In campaign circles, Marco Rubio’s surprising indifference towards his ground game is one of the more important developments of the season. The Florida senator is a darling of the Republican establishment and political media, but few understand his deliberate strategy not to create a credible field operation.
FiveThirtyEight published an interesting piece this week, explaining, “There’s reportedly a joke going around among Iowa Republicans that Marco Rubio must be running for mayor of Ankeny, the Des Moines suburb where his sole Iowa office is located. Defying Iowa’s tradition of retail politics, Rubio also rarely holds campaign events outside of that area and is choosing to invest in television ads over staffers and offices in the state. Rubio is making a deliberate gamble that Iowans will brave the cold on his behalf this Feb. 1 simply because they saw his advertisements or debate performances on television, not because they have seen him in person or heard from his campaign.”
Whether this strategy is a stroke of genius or a foolish gamble will become clearer in about six weeks, but the anecdotal evidence continues to raise eyebrows. The New York Times published an article overnight on Team Rubio’s gambit, which included this striking detail out of Iowa:
Inexperience and inattention to detail on the ground can have a tangible cost. Melody Slater is a former Lee County chairwoman for the now-defunct presidential campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Shortly after Mr. Walker dropped out, Mr. Rubio’s campaign announced that Ms. Slater was one of several of Mr. Walker’s backers who had signed on with them.But now she says she is having second thoughts. “I had three campaigns call me that day – Huckabee, Cruz and Rubio,” Ms. Slater said in an interview, explaining that she agreed to endorse Mr. Rubio only at his campaign’s request. She said she still liked Mr. Rubio and may indeed caucus for him.But she cautioned that she was also drawn to Mr. Cruz’s Christian values.
“You’ve got to be careful about what you say, don’t you?” Slater mused to the Times.
This is obviously just one person, but I suspect one of the scariest phrases in the political lexicon for Marco Rubio right now is “having second thoughts.” Indeed, though I tend to think too much is made of prediction markets, in which “traders bet on event outcomes,” it’s worth noting that the Florida senator has seen investors start to lose confidence in his eventual nomination.
The Times piece added:
[A]s the primary fight becomes fiercer, and Mr. Rubio’s closest competitors start zeroing in on a single, must-win contest – like Iowa for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and New Hampshire for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey – Mr. Rubio’s all-things-to-all-people strategy is stretching his campaign thin, posing challenges in focusing his message and raising doubts among his supporters about his seriousness.Some Rubio backers in the first four states to vote – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – are voicing concern about whether Mr. Rubio is leaving voters there with the impression that he does not need them to win. And some of Mr. Rubio’s own aides are now arguing privately that they should do more to push back against the belief that he is running an indifferent campaign before it becomes too widespread.
Watch this space.