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‘So boring’: 2024 election crushes retail politics

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And there are the numbers: Republican candidate events in Iowa, the nation’s top caucus state, are down nearly 50% this election cycle, compared to the same time in 2015, according to a review of early campaign event follow-ups. States. In New Hampshire, the primary primary state, the field of candidates in the September election was only a fraction of that of eight years ago. And almost no one makes the trip to Nevada.

In a lopsided election year, retail politics is stagnating.

“I’m really stunned. It’s going down,” said Chad Connelly, former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, whose faith-based organization Faith Wins holds frequent meetings with pastors in early candidate states. “I don’t think anyone would say it’s a normal cycle.”

The decline of retail in 2024 is the product of several factors, all accelerated by Trump. First, rival candidates waited months to see if the former president would run, and then, once he did, whether he would implode on his own. When they finally did To participate in the race, they were faced with a tight schedule, reducing their running time. Meanwhile, to qualify for a summer debate, lower-ranked rivals were forced to focus more on national television appearances, social media and small-fund raising to reach polling thresholds and donors.

And even if they had time to press the flesh, the results would still be weak in a primary nationalized by Trump’s legal entanglements, drawing more cameras into courtrooms in Miami, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New York than the Pizza Ranch in Cedar Rapids.

The effect was to further paralyze the race and solidify Trump’s substantial lead — cutting off a path that lower-positioned and less-funded candidates once relied on to shake up the field.

Twelve years after Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, drove around in a Chevrolet Malibu and made a relentless schedule of small campaign appearances, ranging from 4 percent in the October polls to a caucus victory in Iowa , his fairy tale about retail politics has never seemed so old-fashioned.

“I don’t know if it’s even possible,” said Matt Beynon, a former Santorum aide who served as his press secretary, body man and driver as the two men roamed the sidewalk in the ‘Iowa on a shoestring budget. “The landscape has changed, from cable news to social media. Everything is now national.

Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, has yet to see a single presidential campaign sign as he drives and runs around Dover, the state’s fifth-largest city. What he saw was a notable drop-off in events compared to the last open GOP presidential race.

“Donald Trump won the 2016 primary without holding public meetings, without answering voters’ questions and without shaking hands,” Cullen said. “It raised the question of how much of the value of anything popular was a myth? »

By the summer and fall of 2014, Republican presidential candidates were already invading Iowa, unhindered by the political plans of a false incumbent frontrunner. By mid-October 2015, each Republican had already held an average of 68 events in the state, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign stop data compiled by the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper. This time, over the same period, this average is 35.

And during Labor Day Weekend 2015 in New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker and John Kasich, all zigzagged around the state. This year, although other candidates showed up on the holiday Monday, only one candidate spent that Saturday or Sunday courting voters.

“It leaves me a little perplexed, I guess,” said Steve Scheffler, a Republican national committeeman from Iowa, of the relative lull in action on the ground this year. “Most campaigns didn’t establish roots or a permanent ground game early, and they are now making up for lost time.”

Or as David Kochel, a veteran of Iowa Republican campaigns, puts it: “This campaign is so boring. »

Kochel was referring to the lack of “dynamic” in the race and the little movement, after months of campaigning, in the polls.

It’s time to get back to campaigning, he said, and candidates continue to emerge in Iowa. Even Trump, whose lead is more than 30 points in the state, has held several events there in recent weeks, handing out pizza at a restaurant and signing a John Deere combine between scheduled rallies.

“Trump obviously increased his agenda in Iowa,” Kochel said. “(Ron) DeSantis is in the middle of a 99-county tour. (Nikki) Haley is expanding her campaign here.

But the frequency of campaigns is much lower in Iowa than in previous years. And it’s hardly more dynamic elsewhere.

In the state of Nevada, where voting was early, among the main Republican candidates, only Trump, DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy participated in the events. And from the start of the year through September, in South Carolina, Republican presidential candidates made a total of just over 50 campaign appearances in the state, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

In the longer history of presidential campaign cycles, the intensity of campaigning in the year preceding an election has fluctuated. Although Republicans launched into early states more than two years before the 2016 elections, Drew McKissick, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, recalled that things were much different when he got involved in the 2016 election. first time in politics in 1988.

George HW Bush and Pat Robertson only launched their campaigns the previous October. Bob Dole, meanwhile, waited until November to announce his offer.

This year, however, the candidates arrived much earlier than Bush or Dole. “We may have had a slower start” compared to 2016 or 2012, McKissick said. According to him, “this could be a good thing”.

But in polling Republican activists in early states, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t view 2024, so far, as a dud.

Gwen Ecklund, a longtime Republican activist from Crawford County, Iowa, said, “It’s quiet right now, or it has been. Although we’re starting to see a few more coming.

Karen Fesler, another veteran GOP activist in Iowa who worked as Santorum’s caucus coordinator, said “it seemed like we peaked in 2012 and 2016” in terms of candidate activity.

And even when candidates do show up, it’s not the same as before. In New Hampshire, where several candidates flocked late last week for a series of in-person campaign stops and a cattle call, DeSantis told reporters that “voters don’t like to be taken for granted ” – during his first tour of the state in seven weeks.

Sean Van Anglen, a New Hampshire political consultant and Trump supporter turned DeSantis, said it “just seems like this cycle has been very bland.”

He added: “There’s just no excitement. »

Madison Fernandez and Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.

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