The forever campaign

It's beginning to feel a lot like...

I'm announcing today that I am exploring the possibility of establishing an exploratory committee to decide whether to run for the presidency of the United States in 2016. This will enable me, as a legal matter, to start hinting to people that I might soon be asking them for money that I might need if I indeed decide to run for the presidency.

I know what a lot of you are thinking. That guy Martinez, he's way too late. Has he no idea just how front-loaded the presidential nomination process will be by 2016? He should have entered that race in 2006!

It's a scary prospect, I acknowledge—no, no, not a Martinez presidency, but the incessant march to start presidential races earlier each cycle.

Just look at us now. The Iowa caucus is still 337 days away, and the general election isn't happening for another 627 days. Yet you'd think judgment day is around the corner, given the number of announced candidates, their frenetic fundraising and the level of media attention. Candidates are under intense pressure to come up with specific plans (on Iraq, for starters) to address facts on the ground that may or may not still be operative in a couple of years, when they hope to be handed the keys to Air Force One.

George Bush cooked up his tax cuts so far in advance of his 2001 swearing-in that he had to rebrand them before he got to implement them. What was conceived as a rebate to taxpayers at a time of frothy surpluses eventually was sold as a stimulus for a slowing economy. Perhaps aspiring '08 contenders who want to get ahead of the curve ought to be offering up their withdrawal plans from Iran, not Iraq.

California will likely contribute to the front-loading of the 2008 process. The state Senate has passed (the Assmebly is expected to follow soon) a bill that would move the state's presidential primary from June to early February in 2008. As we recently editorialized, the parties should have established a drawn-out primary schedule that requires candidates to campaign over a period time across the whole nation—as opposed to having a nominee selected by mid-February—and gives different regions an important role in the process. That didn't happen, our editorial acknowledged, and if it is going to be a free-for-all, we might as well have the nation's biggest state in the middle of it.

Candidates love coming to California to raise funds from Hollywood celebs and Sillicon Valley venture capitalists, but it'll be nice to have them stay a while and force them to take into account California sensibilities and reality. It's far preferable to have candidates pander to California when they formulate policies on such issues as stem cell research, global warming and immigration reform than it is to have them pander solely to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The downside, of course, is that placing California and other big states at the front of the nominating line will make it all the more difficult for any latecomers to enter the process with any chance of succeeding. And why lament the longer odds for late entrants? Because you have to wonder about the sanity of people eager to spend years campaigning full-time for the presidency.

There is nonetheless, I should disclose, a great deal of self-interest at play in my desire to have California be a player in this game. For the first time since 1972, as we announced last June, the L.A. Times will be endorsing a candidate for president in 2008.(Check out a 1976 article by the late David Shaw on the LA Times' non-endorsement stance.) From the parochial perspective of the LA Times editorial page, moving the California primary from June to February means going from possibly meeting none of these candidates to hear them on the issues, to potentially having to give some of them temporary office space in the building.

The editorial board already met with Bill Richardson, New Mexico's governor, a few days after he announced he was in the race (to be fair, our invitation preceded his announcement). "I am just getting into this so I don't have my spiel down yet," Richardson said.

Don't worry, governor, we're just getting into this too. We won't be endorsing anyone for at least another few weeks."

Andrés Martinez is the editorial page editor of The Times.

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