Does Organization Matter?
For all the arguments made at Giuliani Blog and Race42008 for why Rudy is the frontrunner, the one our critics keep coming back to is organization. My macro argument has been that the fundamentals --bio, attributes, likeability -- matter far more than organization. Good organization provides that critical 2-3 points in a close race. The candidate supplies everything else. A candidate who spits in the face of the Commander-in-Chief (not to mention the base) who's got a good kitchen cabinet is just lipstick on a pig.
But let's for a moment confront the organization question on its own terms.
To hear certain Beltway media types tell it, everyone else is organizing down to the precinct in Iowa except Rudy.
But that's not strictly true. McCain and Romney have made a point of organizing early. I touched on this tangentially in an earlier post, but both are doing it out of weakness to a certain extent. McCain to prove he can play nice with the establishment and hopefully outrun the conservative new media tsunami that's about to overcome him. And Romney, as a newcomer with no natural organization outside Massachusetts (and perhaps Utah). Romney's early seed-laying has arguably been more impressive as he has yet to break out of single digits in the polls and people are still signing up.
Of the other serious candidates -- Rudy, Allen, Frist, Newt, and Huckabee -- none have organized to the extent McCain and Romney have. This has created a nice sideshow between the two of them but has not seriously dented Rudy's (growing) lead in the polls and his excellent standing with conservatives.
Setting Rudy aside for a moment, let's take a look at where the other campaigns stand organization-wise.
Allen: In retrospect, Allen probably wishes he hadn't run for re-election -- he'd have had a statewide resume 2 1/2 times as long as Mitt Romney's after making the same move. Allen has hired Dick Wadhams as his Karl Rove, is retaining long time strategist Chris LaCivita and has Ed Gillespie and Mary Matalin as advisors but otherwise has not done any hiring in the early states, and his re-election campaign has put the kibosh on in-person campaigning for 2008. Whether or not Allen will fare well after these last two months is another question, but ultimately, Allen made the calculation to run for re-election to the Senate when he was a frontrunning Republican candidate knowing that he'd have to take a pass on hiring Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina staff. It was a risk his seasoned senior staff was entirely willing to make, figuring there'd be plenty of talent to be had after the midterm elections (Hillary has made the same calculation). He may have made a mistake -- but for entirely different reasons.
Frist: Bill Frist has named Brian Kennedy, a former Terry Branstad aide, as his Iowa Chairman but has otherwise been quiet on the hiring front. Granted, his stock in Republican circles isn't the highest right now, but he did have the warewithall to bus hundreds of activists in to vote for him at the SRLC and did receive about 15% of non-Tennessee votes. His missteps as Majority Leader haven't hurt his poll numbers as badly as they could have and he's one or two votes away from ending his tenure on a high note. The further away he gets from that radioactive job, the better he looks. Granted, it's a bit of a stretch, but he could probably build a Romney-like organization if he wanted to. (I mean, even Pataki is hiring people.) For whatever reason, he hasn't.
Newt: Newt is a one-man traveling roadshow. Unless rumors about Vin Weber are to believed, no serious insiders, either nationally or in the states, have signed on to Team Newt. Like Rudy, I believe he enjoys a lot of closet support in surprising quarters, and I'm actually rather bullish on him doing well in the early states and with no organization. Republicans love the guy, and it probably wouldn't stop him from getting 20 percent from frustrated conservatives in Iowa. But they love Rudy even more, and that won't stop him from getting 30 percent plus.
Huckabee: Again, here's an example of a guy with Romney-like potential, who's openly campaigning in Iowa, who fits a perfect niche (Southern social conservative), and who hasn't signed on anyone of note in the early states. Washington wags have practically begged him to do so. Still, no dice.
None of this is to take away from the remarkable job that McCain and Romney have done in places like Michigan and South Carolina. In McCain's case, it's rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, especially after the last week, but nonetheless, hats off.
But it strikes me that the best campaign talent in America probably isn't sitting around waiting for calls from 2008 contenders. They're focused on 2006 and fighting big campaigns -- Schwarzenegger in California, Kennedy in Minnesota, Santorum in Pennsylvania, among others -- or they're at the national party committees or at the White House.
After November, I'm not sure what sense it would make for them to join a top-heavy beast like the Straight Talk Express, where Weaver's going to be calling all the shots anyway and the Bushies will just be for show. With all the folks who have supposedly signed on, people who were very senior in past Republican Presidential campaigns are going to be relegated to second tier position. McCain is running the kind of Noah's Ark campaign that Kerry and Gore ran, and in the end it's just not effective. For many, it will prove a beneficial for their careers bet to join a candidate like Rudy, misunderestimated by the press, where they can have wide latitude without the bureaucracy.
And Rudy's no slouch when it comes to running a tight ship (just ask his mayoral staff). Rudy has long time aides Chris Henick (Karl Rove's former deputy), Tony Carbonetti (his Mayoral chief of staff), and Sunny Mindel (his communications guru). It's not at all dissimilar to Bush's "Iron Triangle" of Karl Rove, Joe Allbaugh, and Karen Hughes. And like Rudy, Bush was later to the game of building an organization, staying coy about his plans as he ran for re-election in 1998, telling people "keep your powder dry" but not inking anyone. Also like Rudy, the Washington people hated it and complained to the press about the unseasoned operatives at the helm in Austin.
Well, we all saw how that worked out.