What is an Exploratory Committee?

Sherry Holetzky
Sherry Holetzky
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An exploratory committee is just what it sounds like, a committee that is set up to explore the idea of becoming a candidate in the presidential election. Forming an exploratory committee is frequently referred to as “testing the waters.” The exploratory committee works to determine if a prospective candidate can expect enough support to make the effort of seeking the nomination worthwhile. Besides voter support, the exploratory committee also investigates whether or not a potential candidate will in fact be able to raise the kind of money necessary to run an effective campaign.

It takes a lot of money to launch a viable, competitive campaign these days. Some candidates simply cannot raise the necessary millions of dollars. If the exploratory committee projects an inability to raise essential campaign funds, the potential candidate will then announce that he or she does not intend to run after all. Others will learn that they are in a good position to continue a campaign and will announce that they are running. This usually occurs closer the primary election.

An exploratory committee is also a good avenue for raising funds. Candidates aren’t generally required to disclose monies obtained and spent during the exploratory committee phase. Only after announcing his or her actual candidacy is each person required to fully account for funds.

The exploratory committee phase also provides other opportunities for prospective candidates, such as frequently being the beneficiary of free airtime. Long before primary elections are held, the media will begin speculating as to who will run for office. Some political strategists will then begin dropping hints about the possible formation of an exploratory committee by their client, in order to get coverage. If a candidate then forms an exploratory committee, it adds excitement to the news reports, garnering the potential candidate even more attention from the media.

News services will continue to gauge the progress of the candidate and speculate as to his or her ability to be a contender. This of course helps keep his or her name in the news, and all this extra attention is usually very beneficial for candidates with an exploratory committee. It is helpful not only because of the free publicity but also because it offers a better test for voters’ enthusiasm, or lack thereof, toward the candidate. It also helps determine how popular a candidate might be as compared to other hopefuls.

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Discussion Comments


@KaBoom - I share a different perspective. I think it's important to pay attention to the acts of the candidates from day one.

What if someone says one thing during an interview when they've formed an exploratory committee but haven't officially ran? Then later they say another? That's pretty wishy-washy, but unless you were following along from the beginning you would totally miss it!


I have to admit, I don't pay very close attention to any of the candidates until it gets closer to the primaries. I just don't have time to keep up with politics, so I don't follow along with the early phases of the presidential election where people have exploratory committees and such.

Also, it seems kind of counter-productive to get really attached to candidates when they are in the exploratory committee phase. Because most of them don't get to run anyway!


Don't all politicians want more people to at least "think" about running for the president of the United States.

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