With contested Republican primaries up and down the ballot this year, evaluating all of the various campaigns is a difficult task. Last week, TIR blogger Dave Davidson graded a number of the campaigns on their use of social networking tools. Before that, the congressional and gubernatorial candidates were sized up on the amount of money they have been able to raise for their campaigns.
The most difficult part of a campaign to evaluate is the grassroots organization that each campaign is building. Typically, it’s impossible to know how good of an organization a campaign has built until the votes are counted. In the lead-up to the 2008 Iowa caucuses, the Romney campaign was widely considered to have the best grassroots organization in the state. As we all know, Mike Huckabee soundly defeated the vaunted Romney organization.
The lesson that people should take from the 2008 caucuses isn’t that Huckabee built a better organization than Romney, but that he stitched together a better coalition of groups to support his campaign. Another lesson that was learned was that the bravado with which a campaign speaks about its organization doesn’t always correlate to how it performs on Election Day.
For the last couple of weeks, candidates have been submitting the necessary petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office to place their name on the June 8th primary ballot. For the most part, campaigns look at the task of collecting signatures as more of a chore than a tool to help build a campaign organization.
In the 2nd Congressional District, newcomer Rob Gettemy submitted nearly 3,000 signatures to place his name on the ballot. When he announced that he was a candidate just over a week ago, many thought that it might be difficult for him to collect the necessary 1224 signatures. Gettemy proved the naysayers wrong and collected almost three times the signatures he needed.
Gettemy’s ability to collect a massive amount of signatures in a short period of time has turned some heads and gotten people talking about his campaign. In essence, Gettemy has used the task of getting his name on the ballot to legitimize his campaign.
Many think that his late entrance into the race will be too steep of a hill to climb, but none of the candidates in this race have built a significant fundraising advantage. It’s also important to note that, in 2008, the 2nd District candidates didn’t have their campaigns running on all cylinders until after the district conventions were held. Gettemy is a candidate to watch.
In the gubernatorial race, Bob Vander Plaats filed his petitions on the first possible day candidates were allowed to submit them. He submitted 4,766 signatures and qualified in 28 counties. By submitting his petitions on the first possible day, Vander Plaats was making a statement about his campaign organization.
Yesterday, Terry Branstad submitted his petitions, and in doing so, he also made quite a statement. His campaign submitted 9,146 signatures, more than double the required number of 3,412. Branstad also qualified in 84 counties, an impressive feat when you consider that the minimum requirement is only ten counties.
It’s apparent that the Branstad campaign used the petition requirement to test its campaign organization. Through a simple task, the campaign was able to evaluate their young field staff to see what parts of the state they are strong in and where their campaign is weak. If used correctly, this can be an advantage for a campaign if they follow though and build on the organization they now have in place.
The Branstad campaign has received a lot of criticism about everything from where the campaign held its kickoff event, to the “struggles” that they were having in collecting the necessary signatures to place his name on the ballot. While none of the Republican gubernatorial campaigns seem to be building tons of excitement, the Branstad apparatus continues to impress on the fundamental aspects of building a campaign.
Both the Gettemy and Branstad campaigns wisely used to the petition requirement to help build their campaigns. Bob Vander Plaats also deserves credit for getting the petition requirement done and out of the way quickly. By doing so, it allowed his staff to move on and focus on other organizational tasks.
It will be interesting to see how the 2010 gubernatorial primary progresses. Will Vander Plaats be able to build the necessary coalitions to win on June 8th, or will Branstad’s investment in organization pay huge dividends and lead him to victory?
Photo from GovernorBranstad2010.com
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