N.H., Iowa Keep the Candidates' Attention

Workers in Keene, N.H., prepare for a visit by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Presidential candidates have huge campaign operations in the state.
Workers in Keene, N.H., prepare for a visit by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Presidential candidates have huge campaign operations in the state. (By Darren Mccollester -- Getty Images)
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

PLYMOUTH, N.H. -- Just down the block from Anderson's Bakery and across from the local movie house with a flickering neon sign, a group of young men with laptops moved into a tan Cape Cod and announced their presence with a billboard out front: "Hillary."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's storefront office in this New England hamlet (population 5,892) is one of 16 the New York Democrat has set up with paid staff around the state that is expected to hold the nation's first presidential primary. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), perhaps her strongest challenger for the Democratic nomination, has plans to open his own office in Plymouth, which will give him a base of operations in 15 locations. Between them, the two campaigns have more than 140 paid field staffers across the state.

The extensive spending here, as described by local officials and laid out in campaign finance reports, provides a look at how money is changing the way presidential hopefuls are approaching the pivotal early contests.

The decision by most of the leading presidential candidates to opt out of the public financing system that would have restricted their primary spending in New Hampshire to less than $800,000 has resulted in armies of paid workers trying to squeeze votes out of every corner of the state.

"The amount of money being spent in the early states are of an order of magnitude that we've never seen before," said Alan Solomont, who oversees northeastern fundraising for the Obama campaign.

The huge spending here has helped debunk the notion that an increasingly front-loaded primary calendar would diminish the influence of New Hampshire and Iowa. Democratic candidates have spent $2.4 million in New Hampshire so far this year on rent and staff alone. That is more than double the $1.1 million they had spent in the state at this point in 2003. The numbers are even more pronounced in Iowa, where Democrats have spent $4.6 million so far this year -- almost four times the $1.2 million they expended four years ago. Republicans have spent more than $4 million on rent and staff in New Hampshire and Iowa so far this year.

The glut in spending has come before most of the candidates have started to invest substantial amounts in the most costly aspect of a campaign -- television advertising.

To date, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) has dominated the airwaves, spending $6 million to run more than 10,000 television ads in New Hampshire and Iowa. That comes in addition to the more than $500,000 Romney paid to organizers laying the groundwork for an August straw poll in Ames, Iowa, which gave his campaign a boost. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) has crafted a strategy that has him devoting considerable amounts of cash to larger states that vote in the days after the first two contests, but he has nonetheless blanketed Iowa with targeted mailers and aired six different radio ads in New Hampshire through last week at a combined cost of more than $450,000.

Tom Rath, a Romney consultant who has worked on every New Hampshire primary since 1964, said the intensity of the spending at this stage is higher than he has ever seen.

"Nobody's going to run away with it, so there's been a big, big investment in identifying your voters and being ready to turn those voters out on Election Day," he said.

For Democrats, the spending has been focused largely on building huge field operations that the candidates hope will allow them to identify persuadable voters, win their support and ensure that they reach the voting booth on Election Day.

Kathy Sullivan, a former state Democratic Party chairman, said that, when she was growing up, campaign jobs were largely put in the hands of volunteers, many of whom were like her mother -- stay-at-home moms who had time to get politically engaged. Now, with more moms in the workforce, campaigns have been forced to turn to paid staffers to take on those jobs.

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