TIME 2016 Election

The Republican Presidential Contest Has a Polling Problem

Buttons featuring Republican presidential hopefuls on display during the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City on May 21, 2015.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Buttons featuring Republican presidential hopefuls on display during the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City on May 21, 2015.

Pollsters say the field is too big for accurate polls

National primary polls have never been so important—or so meaningless.

Nine months before the first votes are cast, these fickle numbers have become a make-or-break metric, determining whether a candidate will toil in obscurity or find a moment in national spotlight.

Fox News, the host of the first Republican debate, announced earlier this month that it will average the five most recent national polls that meet its standards in the week before on Aug. 6, and invite the top 10 finishers on stage. CNN announced that for the second debate in September, it would average national polls from two months prior, adding an average of early state polling as a tiebreaker.

Yet pollsters warn that the current methodology is ill-equipped to accurately measure such a sprawling field of potential candidates. The difference between the 9th and 13th place finishers in polls, where several candidates get less support than the margin of error, can be arbitrary. Candidates, meanwhile, have begun to complain that national polls mainly measure name identification, and national televised media exposure, ignoring the crucial role that early primary and caucus states play in the selection of the nominee.

“I think it’s strange that they aren’t taking early state polls, since that’s where candidates are placing their resources,” said an aide to one Republican candidate who does not yet qualify for the first debate. “In terms of the [Republican National Committee], they wanted to have this process, but I think it’s funny that they didn’t want the media picking candidates anymore except they are allowing media companies to do exactly that.”

“You can’t use polls to make very fine distinctions among candidates—such as who is in 10th place vs. 11th place,” says John Sides, a George Washington University Professor and co-founder of the popular political science blog Monkey Cage. “Even an average of several polls will have enough underlying uncertainty that you won’t be able to clearly distinguish who should be in and out.”

In Thursday’s Quinnipiac poll seven candidates are tied with each other—at zero percent—owing to the ±3.8 percentage point sampling error.

In a letter to members of the RNC Friday, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon safely on the debate stage with poll numbers in the high single-digits, urged a change. “In the past this type of rule has been used to keep ‘fringe’ candidates off the stage,” he wrote. “None of these men and women deserves this exclusion.”

“I’m probably the best person to comment on this,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told National Journal Friday. “In January of 2012 I was at 4 percent in the national polls, and I won the Iowa caucuses…And so the idea that a national poll has any relationship to the viability of a candidate—ask Rudy Giuliani that. Ask Phil Gramm that.”

It’s in Santorum’s interest to undermine the polling standards. The 2012 runner-up’s national numbers are dismal—he polled at zero percent in a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday.

As a practical matter, polling in the U.S. has grown more difficult as American attention spans have dwindled and more people have moved to cell phones. The gold standard—live surveys, conducted by actual human questioners—has grown more difficult as people cut phone lines to their homes. Most reputable surveys now include cell phone lines in an effort to ensure those who have cut the cord are represented.

But polling in primaries is has always been difficult. Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, wrote in 2011 of the difficulties endemic to polling in nominating fights. “The candidates in a primary election are of the same political party and typically differ in only minor ways in their political positions, so it is easier for voters to change their opinions,” he wrote. “Primary election campaigns can be highly unequal too, with different candidates pouring their efforts into different states. And during the heat of primary season, voters may have only a week or two to make up their minds in light of the news from the most recent primaries elsewhere.”

“Primary polls can fluctuate a great deal depending on which candidate is getting news coverage,” adds Sides. “And that news coverage may arise because of events that really aren’t that significant. For example, Herman Cain’s victory in the meaningless Florida straw poll catalyzed news coverage and his poll numbers. So there is the question of whether, at any particular point in time, good poll numbers are really indicative of a viable candidacy.”

And in a field with at least 15 candidates, it’s even tougher.

“You can’t poll 15 candidates and expect voters to keep paying attention,” scoffs one 2016 strategist, suggesting that poll accuracy will suffer because only those willing to sit through a long list of names won’t hang up.

For much of the cycle so far, news outlets and pollsters have only polled subsets of candidates for just this reason, including just the top eight or 10 candidates at a given moment in their surveys. Many reputable surveys of the 2016 field have chosen to exclude potential 2016 contenders, like Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Others have excluded longshots like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal or former HP CEO Carly Fiorina. The Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday is one of the first national polls to include all 16 Republican candidates.

Douglas Schwartz, the director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, tells TIME that typically they try to keep the list of candidates to a manageable six or eight, but that with the field so large and with support so diffuse, that they had to ask about all of them. It’s not without complication.

“We haven’t encountered the first issue in terms of people hanging up,” he said. It’s just more of an issue that so many of these candidates are not well known and that it’s tough for people to keep all the names in their head.”

The problem is not limited to polling, Schwartz adds. “It’s tough when you’ve got eight candidates and you’re asking people to try to get to know all eight candidates, research the background and learn the biography of people who are all pretty similar because they’re in the same party,” he said. “Now double it. It’s hard for voters too.”

But even those who make the cut shouldn’t be cheering either when in reality activists in a handful of states will decide.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 28

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Republicans espouse free market principles, but one supply-and-demand problem is burning holes in their pockets. With more than a dozen candidates, there’s a bidding—and begging—war for qualified staff, some of whom are taking home as much as $35,000 a month. Meanwhile, as the cover of TIME this week explains, the end of capital punishment is upon us as Nebraska legislators overturned a veto to ban the death penalty in the red state. And the GOP presidential field is anyone’s for the taking, but only two Republicans looked competitive right now against Clinton in a new poll. Here are your must reads:

Must Reads

Mad Rush to Hire 2016 Campaign Staff Brings Out the Beggars
Some top aides could bring in $35,000—a month—TIME’s Philip Elliott reports

Here’s What it Sounds Like When Generation X Runs for President
The next generation—and its culture—take center stage [Washington Post]

Clinton Runs As A Woman
Eight years after playing down her gender on the campaign trail, Clinton embraces it [Wall Street Journal]

Why the End of Capital Punishment Is Near ($)
Bungled executions. Backlogged courts. And three more reasons the modern death penalty is a failed experiment, TIME’s David Von Drehle writes

For Loretta Lynch, a Stunning Debut on the World Stage
FIFA probe makes a name for the new Attorney General [Politico]

White House Presses for Deal on Phone Data Bill
The National Security Agency has a plan for shutting down its controversial surveillance programs [New York Times]

Sound Off

“I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but unlike my rivals, I’ve been dying my hair for years. You’re not going to see me going white in the White House!” —Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking to a group of Democratic women in Columbia, S.C.

“This trip has been on my itinerary for a very long time.”—Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina to reporters Wednesday in Columbia, S.C. after facing repeated questions about whether a press conference outside a Hillary Clinton speech was a stunt.

Bits and Bites

Nebraska repeals the death penalty [Journal Star]

Clinton Faces Biggest Threat From Rubio and Paul in New Poll [TIME]

George Pataki to launch presidential campaign [Washington Post]

O’Malley backers launch super PAC ahead of Democrat’s presidential bid [Washington Post]

Clinton Foundation paid Blumenthal $10K per month while he advised on Libya [Politico]

Warren’s populist bestseller earned her a bundle [Boston Globe]

 

TIME 2016 Election

George Pataki Enters Presidential Race

Former New York governor faces steep uphill battle

Former New York Gov. George Pataki launched his long-shot presidential bid Thursday with a video announcement on his website and a rally planned for later in the day in New Hampshire.

The Republican left office in 2006 after serving three terms, including during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which factor heavily into his announcement. The four-minute video features Pataki speaking directly to the camera and walking in Lower Manhattan at the World Trade Center site retelling his experiences in the months and years after the attacks. After a montage of patriotic imagery, it closes with footage of Pataki gazing at the newly rebuilt One World Trade Center building

“We need to recapture that spirit, that sense that we are one people,” Pataki says. “When we do, we will stop empowering politicians and empower ourselves with the opportunities to have an unlimited, bright future.”

In a Quinnipiac University national poll of the Republican field released Thursday morning, Pataki received no support, and he faces a steep uphill climb even to make the debate stage in August. In a New Hampshire WMUR poll this month, Pataki placed at 2% in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

TIME 2016 Election

Clinton Faces Biggest Threat From Rubio and Paul in New Poll

Hillary Clinton
Rick Friedman—Corbis Former Secretary of State and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greeting supporters at a round table discussion at the Smutty Nose Brewery in Hampton, N.H. on May 22, 2015.

Republican voters are split on who should be their nominee

The fight for the Republican presidential nomination is wide open, but only two GOP candidates currently take the fight to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to a new poll.

The Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found the GOP field split evenly between former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Each earns 10% in a poll of potential Republican primary voters and caucus-goers.

Against Clinton though, only Rubio, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul—who polls at 7% nationally among Republicans—would pose a threat if the election were held today. Clinton scores 46% to 42% against Paul, and 45% to 41% against Rubio, the poll found. All other Republicans poll multiples behind Clinton.

The national survey holds limited predictive value in a race that will start off as a contest among early-state activists, but it will contribute to the culling process for the first GOP debate. Fox News, which is hosting the Aug 6. gathering, will invite the top 10 Republican candidates based on an average of national surveys.

Under the Fox News rules, the rest of the debate stage, according to the Quinnipiac poll, would include Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, reality TV host Donald Trump, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be among those excluded.

On the Democratic side, Clinton leads with 57% of potential Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 15% and Vice President Joe Biden, who has not indicated he will run, with 9%. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is set to launch his campaign on Saturday, polls at just 1%.

A majority of voters—53 %—believe that Clinton is not trustworthy, but they give her high marks on leadership and caring about people like them. Rubio and Paul perform best among voters on those categories, while Bush, who is expected to announce raising as much as $100 million for his presidential bid next month, faces skepticism from voters, a plurality of whom believe he doesn’t care about the needs and problems of people like them.

The Quinnipiac survey of 1.711 registered voters—including 679 Republican and 748 Democrats—was conducted from May 19-26, 2015. The overall sample as a margin of error of ±2.4 percentage points, while the Republican primary figures has a margin of error of ±3.8 points and the Democratic primary has a margin of error of ±3.6 percentage points.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina Shadow Dance In South Carolina

<> on May 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Joe Raedle—2015 Getty Images Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the South Carolina House Democratic Womens Caucus and the South Carolina Democratic Womens Council at their Third Annual Day in Blue in the Marriott hotel on May 27, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina echoed and opposed each other in South Carolina on Wednesday

At twin events in South Carolina on Wednesday, rivals Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina spoke about equal pay within hours of each other, each blaming the other’s party for not doing enough to fight for women’s rights in the workplace.

“I don’t think I’m letting you in on a secret when I say too many women still earn less than men on the job,” Clinton told a roomful of mostly South Carolina women. “We could fix this if Republicans would get on board.”

“Before the federal government or Hillary Clinton lecture others,” said Fiorina, “maybe they ought to look into their own offices or look into the seniority system and the federal government.”

Like doppelgangers parading on different sides of a funhouse mirror, Clinton and Fiorina echoed each other even in their opposition.

Clinton was speaking from inside the Columbia, S.C. Marriott hotel; Fiorina spoke from outside the same hotel a few hours earlier. Clinton gave a speech and took no questions; Fiorina bragged about how accessible a candidate she has been to the press compared with her Democratic counterpart. Clinton, a dominant frontrunner among the Democrats, never mentioned Fiorina; Fiorina’s event seemed planned specifically to antagonize the former secretary of state.

For Clinton, it was a chance to reconnect with South Carolina voters after badly losing the primary to Barack Obama in 2008. (During the last election, Bill Clinton appeared to write off Barack Obama’s victory in the state by comparing him with Jesse Jackson, another black candidate who never won.)

Fiorina, on the other hand, was shadowing Clinton, continuing her ceaseless criticism of the Democratic candidate in an effort to gain some much-needed attention in the press.

“Our events tomorrow are all open to the press,” Fiorina’s spokeswoman, Sarah Flores, wrote in an email to reporters Tuesday night, jabbing at the Clinton campaign. “And by ‘open press,’ we mean we’ll actually take questions.”

Clinton’s speech was one of the first true speeches of her campaign. She made a case for equal pay and forcefully criticized Republicans for not fully embracing an equal pay platform. She listed four specific measures to improve pay for women, including legislation that allows women to sue for wage discrimination, requiring pay transparency, and paid leave and flexible scheduling.

Clinton’s ideas aren’t new: she long advocated for equal pay legislation as senator of New York, and paid leave has become a fixture of liberal politicians’ platforms around the country. She repeated her claim that equal pay is “not a women’s issue, this is a family issue” and an American economic issue.

What is new to her candidacy, however, is Clinton’s sharp language for Republicans who she says are responsible for holding back similar legislation. Without mentioning any Republican presidential hopefuls by name, she mentioned Scott Walker’s comment that equal pay is a “bogus issue”—though she mistakenly called him a candidate, a declaration he has not yet made. Her other two jabs at Republicans were directed at Marco Rubio who said Congress was “wasting time worrying” about equal pay, and Rand Paul, who has said equal pay efforts remind him of the Soviet Union.

Fiorina said she “of course” supports equal pay for equal work, and said that a seniority system in the federal government “allows a man to watch pornography all day long in the federal government” and earn the same as “a woman sitting next to him trying to do a good job.”

Fiorina also claimed that Clinton does not pay women equally in her own office. The Clinton campaign has not yet released details about its expenditures and salaries. As a senator, Clinton paid women and men equally for the same jobs, according to figures released by her campaign and reviewed by PolitiFact.com.

TIME politics

Rick Santorum’s Role in the Republican Renewal

rick santorum pennsylvania iowa republican
Charlie Neibergall—AP Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner, on May 16, 2015, in Des Moines.

The 2016 contender came into the public eye during one of his party's most pivotal moments

Rick Santorum, in announcing on Wednesday that he would try for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential race, joins a crowded field of political contenders.

But it won’t be the first time that the former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 also-ran has made a splash as part of a large group.

When Santorum first made national news, it was in 1994, as an upstart Congressman going to bat for Senator Harris Wofford’s seat. In covering the race, TIME cast Santorum as a barometer of the nation’s stance toward issues that stretched far beyond the state’s borders:

A party that opposes the President unyieldingly, he reasons, gets a nice, sharp profile. It could work, for instance, on health-care reform, one battle most Americans tell pollsters they are are no longer sure they want the President to win. That the issue, once a sure plus for Democrats, is now a more complicated blessing is evident in Pennsylania, where Democratic Senator Harris Wofford is in a tricky race against Rick Santorum, a Republican Congressman who promises to protect voters from government interference in their health-care decisions. It was Wofford’s surprise victory three years ago over Dick Thornburgh, after a campaign that made health-care reform an issue, that first alerted politicians to its potential. But while Wofford is far ahead of Santorum in fund raising this year, their contest is a toss-up. ”Health care is a significant factor that has energized a lot of people who are nonpolitical,” says Santorum, with the clear implication that this time the newcomers are his.

As we now know, of course, Santorum was right.

That was the year of Newt Gingrich’s ascension, and when election time rolled around, the Republican Party’s midterm gains were immense. As TIME put it, “voters angrily revoked the Democrats’ 40-year lease on the Congress,” as the G.O.P. picked up seats in both houses of Congress and in gubernatorial seats across the country. Representative Toby Roth of Wisconsin put it even more strongly: “[This] was more than an election. It was a revolution.”

Santorum’s conservative appeal to voters carried the day in Pennsylvania, just as his colleagues found success in other states. The political sea change of 1994 continues to reverberate throughout the political world—and Santorum’s latest try for the presidency is only one way of many.

Read the full cover story, here in the TIME Vault: G.O.P. Stampede

TIME 2016 Election

Mad Rush to Hire 2016 Campaign Staff Brings Out the Beggars

Jeb Bush
Jim Cole—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Draft restaurant, Thursday, May 21, 2015, in Concord, N.H.

It is a great time to be an operative in Iowa or New Hampshire

It’s enough to make a campaign get on its knees and beg. Literally.

Such was the scene earlier this month at Rocket Man, a dueling pianos joint in Columbia, S.C. A top aide in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign-in-waiting dropped to one knee and asked a respected South Carolina operative to reconsider her decision to join rival Mike Huckabee’s run at the Republicans’ Presidential nomination.

Hope Walker, who most recently was the state director for the South Carolina GOP, told her suitor that she was sticking with Huckabee and there was no need for Bush to phone her. Bush communications maven Tim Miller shook his head, stood up and moved onto his next potential hire at the other end of the bar. Miller is still wooing that operative.

For GOP campaigns looking to build a payroll of experienced aides, this is the new normal: lots of courtship and many promises.

With more than a dozen—and perhaps eventually as many as two dozen—contenders at various stages of preparation for a White House bid, the fight for staff is fierce. Promises of access to the candidate, special titles and bloated salaries are the new chits for the small subset of political professionals who have run campaigns before.

And that’s before the outside groups, the super PACs and the nominally apolitical groups such as Americans for Prosperity or the League of Conservation Voters start building their teams. Those groups are ramping up their staffs and activities, fueled by donors who can give an unlimited amount of cash. In turn, it’s becoming a bidding war.

Operatives who have networks in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina stand to be the campaign’s most obvious profiteers.

“It is harder to find this time because there are so many candidates or likely candidates,” said a veteran operative to Presidential hopefuls and a current adviser to a top-tier candidate who has yet to formally enter the race. “The supply isn’t here to even meet the demands. There is a dynamic that it feels like there is a shortage of staff.”

Part of it is more than a feeling. Take New Hampshire, which is scheduled to have the nation’s first primary on Feb. 9, 2016. In non-presidential years, elections there are typically used to build a bench of talent and train them for the coming White House runs. That didn’t happen in 2014; Senate hopeful Scott Brown imported many of his aides from across state lines in Massachusetts, and gubernatorial nominee Walt Haverstein ran a lackluster race that no one wants to repeat.

The result is what one aide calls a BYOS dynamic: Bring Your Own Staff. Miami-based Miller was at Bush’s side last week in New Hampshire on a trip to New Hampshire. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had his Madison-based aides with him on a recent trip. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has no plans to hire New Hampshire-based communications aides and sent a former Trenton-based adviser to New Hampshire to lay the groundwork for a potential run.

Even Sen. Kelly Ayotte had to import talent for what could be a tough re-election bid in 2016. The de facto head of the New Hampshire GOP recruited a campaign manager, Ben Sparks, from his most recent campaign helping Dan Sullivan win a Senate race in Alaska.

It is a dynamic that is playing out in the other states, and at national headquarters, where finding bodies to put into jobs is taking up a lot top campaign aides’ time.

“With the potential for 19 candidates, anyone who has a hint of a resume gets to be a political director or a state director,” said an established political adviser who has four Presidential campaigns on her resume. She, however, is sitting this campaign out despite repeated phone calls from presidential hopefuls and their staffs.

“Their pitch was: ‘Whatever you want,’” she said. She is passing even though she is leaving potentially hefty paychecks on the table. Her 2012 job paid her $10,000 a month and she figures she could have more than doubled that in 2016.

None of the declared or likely candidates has filed campaign finance reports that would indicate salary levels for the 2016 race. But among the sought-after operatives—friends to each other in non-election settings—they speculate some of the top staff hires are earning as much as $35,000 each month.

To be sure, there is money to be made Presidential politics. In late December of 2011—days before Iowa’s caucuses—then-state Sen. Kent Sorenson resigned from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Presidential campaign to join Rep. Ron Paul’s. According to his plea deal in a campaign finance case, he received $73,000 for the defection. And that was over a move from a sixth-place finisher to a third-place candidate in 2012.

With 2016 looming, the price is only increasing. “They’re inflating the prices of these guys,” said a longtime adviser to a former governor chasing the nomination. “They know it’s a short run and they want to milk it for all it’s worth,” he added.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 27

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

In a scheduling quirk, Republican candidate Carly Fiorina will be in Columbia, S.C., today at the same time as Hillary Clinton. Not to let an opportunity slip by, the former tech executive will speak to reporters to highlight the thing Clinton doesn’t do all that much. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum will launch his second Presidential campaign this week, arguing that his distant second place finish in 2012 puts him in line for the crown. That means Santorum is having a better morning than White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston, who learned yesterday that the executive order he approved to provide legal status to about 4 million undocumented immigrants had been blocked by a second court, the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. Obama’s immigration legacy may turn out to be little more than years of tangled litigation. Here are your must reads:

Must Reads

Rick Santorum Starts Presidential Run Looking Back
TIME’s Philip Elliott and I look at the 2012 runner-up’s unlikely return

The Most Important Republican Donor You’ve Never Heard Of
And she’s married to one you do. [BuzzFeed]

The Radical Education of Bernie Sanders
The making of a socialist presidential candidate, by TIME’s Sam Frizell.

Ruling Puts Obama’s Immigration Legacy in Jeopardy
Outcome may not be determined until months before the next election [Politico]

Meet the 2016 Freshmen
Running for president in their first terms, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio share a resume with Obama [Los Angeles Times]

Sound Off

“Our events tomorrow are all open to the press. And by open press, we mean we’ll actually take questions.” —Carly Fiorina Deputy Campaign Manager Sarah Isgur Flores previewing Wednesday’s press conference not far from where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is speaking in Columbia, S.C.

“If we chose to get in, I don’t think there’s a state out there we wouldn’t play in, other than maybe Florida, where Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are.” —Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suggesting he may sit out the swing state’s primary to avoid an expensive fight with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Bits and Bites

White House Hits Back at Appeals Court After Immigration Ruling [TIME]

Why Biden is (almost) King of the Internet [Washington Post]

Carly Fiorina Says the Chinese ‘Don’t Innovate’ [FORTUNE]

State Proposes Clinton Email Release Every 60 Days [Wall Street Journal]

Influential Iowa group nixes ‘marriage oath’ for 2016 candidates [Des Moines Register]

 

TIME rick santorum

Rick Santorum Starts Presidential Run Looking Back

Leaning on Republicans' traditions, he makes the case that 2016 is his turn

Correction appended, May 27

Rick Santorum was closing out his speech to the GOP’s governing class at a posh desert resort near Phoenix. His time to address the Republican National Committee coming to a close, he took a moment to remind the party’s elders of their history. “We stick with tradition,” the former Senator from Pennsylvania said in early May.

With restless party chairmen and activists shifting in their seats, the failed 2012 candidate made a not-so-subtle pitch for the Santorum for President, 2016 Edition, which started on Wednesday, with a rally in Cabot, Pa.

“Since primaries and caucuses went into effect, every Republican nominee has met one of three tests,” Santorum said in Arizona. “One, they were Vice President. Two, they were the son of a former President. And three, they came in second place the last time and ran again and won.”

If history were predictive of how Republicans pick their nominee, then 2016’s nomination should be Santorum’s for the taking. He came in second to Romney in 2012 and, in his telling, won as many nominating contests as Reagan did during his 1976 bid. (In truth, Reagan won 11 primaries in 23 states, whereas Santorum won a combined 11 contests in states that held primaries and caucuses.)

But history alone is not going to overcome Santorum’s significant obstacles as he seeks the White House for a second time. With a penchant for incendiary language, a stronger crop of likely competitors, an expected nine-figure deficit against his rivals for the nod, few of his competitors now count him in the top tier of candidates, and there are serious questions about him even making the cut for the first debate on Aug. 6.

“I know what it’s like to be an underdog,” Santorum said in Pennsylvania’s Butler County on Wednesday, beginning an uphill climb for the nomination. “Four years ago, well, no one gave us much of a chance. But we won 11 states. We got 4 million votes. And it’s not just because I stood for something. It’s because I stood for someone: the American worker.”

But this time, Santorum faces a tougher field of competitors. Fresh-faced newcomers, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have the GOP optimistic it can appeal beyond its shrinking footprint. Conservative rock stars such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas can electrify crowds. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee can tap into his past as a Baptist pastor and whip the Christian conservative base of the party into a frenzy. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has the pedigree and roster of campaign donors that might overshadow missing other traits voters say they are seeking.

Santorum, out of office since early 2007 after losing reelection by 18 percentage points, can do none of those. He is 57—a decade older than some of his rivals and roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to birthdays. He fails to energize conservative audiences with speeches that are closer to college lectures than political rallying cries. He speaks about his faith in deeply personal ways but cannot match Huckabee in the pulpit. And Santorum is an admittedly terrible fundraiser, often turning off would-be donors with his contrarian style.

“The last race, we changed the debate,” Santorum told his kick-off rally. “This race, with your help and God’s grace, we can change this nation. Join us.”

His crowds so far this year have been thin. But Santorum is used to that. He toiled in relative obscurity in 2011, visiting all 99 Iowa counties in the passenger seat of an activist’s pickup. He staged a surprise win in the leadoff caucuses but had insufficient infrastructure to capitalize on Iowa’s enthusiasm.

Instead, he turned to often divisive and cantankerous rhetoric. For instance, Santorum could seldom open his mouth with unleashing an invective about others and cast himself as a victim. He called Romney “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” He said John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech, in which the future president said “the separation of church and state is absolute,” made the Pennsylvania Senator “want to throw up.” Santorum promised that, as President, he would talk about “the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea.”

Earlier this year, Santorum told NBC News that his 2012 campaign was defined by “dumb things” he said and “crazy stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with anything.” He acknowledges things went off the rails the further into the nominating process he hobbled, even as his campaign was running out of cash and the White House nod grew increasingly impossible to snag.

Even so, Santorum crowed to a tea party crowd in South Carolina earlier this year: “I was the last person standing.” He earned 234 pledged delegates to the party’s nominating convention in Tampa. Romney had amassed more than 1,400.

Even so, Santorum tells voters and reporters his political endurance qualifies him to become the nominee this time. He insists he is battle-tested under pressure, unlike his rivals.

“As you’ve seen, Commander in Chief is not an entry-level position, and the White House is the last place for on-the-job training,” Santorum said Wednesday.

Santorum has his history right. Mitt Romney was rewarded the nomination in 2012 after failing to win it in 2008. John McCain’s 2000 failed run was rewarded with the nomination in 2008. Bob Dole won the nomination in 1992 after an unsuccessful turn as the GOP’s 1976 Vice Presidential nominee. George H.W. Bush was the nominee in 1988 after losing to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 primaries and then serving eight years as his Vice President. Reagan himself won the 1980 nomination after failing to win the nod in 1976. Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968; he served eight years as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Vice President before losing the Presidency as the GOP nominee in 1960.

Only four times in the last 60 years has the Republican electorate nominated a Presidential neophyte—and the most recent examples are suspect at best. George W. Bush, the son of a President, won the White House in 2000 as a first-time national candidate. Gerald Ford rose to the Presidency after Nixon’s resignation and lost the White House in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter as a first-time coast-to-coast candidate. Barry Goldwater came up short as the GOP nominee in 1964, and Eisenhower won the 1952 nomination and Presidency as a first-time political candidate.

But those figures—new and veteran—ran sophisticated campaigns and had not alienated great swaths of the GOP. Santorum’s situation looks different, with several of his former top advisers having defected for other campaigns: 2012 campaign manager Mike Biundo is a Paul senior adviser. Spokespeople Hogan Gidley and Alice Stewart have signed with Huckabee. Even Santorum’s erstwhile driver from 2012, Chuck Laudner, has abandoned him—for Donald Trump.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the date of the first Republican presidential debate. It is Aug. 6.

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