Jeb Bush shifts strategy from TV ads to ground campaign

Jeb Bush's campaign announced Wednesday that it will be pulling $3 million in television ad airtime to instead focus on voter contact in the four early primary states.

Terry Renna/Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches event, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Jeb Bush's campaign is shaking things up.

In preparation for the critical Iowa caucuses and other early primary elections, the campaign announced Wednesday afternoon that it will be pulling the $3 million originally reserved for TV ad time to instead invest in a strategic ground game.

"Having the best organization on the ground is how you win," Bush said at a campaign event in Lexington, S.C., Wednesday. "We have a super PAC that is advertising on television at a rate that is comparable to any other campaign, if not more. And we are reallocating our resources to voter contact and a ground game that will be second to none. It already is."

Currently in the single digits for GOP support, Mr. Bush plans on deploying staff from his Miami headquarters to early primary states, including Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Bush's campaign manager, Danny Diaz, said they will help with canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts.

In Iowa, paid staffers who personally interact with voters will increase from 11 to more than 20, Mr. Diaz told the Des Moines Register, and that includes a Hispanic outreach director. In New Hampshire, the staff presence will be doubled to 40 people.

With Bush at fifth place in Iowa – 6 percent in the polls – some of his opponents suspect that the campaign is unofficially ceding ground there, but his top campaign figures assure that this is not the case. One of his super PACs still plans on going forward with a $3.6 million TV campaign between now and the caucuses on February 1.

"It would be a mistake to assume that this is some pulling out of Iowa," Dave Kochel, Bush's top Iowa strategist, told CNN. "However, we know that Iowa is a challenge."

Overall, Bush super PACs has more than $19 million designated in ads across the first three states, to be aired in the next few days. The latest cancellations, however, represent a net decrease in spending in Iowa.

But as the Des Moines Register notes, most Iowa voters won't miss the ad, as they will still see a different one financed by the Right to Rise USA PAC. The ad criticizes his rival candidate Marco Rubio, though the top three pollers are currently Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson.

After raising a whopping $114 million, Bush and his Right to Rise war chest have spent nearly 40 percent of that on TV ads, but to no avail in the polls. Experts say his move Wednesday is a recognition that the money may be better spent elsewhere.

One of the former Florida governor’s most vocal critics is his opponent Donald Trump, who says that his $40 million spent on advertisements was a waste. So far, Mr. Trump has been able to to maintain his national frontrunner status without spending a cent on ads, but will begin to do so for the early primary states.

As for Bush, his big shift will give him the largest paid ground operation in the first four states, Mr. Kochel told the Register.

But will it be effective in securing the nomination? As The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier reported earlier this month, it’s going to be a long shot:

Does Jeb Bush still have a path to winning the nomination? Well, if you squint, and imagine that Mr. Trump implodes while Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz fatally damage each other, and Chris Christie proves too liberal for Republican primary voters, then you can just see a winning path.

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