How Donald Trump’s ground strategy ‘defies convention’

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ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 27: Hillary Clinton supporters and volunteers work at the Virginia Victory Coordinated Campaign Field Office August 27, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia.  (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Turning now to politics: How much have team Clinton and team Trump invested in their on-the-ground outreach, their ground games, if you will, to get their supporters out to the polls this fall?

Correspondent Lisa Desjardins and digital politics editor Daniel Bush tackle that in their new piece out today on our “NewsHour” Web site.

And Lisa joins me now.

So, you went out to different campaign facilities, offices out in these key states.

LISA DESJARDINS: Right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the difference when you go into them?

LISA DESJARDINS: This is an important difference, because now we’re in the crucial last two months of this campaign.

The map, I think, tells the story the best. And this wasn’t easy to pinpoint. But let’s look at the Trump campaign offices. He right now has 88 offices in key battleground states, the states that pretty much will decide this election.

Look at those circles. They indicate how many offices are in that state.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, the bigger the circle, the more offices, yes?

LISA DESJARDINS: Exactly.

HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

LISA DESJARDINS: Now let’s look at the Clinton map. You see a very stark difference there. Clinton has more than three times as many offices as Donald Trump right now going into Labor Day, the traditional start of the presidential campaign season.

Now, one thing I have to note, the Donald Trump campaign says more coming. They say about over 100 are going to come online in the next week, but they’re not open now. And this is especially a problem for them in some key states.

Let’s look at four key states where we know things could be decisive, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania. Right now, Donald Trump has just 20 offices in those four mega-states, Hillary Clinton 136.

Hari, Florida, we know, has been decisive in the past. It’s a great example here. Donald Trump right now just has one office open there.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, one of the questions would be, well, how important are those offices? What’s the work that happens at those offices? And does it matter in this election?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right. Why should we care about the ground game? It seems like inside politics.

The ground game has decided at least the last two elections, maybe going back farther to even George W. Bush as well. Traditionally, it is critical. These are the places where volunteers identify and actually sway voters. Phone banks happen there, canvassing operations.

This is kind of the breathing heart of usual campaigns. Now, it doesn’t matter this year. The Trump campaign says, no, that they have an operation that defies convention, that they like that, they don’t need as many on-the-ground offices. They say, instead, their groundswell of support is a different type of campaign, and they think that this traditional type of tactic is something they don’t need as much as other campaigns.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And they’re also saying they’re going mobile. They have got some R.V.s, instead of fixed locations.

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes. That’s right.

We know the Trump campaign has had a resource problem up until now. They have now started raising money, but haven’t had funds until now. One way they have been dealing with this is they have launched mobile R.V.s in the state of Florida. They said they have one office there, but they have got three R.V.s cruising around the state.

And they say what they want to do is reach out to voters. Even if they don’t have these canvassing and phone bank operations to the extent that Clinton does, they say they want to go to grocery stores and register voters.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are they trying to reinvent this process?

LISA DESJARDINS: They say they are, but I think it remains to be seen on whether they do that or not.

As I say, they haven’t had a lot of resources until now. They have just had a good fund-raising month in the last month. We have to see how they spend those resources. And the data game really is what reinvented things with team Obama. Right?

So, we have see if the Trump campaign, do they use digital, or do they — how do they get this groundswell of support to show up at the polls? It’s especially a concern not just for Trump, Clinton, but for down-ballot races. These campaign offices are the heartbeat of pumping out voters not just for Donald Trump, but for every Republican on the ballot. So it’s something the entire party is watching.

HARI SREENIVASAN: With all of this, even with the lopsided 3-1 advantage-disadvantage, Trump supporters are going to say, he’s been pretty successful so far, he’s our guy, and he didn’t do anything by the book going into this.

LISA DESJARDINS: Yes, and may be right. He’s put relatively few resources, not that much work into these states, and he’s not that far behind in a lot of the key states, in fact, tied in places like Nevada, just behind by four or five points, closing the gap in some other states like Michigan, without having to do too much.

The danger for Donald Trump is, should he come close to Election Day and have sort of a wobble on the campaign trail, have a moment where voters are in doubt, he doesn’t have this campaign infrastructure to fall back on.

So it’s a bit of a gamble, but the Trump campaign says, hey, we like how we’re doing without all this spending.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, you can read the full report online at NewsHour.org by Lisa and Dan.

Lisa, thanks for joining us.

LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure.

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