycle’s trials.
As decision-time nears for some of the biggest names in U.S. politics (consider that by this time last cycle, Jeb Bush and Jim Webb had already opened committees), consultants and campaign workers are mulling what the next two years might hold. Over the next few months, wealthy ideologues and interests, advocacy groups, and dozens of campaigns will begin staffing up and reshuffling priorities in preparation for the big event. New centers of power and influence will emerge. And while poor client decisions today won’t be fatal, wise political professionals can draw lessons from the last cycle as they plan for the future.
The first lesson from 2016 is that candidates will sweep up a good portion of the industry without much left for chance: top contenders pull in their own longtime loyalists, whether it’s Hillary Clinton and aide Huma Abedin or longtime Bernie Sanders confidant Jeff Weaver, whom Sanders in 2015 plucked from political semi-retirement as a comic book store proprietor. But for striving consultants without close ties to a candidate or experience on a past presidential campaign, the future is more uncertain.
Ballotpedia already lists 55 potential candidates for the Democratic nomination, and names like Kennedy III, O’Rourke, Harris, Gillibrand, Gabbard, Warren, Sanders are tempting for the left. The wrong choice, though, can equal a short ride. In the 2016 cycle, Republican Govs. Rick Perry and Scott Walker were the first to drop out, and 18 candidates had left the field before Super Tuesday on March 1. On the Democratic side, Lawrence Lessig’s reformist candidacy was on and off in just a couple months.
As the Clintons’ influence over the Democratic Party continues to recede, opportunity grows for new organizations to take up some of the space held by Clinton-supporting PACs like Correct the Record. In fact, online may be the greatest opportunity for Democrats to gain ground.