While early polls get the most attention, the nuts and bolts of campaign infrastructure are often the determining factor in choosing the ultimate nominee of either party. A well-built organization can’t take a candidate polling at the back of the pack and vault him or her into the lead, but it can certainly give competitive candidates an edge over rivals and produce “better-than-expected” results that bring new or renewed attention to a candidate, which in turn can propel them into contention.
With that in mind, it appears that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz may be the furthest along in terms of building an organization that will keep him in contention for the Republican nomination and could give him a decisive edge down the road. Politico reports this morning on his effort to consolidate the support of evangelical voters:
The hearts of many evangelical voters, polls suggest, are with Ben Carson. But increasingly, their leaders’ heads are with Ted Cruz.
While the Texas senator trails the retired pediatric neurosurgeon by double digits in national surveys, prominent evangelical leaders and political operatives who work with the Christian conservative movement say it's the well-funded Cruz who has made the bigger organizational effort with politically active church goers.
He’s rounding up the very grass-roots leaders who wield influence with this crucial Republican voting bloc. And here in Iowa, where endorsements have often predicted caucus winners, that matters…
The next test of Cruz's organizational strength among Christian voters comes tonight, when the Republican presidential candidates converge on Des Moines for Vander Plaats's social issues-focused gathering.
That caps off a week in which Cruz locked down the endorsement of conservative Iowa congressman Steve King, and several months after winning over Steve Deace, a radio host well-regarded in Iowa evangelical circles. If Cruz gets Vander Plaats' nod, that would secure a trifecta of crucial Iowa Christian heavyweight endorsements for the Texas senator. Add to that the pastors he is tapping in all of Iowa’s 99 counties to recruit like-minded voters on his behalf, and Cruz is beginning to look like he has an organizational lock on this voting bloc, even if the polls say otherwise.
It isn’t just outreach and organization of evangelical voters where Cruz seems to have an organizational edge. Ultimately the nomination contest will be decided by delegates to the Republican National Convention. It seems likely Cruz has sufficient organizational strength in his home state of Texas, which has the second largest number of delegates available. According to the Dallas Morning News, Cruz has also built an impressive organization in Georgia, which although it only ranks eighth in population has the fifth largest delegate haul, according to this site (states get bonus delegates for things like having a Republican governor and, most importantly, having voted for the previous Republican presidential candidate in the general election):
A dozen states, including Texas, have primaries or caucuses on March 1, this election cycle’s Super Tuesday. The day has been dubbed by some “the SEC primary,” after the Southeastern Conference of college athletics, because of its heavy Southern tilt. One of the biggest prizes up for grabs is Georgia.
Still trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the polls, Cruz has a plan to surge ahead: Win or stay close in the early contest states; use home-field advantage to stomp the competition in Texas; and impress Republican voters nationwide with a dominant performance in Georgia.
Already, Cruz has a more extensive organization in the Peach State than any of his rivals. The campaign has enlisted 1,500 volunteers, and it’s aiming for 5,000 by year’s end. There are Cruz supporters in each of Georgia’s 159 counties and designated campaign directors in the two-thirds or so that will generate the bulk of primary votes….
Those who follow the nominating process closely seem impressed with the organization Cruz has built:
Nathan Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, said Cruz’s edge over [Donald] Trump and Carson could be his organization.
“Some of the rules of the game are changing, but I believe you still need a robust campaign operation to identify your supporters and get them out to the polls,” Gonzales said.
“The nomination will not be decided by who has the biggest rally. Free media coverage will boost your name identification, but it’s not a substitute for a complex get-out-the-vote operation that can deliver voters to the caucuses or the polls, even in the middle of a February snowstorm.”
And Cruz’s campaign organization in the early states is equally impressive, with campaign leaders in every single county in the first four states. But the SEC Primary could wind up being decisive:
Texas is the top prize in the SEC primary, with 155 delegates up for grabs. Georgia is next with 76.
Elsewhere on that date, nearly 500 delegates will be awarded. The other states voting on March 1 include Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Oklahoma.
For GOP hopefuls, the day will be “a game-changer,” said Georgia political consultant Jay Williams. “If Georgia doesn’t settle the race, the rest of the SEC primary will.”
Campaign organization will likely be a necessary but not sufficient requirement for a competitive candidate in 2016. Money and some reasonable level of support are also crucial. Based on those three factors, it’s hard not to conclude that Cruz could easily go the distance and claim the GOP nomination next July in Cleveland.