Person-to-person, door-to-door campaigning historically has propelled candidates to victory in the presidential caucuses/primary of Iowa and New Hampshire. But this time around, it looks different — so far.
Most of the candidates leading the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire have spent little time there, Politico
reports. And most of the candidates who have established the biggest personal presence there trail in the polls.
So you have Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain near the top in Iowa and New Hampshire, despite spending more time promoting their own projects than campaigning in those states. And Mitt Romney is near the top in Iowa, although he has largely avoided the state until now.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum hasn’t gained traction with his tour of 99 counties in Iowa. And Jon Huntsman hasn’t tallied above 10 percent in New Hampshire polls, despite announcing his 100th event there this week. Michele Bachmann also has spent a great deal of time in Iowa, but has seen her fortunes sag since winning the Iowa Straw Poll in August.
On the other hand, Ron Paul represents an exception to this rule. He has spent months campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, and his poll numbers are starting to improve.
But what’s happening in general is that candidates have been able to introduce themselves to the nation through free media coverage and debates rather than campaigning on the ground. Cain has been a near constant presence on Fox News, which undoubtedly helped his popularity.
The exposure candidates receive through cable TV news programs lessens the need for them to reach out to local media in Iowa and New Hampshire, says Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Politics.
“You don’t have to sit down with the Des Moines Register editorial board in order to reach Iowa voters. It helps to go on WMUR to talk to the people of New Hampshire, but there’s a lot of other ways to reach them too,” he told Politico.
Rick Perry has virtually flamed out his campaign with weak performances in debates, while Romney has reinforced his front-runner status, and Gingrich has revived his campaign with strong performances in the debates.
“There’s no question there’s been less retail-level political activity in the early states,” Matt Strawn, chairman of Iowa’s Republican Party, told Politico. The debates and multi-candidate events like the Family Leader conference for social conservatives this past weekend have provided voters with one-stop shopping for candidates.
And after that conference ended, five of the six candidates who attended made a hasty exit from the state rather than sticking around for Sunday’s church services, where candidates can try to work their magic on evangelical voters.
The dynamic soon could return to feet-on-the-ground campaigning.
“Looking at candidate schedules going forward, it seems at least that that retail level will pick up,” Strawn said. “The opportunity [is there] to still prove that retail politicking matters. I think the story has yet to be written on whether we’re at a ‘new normal’ with regard to retail politicking.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was more emphatic. “I think retail does matter,” he told Politico. “Obviously because there have been so many debates, I think the debates have had more of an impact this time than they have historically. I think the debates and also obviously the [TV] advertising, but retail politics does matter in this state. It’s really going to still come down to who has got the ability to motivate their people.”
Romney will be in trouble if he doesn’t step up his activity in Iowa, Branstad says.
With only two debates scheduled for December, candidates will have plenty of time to visit Iowa and New Hampshire. The Iowa caucuses are being held Jan. 3, and the New Hampshire primary a week later.
Gingrich is stepping up his on-the-ground campaigning. He plans to spend about 30 more days in Iowa before the caucuses, which are only 43 days away, his spokesman, R.C. Hammond, told Politico.
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