Narrow Lane To Nomination Will Force Innovative Strategies On The Ground

Matt Robbins President, American Majority
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With primary and caucus season just two months away, questions emerge about whether candidates can turn grassroots momentum from 2015 into an organized and effective field operation that will get out the vote in 2016.

On the GOP side, there are more candidates vying for the nomination than at any other point in modern electoral history. This is the most diverse and sharp field the Party has ever seen. Since most (not all) of the remaining candidates have proven to be media savvy, skilled debaters, and solid fundraisers (with strong Super PAC support), it is hard to see the field shrinking much before the Iowa caucuses on February 1st. Moreover – and contrary to the trend of history – many of these contenders could still be standing a month later, reaching “Super Tuesday,” and beyond.

For these reasons, the nomination will be determined by one factor: the ground game.

At American Majority, we know a thing or two about winning the ground game. For almost a decade, our mission has been to identify and train conservative candidates and grassroots activists to recruit, organize, fundraise, budget, and more. In the 2014 cycle alone, we held 93 training sessions in 21 states and graduated nearly 3,500 activists from our program.

In 2016, we plan to double that number and expand into the battleground states of Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia – laying the groundwork for the eventual nominee.

But the lane to the nomination is narrower than ever, with 12 candidates (at last count) fighting for a finite number of grassroots activists and local leaders. In order to win the ground, candidates must develop a smart, innovative field strategy that invests in advanced hyper-targeting of supporters – who have never volunteered before — to identify (and then engage) those willing to train and become new activists for their campaign organization.

Candidates like Senator Ted Cruz who, realizing the race would extend beyond the first in the nation states, spent his August recess on a bus tour through the South. During this time he identified and recruited key local leaders and activists, many of which are active members of their local party, but have never been tapped for a presidential primary. He now has a grassroots infrastructure and a leg up on the competition in the South.

Senator Marco Rubio, with perhaps the most frugal campaign in the field, is running a clinic on how to utilize free exposure to garner supporters and grow his organization. Senator Rubio has managed to turn a string of stellar debate performances into grassroots gold, harvesting a new generation of young supporters — attentive to his 21st century message — into enthusiastic activists, with the stamina and energy to employ old-fashioned grassroots tactics (door-knocking and phone-dialing) around the clock. Rubio possesses a youth advantage over the rest of the field, comparable to that of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2007.

Governor Jeb Bush’s campaign has also made great strides toward engaging young people. Hoping to appeal to a generation not old enough to remember the presidency of his brother, Governor Bush (or “Jeb!” as the kids call him) has utilized new media and web tactics better than anyone else in the field.

Governor Bush has not traveled to as many states as Senators Cruz and Rubio but with an incredible fundraising advantage, he has hired more staff and opened more field offices. With nearly 40 field staffers and offices in eight early voting states, Bush’s campaign reported over a million direct contacts at the end of last month.

As Bush suffers from a series sub-par debate performances and miscues with the media, a large and organized field operation becomes vital to his success. To this point, he has spent more than any other candidate on media buys, which has yielded next to nothing in added support. To have votes in February, the Bush campaign must re-allocate its extensive resources, pushing more funds to the field and grow his outreach.

To be sure, there are other candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson who have garnered more media attention and are currently atop the polls. But there is little to support the claim that either candidate will have the robust field infrastructure and strategy necessary to mobilize surveyed support and ensure votes.

Additionally, history proves that the GOP has never nominated an outsider comparable to Trump or Carson. Further, much of their support is a byproduct of the current anti-establishment sentiment. At the end of the day, many will place their ballot for the candidate whose campaign spent the most time building relationships with local party leaders and activists, and activating their base of support.

Sure, anything can happen, but the primary and caucuses are rapidly approaching and time is running out on candidates not named Bush, Cruz, or Rubio. In this crowded field, they are best cultivating new volunteers and activists while others struggle to fight for the few that still remain. The other candidates would do themselves a favor to steal a page or two from their playbook.