In recent conversations with nearly a dozen unaffiliated Iowa GOP veterans, a consensus has emerged across the party’s ideological spectrum: The state’s caucus-goers are interested in Rubio, but his infrequent appearances and paltry field operation leave lingering doubts as to whether he is interested in them.
The weakness of Rubio’s campaign organization is one of several reasons why he isn’t likely to do all that well once the voting begins. It is understandable that he hasn’t been able to build an organization in the early states because of his relatively low fundraising, but that itself shows how limited his support has been so far. The odd thing is that Rubio’s lack of a ground game seems to be a deliberate gamble that it isn’t necessary:
On the campaign trail, Marco Rubio is calling for a “new American century.” He’s also running a different type of campaign, one that eschews spending on policy staffers, field operations, and other traditional aspects of a winning bid in favor of television advertising and digital outreach [bold mine-DL].
One could say that this is making a virtue out of necessity, but it is really just evidence of poor campaign strategy. Favoring “digital outreach” over field operations sounds a lot like the ill-fated Howard Dean campaign. Dean received lots of attention in the months leading up to Iowa because of the enthusiasm that he was generating among progressive activists, especially among the nascent “netroots,” but when it came to organization and getting people to show up for him at the caucuses his campaign evidently hadn’t done the necessary work. Dean’s campaign failed to live up to the hype, and Rubio’s seems set up to do the same. One important difference between Dean and Rubio at this point is that there were some real reasons to think Dean was his party’s front-runner, and there aren’t any reasons to believe the same of Rubio.
The Rubio campaign seems to think that because Santorum and Huckabee prevailed in the last two Iowa contests that they don’t need to have much of a presence to be competitive, but that ignores how much time and effort those two put in wooing supporters in the state. It also ignores that Santorum and Huckabee were able to rely on supporters in the state’s churches to do a lot of their organizing for them because they were actively seeking support from social and religious conservatives in a way that Rubio isn’t. Rubio simply isn’t making the same effort:
Rubio, by contrast, has rarely left the Des Moines area for campaign events, and Republicans have taken to joking that he is running for mayor of Ankeny, the Des Moines suburb where his state headquarters is located.
That neglect of most of the state seems unlikely to deliver Rubio a win or even a good result in February. It is possible that his organization is poor enough in these early states that he could end up finishing behind candidates that he and everyone else have already written off.