Looking back to 2008 it looks like Mitt Romney has been running for President ever since he was in the 2008 Republican primaries where he lost to John McCain. Considering a short stoppage while McCain was the Republican candidate, and supposing that Mitt Romney started his campaign again soon after Obama won, I know it was soon after but don't have the date, that would make him one of the longest running candidates - about 4 years.

Are there any other cases where a Presidential campaign in the US has gone on as long, or longer, or is about 4 years the longest on record? This should be an individual running non-stop within a single political party, in an attempt to be their nominee for President.

  • That is how I am defining "start", but I also look at it as if you are going to get on the ballot for a primary you have to be a declared candidate otherwise you cannot gain delegates at the party conferences. Which would have to be a goal to be a candidate and campaign; I am eliminating campaigns like Donald Trump that might have started and stopped without a serious intention to continue.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 14:41
  • Are Sasha and Malia already running by anybody's definition? :)
    – Drux
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 18:53
  • @Drux Yes. Please let me know if my answer is anymore helpful
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 21:01
  • @MichaelF Romney isn't a declared candidate for 2016 yet
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 21:47

3 Answers 3


Anyone can declare that he or she is running for president of the United States. That is essentially unrelated, however, to whether he or she will be placed on the ballot, much less have a chance of winning.

To become president, one must win a majority in the Electoral College, and barring an extraordinary bout of collegiate faithlessness, that means you will need to get electors who support you selected. The selection of electors is largely a matter of state, not federal law, but at the very least, you'll need to qualify for the ballot in every state and the District of Columbia. If you're representing a party, you'll need to be certified as that party's candidate, a process which also depends on state law and party rules.

So, determining the longest-running campaign has numerous answers depending on how you define a candidate: Anyone who declares? Anyone who won delegates? Anyone who got ballot access? Anyone nominated by a party with ballot access in XX% of the states? Anyone who received above XX% of the popular vote in a primary or the general? Anyone who won electoral votes? Anyone who had an actual chance of winning?

Some possibilities include the following:

Major party candidates

  • Theodore Roosevelt 1904 and 1908 (Republican nominee), 1912 (Bull Moose nominee)
  • William Jennings Bryan 1896, 1900 and 1908 (Democratic nominee)
  • Adlai Stevenson II 1952 and 1956 (Democratic nominee), 1960 (Democratic primary)

Candidates who achieved ballot access for at least one state in the general election (as a party nominee or independent)

  • Eugene V. Debs (Socialist) ran in 1904, 1908, 1912, and 1920
  • Ralph Nader (Green) in 1996 and 2000, independent 2004 and 2008
  • Gus Hall (Communist) ran in 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984

Candidates who achieved ballot access for at least one state primary

  • Gov. Harold Strassen in 1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000
  • Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1988, and 1992
  • Prohibitionist Jack Fellure in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012
  • Lyndon LaRouche in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004

Joke candidates

  • TV personality Pat Paulsen ran in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1988, 1992, and 1996 and was placed on the primary ballot several times
  • Interesting points I need to clarify...thanks
    – MichaelF
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 19:47

USA political campaigns are pretty much continuous these days.

Many people blame this on the rise of partisan mass media outlets. I will argue they are quite correct to do so. However, if you look back into history this is really just a return to the way things have historically been.

In the 18th and 19th centuries every major town had newspapers editorially associated with the political parties (which is why most towns used to have at least two big newspapers). These papers would be continuosly brutalizing the other party. For example, one editor in an anti-Fedralist newspaper wrote the following in 1796 after our beloved first president's farewell address (nearly 4 years before the next Presidential election):

If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington. If ever a nation was deceived by a man, the American nation has been deceived by Washington

Objective Journalisim, the idea that a media outlet should report news in a politically neutral way, is pretty much a 20th centrury concept. Cynics claim this change was driven by the need to raise revenue through advertisements. No advertiser wants their product placed next to an article that ticks off a lot of their customers. Partisan propaganda during this period was supposed to be confined to editorial pages, and the direct efforts of the campaigns themselves. Of course spreading your own propaganda yourself is expensive, so politicians typically only bothered to do it right before elections. That left them the balance of their time to do stuff like run the country (if they so chose).

However, it is now the 21st century. The advertised print model of media is dying, and the new online and cable TV outlets find that the best way to get a loyal cadre of eyeballs is to be partisan. So now, for better or for worse, we are back to the old days of media dominated by full-time partisan propaganda outlets.

  • Note: As a card-carrying member of Generation X, "cynic" from me is typically a complement. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 19:59
  • While campaigns tend to be not all Presidential Candidates run actively for a long period of time, they may raise money for a future campaign but they don't really campaign for it. I agree with you about the media though, it's amusing how its gone back to the way it used to be. Many of the Founding Fathers funded newspapers to slander their opponents at one time or another.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 20:12

Mitt Romney is not a declared candidate for president. The length after a declaration to the presidency is always roughly 18 months, but the portion of campaigns after declaration have been going on a few months longer recently as well. The earliest declared candidacy in recent memory is Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign. She declared in late January 2007, so if she had won the primary, she would have been declared for a total of around 21 months.

To answer this question, regarding continuous campaigns, I am going to use a college textbook on how to structure and run a political campaign. It is similar to Econ 101 or Public Policy 101 applied to the study of campaign strategy. The book is called Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practice by Judith S. Trent and doesn't require any background to read. (I highly recommend :))

There are four stages of political campaigns: 1. Surfacing 2. Primaries 3. Nominating Conventions 4. The General Election

A candidate for president may drop out at any of these stages and is running for president during the Surfacing stage, even though they have not "declared" they are running. Declaring is part of the Surfacing stage but it is not the only thing that occurs in the stage. He will restart the process of these stages after dropping out and go back to the Surfacing stage if she still has the will to run for the presidency. Surfacing is very confusing, so here is a more complete explanation: "the series of predictable and specifically timed transactions which serve consummatory and instrumental functions during the preprimary phase of the campaign." (It therefore does not include "grooming" candidates for offices)

These predictable Surfacing activities include: building political organization, fundraising, many kinds of speaking arrangements, awareness raising of the candidate, especially in a attempt to capture the attention of the media, conducting opinion polls to assess visibility and help devise candidate position on issues and platform, and creating campaign blueprints. In this stage, the candidate conducts polls and raises funds to attempt to find out if they have a possibility to win. In the news, you will often see someone like Mitt Romney say he is never considering running one day and the next say he might be running. This is the reason. The Surfacing stage is often used in small or local elections, but due to the costs and time of continuous campaigning that is limited to only higher office. In other words, the local mayor is not always campaigning, even though they use the same strategy.

This continuous strategy became the norm in the 1980s, so broadly speaking I think all candidates for president after about 1985 used a "continuous" campaign strategy, but as early as 1980. The historical reason was reforms to caucus rules of the Democratic and Republican Parties to increase more democratic participation, which started in 1976. In other words, instead of presidential candidates being picked by a handful of party insiders, candidates started being elected by the delegates to the conventions. Therefore, the candidates needed to be popular to more people to win the party primary. Also, these reforms weakened the power of the parties and left a power vacuum that was filled by pollsters, PAC's, and special interest groups. Special interest groups are made up of private citizens that are interested in an issue but do not support a party outright, so the party must offer support to them in order to secure their funding.

I think maybe Ron Paul? He started running for president in 1988. There are many examples of third party candidates having long histories of attempted presidential runs, but Ron Paul achieved national media attention and national ballot access more often. He also was a cross-over to the Republican Party primary. The question is not really answerable since we don't have access to individual politicians' records regarding their campaigns. They might not want us to know if they have been running for the White House for 15 years, but Mitt Romney is certainly not the first to have a long campaign. The official beginning of John McCain's (2008 Republic candidate) surfacing period can be placed at 1998 during his second reelection to the Senate when he declared a public interest in running for the presidency, but the actual beginning date of his Surfacing is unknown.

Reference: Judith S. Trent. Political Campaign Communication. Principles and Practice. 5th Edition.

"Ron Paul." Wikipedia.

  • Technically each campaign per 4 years would be thought a different attempt, just like every season for a Sports Team is a different one.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 23:36
  • No. The stages are continuous. If the candidate drops out at any stage, he starts over. Some candidates do of course retire or decide to campaign for a different office. The explanation is confusing to the public I realize because its meant to seem like its not a continuous process.
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 0:56
  • But the public does have some sense that it seems like candidates campaign forever, but they don't know why, so I wanted to address it, since mostly the reasons given are polemic. The media saturation we live with amplifies or worsens certain effects but it isn't the cause, for instance. Democratization of campaigns means more money in them and ironically more attack ads by PACs.
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 1:05
  • even before a candidate declares himself to be running "surfacing" he's often been trying to build a positive image of him/herself for years, if not decades. And even before that, many will have gone to "all the right schools" and do other things to get themselves known to "the right people" who can help them in the future. Effectively they are already campaigning then possibly decades before they make any public announcement or print their first campaign flyers.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 7:57
  • @jwenting That's "grooming." The campaign process is about doing things very specific things. I will try to expand the answer to help the confusion
    – Razie Mah
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 15:41

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