The Art of the Presidential Rollout

April 25, 2007— -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is running for president. That's no secret, right?

Nonetheless, the Arizona Senator and 2000 contender once again made his intentions clear Wednesday, "officially" announcing his 2008 presidential ambitions at a rally in New Hampshire.

But wait, isn't McCain already in the race?

Since forming a presidential exploratory committee last November, McCain has raised millions, hired staff, refueled the "Straight Talk Express" bus for a tour of critical primary states, and delivered policy speeches on Iraq, energy and the environment.

And if that weren't enough, the senator declared to David Letterman in February, "I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States."

All this, and yet the news this week reads: McCain announces (again).

Double Announcement Dipping

"Life has changed as we know it in national strategic politics," says veteran Democratic strategist Robert Weiner. "It used to be that political candidates could only get airtime on network evening news for one campaign announcement."

Now, says Weiner, candidates are using a variety of media -- including late-night talk shows, Web videos, YouTube, MySpace, blogs and traditional news outlets -- to reach voters.

"This opens up a world of opportunities in the political cycle for varied forms of announcements," says Weiner.

Despite all these new forms of announcing what everyone already knows, the formal campaign announcement is still seen as one of the best ways to generate buzz.

"The announcement day is the one moment that occurs for all the candidates when they have the clearest shot at the voter because the press just reports what happens and what their message is," says Republican pollster David Winston.

Democratic strategist Anita Dunn says some candidates appear to be going to extremes this year because of the early start to the campaign.

"The fact that you have somebody on their third announcement and it's only April speaks to the acceleration of the process more that anything," Dunn says of McCain's announcement.

Explore, Announce, Repeat

Candidates often garner widespread media attention when forming an exploratory committee -- the first step in the long road toward the White House.

But many of the 2008 presidential candidates are employing a new campaign rollout strategy -- making multiple announcements using Web videos, late-night comedy programs and formal campaign launches, to tell voters they're in.

"Every candidate looks for opportunities to get multiple bites at the apple," says David Chalian, political director at ABC News.

McCain "announced" on Letterman's "Late Show," while Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., made his aspirations apparent on the now-defunct Don Imus radio talk show.

In January, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., posted a Web video announcing her exploratory committee. Soon after, Clinton went on an announcement tour in Iowa and New Hampshire, telling voters, "I'm in. And I'm in it to win."

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., just one month after making a similar Web-only announcement, held a campaign rally at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., in February and said, "I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America!"

And after a much-hyped news conference last month, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., announced that he wasn't ready to announce anything.

"I'm here today to announce that my family and I will make a decision on my political future later this year," says Hagel.

Local Splash, National Snore

Political observers say multiple campaign announcements, like McCain's, can reach more voters and may be targeted to reach different types of voters.

"People inside the campaigns and political reporters, and the several thousand people following this closely, laugh at the multiple announcements," says ABC News political analyst Mark Halperin, author of "The Way to Win."

"But most Americans still aren't paying close attention, and so they may have missed the first 17 announcements a candidate makes, and so the candidate says, 'Let's try to get more people on the 18th one,'" says Halperin.

However multiple announcements can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the short attention span of the media.

"The more wink, wink and nod, nod that these guys do in the buildup to this, the less they get the national media attention, because who doesn't think John McCain's running for president at this point?" asks Chalian.

President Bush succeeded in reaching local voters in the 2004 presidential campaign, largely by going over the heads of the national media and getting positive coverage in the local press of key primary states.

McCain's campaign is in need of a dose of positive press. He has been widely criticized in the national press for his policy position supporting the president's troop surge plan in Iraq, and a self-admitted less-than-spectacular first-quarter fundraising haul.

"This is about local coverage, which is usually a little less critical, and this is about splashy pictures in the New Hampshire papers and a splashy video on South Carolina TV and on Iowa TV," says Chalian.

"This will be an opportunity for him to sort of reintroduce himself to these Republicans in these crucial early states and reframe his campaign message as he wants it seen."

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