Not that Politicalprof — and lots of other political scientists as well — has ever made this point before, but in presidential elections, organization matters.
See, for all the endless discussion of issues, and personalities, and shifting coalitions that might support or oppose candidates across the length and breadth of a campaign, the plain fact is that the American presidential election process is long, hard and complicated. Each party has a structurally different process; each state has different rules for how its elections will be run; federal campaign finance law shifts over time. There is much wrong with the way we select our presidents, but one thing is true: no one who gets elected president can run a badly organized, underfunded and under-staffed campaign. You simply can’t get through the maze of the presidential election process on the fly: you need a large, professional, well-funded staff to get you through to the nomination and then the presidency.
Which helps explain the fact that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. As it happens, Virginia has relatively stringent ballot access rules: to get listed as a presidential candidate, one has to get the signatures of 10,000 registered Virginia voters. This, as you can understand, is hard. So you have to have staff in Virginia well ahead of the actual election systematically working to collect enough signatures to even get listed as a candidate. Note that this has to be done well before you as a candidate are ever likely even to enter the state in campaign mode. It is one of many pieces of background work that has to be done by any campaign if it expects to succeed in a run for the presidency.
Neither Perry nor Gingrich (nor Cain before them) had close to what it takes. And so, whatever else is going on on the day of the Virginia primary, regardless of whether either is leading in the Republican primary or national polls or not, no one in the state of Virginia will have the chance to vote for either Perry or Gingrich. Simply because they lacked the organizational moxie to pass the first hurdle on the path to getting the nomination.
Note that this is why Sarah Palin was just wrong when she hinted the other day that there’s still time for someone to get in. While a Palin candidacy would draw lots of heat and fire, the simple fact is that what it wouldn’t draw is lots of votes—she’s not on the ballot, and wouldn’t be able to get on the ballot in lots of states.
It may not be sexy, but organization matters. If all you do is focus on the policy profiles and personality clashes of various candidates, you’re missing the deeper question of who is actually likely to be able to sustain a candidacy over time. Only those candidates with real organizations and real staffs can win the nomination these days. Everyone else is a media star with no effective political muscle.