The Washington Post

The death of the political concession call is upon us

It's the political equivalent of shaking hands at the end of the big game. But the concession call may be falling out of vogue more and more. Just ask D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who just won the Democratic nomination for mayor.


D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Briefing reporters Wednesday, Bowser said she still had not spoken with Mayor Vincent C. Gray, whom she defeated in Tuesday's primary. It's not the first time a runner-up has declined to make the congratulatory call to the winning candidate that has long been customary. You don't have to reach back far into history to find at least a pair of other high-profile candidates who refused to pick up the phone.

After losing to now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) after a bruising 2013 campaign, Republican Ken Cuccinelli never made the call. Two weeks after the election, Cuccinelli still appeared to harbor negative feelings. He explained to The Washington Post that it was McAuliffe's conduct during the campaign that prompted him to buck tradition. The Republican pointed to claims that he would outlaw common forms of birth control which he said were false.

Hard feelings could also be felt a mile away in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. After wins in the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida, eventual nominee Mitt Romney never heard from former speaker Newt Gingrich.

"The other candidates all called," Romney told NBC's "Today" at the time. "I guess Speaker Gingrich doesn’t have our phone number."

Ouch. Romney said he called to congratulate Gingrich after he won South Carolina. Ouch x 2. Gingrich's explanation for his silence? Romney didn't deserve a call.

A refusal to make nice is more notable after a primary than it is following a general election. The day after winning the party's nod, candidates need to unite their party behind them. Any signs of lingering rifts could threaten to undercut their standing heading into the general election and make them look weak.

It's not like the conversations that do happen mean all that much. As Mark Leibovich wrote in the New York Times in 2010, they are often superficial exchanges. But not going though the motions -- especially in the age of Twitter and other social media that have applied an extra layer of scrutiny on campaigns -- instantly threatens to open a candidate up to charges of sour grapes.

The concession call isn't going away overnight. None of the above examples would be notable unless the obligatory conversations still happened in the vast majority of cases.

But the next time a candidate loses a high stakes campaign, don't think they will automatically pick up the phone.

[posttv url="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/local/bowser-still-waiting-for-mayor-grays-call/2014/04/02/b9b9158c-ba9b-11e3-80de-2ff8801f27af_video.html" ]

 

Must-reads:

"Supreme Court ruling gives small number of wealthy donors new ways to drive campaigns" -- Matea Gold, Washington Post

"The End of Campaign Finance Reform?" -- Scott Bland and Alex Roarty, National Journal

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
New Hampshire primary: What to expect
New Hampshire will hold a traditional primary just eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Polling in the Granite state has historically been volatile in the final weeks before the primary. After the Iowa caucuses, many New Hampshire voters cement their opinions.
The Post's Ed O'Keefe says ...
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled. At the least, the developments have mostly silenced talk of a hasty exit and skittish donors.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.