Candidate Attention Is a Valuable And Scarce Resource
Its very important to understand that the vast majority of states do not get a lot of candidate money or attention. I have met people in Iowa who have gone to 80 events a campaign season for 10 seasons, which is 40 years of events. 800 events meeting 100 candidates over that time. Iowa and New Hampshire arguably get more campaign events and candidate visits than the entire rest of the country. Add in the other early states, Nevada and South Carolina, and this is definitively true. These states are supersaturated, every 4 years with ad cash candidate time and canvassing. A dollar goes a lot farther on Montana or Utah or Wyoming, or even Missouri or Alabama or Kentucky, than it does in one of these states.
Bernie needs to win pluralities in Iowa and New Hampshire to be on pace to get 50% of the vote and prevent a contested convention but he doesn’t need to win outright there. His policies are popular in these states, all the voters are aware of him, and he has huge ground operations there. Given his 100 days and 40 million dollars invested in these states combined a smart candidate would distribute that time and money elsewhere in 2020.
Spending Time In Iowa Is Overrated For A Front Runner Who Is Assured Of 20% Of The Vote
10 days each in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Oklahoma would be worth far more than 50 days in Iowa. 44 delegates vs 414 delegates. These are mostly bigger states that cost more to run ads in but, as we discussed, ads are a low quality option for a front runner with massive on the ground support. 10 days is approximately 20 events, compared with the 3 or 4 events leading candidates engaged in in Missouri in 2016. Missouri only had offices for 2 weeks and yet Bernie almost won. Bernie needs to win these states with around 60% of the delegates, ~50-55% of the vote, to win nationally. Going from 50% of the delegates to 55% is 21 delegates.
These 5 states will be relatively uncontested in 2020 just as they were in 2016. Sanders won or barely lost these states against the united power of the Clinton Democratic party. They all have favorable demographics for him as well. All of them but Oklahoma border on Iowa as well so his efforts will bleed into the news there. There is a decent amount of regional correlation such that he will get an indirect boost in Iowa.
New Hampshire Is Just As Oversold As Iowa
Bernie could spend his 50 New Hampshire days in Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Connecticut and Delaware. These were all good states for Bernie besides Maryland and they account for 275 delegates to 24 from New Hampshire. Aside from perhaps Warren in Massachusetts these states will not be heavily contested. Harris and Booker will focus in the South, Castro in the Southwest, and maybe Klobuchar in the Midwest and Mountain states. Warren is his biggest issue in the Northeast. Ideally she gets out before Super Tuesday but if she doesn’t take a big hit in Massachusetts, where she did not significantly outperform the state fundamentals in her Senate election, would be very helpful to get her to a post Super Tuesday exit.
Massachusetts and Maine border New Hampshire, which is why Boston mayor Marty Walsh was a big surrogate for Hillary in New Hampshire in 2016, while Connecticut is one state away. These states have a basic regional affinity as well. A 5% boost in these states, vs spending the same resources in NH where you are competing against a dozen candidates, is worth 14 delegates. Realistically to have a 14 delegate lead in NH you’d need 60% of the vote in a super competitive state.
First In Last Out Isn’t Just For Programming
One thing most people don’t consider is that when you are the first on the air and on the ground you can build positive engagement without worry about negative attacks coming at you. The first mover bonus as far as demonstrating commitment to voters is large, and you get to define the terms of the fight. Voters will look at where you campaign in the primary and also compare that in the general to see if you are authentic and sincere in your actions.
Bernie could arguably gain a boost in delegates greater than the total delegate count of Iowa and New Hampshire by competing in surrounding states that typically receive little attention. Every candidate has the same number of days to allocate to the race. There is a huge advantage in strategic use of your time. If all the other candidates are blowing time, and cash, in the same state, that will split a lot of the vote. When you have a core level of support in every single state sufficient to break the 15% threshold, you have a ton of options as far as where you spend time which opponents with weaker support and minimal national name recognition don’t have.