How do we love thee? In New Hampshire, candidates count the ways.

February 9, 2016

Candidate Marco Rubio greets supporters on voting day in Bedford, New Hampshire, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Emily Flitter & Grant Smith

New Hampshire’s primary election results won’t just show which U.S. presidential candidates voters in the state liked best. They’ll also offer a look at which of three distinct campaign styles turned out to be most effective in swaying the state’s notoriously demanding electorate. The eight candidates seeking the Republican nomination have applied conflicting philosophies to the task of turning out New Hampshire voters, and one of the results is that the contest, on primary day, looks wide open.

“What’s been interesting to me is how much I’ve been hearing optimistic talk from every campaign,” said Doug Heye, a strategist in Washington who isn’t working for any of the candidates.

“I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more tamping down of expectations,“ Heye said. “Everything on TV or in phone calls has been candidates feeling good about their position.”

Indeed, reports on Tuesday showed a jubilant Jeb Bush, after the former Florida governor came in second in the late-breaking Emerson College poll, while Ohio Governor John Kasich was crowing over his wins in the tiny villages of Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location. The Dixville vote has correctly predicted the overall winner in New Hampshire each year since 1968.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, finishing his marathon New Hampshire campaign, was betting his 72 days in the state, more than any other candidate would pay off. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was still hoping the momentum he gained from a strong finish in Iowa would help him in the Granite State, and front-runner Donald Trump, whose lead in the state’s polls has held fairly steady for weeks, appeared to be feeling fine at a rally Monday night in Manchester.

So many candidates, so many different ways to court the voters. On Tuesday afternoon, New Hampshire Republican strategist Dave Carney laid them out for Reuters. Here are Carney’s categories:

 

‘BLOCK AND TACKLE’

Bush and former HP Chief Executive Carly Fiorina have each had significant, old-fashioned “ground games” in New Hampshire, with offices where volunteers organize get-out-the-vote drives, call voters and plan events in the state. Carney, whose wife is the state director for the outside spending group supporting Fiorina’s campaign, said the two candidates have had presences in the state since long before the others arrived. There were staffers and volunteers from Fiorina’s group, a SuperPAC called CARLY for America, marching in dozens of small-town summertime parades, even when the candidate herself could not be there.

Bush, meanwhile, has spent more on rent in New Hampshire than any other candidate. His campaign has paid almost $53,000 (up to Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports) for brick-and-mortar locations, compared to the next-highest spender, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, at $38,000.

Carney’s prediction: Bush and Fiorina are going to do better in Tuesday’s primary than people expect. Caveat: Expectations for both candidates have been pretty low.

 

‘DIGITAL STRATEGY’

Another group of candidates, Rubio, Cruz and Kasich, haven’t kept nearly as much of a ground presence as Fiorina and Bush, but they’ve been using data analysis and digital advertising to try to identify voters who could be convinced to support them and then motivate them to go to the polls. That doesn’t mean they haven’t had volunteers on the ground.

Last Wednesday, with less than a week to go before the vote, Rubio made four campaign stops, and volunteers waited at the close of each of his town halls with clipboards trying to sign as many attendees up as possible to volunteer for the campaign – or at least allow themselves to be contacted with reminders to vote.

Carney said he thought part of the reluctance of these candidates to come to New Hampshire earlier and have more staff on the ground came from skittishness that developed after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, an early favorite for the Republican nomination, dropped out after just 72 days on the campaign trail, caught in a strategic corner after heavily overspending. From what he saw, this group tried to bolster their presence in the state with ads and endorsements, perhaps to make up for the traditional “ground game” elements that were missing.

 

A FAMILIAR FACE

A third group of candidates, the retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Trump and Christie, spent the least on physical presences in New Hampshire. Carson’s campaign was disorganized and he seemed to make only a halfhearted effort to win over voters. But Trump and Christie both tried, and though their campaigns appeared to be very different, they both relied on the same thing: The candidate, in the flesh.

Christie spent the most time in New Hampshire. The next most-present candidate in the state was Kasich, who was there for 70 days. For Christie, this was an all-in. His anemic fundraising meant he couldn’t pay for a big ground operation, but he still saw New Hampshire as one of his best chances to capture real, national momentum. So, as Carney saw it, he seemed to just show up – everywhere.

“He basically had an advance and crowd-building operation for his dozens and dozens and dozens of events,” Carney said. But when it came to a ground game, “he just didn’t have the resources.”

Trump, who likes to boast about his personal wealth, also appeared to put less effort into his ground operations. He had three organizing offices and spent $20,000 on rent up to Dec. 31, campaign filings show. But a visit to his Keene, NH office last week found it empty, except for the field representative in charge, who ordered a reporter to leave and said she usually kept the door locked. When asked about his plans to do retail politicking in January, Trump said he preferred to hold big rallies where he could reach thousands of people at once.

As the votes are tallied, results will begin to emerge showing which of these three strategies worked best. Pundits will cite the differences to try to explain the outcomes of the New Hampshire vote. But the campaign staffers themselves will likely look at them for another reason: They’ll be a style guide for the next primaries in South Carolina, Nevada and beyond.

 

 

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