The GOP’s grassroots organization in battleground states will get little benefit from the presidential primary extending far beyond Super Tuesday. The remaining candidates are picking their battles and, in some cases, failing to organize in states that will be crucial to the eventual nominee’s chances of defeating President Obama.
Back in 2008, Democrats benefited from their long-running primary duel between then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Obama. As the two competed across states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, their campaigns made voter IDs and recruited activists. These contacts were then passed off to the state parties or used in the general when Obama lined up against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). This grassroots spade work enhanced the Democrats’ organizational strength.
This cycle, Republicans may not see the same return on their investment, in part, because their presidential candidates are fighting an asymmetric conflict. While Ohio has been a battleground between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, other crucial Super Tuesday states have been virtually untouched by the competition.
“Santorum’s grassroots team is deployed heavily in Oklahoma, and Newt is putting all of his team’s efforts into Georgia, but other states like North Dakota, Massachusetts, [and] Virginia [do] not have a heavy presence,” says Phillip Stutts, a GOP consultant. “As a guy who’s played the delegate game, I’m still amazed by the utter disorganization of the Santorum and Gingrich camps to not get on the ballot in Virginia.
“It’s an unforgivable move,” Stutts adds. “Frankly, it show’s why money [and] organization matters — Romney has it and will win the nomination because of it.”
Republicans remain confident that Romney’s extended public vetting will help his candidacy. But the primary was also a chance for the GOP to inject energy into its grassroots, which has lost enthusiasm since 2010. Turnout is down and an anemic competition that drags into the spring will do little to boost it.