Ben Carson’s raising big money, spending big money and planning a big campaign.
An aide tells NBC News he became the first candidate to get on the ballot in the Northern Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands on Thursday, and the first to join the ballot in Alabama on Friday. The play for U.S. territories, which notably send delegates to the Republican National Convention, is part of what they say is a “56-jurisdiction strategy” that will get them on the ballot in all fifty states plus the six U.S. territories and jurisdictions that send delegates to the convention.
The news comes the day after Carson’s campaign confirmed raising more than $20.7 million, the most of any candidate in the GOP field. That big number is all the more notable because it came largely from small-dollar donors, with the average contribution of just $30.
But the campaign spent nearly 70% of that, over $14.2 million, the majority of that — $11.2 million — going towards fundraising costs.
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A breakdown in spending provided by the campaign shows Carson’s campaign spent over $2.6 million on “direct mail prospecting” alone, a highly lucrative but expensive form of fundraising.
Carson’s Communications Director Doug Watts say they see the high fundraising expenses as a “strategic investment” because they’ve helped the campaign build its contact file to over 2 million people, all of whom have given their contact information and are viable opportunities for fundraising. The campaign expects that expenditure to decrease every quarter; Carson’s fundraising costs are down from 64 cents per dollar last quarter to 53 cents this quarter.
Carson also raised a significant amount online, and spent a significant amount to do so — nearly $5 million went to social media, e-mail marketing and web ads. Another $1.4 million went to “telemarketing,” while the campaign spent about that amount on payroll and consultants.
So far, without having gone on air with advertising, the campaign spent $486,000 on ad placement. And they’ve spent just $14,000 on focus groups, to back the candidate’s message up with hard data.
The candidate himself cost $251,000 to transport around the country, a not insignificant sum that was almost certainly padded by Carson’s well-documented appreciation for fine dining and luxury hotels. During this past quarter, for instance, the campaign spent $2,089 at the Waldorf Hotel and $1400 on a steakhouse dinner in New York City.
His campaign did not respond to a request for comment on his luxurious tastes.
But for now, Carson looks to be in a much more comfortable position than many of his rivals — he ended the quarter with over $11.2 million cash on hand.
This quarter, however, he has his publisher shouldering some of that burden as he ramps down campaign activities to spend time touring the country and promoting his book, “A More Perfect Union.”
Penguin books will pay to shuttle Carson around the country for the tour, and though his publisher is legally barred from coordinating with the campaign, a Penguin spokeswoman acknowledged Carson, like any of their authors, can use whatever downtime he does have during the tour however he sees fit. That means Carson can use his downtime for fundraisers in key primary states during the tour — even though his travel and lodging will be paid for by the publisher.
His campaign says they don’t know where he’ll be for the tour until his stops are made public, but serendipitously, the tour is taking him through a number of key early primary states where anything raising his profile could help.
Carson’s last campaign event that was alerted in advance to the press was on Oct. 2, when he announced his health care professionals coalition in Des Moines, Iowa. He had a paid speech the next day, and then launched into a weeklong media blitz promoting the book.
Starting on the 10th, the tour took him on a three-day swing through three Southern states holding key 2016 primaries: South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Carson then took a week-long break from the book tour, largely for fundraising, and will head back out on the 17th for a three-day swing through Texas, which is home to millions of dollars in deep-pocketed donors, before touring another handful of early primary states, then Iowa and Florida.
And at most of these stops, Carson tries to hold one or two relaxed retail campaign events at a local restaurant or store for a more impromptu meet-and-greet with current and potential supporters.
Indeed, on Friday night Carson is planning one such stop in Old Town Alexandria, just outside of Washington, D.C.; he’s in town to sit down with ABC’s George Stephanopoulous for an interview to air Sunday on “This Week.”
Carson’s aides explain away his unorthodox campaign schedule as an asset — they note that he’s an outsider candidate, who’s never before run for office and so won’t be running the way typical politicians do.
But they also note that the outsider candidate is beginning to learn how to play the inside game. Carson recently drew the notice of major GOP billionaire donor T Boone Pickens, who “likes” Carson and plans to support him financially, a Pickens spokesman told NBC News.
And on Thursday, Carson drew headlines for threatening, along with front-runner Donald Trump, to boycott the upcoming CNBC debate if his demands for a specific format aren’t met.
His campaign manager said in an interview on Thursday that the Republican National Committee had reached out to Carson’s campaign to find out exactly what they wanted from the format of the debate, and was working to accommodate his requests.
“Sean [Spicer, RNC Chief Strategist] called me this afternoon to find out whether our line in the sand is two hours, with opening and closing statements,” Ed Brookover, Carson’s campaign manager, said during the interview.
Spicer confirmed the discussion but said it was simply normal protocol in the lead-up to any GOP debate.
"In each of the debates there is an open dialogue between the RNC, the candidates and the network to share ideas and input that achieves the best outcome," he said.
And reports on Friday and a tweet from Trump indicated their efforts had begun to bear fruit — CNBC reportedly has agreed to one of their requests, to keep the debate down to just two hours. CNBC declined to comment on the reports