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Ground game gurus suggest big surprise may be in order in New Hampshire

With only one day to go until the New Hampshire primary, the excitement is tangible as we look for the next big clue in who’s making headway in the Republican presidential race.

By now everyone’s heard about golden boy Marco Rubio’s disastrous “robotic” performance in Saturday night’s debate. It seems certain the Florida senator’s enormous faux pas will have some impact on his voting tally in Ted Cruz New HampshireThe Granite State, but we’ll just have to wait to see how much.

And by the looks of it, a good many people personally witnessed Rubio’s implosion on TV. Hadas Gold of Politico reports, “ABC's Republican primary debate on Saturday night attracted 13.2 million viewers.

“The network also reported 1.3 million livestream views. It was the network's best performance on a Saturday night with non-sports programming in over 14 years.”

Of course Gold attributes the slight uptick in interest and ratings over the last debate to the presence of Donald Trump. That could be it, but let’s not forget the race is getting a lot more coverage after the Iowa Caucuses, too.

Meanwhile, a new Monmouth University poll released Sunday shows Trump comfortably out in front with a virtual four-way tie for second place.

Theodoric Mayer of Politico reports, “Trump commands 30 percent support from likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, the poll found. John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz were virtually tied for second place, with 14 percent support for Kasich, 13 percent each for Rubio and Bush and 12 percent for Cruz.

“Other candidates were far behind. Chris Christie had 6 percent support, Carly Fiorina had 5 percent and Ben Carson had 4 percent.”

The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 4.4 points, so there’s little doubt that any of the second place contenders could actually be holding down that coveted position, especially since most of the interviews for the survey were conducted prior to Saturday night’s debate.

Further, only about half of likely GOP voters indicated they were set on their candidate of choice.

There appears to be plenty of room for some last minute surprises, all of which makes the ground game of paramount importance in New Hampshire.

And just like in Iowa, the Cruz GOTV operation is in full swing. Kerry Pickett of the Daily Caller reports, “Former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Bob Smith, a Cruz campaign ally, expressed full confidence about the campaign’s ground game overcoming present poll expectations.

“’I’m not knocking polls. They were wrong in my case in 1996, when they said that I lost. I think what we’ve been doing is knocking on doors,’ Smith told The Daily Caller. ‘We’ve been ID’ing voters who are leaners, people who are not sure, and we’ve been knocking on thousands and thousands of doors for literally months and I’ll tell you it feels good out there.’”

Pickett’s article also details the data operation fueling the Cruz effort where the campaign micro-targets individual voters based on information gathered from extensive telephone and in-person interviews.

Most of the campaigns would probably claim they’re doing similar things, but Cruz has already demonstrated that his operation is capable of squeezing every possible vote out of a state.

For his part, Donald Trump also appears to have ditched the “big rally” strategy he unsuccessfully used in Iowa in favor of smaller, more retail-politics type events in The Granite State.

But some are skeptical of Trump’s motives for the switch to more intimate rallies. New Hampshire native Steve Berman of The Resurgent explains, “Could the smaller venues be a result of falling attendance at his super-rallies? Trump claimed 11,500 in Little Rock, but the embarrassing tale of the tape pegs the number in the more dismal neighborhood of 4,000 or less. What’s clear is that the Trump band is no longer as new and shiny as it was a few months ago. Now, he’s just another candidate…

“Trump’s failure to invest in technology and shoe leather, along with his missed targets in Iowa lead me to believe, along with people on the ground in New Hampshire, that Trump will underperform his polls there. By how much? We don’t know yet, but it’s likely Ted Cruz knows.”

Berman’s article was written before Saturday night’s Rubio crash-and-burn, so his conclusions may have changed some over the weekend. But the gist is he believes Trump will underperform and Cruz will do better – perhaps significantly so – than his poll numbers would suggest.

There’s even more evidence that this may be the case. Just because Trump is holding smaller campaign events doesn’t mean his ground game is new and improved. Reid J. Epstein and Heather Haddon of the Wall Street Journal write, “Rival campaigns have spent months identifying supporters and persuadable voters to target and turn out in the closing days before the primary. Mr. Trump’s volunteers spent the weekend working from a list of all registered Republicans…

“At the same time, a group working against the billionaire businessman’s candidacy, Our Principles PAC, is targeting specific New Hampshire audiences in trying to depress the Trump numbers.”

Epstein’s and Haddon’s story prominently notes not only does Trump fail to employ a serious data-driven ground game, he’s not sending out mail either.

The Donald certainly continues to excel in the polls, but there’s also a strong inference he’s going to have a much harder time getting his people to actually vote.

Factoring in Marco Rubio’s debate blunders and Trump’s disappointing second place showing in Iowa without a professional ground game, I’m still predicting Trump will win in New Hampshire. But I’m also thinking the margin of victory will be much smaller than that reflected in the polls -- and other candidates, such as Ted Cruz, will do better than most people think.

If the final numbers are close it will be interesting to see how the networks spin this one. Pundits were gushing in praise for Rubio’s third-place finish in Iowa. Would they be as outwardly giddy about a surprisingly strong Cruz second place showing in New Hampshire?

I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

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Bet On Bush and Cruz, not Trump or Kasich

Cruz was careful in the debate - scoring some points, and leaving no openings, AND he has the ground game.

Bush scored well against Trump, and was the most likeable and honest governor on the stage - I still oppose him on some policies, but compared to Kasich and Christie, he's genuine.

Bush (or his PAC) did something old-fashioned and effective - he took out an ad in the Union Leader, paid for an insert printed on glossy card, and paid for a color sticker on the front (about the size of a regular Post-It), to counter the editorial bias for Christie.

Meanwhile known local losers (RINOs) are endorsing Kasich and Trump, which is doing them no good.

New Hampshire

As usual, CQ has presented an excellent article, well written and well thought out. CQ makes the rest of the media - including much of the "conservative" press look shallow.

I watched some of the ABC debate Saturday night and was frustrated by the lack of attention Cruz was getting. Finally, the host announced they were switching to the Cruz headquarters and I thought, "finally, some balance." The only man in the crowd they interviewed was undecided, but leaning to Christie! That is why the networks are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Keep up the good work CQ.