A lot of holes in GOP presidential ground game

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio — Presidential battleground states were supposed to be swarming with Republican Party workers by now.

“We’ve moved on to thousands and thousands of employees,” party chairman Reince Priebus declared in March, contrasting that with the GOP’s late-blooming staffing four years earlier. “We are covering districts across this country in ways that we’ve never had before.”

That hasn’t exactly happened, a state-by-state review conducted by the Associated Press has found.

With early voting beginning in less than three months in some states, the review reveals that the national GOP has delivered only a fraction of the ground forces detailed in discussions with state leaders earlier in the year. And that is leaving anxious local officials waiting for reinforcements to keep pace with Democrat Hillary Clinton in the states that matter most in 2016.

To be sure, the national party actually has notched record levels of fundraising over the past few years and put together a much more robust ground game than it had in 2012. But officials acknowledge the real competition isn’t with their past results or the chronically cash-strapped Democratic Party. It’s Clinton and what GOP party chairman Reince Priebus calls “that machine” of Clinton fundraising.

Some examples of Republican shortfalls: Ohio Republicans thought they were going to see 220 paid staffers by May; in reality there are about 50. Plans for Pennsylvania called for 190 paid staffers; there are about 60. Iowa’s planned ground force of 66 by May actually numbers between 25 and 30. In Colorado, recent staff departures have left about two dozen employees, far short of the 80 that were to have been in place.

AP learned of the specific May staffing aims from Republicans who were briefed earlier this year; the RNC did not dispute them. Current totals came from interviews with local GOP leaders over the past two weeks.

The Detroit News reported July 7 that presumptive nominee Donald Trump was opting to let the Republican National Committee to assemble campaign staff in Michigan for the fall election ground game.

The gulf between what state leaders thought they could count on and what they’ve actually got comes as the RNC’s ground game is asked to do more than ever before. Trump is relying on the party to do most of the nuts-and-bolts work of finding and persuading voters in the nation’s most competitive battlegrounds.

“This is a race we should win,” Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges said, citing a voter registration boom. “Now, we have to put the people in the field.”