Presidential hopefuls kick off 2016 campaigns
Presidential hopefuls kick off 2016 campaigns Marco Rubio announced his bid for president in Miami, Florida. At left, Hillary Clinton accounced via an online message (Reuters / Clinton Campaign)
Presidential hopefuls kick off 2016 campaigns
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In a presidential campaign, you only get one Opening Day.

For Ted Cruz, it was a simple speech. It was on a college campus. No notes, no teleprompter. And no choice for the students required to be there. Rand Paul packed a hotel ballroom with loyalists. He dazzled them with videos and goofy campaign memorabilia.

Then there was Marco Rubio. He entered the race one day after Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her candidacy.

"No matter when you do it, you have the problem of butting against somebody else," said John Brabender. He is an adviser to another expected GOP candidate, Rick Santorum.

The 2016 race for president has begun. As many as two dozen candidates are expected to run. The formal announcement sets the stage for each campaign. The hope is it will begin a triumphant march to the White House. Most are carefully planned. Some struggle to draw attention. And each sends a signal to voters. Are they watching a contender? Or just another soon-to-be has-been?

"It's the one part of the campaign, besides picking a vice president, that the candidate can totally control," said Scott Reed. He is a Republican strategist. He served as Bob Dole's 1996 campaign manager. "They set the tone."

Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants. His campaign launch took weeks of planning. He wanted to announce in front of a diverse audience of supporters. The site he chose was downtown Miami's iconic Freedom Tower. That was the first stop for tens of thousands of fleeing Cuban exiles. They came to Florida during the 1960s and 1970s.

Clinton took a decidedly different approach. The lead-up to her campaign kickoff was a quiet one. She got into the race with an online message.

Rubio's aides were cognizant about the possibility that Clinton could upstage their event. After some debate, Rubio and his team decided to stick with their plan. They figured a dueling announcement might actually work in their favor. It could allow them to pocket an early fundraising boost.

Side-by-side media coverage of the two candidates would draw a beneficial contrast, argued another top aide. The contrast would be between Clinton, a woman they see as an aging icon from the 1990s and a dynamic Hispanic candidate.

That was Paul's thought, too. His team hoped Clinton would launch before their debut. That would allow him to immediately begin campaigning as though it were the general election. Instead, he found himself answering questions about his temperament after being unable to detail his policy positions in several interviews.

While a strong launch hardly preordains campaign success, a smart debut can reap more than media buzz. Cruz raised $4 million in the eight days after his speech formally announcing his candidacy. He was the first to get in, too.

"They're going to come fast and furious," Brabender said.

Deciding on timing isn't just about avoiding collisions with other candidates or positioning for fundraising. When former Texas Gov. Rick Perry made his debut in 2012, it was just six weeks after his team started preparing for his run.

Four years later, Perry has spent months visiting early primary states. He has boned up on policy and carefully plotted his entry into the race.

Yet even with enough time to plan, success isn't guaranteed. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s campaign launch in 2011 sought the patriotic backdrop of the Statue of Liberty. But the images of Huntsman were marred. A tour boat passed by during his speech. And planes were buzzing overhead. His campaign never caught on with voters.

"Campaign launches can make or break a Presidential Campaign. Trust me!" his daughter, MSNBC host Abby Huntsman, recently wrote on Twitter.

"How I wish we could redo that day for team Huntsman in 2012."

Critical thinking challenge: What is a soon-to-be has-been?

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  • VanessaC-3
    4/25/2015 - 02:36 p.m.

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