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The Candidates Who Are Going All In On Iowa Or New Hampshire

Some presidential candidates like to put all of their eggs in one early-state basket. Chris Dodd moved his entire family to Des Moines. Jon Huntsman shunned the cornfields of Iowa and held more than 100 events in New Hampshire. And Rudy Giuliani mostly ignored Iowa and New Hampshire and gambled his whole campaign on a strong performance in … Florida. Here in 2019, there are already signs that some Democratic presidential candidates are once again hoping that a strong showing in one early state will set them on a path to the nomination.

According to Joshua Darr, a political scientist who studies political campaign strategy, this approach of prioritizing on-the-ground visits in early-primary states all started with Jimmy Carter. The then-obscure former Georgia governor poured a lot of time and resources into Iowa, finishing ahead of every other candidate in the state’s 1976 Democratic caucus, and eventually won the presidency. Since then, however, political science research has been unclear on whether campaign visits have any effect on candidates’ prospects. And Darr says that factors external to the campaign — such as getting increased press coverage or being a good ideological fit for the state — may matter more to a candidate’s success today. But this hasn’t stopped presidential hopefuls from trying to replicate Carter’s success, even if most haven’t been as lucky.

So we were curious how often the 2020 Democratic candidates have been visiting the states that kick off the primary process: Iowa and New Hampshire. We used local news trackers — from the Des Moines Register and New England Cable News — to tally up the number of events each candidate has held in those two states. (Note that candidates may hold multiple events per day.) So far this year, the 22 candidates that FiveThirtyEight has classified as major have already held nearly 800 events (through Sunday, May 19) in these two states — 427 in Iowa and 358 in New Hampshire. And as you can see in the chart below, former Rep. John Delaney (91), businessman Andrew Yang (65) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (61) are leading the field in total events held across the two states.

And this makes sense when you think about it — none of the three currently holds political office, so they don’t have to balance campaigning with their official duties like most of their rivals do. And unlike pretty much everyone else, Yang and Delaney have officially been running for president the entire year,1 which surely inflates their numbers. They also fit the traditional mold of an underdog looking to win the nomination by shaking one hand at a time. In fact, Delaney communications director Will McDonald told FiveThirtyEight that Carter’s 1976 campaign was their direct inspiration: “We knew from the start that we needed to lean into an early-state strategy.” It also makes sense to find O’Rourke near the top of this list, given that he made his name by visiting all 254 counties in Texas for his 2018 Senate race and reportedly prefersretail campaigning” over media appearances and private events.

You’ll notice, however, that there’s a rough relationship between the number of events a candidate has held in these two states and how early they entered the race, with a few notable exceptions like O’Rourke. (For our totals, we counted all events that politicians held in these states this year regardless of whether they had officially announced their candidacies yet, but candidates do tend to spend more time on the campaign trail when they’re actually running.) Accordingly, the fact that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (10), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (10) and former Vice President Joe Biden (9) have held so few early-state events so far this year doesn’t mean they’re eschewing retail politics — just that they all entered the race in the last 30 days.

But from a campaign-strategy perspective, the really interesting question right now is who is prioritizing Iowa and who is prioritizing New Hampshire.

The race is on in Iowa

Total campaign events Democratic presidential candidates held in Iowa between Jan. 1 and May 19, 2019

Candidate Iowa events
Beto O’Rourke 40
Andrew Yang 37
John Delaney 35
Eric Swalwell 31
Tim Ryan 28
Elizabeth Warren 26
Julián Castro 26
Kirsten Gillibrand 24
Amy Klobuchar 24
John Hickenlooper 23
Tulsi Gabbard 19
Marianne Williamson 17
Cory Booker 15
Pete Buttigieg 15
Bernie Sanders 15
Michael Bennet 13
Jay Inslee 10
Steve Bullock 10
Kamala Harris 9
Bill de Blasio 4
Joe Biden 4
Seth Moulton 2

Among candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

Source: Des Moines Register

Twelve of the 22 candidates have held more events in Iowa than in New Hampshire, but none have focused on the state quite so intently as Bullock and Rep. Tim Ryan. Bullock has held 10 events in Iowa this year and zero in New Hampshire. In fact, Bullock has not visited New Hampshire at all since August 2018, and he has no events scheduled in the state either. But remember — his official campaign is all of 10 days old, so it’s premature to say that he might be skipping the Granite State entirely. However, there is good reason to think that his campaign will (and should) be Iowa-centric. He has the support of Iowa’s popular attorney general, and the state (rural, Trumpy) is politically similar to his home state of Montana. Likewise, Ryan has staked his campaign on his ability to win back the Midwestern voters whom Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 — so it makes sense that the Ohioan has held 28 events in Iowa this year and only nine in New Hampshire.

It’s harder to explain why Sen. Bernie Sanders has held three times as many events in Iowa as in New Hampshire (15 vs. 5). Candidates from neighboring states tend to do well in the New Hampshire primary (Sanders is from Vermont), so one would expect New Hampshire to be a key part of Sanders’s strategy. But perhaps he is more confident in his standing there than in Iowa. Sanders won the 2016 New Hampshire primary and has led seven out of 13 polls conducted there this year. By contrast, he has led in just two out of 10 polls of Iowa, and in both cases he was tied for first.

Other notable names who have campaigned disproportionately in Iowa include Rep. Eric Swalwell, O’Rourke and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Swalwell has held almost three times as many events in Iowa (31) as in New Hampshire (11) — he may feel he has a natural connection to Iowa because he was born there. And O’Rourke has held more events in Iowa this year than any other candidate (40). As for Klobuchar, she’s held 24 events in Iowa compared with 13 in New Hampshire, which probably reflects Iowa’s importance to her campaign strategy: She is from next-door Minnesota, and having home-field (or near-home-field) advantage could give her a boost in the Iowa caucus.

Most of the remaining candidates have split their events roughly evenly between Iowa and New Hampshire. Even among the 10 candidates who have hosted more events in New Hampshire, seven of them held between 50 to 60 percent of their events there, so fewer candidates seem to be leaning very heavily on that state.

Delaney loves New Hampshire

Total campaign events Democratic presidential candidates held in New Hampshire between Jan. 1 and May 19, 2019

Candidate N.H. events
John Delaney 56
Elizabeth Warren 29
Kirsten Gillibrand 29
Andrew Yang 28
Marianne Williamson 22
Beto O’Rourke 21
Cory Booker 21
Tulsi Gabbard 20
Julián Castro 16
John Hickenlooper 14
Amy Klobuchar 13
Pete Buttigieg 12
Kamala Harris 12
Eric Swalwell 11
Seth Moulton 11
Michael Bennet 10
Tim Ryan 9
Jay Inslee 8
Bill de Blasio 6
Bernie Sanders 5
Joe Biden 5
Steve Bullock 0

Among candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

Source: New England Cable News

But in terms of the raw number of events, Delaney has been the most dogged campaigner in New Hampshire — 56 events, almost twice as many as any other candidate. However, Delaney has also held 35 events in Iowa this year, third-most of any candidate, so overall, he’s leaning pretty heavily into an early-state, on-the-ground strategy. Last year, Delaney held many more events in Iowa (where he visited all 99 counties), but his campaign said it’s unintentional that he has spent more time in New Hampshire so far in 2019. “I suspect that the IA and NH numbers will track closely the rest of the year,” McDonald said.

In previous elections, some candidates have made a strategic decision to skip campaigning in Iowa entirely to focus on New Hampshire, like Huntsman did in 2012. While it’s still early, it doesn’t look like anyone is doing that in 2020. Rep. Seth Moulton has the most New Hampshire-heavy schedule so far — he has held 11 events in New Hampshire vs. just two in Iowa. However, Moulton press secretary Matt Corridoni told FiveThirtyEight the imbalance is just a function of small sample size for a candidate who only entered the race a month ago. “You’ll see us have a presence everywhere” — including in other early states like Nevada.

Indeed, Iowa and New Hampshire are just the first two stops on the long path to a presidential nomination. If a candidate isn’t visiting them very often, it doesn’t mean that he or she is ignoring the early states — it could just be that he or she is campaigning in other states instead. For example, Iowa and New Hampshire are both heavily white states, so candidates whose strategies rely more heavily on the support of nonwhite voters may be spending more of their time in Nevada or South Carolina, the following two states on the calendar. So we’ll be keeping an eye on candidate visits to all early states in the coming months.

From ABC News:

2020 candidate Delaney: Americans are looking for a leader ‘to bring us together’


  1. A few other candidates announced the formation of exploratory committees in 2018 but didn’t officially launch their campaigns until 2019.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.