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Running for president has benefits—even if you lose

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A pedestrian walks past a sign for the Iowa Caucuses on a downtown skywalk, in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 4, 2020.

NewsNation, July 2023

The race to the White House is a grueling one for presidential candidates of any party, with months of campaigning, travel  and all the attention that comes with it. With 2024 looming, there are already numerous Republican primary candidates, including frontrunners former president Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Two Democrats, Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are running against incumbent President Joe Biden, and a third-party hopeful, academic Cornel West recently announced his presidential ambitions. In an already-crowded race, some may wonder why political hopefuls throw their hat in the ring at all, especially if they’re not polling well.

“Certainly, all of these people get into the race because they actually think they can win,” Todd Belt, a professor and director of political management at George Washington University, said. “They’re in it to win it. If not this time, then maybe next time.” Added Belt: “Nobody really runs for president thinking, ’Oh, I might be able to be vice president or I might get a cabinet position.’” However, that’s sometimes what happens. Notably, Vice President Kamala Harris, then a senator, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, once a Midwestern mayor, both ran in the Democratic primary in 2020 before getting to their current positions.

Political experts NewsNation talked to said there are some incentives in running for president  even if with a long-shot campaign. “You never know what may happen and who might break through for whatever reason,” Costas Panagopoulos, a professor and chair of political science at Boston’s Northeastern University, said. “There are lots of developments that can happen on the campaign trail. Even those who don’t nab a presidential nomination can benefit from national visibility and financial backing from donors.”

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