When Howard Dean became a surprise front runner in the Democrat primary of 2004 doing so on the basis of a strong Internet-based campaign effort, tongues began to wag that the Internet might replace old fashioned retail politics. This time ’round Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich served to get people to question the old way of organizing a campaign.
But this week we’ve seen in Virginia why these airy claims of the Internet’s new dominance is a bit chimerical. We see that old fashioned, boots on the ground politics is still the best method to election.
By all methods of measure, Texas Governor Rick Perry is still a strong candidate in the 2012 GOP Primary race. He sometimes comes in second, third or fourth in polls, but is still considered a top contender for the nomination. Yet as the time came to file his petition signatures in Virginia, it turned out his campaign could not collect enough to get his name on the ballot. So, a reputed front running candidate for the nomination, Rick Perry, will not even appear on the Virginia primary ballot.
Perry isn’t the only one. Neither Bachmann, Huntsman, nor Santorum had the organization in the Commonwealth to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Further, it was thought Newt Gingrich barely had enough to make it but as the final tally was made he didn’t have enough to make the ballot, either. And Newt is a resident of Virginia!
In the end, as the file date came and went only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul ended up clearly succeeding in turning in enough signatures to make the ballot.
So, what happened here? It all comes down to retail politics. Both Romney and Paul had the organizations with enough people right there in Virginia to pass around their candidate’s petitions and gather the requisite number of signatures. The others simply did not have the campaign staff or enough support in individual workers ready to hit the streets for them that Romney and Paul had.
This shows that the Internet really isn’t enough. It shows that organization still reigns supreme in the primary process. After all, if one can’t even get his name on a ballot, how does one take the next step toward becoming the nominee?
Since the beginning of this primary race there were only three candidates with a ground game. Mitt Romney who spent the last four years creating his organization, Ron Paul whose absurdly young army of acolytes will do anything for him — and which Paul spent six years assembling — and the first major candidate to quit the effort, Tim Pawlenty.
All the rest have been flying by the seat of their pants with little money and fewer numbers in their state-to-state organizations. They’ve been relying on good showings in the many debates — which has been a bigger factor than it has in the past, admittedly — and the Internet to make their dent.
Clearly it hasn’t been enough for the lower tier, however. Regardless of their suitability for the nomination, only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have the ground game to appear on every state’s primary ballots. It’s the old fashioned game of retail politics that has made the difference for them. Both spent years and tons of cash to make that happen, too.
Fair or not, until there is some major change in our primary system the ground game will make all the difference.