Jeb Bush lags rivals in early-state spending
WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush is being outspent in the crucial early presidential caucus and primary states, while Donald Trump has quietly been building a competitive, ground-level campaign operation.
With the first Iowa caucus votes less than 100 days away, the Globe examined what Republican campaigns are doing to build the on-the-ground networks required to get supporters to the polls during the cold of winter. The review analyzed state-by-state spending since each of the candidates jumped into the race.
It shows that Bush has spent less money in the first four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — than some of his top Republican rivals, according to a Globe analysis of campaign data submitted to the Federal Election Commission.
Bush’s campaign says the FEC disclosures distort the true picture, because staffers hard at work in New Hampshire — where he is now focusing — are paid through a common Florida address, and their help on the campaign is not reflected in state-by-state expenditures. Still, even with those salaries factored in, Bush does not have the sort of staffing advantage heading into the heat of the campaign that he once boasted he could build.
Meanwhile, Trump has spent nearly $1 million in the early states, eclipsing all of his rivals, particularly in New Hampshire, where he just opened two more campaign offices.
“We’ve been growing this for a long period of time. That’s part of the reason we’ve been at the top of the polls for 100 days,” said Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Trump’s campaign declined several requests to interview state-based aides. It also would not allow the Globe into any of its campaign headquarters to view its operation in action.
The weak spending by much of the GOP field has some Republicans concerned that the field is not doing the kind of work needed to compete with the Democrats.
“They’re all lousy. All the Republicans put together don’t have as good of an organization as Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,” said Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
“They’re all miles behind where Mitt Romney was four years ago,” he added. “I mean, Obama and Hillary eight years ago had a dozen field offices, 60 staffers, 60 summer interns — just a real army. You see Republican campaigns now put out press releases saying they added their 10th staffer last week.”
The state-by-state spending figures analyzed by the Globe typically includes staff, rent on campaign headquarters, fees for renting out large ballrooms, and food for hungry campaign volunteers. It does not include money spent on television ads, which increasingly will rise in prominence. The figures also do not include spending by associated super PACs; the support provided to candidates by those committees, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts, is not required to be disclosed until December.
The numbers show that Trump is not relying just on his flashy media appearances and his surprising durability atop GOP polls. There is more to his campaign than his attention-grabbing statements, late-night tweets, and debate-stage braggadocio.
In Iowa, where Trump has hired Chuck Laudner, who ran Rick Santorum’s surprisingly successful 2012 campaign, captains are in place in all 1,800 Iowa precincts, according to Trump’s campaign, which is now working on getting second and third captains. That ground-level operation is needed to identify supporters and explain to them the complex caucus system, which requires them to show up at a local gym or community center Feb. 1 and convince their neighbors to get behind Trump.
“The Trump campaign is probably the best campaign in Iowa in terms of getting people to understand what caucusing is, what it requires, and how to do it,” said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party who now runs the influential website the Iowa Republican. “They’ve been talking caucus, caucus, caucus for months now.”
They pass out cards to explain the process. They give speeches on how simple it is. They show up in unexpected places wearing Trump gear. They take names and phone numbers, and follow up.
“There’s all these new people tuned into a Republican primary because of Trump,” Robinson said. “If they can get them to actually engage in the caucus — or in the primary in New Hampshire — then they’ve got something. They’ve got something that could be very meaningful and difficult for his opponents to match.”
While Bush has tapped seasoned political pros in Iowa — one of his senior advisers is longtime Iowa operative David Kochel — he has struggled to resonate among a more conservative group of voters.
“It’s a candidate issue. There’s not a lot of buzz and focus. He comes here but there’s not a lot of focus on what it takes to win Iowa,” Robinson said. “It’s really weird. The only time I hear of Bush is when someone is saying unpleasant things. Very rarely does someone volunteer praise for the campaign.”
But New Hampshire has increasingly become a more central focus for Bush. He has faced a rough stretch nationally, with slowed fund-raising, a drop in the polls, and concern spreading among donors and members of his famous political family.
Bush met with top donors Monday in Houston at a fund-raising retreat featuring his father and brother, both former presidents.
According to FEC reports, Bush’s campaign has spent only about $280,000 in the first four states, which would put the campaign below many of its rivals, including not only Trump but Ben Carson ($736,000), Marco Rubio ($484,000), Rand Paul ($410,000), and Ted Cruz ($397,000).
Bush’s campaign said it spent other money on early states that is not reflected in FEC reports. Most of its staffers, for example, are being paid through the Miami address. If those staffers and other spending such as office rent, utilities, and equipment is accounted for, the campaign has spent nearly $910,000 in the first four states, according to a breakdown provided by spokesman Tim Miller.
“We feel like we have the biggest investment in these states,” Miller said, citing campaign staff figures and several outside analysts.
Bush’s campaign says it has 12 paid staffers in New Hampshire, 10 in Iowa, seven in South Carolina, and eight in Nevada. While there have been some staffing cuts and reassignments on the Bush campaign, the number of aides located in the early states is expected to stay the same or grow, Miller said.
Trump has 13 staffers in Iowa and 11 in New Hampshire. Carson has eight in Iowa and five in New Hampshire, five in South Carolina, and three in Nevada. Rubio’s campaign said it has about 27 staffers in the four early states, but would not provide a further breakdown.
Not all spending is building a ground game and attracting voters: In Iowa, the Trump campaign’s expenses include $1,633.90 spent on a limousine service. A few weeks later, the Bush campaign paid $376.10 to Thrifty Car Rental.