Wallets Open Wide Despite Changes in Primary Calendar
By Matthew Mosk
Published October 31st 2007 in Washington Post
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's storefront office in this New England hamlet (population 5,892) is one of 16 the New York Democrat has set up with paid staff around the state that is expected to hold the nation's first presidential primary. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), perhaps her strongest challenger for the Democratic nomination, has plans to open his own office in Plymouth, which will give him a base of operations in 15 locations. Between them, the two campaigns have more than 140 paid field staffers across the state.
The extensive spending here, as described by local officials and laid out in campaign finance reports, provides a look at how money is changing the way presidential hopefuls are approaching the pivotal early contests.
The decision by most of the leading presidential candidates to opt out of the public financing system that would have restricted their primary spending in New Hampshire to less than $800,000 has resulted in armies of paid workers trying to squeeze votes out of every corner of the state.
"The amount of money being spent in the early states are of an order of magnitude that we've never seen before," said Alan Solomont, who oversees northeastern fundraising for the Obama campaign.
The huge spending here has helped debunk the notion that an increasingly front-loaded primary calendar would diminish the influence of New Hampshire and Iowa. Democratic candidates have spent $2.4 million in New Hampshire so far this year on rent and staff alone. That is more than double the $1.1 million they had spent in the state at this point in 2003. The numbers are even more pronounced in Iowa, where Democrats have spent $4.6 million so far this year -- almost four times the $1.2 million they expended four years ago. Republicans have spent more than $4 million on rent and staff in New Hampshire and Iowa so far this year.
The glut in spending has come before most of the candidates have started to invest substantial amounts in the most costly aspect of a campaign -- television advertising.
To date, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) has dominated the airwaves, spending $6 million to run more than 10,000 television ads in New Hampshire and Iowa. That comes in addition to the more than $500,000 Romney paid to organizers laying the groundwork for an August straw poll in Ames, Iowa, which gave his campaign a boost. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) has crafted a strategy that has him devoting considerable amounts of cash to larger states that vote in the days after the first two contests, but he has nonetheless blanketed Iowa with targeted mailers and aired six different radio ads in New Hampshire through last week at a combined cost of more than $450,000. ad_icon
Tom Rath, a Romney consultant who has worked on every New Hampshire primary since 1964, said the intensity of the spending at this stage is higher than he has ever seen.
"Nobody's going to run away with it, so there's been a big, big investment in identifying your voters and being ready to turn those voters out on Election Day," he said.
For Democrats, the spending has been focused largely on building huge field operations that the candidates hope will allow them to identify persuadable voters, win their support and ensure that they reach the voting booth on Election Day.
Kathy Sullivan, a former state Democratic Party chairman, said that, when she was growing up, campaign jobs were largely put in the hands of volunteers, many of whom were like her mother -- stay-at-home moms who had time to get politically engaged. Now, with more moms in the workforce, campaigns have been forced to turn to paid staffers to take on those jobs.
So far this year, Clinton and Obama aides estimate that they each have New Hampshire teams with about 70 paid workers; a spokeswoman for former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) described his campaign's New Hampshire operation as having between 60 and 70 salaried employees -- about four times as many as he had on the ground four years ago. And they are spread out across the state.
At Clinton's Plymouth office last week, a field organizer watched over four college-age men seated at desks, tapping away on their laptop computers and calling up potential supporters. Clinton's investment in such a large operation in the town is a surprise to Carole J. Estes, a first-term state representative. "We're just so small," Estes said. "I figured, maybe they were using this as a base to cover the north country."
But Clinton has the state's rural northern reaches covered from two other nearby field offices, in Conway (population 8,164) and Berlin (10,331).
A Clinton strategist who has worked on previous New Hampshire presidential campaigns acknowledged that establishing outposts in so many towns represents a shift in tactics here. In past years, campaigns concentrated their operations in such population centers as Manchester, Concord, Nashua and Keene, but in a contest in which fewer than 250,000 voters turned out for the Democratic contest in 2004, turning out new voters may well prove to be decisive. "This year we looked beyond the traditional framework and tried to find emerging Democratic areas," the strategist said.
Ned Helms, an Obama adviser who is working on his 10th New Hampshire primary, said the field offices have helped transform campaigning in the state. "These aren't just places to put signs in the windows," he said. "They are a part of an outreach strategy."
When Obama volunteers call voters in Berlin, Helms said, they can say, "Hey, I'm over on Elm Street. We're having a gathering to talk about health care here this weekend. Why don't you come on by?"
The field workers also spend hours on the phone, with designated call times every night and long lists of possible supporters. Dawn Lemieux, 49, owns the Plymouth print shop next door to Clinton's field office. She says she gets calls "constantly" from all the candidates. She is a registered independent and remains undecided.
"I'm impressed at how much is going into getting our votes, but I'm not sure how well it's all working," Lemieux said. "Most folks in New Hampshire don't like to be buttonholed."