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Why Do Candidates Stay in the Presidential Race?

On Monday, December 28th, presidential candidate Martin O’Malley hosted a campaign event in Iowa with a shockingly poor turnout: Only one person showed up. Though a brutal snowstorm was likely a factor, this news still does not bode well for the former Baltimore Mayor who is only expected to receive around 3% of the Democratic primary vote.

Results like these bring an interesting question to mind. Why do candidates with little to no chance of winning the presidency decide to stay in the race? Why did Governor Rick Perry withdraw after poor poll results in the first Republican debate while plenty of other candidates with poor poll results have stayed? Currently, HuffPost-Pollmaster predicts that five candidates–Paul, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich, and Santorum–will receive less than 3% of the Republican Primary vote. By comparison, Trump is expected to receive over 30% of the vote. Aside from the time and energy wasted if the candidates lose, these campaigns often require tens of millions of dollars. Why go through the effort with the odds so strongly stacked against them?

Running for president is an expensive undertaking. The startup cost of a presidential campaign can average $10 million. If a candidate is still in the race after the Nevada Primary, they have usually spent between $40 and $50 million. But candidates can offset these expenses by properly managing campaign finances. As long as a candidate can continue raising money through Super PACs or other campaign donations to stay out of debt, they often have nothing to lose. Even if their chances of winning are a thousand to one, there is always a small chance of being elected. Rick Perry’s campaign owed millions of dollars in September which was likely the reason he withdrew.

Candidates endure the taxing experience of a presidential campaign because the benefits outweigh the costs. In many cases, high-profile candidates can use the race as a platform to other political positions. A recent example is Hillary Clinton. When Clinton withdrew from the 2008 presidential race, her campaign was $25 million in debt. Although it took her over four years to repay this debt, she came out on top. Clinton used her position as the Democratic runner-up to Barack Obama to become Secretary of State in 2009. Today her role as Secretary of State is aiding her 2016 presidential campaign. John McCain also used his successful run in the 2008 presidential campaign to later assume numerous leadership roles in the Senate.

Sometimes non-political career opportunities arise for candidates after their run. Following his withdrawal from the presidential race in 2008, Governor Mike Huckabee became a talk show host on Fox News. Congressman Newt Gingrich often appears as a Fox News commentator as well. His status as an expert panel member is due in no small part to his 2012 presidential run. Hosting on any major news network, let alone the highest-rated network in America, provides candidates with more than just a large paycheck. It provides them with a prominent position in the public eye and the possibility of launching another presidential campaign in the future.

Candidates can also use their campaign as a platform to promote themselves and their stances on various issues. Though Senator Rand Paul ranks near the bottom of most polls, he has used his campaign to gain publicity for his opposition of the Patriot Act extension. Senator Bernie Sanders may not overtake Hillary Clinton in the presidential primaries, but the race has given him a notable platform to advocate his populist economic agenda.

The 2016 presidential election has featured seventeen Republican candidates alone, making it difficult to determine exactly why some candidates choose to stay in the race. One major reason is that candidates can often acquire other positions after a failed presidential run. These jobs can run the gamut from prominent leadership roles in Congress to positions on major news networks. Another reason is that the presidential race provides candidates with an unparalleled platform to promote their views on major issues. With large populations watching, they have a greater chance of advancing their agenda. Assuming candidates have the necessary financial resources, it is usually in their best interest to stay in the race as long as possible. As the election year comes to a close, most candidates will inevitably withdraw their presidential bid. In the end, however, many will find that the race was well worth their time.


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