The political year tends to be divided into two parts, before Labor Day and after Labor Day. For presidential and midterm elections, Labor Day marks the start of fall and the general election season. For off-years (especially the off-year before a presidential election), it still carries a special significance. Summer works very well for the campaigns and candidates as it is the time of outside events and state fairs. People are willing to come out for activities such as volunteering and speeches and they come out in big numbers. The news cycle also tends to slow during the summer, so news organizations pay more attention to the campaigns.
For presidential campaigns, summer presents one of the brightest opportunities. It is a roughly three month period of non-stop campaigning as people are beginning to pay attention to the race. It is the last big opportunity to make an impact until the Iowa caucuses, which are roughly 150 days away. This summer presented a host of winners and losers.
One of the biggest winners going into the fall is Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). His campaign took off and some called this the Summer of Sanders. Progressive activists coalesced behind him and the Democratic race has largely turned into a one-on-one. He currently sits at the top of the field in New Hampshire and he is getting closer to Clinton in
Vice President Biden also had a quality summer, especially for someone who has not announced a presidential run. As the summer began and attention began focusing on Sanders, Biden quickly became an after-thought. His silence was beginning to be taken as a no even as he had not officially ruled out a presidential run. Numerous pollsters even began exclude him in their polling. However, articles and columns began popping up to remind Americans (and the media) that the Vice President was still undecided and may in fact undergo a run. Hillary Clinton’s continued email troubles have caused Democrats to take a new look at Vice President Biden.
Businesswoman Carly Fiorina started the summer off in a weak position. She spent most of it at the bottom of the polls, her campaign wondering whether or not she would qualify for the Fox News Republican debate. The network ended up changing the criteria to ensure she, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and former Governor Jim Gilmore (R-VA) would appear. The three took part in the network’s JV debate
One of the biggest winners this summer is businessman Donald Trump. He jumped into the race when few thought he would and his first poll post-announcement pegged him in the single digits. However, he quickly took off from there. This summer, Trump has almost been like teflon with nothing bringing him down. Several times this summer, political analysts predicted his demise, only to be proved wrong. The one consistent was that Trump defied all political punditry. His rise has not stopped and recent polls have had him hitting his all-time highs. Trump has also started building campaign infrastructure in order to keep his campaign going into the long-term. Current polling pegs him at first nationally and in numerous states, including the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.
Governor John Kasich (R-OH) entered the game relatively late as one of the last to jump into the race. However, his campaign has done well and he’s made use of the shorter amount of time. His numbers jumped and he is in the top ten nationally. Governor Kasich has been winning over moderate voters and taking away supporters from Jeb Bush. In New Hampshire, he is in the top three. Governor Kasich has differentiated himself with moderate positions and a focus on compassion. Insiders see him as one of the strongest general election candidates in the Republican field.
Now not everyone has had a good summer. Some have seen their numbers deflate, polling-wise and financially.
While Hillary Clinton remains the Democratic frontrunner, she has arguably had one of the hardest summers. Her numbers have gone down and tightened as the email issue continues to drag on. She has endured dozens of attacks this summer and polling indicates that Americans no longer see her as trustworthy or caring. Her responses to the email issue have also been criticized as she has not apologized for it and has sometimes joked about the issue. As the Clinton campaign worries about Senator Sanders coming increasingly closer, they also have to fear Vice President Biden, whose renewed interest in a presidential run comes almost exclusively from her faltering.
On the Republican side, Jeb Bush has gone from frontrunner to third place. Polls in the beginning of the summer had him in the double-digits, near 20%. However, he now hovers around the high single-digits. The last poll to show Bush in the lead is roughly two months old. Now the campaign says that they are the tortoise in this race and that they are able to wait. However, it could be awhile before Bush notches a win under his belt. He has never polled very well in Iowa and he is now third in New Hampshire, which was previously a bright spot. Similarly in South Carolina, he is in third. In his home state of Florida, he is trailing Trump. One of the words most associated with his campaign is boring as opponents joke about supporters falling asleep at a rally and Trump calls Bush “low-energy.” That attack is one of Trump’s favorite and most common. Trump also appears to have gotten under Bush’s skin and Bush has ramped up his attacks on the real estate mogul.
The libertarian Senator from Kentucky was one of the early favorites in the race and one of the first to make it into the top-tier. However, time has not been kind to Rand Paul’s campaign as his numbers have dwindled. Paul’s performance in the August Republican debate on Fox News was panned and a common criticism was that he came off as arrogant, rude, and mean. The last several polls have pegged him at one or two percent. Paul has struggled to keep his campaign relevant as one of his top issues, global isolationism, has become increasingly unpopular with ISIS and as the American people have largely moved on from his other signature issue, NSA reform.
This summer has been financially painful for former Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) as his campaign ran out of funds to pay his staff for a period of time. As a result, his campaign has had several defections, although many staffers stayed on in a volunteer capacity. The Perry campaign has continued to have paid staffers in Iowa and South Carolina so that he can continue to qualify for the CNN debate. Perry narrowly missed out on the top tier debate on Fox News and it has been downhill since. Some question whether Perry will make it to the Iowa caucus, especially after Trump said “he’s getting out of the race.” Perry denied that claim later on.
Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) has also been in a tricky spot this summer as he has failed to get a base of support. Christie’s political record in New Jersey paints him as a moderate, although he calls himself a conservative. Among moderates, he is competing against Kasich and Bush. Among conservatives, he is a competing against a whole host of candidates. Christie’s trademark has been his bluntness, however that has also been used by Trump. Christie currently has no defining and differentiating trait to make his case to the voters. The campaign has planned to focus on New Hampshire, however he is in the middle to bottom tier there. Christie will most likely only be included in CNN’s top tier debate because of the cable news network using an average of polls dating back to July. Matters have gotten so bad for the campaign that a super PAC dedicated to bringing down Christie filed for closure saying that the candidate had already done their job.
One of the most spectacular falls this summer belongs to Governor Scott Walker (R-WI). He, too, was one of the last Republicans to jump in, but he did so to great fanfare. At the time, he was one of the top Republicans nationally and was leading in Iowa by a considerable margin. He shot up almost overnight in Iowa and fell almost as quickly. Walker, too, was hit by the Summer of Trump. When the Republican debate rolled around, the main criticism of Walker was that he was flat. While he was able to sustain a few weeks of Trump, his lead in Iowa eventually faded away. His all-time high in the state was the low 20s, now he has stabilized in the higher single-digits. Nationally, he hovers around 5%.