The candidate with the most robust campaign infrastructure, combined with the right messaging, has typically won in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But across the three lead off states, there’s a subdued feeling among Old Guard Republicans as they prepare to raise the curtain on their party’s nominating contest. The traditional harvest of yard signs has thinned as campaigns place their focus on social media, debate preparation and strategic outreach.
Rather than energetic grassroots politicking, the GOP contest has been defined so far by the dozen or so television debates between the eight leading candidates. In South Carolina, some Republicans are grumbling about the weakest organizational showing they’ve seen since the state became Southern kingmaker in 1980. Strategists in the Granite State, meanwhile, say the mechanics of the campaigns are on par with past cycles, but the rhythm has slowed considerably.
Prior to Herman Cain's abrupt withdrawal from the field, we canvassed some of our own insiders in each state, asked the campaigns for their internal numbers and came up with an operational tip sheet to help you grade each candidate’s ground game.
These figures could fluctuate in the coming days as Cain's former staffers seek to join rival campaigns. Or not, because as one South Carolina operative put it: "They are responsible for what is quite possibly the worst presidential campaign in history.
"I can't imagine a campaign hiring any of Herman Cain's staff," the unaffiliated operative added.
Michele Bachmann: Given her Waterloo roots, Bachmann has spent more time here than anywhere else and it’s basically a must-win. She maintains her most robust organization in Iowa, which helped her win the Ames straw poll and gives her a real shot to capture the Evangelical crowd if she can jumpstart her bid.
Offices: One Paid staff: 12
Newt Gingrich: He had six staffers here in June, but they joined the Gingrich mass exodus. He’s since rehired some staff, including Craig Schoenfeld, who had a stint with the Perry camp. Gingrich plans a big expansion here in the coming weeks.
Offices: One Paid staff: Two to four
Ron Paul: Paul’s fan base has grown since a fifth place finish in 2008 and he could sneak up on his rivals. Some supporters have integrated into the state party structure, even in far-flung counties like Linn. That’s embodied in his vice chairman, A.J. Spiker, who formerly led the Story County GOP.
Offices: At least one Paid staff: Five to 10
Rick Perry: Perry has mounted a serious effort in Iowa, attracting top local talent in the form of consultant Robert Haus and others. He’s recruiting a volunteer “strike force” from around the country to work with precinct-level organizers on caucus night.
Offices: One Paid staff: 10
Mitt Romney: Romney was embarrassed in Iowa after investing heavily there in 2008 only to finish second. He hasn’t built much of an organization this time around, instead focusing on New Hampshire. Still, he’s retained some staff from 2008, notably consultant Sara Craig.
Offices: One Paid staff: Four, including one consultant
Rick Santorum: Santorum had a kind of 9-9 plan when it came to Iowa, campaigning in all the state’s 99 counties. Unclear if he’ll be able to tap into the Evangelical base that supported Huckabee in 2008. He hasn’t attracted big-name talent in Iowa. Put his faith in attorney Cody Brown to lead the state effort.
Offices: One Paid staff: 13
Michele Bachmann: Her scheduling and management style led to clashes with the Granite State team and the entire staff quit en masse in late October. Without a campaign structure, she’s now effectively competing with write-ins in the primary.
Offices: None Paid staff: None
Newt Gingrich: Gingrich has expanded his team in New Hampshire at the expense of Bachmann. Jeff Chidester, Bachmann’s former state director, hopped on the Gingrich bandwagon. And given his Union Leader endorsement, Gingrich’s unorthodox campaign is starting to amass some actual ground troops.
Offices: Three Paid staff: Eight
Jon Huntsman: The Granite State is Huntsman’s last—and only—stand in 2012. He recently held his 100th event in the state. He has enough of an infrastructure to take advantage if he somehow catches fire.
Offices: One Paid staff: 10 to 13 (The state office has more staff, but serves as the campaign’s national HQ.)
Ron Paul: The “Live Free or Die” state is ripe territory for Paul. He’s retained some local talent in the form of consultant Chris Wood, known for maintaining solid relationships with activists. State director Jared Chicoine isn’t as well known, but has been close to the grassroots for almost a decade.
Offices: At least one Paid staff: Four to six
Rick Perry: New Hampshire is the home state of top Perry strategist Dave Carney, who’s just part of his robust organization. Perry walked into the state in August with significant fanfare and built a solid organization practically overnight. Unfortunately for him, Perry’s lackluster debate performances helped blunt any initial momentum.
Offices: One Paid staff: 10
Mitt Romney: This is Romney’s state to lose. He’s maintained a strong organization—and residence—there since 2008 when he finished second. Romney also has one of the state’s top GOP players on his side in the form of Tom Rath. The former state attorney general also advised Romney during his 2008 run. Has the added benefit of bringing in reinforcements from headquarters in nearby Boston.
Offices: One Paid staff: Nine and one consultant
Rick Santorum: Santorum has been a staple on the small house party circuit and he’s backed up by an experienced staff, notably state-based campaign manager Mike Biundo and field director Nick Pappas. The talent is there, but he has yet to inspire beyond the party’s activist base.
Offices: One Paid staff: Five
Michele Bachmann: Bachmann’s focus has largely shifted to Iowa and her South Carolina effort hasn’t been helped by the revolving door that’s characterized her staffing in the state. Has staff on the ground, but no headquarters.
Offices: No headquarters Paid staff: 12
Newt Gingrich: Recently scored a win by hiring operative Delinda Ridings away from the Huntsman campaign. And like other early states, his rise in the polls has meant added infrastructure. His home base is also in neighboring Georgia.
Offices: Three Paid staff: Nine
Jon Huntsman: Made an early play by securing former state GOP Executive Director Joel Sawyer. But he’s recently lost some talent with the defection of staff to Gingrich. He at least has something to build on here if he can manage a solid showing in New Hampshire.
Offices: One Paid staff: Three, including one consultant
Ron Paul: Paul has a base of support here that was established in 2008 but he hasn’t expanded it. Does have an experienced hand running his operation in Brian Gentry, who was there last time around.
Offices: At least one Paid staff: Two to three
Rick Perry: He’s launched an aggressive call program in the state and boasts some experienced staff, including Chris McClure. Also on hand are advisors Walter Whetsell and Katon Dawson. He’s housing his effort in Gov. Nikki Haley’s 2010 campaign office, which some operatives consider a good omen.
Offices: One Paid staff: 11 and two consultants
Mitt Romney: If Romney’s successful here, it will be without having invested in the traditional grassroots infrastructure. His lean South Carolina campaign does include some skilled local hands, though, in field director Patrick Sebastian and advisor David Raad.
Offices: One Paid staff: Three
Rick Santorum: Pretty much Santorum’s second home and his brother lives in Hilton Head. He’s also been here more than any other candidate. Among his advisers—former lobbyist Jim Hirni, who spent “hours” in jail for treating Capitol Hill staffers to a World Series game in 2003.
Offices: One Paid staff: Five