At a campaign event in New Hampshire over the weekend, Chris Christie took some jabs at rival Marco Rubio, which wouldn’t be especially noteworthy except for what the New Jersey governor chose to emphasize.
Sending a not-so-subtle message to the senator, Christie dismissed Rubio’s explanation for why he so rarely tends to his day job on Capitol Hill. “You’re not showing up because you’ve got to be here,” Christie said, quickly adding, in reference to New Hampshire, “Well, not here. He’s never here.”
Rubio’s curious approach to time management seemed to come and go as a campaign issue a few months ago. Jeb Bush, in particular, tried to make hay of the Florida senator’s habit of ignoring his Senate duties, a criticism Rubio brushed aside by insisting that senators who run for president always miss a lot of work – because the process requires them to spend so much time in early nominating states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
But in recent weeks, the story took a turn when observers started noticing that Rubio, in addition to ignoring his work in Congress, wasn’t making many trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, either, prompting questions about what, exactly, Rubio does all day.
Andrew Prokop checked in with members of Rubio’s team, who shed some light on the campaign’s belief that actual campaigning is overrated.
If we believe what Rubio’s advisers are saying, they aren’t using these tactics too much because they genuinely believe their effectiveness is overrated. They’re saying that they think ads and media coverage, not field or campaign events, are the keys to victory.“More people in Iowa see Marco on ‘Fox and Friends’ than see Marco when he is in Iowa,” Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, told the New York Times.
It’s a surprisingly risky strategy.
The conventional wisdom holds that Iowans and New Hampshirites have certain expectations: they want to see candidates, look them in the eye, shake their hands, ask them questions, and to borrow a cliche, kick the tires. It’s why political reporters pay attention to things like the number of candidate appearances, the size of their on-the-ground staff, the number of field offices, etc.
Rubio and his team are working from the assumption that this is all a waste of time. The Republican senator isn’t completely ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire; he just chooses to invest limited resources in television commercials in these states, instead of maintaining a ubiquitous personal presence.
There’s an old joke among campaign professionals about those who believe GOTV stands for “get out the vote” and those who think it stands for “go on TV.” Team Rubio isn’t kidding when it endorses the latter – holding fewer events, hiring fewer staffers, and opening fewer field offices, all while blanketing the airwaves.
And who knows, maybe Rubio has uncovered a heretofore untested formula for success. Perhaps a focus on fundraising and conservative-media appearances can be a perfectly adequate substitute for a competent ground game and traditional, in-person campaigning.
Maybe, instead of town-hall meetings and grip-and-grin gatherings, Rubio spends his days focusing on debate prep, practicing his lines in front of a mirror, waiting for news organizations to gush over his unrivaled ability to recite canned soundbites.
But if the senator comes up short in 2016, Rubio may be left to wonder what might have been if he’d only been willing to work a little harder as a candidate.