Campaign fundamentals matter. Months before Ted Cruz declared he was running for President, he was outlining a path to victory in private meetings with skeptical conservatives. I know very few who came out of those meetings still doubting Cruz could win. Cruz has been methodically and systematically sticking to the path he mapped out. He has met turbulent and unforeseen circumstances and approached them from the strategy his team mapped out prior to Cruz’s entry into the race, which is a campaign fundamental. His approach has not been flying by the seat of his pants; his team has put in the effort to build up an army of support; they have put in amazing time trying to figure out how to connect to voters increasingly unplugged; and I think right now it leaves him best positioned for the nomination.
Campaign fundamentals matter. They have always mattered. Donald Trump is running advertisements because campaign fundamentals still matter. He has begun a data plan because campaign fundamentals matter. Did I mention campaign fundamentals matter?
The process of identifying and engaging voters is how candidates get elected. Primaries are different from the general election because the whole nation votes on the same day in November. But each state has its own primary. The dynamics are different. Some award delegates proportionally. Some are winner-take-all.
As more and more Americans turn to satellite radio, unplug from traditional television, and rely on mobile devices, campaigns have a more difficult time connecting with voters. The basic rule remains not just the same, but more important that ever. Voters who connect with a live person, in a face to face conversation, about a candidate, are more likely to remember and vote for that candidate than voters who are connected by phone calls, robocalls, advertisements, or mail.
In a cacophony of information, media, and noise on a daily basis, people remember the person at their door step more than they remember that ad they saw on Google. They are even more likely to remember the person who talked to them about the issues they care about the most. Into that environment, the campaigns are building massive data operations to identify voters who will go vote and to identify what issues motive those voters.
Looking at the lay of the land right now, Team Cruz, which combines his campaign and super PAC structure, seems to have the best data operation to identify, target, and steer voters. In fact, I have heard credible rumors that there are multiple data operations at play with an essential free market approach — the guys who produce the best and most accurate data are going to win. Team Cruz, in making the data competitive, makes the data better.
In addition to an impressive fundraising operation and a well produced first ad from the campaign that sets him apart with a message that resonates, both Cruz and the super PACs supporting Cruz are pouring money into ground game operations. They are mobilizing not just in Iowa, but in the SEC primary as well. It comes at a time that Cruz’s state by state poll numbers are increasing, which will translate into a national polling increase.
None of the other campaigns and related super PACs has poured as much into both identifying voters and getting supporters on doorsteps to talk about the issues that matter to the individual voters. Even more importantly, other campaigns have offloaded that capacity in some cases to super PACs that they cannot coordinate with. That means those campaigns are flying blind.
There has not been a surge in new voter registrations, there has not been a surge in active engagement by people on the outside, and there are few other signs that Donald Trump has the capacity to drive his newly interested non-traditional voters to do something they have never bothered to do before: vote. Correspondingly, the Rubio ground game is anemic — so anemic his supporters have spun that Rubio is running a national race. A national race does little good when some states vote on Saturdays and not all states vote on the same day. All this gives Cruz an advantage people dazzled by the glitz of media spectacle ignore, but those of us who understand campaign fundamentals appreciate.
I think Cruz still has the advantage and that is not going to change unless Rubio wins New Hampshire.