How Much Do Candidates Matter?

by Patrick Appel

Bernstein fears that we are about to find out:

Candidates aren't completely irrelevant.  The statistical models don't capture everything that happens (and don't claim to); it's certainly very possible that a good candidate could do a bit better than a lousy one.  But absent something spectacular, that's apt to be in the range of a percentage point or two.

Now, the one thing to add to this, and getting back to Palin, is that so far all the major party nominees -- at least in the era for which we have good enough data to run the models -- have been more or less adequate ... Sarah Palin, on the other hand...we've never had a nominee anything like what she would be. 

We've had nominees with weak polling numbers, but nothing anywhere close to her unpopularity.  We've had candidates who didn't seem to have learned much beyond the basics of public policy, but she appears (still, at this late date) to be a step or two below the worst we've seen on that score.  I don't recall anyone who was nominated after the sorts of ethics difficulties she's had; I don't recall anyone who was nominated with such little experience (and, yes, Obama in 2008 was relatively inexperienced, but not as much as she is).  Despite all that, she certainly could wind up (were she nominated) doing about as well as a generic Republican as conservative as she is would do, but it does seem to me that there's a huge amount of potential downside here that Republicans would be nuts to risk. 

Of course, Republicans would also be nuts to nominate her because, should she actually win, they'd have a disaster in the White House.

She is starting to build a political operation.