The long road to the presidency has to begin somewhere; that place technically being Philadelphia over 200 years ago. There, during an abnormally hot and muggy summer, the framers set forth the qualifications that all future presidents of the United States must meet in Article II Section one of the Constitution. They deemed that the head of the executive branch must be a natural born citizen of at least 35 years, and that person must have lived in the country for a minimum of 14 years. This automatically takes a number of people out of the running, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Coldplay, and babies everywhere.
Upon deciding that they are prepared to take on the pressures of the job and assuring themselves that they meet the prerequisites, a potential president would then begin to hire consultants and start forming political action committees (PACs), which are federally authorized, formally registered fund-raising committees that represent interest groups in the political process. These effectively expand the potential candidate’s visibility across the nation and help raise much- needed funds. However, upon exceeding $5,000 in contributions or expenditures, that individual must declare candidacy by registering with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and within the following 15 days, that person must file a statement of candidacy, which would allow their campaign committee to raise and spend funds on their behalf.
Now, the nomination campaign officially begins, which is the point where we are right now in our 2012 election for the presidency. The key during this stage in the process is to target the party leaders and the activists who will end up choosing the nominees in the primaries and conventions for their respective party. The party leaders will be concerned with a candidate’s electability, so they will generally be on the prowl for someone who is more on the moderate side of the spectrum who will be able to appeal to the independents in the general election. At the same time, the party activists will be more ideologically and issue-oriented when selecting candidates; these are people who are very loyal to the party and are generally toward the far left or far right. A candidate must strive to strike a balance between appearing moderate so as to be more electable during the general election, and appealing to the extreme party activists who will vote for him or her in the primary election.
It is also at this point in the race to the presidency when candidates must seek the support of interest groups, raise funds and appear as if they have a lot of support. The Bi-partisan Campaign Reform Act puts limits on campaign fund-raising and outlaws the use of soft money entirely, which is essentially unregulated money. It also puts limitations on the dollar amount donated. Most contributions come from individuals, but some come from PACs, and a candidate can eventually get money from the national and state committees of the Democratic or Republican parties. They can also get funding from personal contributions and public funds (donations from tax revenue for the campaigns of qualifying presidential candidates). These are all forms of hard money, which are fundamentally legal and regulated contributions.
The next step in the process is to put the campaigning into full throttle. By using media such as the Internet and television, a candidate is able to broadcast his or her message to voters all across the nation, whether through debates or advertisements. They also hold rallies, town hall meetings, give speeches, hold interviews and employ the aid of volunteers and grassroots organizations. After several months of this, the candidate will reach the party primaries and caucuses. Most states have closed primaries, in which only voters registered for that specific party may vote on the candidate they wish to represent the party. The caucus system is only used by a few states,which hold meetings open to registered voters of the party where delegates to the party’s national convention are chosen.
When the whole primary process is over, delegates congregate in order to nominate a candidate for elective office to represent their political party. At the party conventions, the final presidential and vice presidential candidates of the general election are selected. After copious amounts of advertising, campaigning, and of course, mudslinging, Election Day will eventually come, when the electorate will vote.
During the general election, citizens of each state will vote for the candidate they would like to become the president. Because we have a winner-take-all system, the candidate who wins the plurality of votes in a state is effectively awarded all of that state’s votes in the Electoral College. Subsequent to the citizens voting, the Electoral College will meet in order to select the president. The Electoral College is a formal institution established in Article II Section one, in which each state is assigned a number of electoral votes based upon the number of senators and representatives that state has in Congress. Thus, the 538 electors (three extra electors are added on to the tally of congressmen in order to represent the District of Columbia) cast their votes and the candidate who wins an absolute majority of 270 votes or more wins the office. If no candidate receives enough votes to fulfill the constitutional requirement, the election is decided by the House of Representatives, in which each state in the house gets one vote. After the dust settles, one candidate will become the 45th president of the United States of America.