“The bottom line: Regardless of the message the Romney campaign wants to push and the media wants to deliver, this race is just getting started.” - memo from Michael Baker, Gingrich campaign political director, January 30.
I woke up this morning to an “internal campaign memo” mass-blasted to reporters that talked the long game and proportional delegate count. It all just felt so....familiar.
You may have heard that Republicans decided the 2008 Democratic death match was such a great idea, they’ve changed their delegate apportionment rules to increase the odds of this kind of state-by-state slog. Ron Paul’s been pledging one for a while now. And early this morning, that “internal memo” from Newt Gingrich campaign’s political director laid out his team’s road map of the months ahead. For a road that runs through Super Tuesday and March, and leads to the April vote in Texas and beyond.
So my first reaction was a PTSD flash to the period four years ago when those of us in the Political Unit went five months without a single full day off (cue tiny violins). My second thought, once the queasiness wore off: Huzzah! More frequent flier miles for everyone. I know one producer who earned enough points last time around for a free three-week vacation.
But as appealing as the thought of Puerto Rico in March might be (A note to my boss: they vote March 18. I think we should embed now and beat the rush), this isn’t 2008.
Back then, heading into a long month of small-bore caucus contests, it was the insurgent candidate who had the advantage on the ground. Barack Obama’s team had started organizing in caucus states months in advance of the actual votes - learning the vagaries of, say, the “Texas Two-Step” process, and setting up a grassroots infrastructure that not only captured those primary season contests, but suggested to party leaders that the campaign was capable of transitioning seamlessly to a general election operation in those states. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had to scramble to become competitive in new battlegrounds where they’d never dreamed of a primary season challenge.
This time around, it’s the insurgent who has to scramble. Newt Gingrich didn’t even open his Iowa offices until just weeks before the caucuses - and as Hillary Clinton learned the hard way, you can’t crash-prep a caucus operation. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t just have the extra advantage of tapping into his 2008 network. He’s still got the resources to overwhelm Gingrich on the airwaves and on the ground.
Then there’s the demographic challenge. The early Obama campaign strategy depended in large part on drawing previously uninvolved voters - young people and independents - into the Democratic primary process. This year, the Republican primary field’s got a candidate drawing those blocs too: Ron Paul.
What about Tea Party voters? Well, most of them are just Republicans or traditionally Republican-leaning independents who are voting the way those conservative voters always have. In early contests, they haven’t been a major factor on the ground or in the voting booth, generally splitting along similar lines as other conservative blocs. In fact, the latest Florida Quinnipiac poll, released this morning, actually shows Romney beating Gingrich among Tea Party voters. And evangelicals. And conservatives.
Of course, we learned last time around an underfunded campaign can ride a grassroots wave for a very long time in a Republican primary (just ask Mike Huckabee.) But we probably shouldn’t book that ticket to San Juan just yet.
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