Money, organization and ideology all play major roles in determining primary and caucus outcomes. But the often underestimated act of physically campaigning in a state can be a significant factor as well.
It is a concept immortalized by Nelson Rockefeller in his 1964 presidential primary campaign in Oregon, where his slogan was: “He Cares Enough to Come.” It was an apt description of the personal attention that the New York governor alone devoted to the state among that year’s crop of Republican candidates. And it paid off handsomely. Rockefeller scored a badly needed primary victory before he headed south for a less successful rendezvous with Barry Goldwater in California.
This year, Rick Santorum, has best appropriated the concept, if not the slogan itself. He virtually camped in Iowa during 2011 in advance of his narrow victory there. And the Washington Post reported that on the eve of the caucus voting in Colorado and Minnesota Feb. 7, the number of campaign events by Santorum in each state matched that of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul combined. Santorum carried both states as well as the non-binding primary in Missouri, where again he was the prime participant.
Other candidates this year have sought to parlay the “cares enough to come” theme into victory. Paul nearly succeeded in Maine, where he had already begun campaigning before the Florida primary had been held. He very well could have won the Maine caucuses last weekend if Romney had not made an 11th hour appearance in the state to rally his troops.
To be sure, on the ground campaigning by a candidate tends to have the greatest impact in low-turnout caucus states and smaller primary states. It works best when one candidate largely has the terrain to himself, with a message that can galvanize a large cadre of voters. And it has tended to prove most effective over the years in the states that vote early in the year, which are often held one at a time before massive media buys become necessary to deal with the glut of primaries.
But this year’s spread out nominating calendar and the still crowded Republican field could encourage candidates to “cherry pick” states – by focusing their time and energy on those where they feel they have the best chance of doing well.
That could even apply to Romney, who in spite of his vaunted money and organization, basically by-passed the action in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Who knows, the defining difference in many of these upcoming states could well be who “cares enough to come.”