If you were to rank the most exciting presidential nomination contests, the 1996 Republican race would be near the bottom. Bob Dole, the “next-in-line” GOP candidate and the Senate majority leader, built up a huge lead in polls and endorsements early in the race and was never seriously challenged for the nomination….
And yet, contemporaneous accounts of the sleepy-seeming 1996 campaign portrayed it as incredibly dramatic, full of “unexpected” twists and “unpredictable” turns….
These biases hold in coverage of the general election too, of course: There were 68 purported “game changers” in the 2012 general election, most of which turned out to be irrelevant. But for the political observer trying to sift faux game changers from genuine twists in the campaign, the primaries present a couple of additional complications.
First, there are far more opportunities to be “surprised” in the primaries. Let’s start with the most basic stuff. In a nomination race, there might be a dozen or more candidates, instead of just two. And states vote one at a time, instead of all at once.