Monday, January 22, 2007

Exploratory Committee Fluff

I decided to check out the websites of the exploratory committees for some of the announced candidates. I discovered that they're almost entirely about fundraising and fluff. For example, if you go to the Clinton or Obama official Senate sites, you'll find quite a lot of information under "issues," but on their respective exploratory committee sites (here and here ), you'll find no "issues" heading at all. Likewise for Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Tom Vilsack, to name just a few of the thousands of candidates. The pattern seemed so consistent that I wondered whether there is some FEC rule barring mere "exploratory committees" from officially taking stances on issues. But it turns out that's not the case. Apparently the FEC treats an exploratory the same as an actual campaign committee. And not every exploratory committee avoids issues. The Denns Kucinich site has an issues section, for example, as does the Sam Brownback site.

But Kucinich is different from most of the others. Because his main obstacle is the perception that he is not a serious candidate, he needs to establish credibility sooner rather than later. Likewise, since Brownback is trying to position himself as the candidate of the religious right, and so it's to his advantage to display his bona fides early on. Plus, his "issues" aren't long on specifics. For example, here's the Brownback Issues point on Iraq:
"After my recent trip to Iraq, I am even more convinced that the situation there is precarious, but hopeful. I see hope in the Iraqi people. I believe this hope will be the foundation of a new Iraqi society. Much remains to be done, and I think we need a plan to turn this country over to its citizens. I will continue to work with the leaders in our country, as well as leaders in Iraq, to find a solution that protects the future of Iraq, and the pride and dignity of its citizens."
Great, a policy based on hope. I suppose that's better than one based on wishful thinking. But at least Brownback has an "issues" section.

The question is why most of the others do not. The answer, I take it, is the nominally "exploratory" nature of their campaigns. They're still "exploring" and so they haven't yet formulated official positions. This is silly, of course, because each of the websites lists the candidate's accomplishments and showcases individual speeches etc, that take positions on issues. But given that all of the candidates' websites will undoubtedly have "issues" links (or the equivalent) as we get closer to actual primaries, it's striking that they've all decided to forego them at this early stage in the process. That's especially interesting given that this is at most the third presidential cycle in which the internet will play a significant role in fundraising and connecting candidates to supporters. Apparently the netiquette of Presidential campaigning has already largely stuck on this point. I'll be interested to see when in the cycle the websites start to change.