Campaign-watching is a great hobby that I heartily recommend to anyone with boundless time on their hands and no big goals in their life. It’s a little like bird-watching except that instead of watching out the bay window or taking treks into the forests, you can watch the news at home.

For those of you new to the sport, here are a few things that are useful to know.


We’re just now rounding the first turn in the presidential race, with the conventions behind us. Next up: not much. Between now and Labor Day, the country will more or less doze quietly in beach chairs, more concerned with hamburgers and hot dogs than politics and scandals.

The campaigns will keep going round the clock and through the summer, of course. And so will the media. But they’ll be playing to sparse audiences until about a week after school starts and everyone reluctantly settles back into normal life.

A few weeks back I urged people to take advantage of this time to relax and enjoy the summer. There’ll be plenty of time this fall for us to learn what we need to know about this critical election. I got a surprising number of people thanking me for giving them the OK to goof off for a while. And, of course, a few people who sounded a lot like that noise in your phone when you accidentally call a fax number.



One species never stops singing and displaying, all year long. They’re the “Hardenus Politicos,” known informally as “the whack jobs,” who can be found at the feeder of their favorite partisan media outlet every morning, bulking up for the day. They’ll spend most of their waking hours squawking insults at each other on the internet and making absolutely final and irrefutable predictions based on what they hope will happen. None of it will have the least effect on the election.

Each season produces a new crop of “Newbians Polianus,” drawn to a stirring candidate’s call or an attractive issue.

Two varieties of Newbians are most commonly observed. The first is composed of good-hearted people who are so earnest it can cause furrows to prematurely appear on their foreheads.

They are somehow part of the same species of the other “newbies,” which likes to blow air horns in crowded elevators. They also like to plaster their car, house, family, friends and pets with bumper stickers, which is helpful for spotting them at a distance so you can cross the street in time.



Despite the fevered daily displays of campaigns, most voters don’t pay much attention until the fall, when a low chatter will begin at the local café or diner. Interest will spike around the debates and when candidates stumble or make mistakes, especially in the last two weeks before the election.


Lots of people think candidates win or lose elections in the final weeks of the campaign. But a surprising number of campaigns are lost in the early stages. That’s when someone decides to run but doesn’t know why. A weak staff is assembled. Volunteers aren’t energized. Money isn’t raised. The message makes no sense. The effects may not be immediately apparent, but they tend to show themselves later in the race.

The Trump campaign, over the last eight weeks, offers an illustration. After gaining the nomination five weeks ahead of Hillary Clinton, instead of laying a foundation, his campaign spent most of its time insulting and threatening other Republicans and allowing Clinton to vastly outraise and out-organize them.

The results began to show in the Republican convention, which was notable for sloppy plagiarizing, the absence of any Republican stars and a Cruz non-endorsement.

The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, spent that time raising money, building organizations in battleground states, negotiating a smart deal with Sanders and enlisting just about every famous living Democrat to speak at their generally-successful convention.


Early stage stumbles certainly don’t decide the outcome of the season, but they can easily create the next problem and then the next.


What polls measure, at this point in the campaigns, is who was in the news last week. Presidential polling is especially bad during the summer, when people aren’t really paying attention and the conventions cause wild swings in the numbers. The polls will be a lot more useful after Labor Day, especially in the critical swing states.

For now, put the binoculars on the shelf and enjoy August while you can!

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]

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