Rationale, Methodology and Limitations

Documenting Visits to Early States

Potential presidential candidates and presidential candidates focus much attention on the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and studying their visits to these states can yield useful insights on intentions, strategies and campaign styles. 

In the pre-campaign period and early primary period potential candidates investigate and lay the groundwork for a possible campaign.  During visits to the key early states, they engage in such activities as campaigning for the party's candidates and appearing at fundraisers for candidates and party committees.  Along the way, in a variety of settings, they meet with activists and individuals who could play important roles on a campaign. 

Early on, visits and time spent in the early states are one indicator of interest in a possible presidential campaign.  It can be an overly sensitive indicator, however.  For some prominent individuals such as governors or former governors, merely setting foot in Iowa or New Hampshire can trigger presidential speculation, even if that is not what the individual has in mind.  Alternatively, making a few visits to an early state may be a way of injecting or keeping one's name into presidential speculation even if one has no intention of running. 

Later on, as potential candidates become exploratory or declared candidates, visits help them meet more activists and supporters and grow their campaigns.  Looking at candidate visits, one can gauge how much effort the candidate is putting into a state.  There are different approaches; some potential candidates / candidates tend to pop in for quick visits, doing just one or two events, while others put in several days in state and really get around.

Hugh Winebrenner, a professor at Drake University now retired, did early work on Iowa caucus visits.1  Democracy in Action has tracked visits since the 2000 cycle (reported online since 2004).  This cycle, in addition to Democracy in Action, a number of organizations are tracking early state visits:

Des Moines Register
Drake University's Iowa Caucus Project
AFSC's Governing Under the Influence Iowa | NH
Charleston Post & Courier
U.S. News
all states: National Journal

Nevada has not established a tradition as an early contest, but it is one of the four carve-out states, and for those with sufficient resources a strong argument can be made for documenting Nevada visits as well.

The first challenge in tracking visits is getting information on potential candidate/candidate visits.  Some of the potential candidates / candidates are good about putting out schedules through their PACs, political committees and campaign committees, or their communications people may release schedule details to favored reporters such as John DiStaso, now at NHJournal, or Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register.  Staff are usually helpful in confirming details of visits.  One can also find information on upcoming visits from state and county party websites.  Tweets by potential candidates / candidates, aides and reporters, as well as news accounts allow one to fill in unannounced, off the record and impromptu stops.

In terms of quantifying visits, there are two major challenges which must be addressed: a) who to include and b) how to measure the visits.

Who to Include
The question of who to include in these tallies proves surprisingly tricky.  In terms of methodology, the question is how to operationalize "potential candidate."  There are a large number of people who can be thought of as potential presidential candidates.   In Aug. 2014, The Hill newspaper ran an article by Bob Cusack, titled "The 65 people who might run for president in 2016." >  However many of the names were a huge stretch, fanciful even, and would not be considered potential candidates by most observers.  Another listing could be found on the RNC website in 2014; the "2016 Presidential Straw Poll" > on their website listed 32 names.  Again, some of them were highly improbable (Haley Barbour?  Mitch Daniels?  Newt Gingrich?  Condoleezza Rice?).  Clearly it would a mistake to include every prominent politician who set foot in these states as a potential presidential candidate.  The lists of 65 people or 32 people are somewhat nonsensical.

The Democracy in Action tallies track what I consider "top-tier" potential candidates / candidates.  I also kept an eye on figures who could become top-tier potential candidates / candidates, and I added their visits into the tallies if their status changed.  The list of potential candidates does evolve over time.  New names emerge in speculation.  Likewise some names are on the list early on in the cycle, but fall off.   If an individual is widely seen as a potential candidate, but then decides not to run, or runs but then drops out, those visits are kept in the tally.  My objective is to make necessary adjustments and tweaks as the campaign progresses so that by the time of the caucus or primary a definitive tally will be the result.

Hugh Winebrenner states (Nov. 2014 email), "In many cases it is a judgment call.  Like you I kept many people on the books and often made a judgment in retrospect; i. e., people who made a visit to Iowa that might have appeared to be interested but never followed up were eventually not included."

The examples below illustrate my thinking, and I welcome any comments readers may have on this subject.

As noted above, the list evolves.  Former Sen. Scott Brown, before he decided to run for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, was seen as a potential candidate and did make a couple of visits to Iowa.  Brown is now a former potential presidential candidate, but it makes sense to keep his visits in the Iowa tally.   Likewise, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Gov. Howard Dean and former Gov. Brian Schweitzer were subject of early speculation, but are no longer being mentioned.  Sen. Amy Klobuchar disavowed interest but made several visits.  Their early visits are included.  Rep. Peter King made eight visits to New Hampshire in 2013-14 trying to present himself as a potential presidential candidate, but his last visit was in August 2014; he too looks like a former potential presidential candidate but his visits are kept in the tally.  Moving in the other direction, during 2013 and the first part of 2014 I did not track Sen. Rob Portman, but as the year progressed it media reports seemed to indicate that he was thinking about running, so I added his visits in; ultimately he announced he is not running.  Former Hewlitt Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was not included in the tally until Nov. 2014, former Gov. George Pataki was added on Feb. 4, 2015, and former Gov. Jim Gilmore, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and former Amb. John Bolton on March 13, 2015.

Celebrity-type potential candidates such as former Gov. Sarah Palin and Donald Trump were also on the cusp.  I included them in the tallies, although many observers agreed that neither of these figures will run.  Trump has been not running since the 1988 campaign, but he keeps doing the tease.  Palin appeared in the RNC Straw Poll, and in Oct. 2014 interview with Fox Business Network she mentioned "hopefully running for office in the future, too.”  

Several individuals generated strong speculation, but issued equally strong disavowals of interest.  Statements by former Gov. Mitt Romney and members of his family are so convincing that I didn't include him in the tally.  Similarly. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said so many times that she is not running for president that I do not include her.  

A final difficulty arises if a candidate is from one of the early states.  For example, when Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack sought the Democratic nomination it in 2006-07 it did not make sense to include him in Iowa visits tally.  A similar reasoning applies to Sen. Lindsey Graham and South Carolina visits in the 2016 cycle.

At some point potential candidates make the shift to become declared candidates, and here too there are decisions to be made.  In recent election cycles there have been largely unknown figures who have invested substantial resources and time in campaigning in one or more of the early states.  Several of these were one-state wonders.  Republican John H. Cox spent over 100 days in Iowa in 2006-07.  Republican Fred Karger started renting a place in Manchester, NH in July 2011, and he spent more time in state than any other candidate.  In the 2008 cycle, on the Democratic side, former Sen. Mike Gravel spent considerable time in state.  On the Republican side, in the 2012 cycle former Gov. Buddy Roemer moved to New Hampshire, taking up residence in an apartment in Manchester on July 14, 2011.  In a sense these are "one-man band" candidates, who have a few staff and focus on one state but do not generate much suppoort.  I have not included any of these individuals in the tallies.  I have included other "temporary residents" in the tallies, however.  The Lieberman campaign rented an apartment in Manchester, NH in Dec. 2003, but Sen. Lieberman was a sitting officeholder, had a much higher profile than Gravel or Roemer, and he made clearly defined visits to the state.  Likewise, Sen. Chris Dodd moved his family to West Des Moines, IA in Nov. 2007.  Businessman Morrry Taylor, who sought the 1996 Republican nomination, might be considered a second- or third tier figure, but he had a decent campaign organization and was getting a fair bit of attention, so he would have been included in tallies.

How to Measure
In attempting to quantify activity these states by a potential candidate or, later on, by an exploratory or full-fledged candidate, one can consider the number of visits, number of days, or number of events.  I use number of visits and number of days.

A visit is fairly straightforward.  If a candidate enters a state, does an event or events and then leaves the state, that is a visit.  A tricky situation arises where a candidate leaves the state but comes back the same day.  For example if a candidate does an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, crosses the Missouri River to do another event in Omaha, Nebraska and then returns to Iowa or does some New Hamphire events with a stop in Maine or Vermont thrown in in the middle, an argument could be made that techically there were two trips to Iowa or New Hampshire.  In this study, if a candidate does an event or events in a state, drives over the border and goes out of the state for a nearby event or events, and then comes back in state the same day such a trip is considered as one visit.  However, if a candidate does an event in Iowa, for example, then flies to New York for some reason, and returns to Iowa later the same day that counts as two visits. 

The question of whether a visit must include public events to be counted merits discussion.  This is akin to the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"  For example in May 2013 former Gov. Jeb Bush was one of a number of prominent people to attend a conference led by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates at the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah Island, SC.  The conference was closed to the media and rather hush-hush; I do not include that in the visits tally.  One could say that there must be at least one public event for a visit to count, even if it is just a media interview.   However, if candidate does a whole day or even a week of just private meetings with key officials that clearly needs to be included in a tally., but there must be at least some detail provided (private meetings where or with whom?)   I do not include personal visits and vacations in the tally.  See the related discussion on official events below.

A day means a day on which the candidate did some sort of publicly reported activity in the state.  For example if a candidate arrives late at night and goes straight to the hotel and then does an event the next morning, that is counted as one day; similarly, if a candidate does some events, overnights, and leaves the next morning without any further events that is also counted as one day.  Another example, comes from former Gov. Rick Perry's May 16-20, 2015 visit to Iowa; on May 17 he took a personal day so that visit was counted as four days.  The problem with using visits or days as a measure of activity is that these give the same weight to a fly-in, fly-out airport tarmac rally as to a full-day of campaigning, such as bus tour with many stops along the way.

Events is finer measure, but there are problems and ambiguities which must be clarified.  There are many types of events: scheduled rallies where the candidate speaks to hundreds or thousands of people, roundtable discussions limited to invited guests, closed press fundraisers, and unannounced or impromptu stops where the candidate meets a few dozen people.  

One could make a distinction between scheduled events and unscheduled events.  A problem here is that different campaigns or even the same campaign may not be consistent in terms of what they consider an event.  Sometimes schedules note fundraisers and other times not.  Airport arrivals are sometimes on the schedule and other times not.  A reliance on schedules leaves out unannounced or unscheduled stops or OTRs (off the record stops).  Unannounced stops at diners or town squares can be among the more interesting activities a candidate does because they are less scripted.  Although impromptu stops are often quite brief, just five minutes or fifteen or twenty minutes, they can have a big impact on the individuals involved.  A surprise encounter with a candidate in a diner or restaurant can have a multiplier effect beyond just the customers present; they will likely tell family or friends about it, and news photographs may spread images to a wider audience.  Careful research can find many of these OTRs. 

If a candidate goes jogging or takes a bike ride around town that will usually be unpublicized, but the candidate will be seen and there may be reports or photos of the activity.  For example in the 2008 campaign there were occasional mentions and reports of then-Sen. Obama going to a gym to work out or play basketball.  Those would not be included as events.  However, if candidate invites the media to cover such an activity, that would be an event.  For example during the 1992 New Hampshire primary campaign Paul Tsongas did a photo op at the Concord YMCA swimming pool to show he was healthy.

Church services can be a murky area.  Sometimes the schedule shows that a candidate will attend and/or speak at a church service; that is clearly an event.  Other times attendance is a private matter and not publicized, but there still may be photographers on hand to shoot the arrival or departure. 

In terms of keeping score, elected officials do official events and campaign events.  If an official makes a visit and just does official business, should that be included in the tally?  Examples include Gov. Jay Nixon's July 22, 2014 visit to Emmetsburg, Iowa to tour the Project LIBERTY cellulosic ethonol plant, and Gov. Scott Walker's Sept. 8, 2014 visit to Des Moines to participate in the 48th annual Midwest U.S.-Japan Association conference.  On October 13, 2014 Sen. Bernie Sanders and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald appeared at at recruiting presentation at Dartmouth-Hichcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH.  Following the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in July 2015, several prospects visited to honor the victims.  I do not include any of these in the tallies.  This is open to debate; input welcome.  However, Vice President Joe Biden's appearance at the kickoff of the Nuns on the Bus tour in Des Moines, Iowa on Sept. 17, 2014 was, unbelievably, classified as an official business trip.  That seemed a stretch.  In fact, when one is considering visits by a president or vice president, such visits are almost always seen in a political light even if they are official business; those visits are included in the tallies.

Private meetings are another difficult area.  Private, behind-the-scenes meetings can be as or more important to a candidacy than any public stop or event.  Sometimes a schedule will note private meetings or provide details; more often they do not.  Some private meetings are reported on, others are not.
The discussion above illustrates the problems and complications involved in using events as a measurement.  The events measurement does get more to the quality of a visit than days or visits numbers, but without access to full and complete schedules, such an analysis seems a bit too fine in my view.  Thus I have settled on presenting number of visits and number of days.

Finally, a word should be said about surrogate visits.  A visit by candidate's wife or husband can provide a boost to a campaign; some candidates also put their kids out on the trail, and there are a whole range of other possible surrogates including prominent politicians and celebrities.  With sufficient resources one could do an analysis of these visits as well.

The listings of visits and tallies provide a picture of potential candidate / candidate travel based on publicly available information (schedules, news accounts), fact checked and supplemented with details provided by campaign operatives and others.  They are not definitive - some unpublicized fundraisers and unannounced stops are no doubt missing - but include all major public events, and as many unannounced events as it was possible to document through extensive research.  The tallies are most useful in comparing the relative activity of one potential candidate or candidate to another.  Additionally, years from now, you the reader may want to figure out where and when you met one of the candidates.  Years from now there may not even be an Iowa caucuses or a New Hampshire primary and it would be useful to know what it took to campaign in these contest.  Keeping in mind the caveats mentioned above, I offer these listings for the record and hope that you find them helpful. 

Hugh Winebrenner and Dennis Goldford.  Dec. 28, 2010.  The Iowa Precinct Caucuses: The Making of a Media Event.  Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 3rd Edition.  [first edition published in 1987]