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Where Are Candidates Spending All Their Time?

This summer, while a lot of Americans are going on vacation, many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have been hitting the trail harder than ever — marching in Fourth of July parades in New Hampshire, pressing the flesh at a minor-league ballpark in Iowa and even frying 4,000 pounds of fish in South Carolina.

Back in May, I used data from the Des Moines Register and New England Cable News to see how many events each presidential candidate had held in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to hold their presidential primaries. Today, I’m updating that analysis to include the two remaining early-voting states1 — Nevada and South Carolina — using data from the Nevada Independent and Charleston Post and Courier. And instead of looking at total events, I’m now going to look at the share of days that each Democrat has spent in the four states since they announced they were running. (Looking at the share of days rather than total events helps account for the fact that some candidates entered the race earlier than others. For a similar reason, I am limiting my analysis to the time they’ve spent running since Election Day 2018.)

Overall, although Nevada and South Carolina enjoy a prime spot on the calendar, it’s clear from the numbers that Iowa and New Hampshire are still considered the main kingmakers in the primary. Through the end of July, the 23 Democratic presidential candidates that FiveThirtyEight considers “major”dropped out.

">2 have spent a cumulative 336 days campaigning in Iowa, 216 campaigning in New Hampshire, 74 in Nevada and 132 in South Carolina.3 The overall pattern so far goes something like this: Most candidates visit Iowa and New Hampshire a lot and Nevada and South Carolina a little. For example, this is true of former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. (It is worth noting, though, that in contrast to the narrative that Biden isn’t holding as many public events as other candidates, he has spent 22 percent of his days as a declared candidate in an early state, which is pretty average for the field.) But, of course, not every candidate follows that pattern.

Everybody loves Iowa

Share of days since campaign launch that each Democratic presidential candidate has held an event in Iowa, through July 31

Candidate Share of Campaign Days
Joe Sestak 44%
Steve Bullock 18
Beto O’Rourke 17
Tim Ryan 13
John Hickenlooper 13
Amy Klobuchar 12
Michael Bennet 11
John Delaney 11
Marianne Williamson 10
Bernie Sanders 10
Joe Biden 9
Kirsten Gillibrand 9
Pete Buttigieg 9
Elizabeth Warren 9
Julián Castro 8
Bill de Blasio 8
Cory Booker 8
Andrew Yang 7
Tulsi Gabbard 6
Kamala Harris 6
Jay Inslee 5
Seth Moulton 2
Tom Steyer 0

Among candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight. Excluding any visits made before Nov. 7, 2018.

Source: Des Moines Register

Let’s start in Iowa, both the first state to vote and the most popular destination for most candidates. Seventeen of the 23 candidates have spent a plurality of their early-state campaign time in the Hawkeye State.

If you calculate visits as a share of the days that each candidate has officially been in the race, former Rep. Joe Sestak has been the most active campaigner in Iowa, by far. Sestak has held at least one Iowa event on 17 different days, which may not be all that impressive in absolute terms, but considering he just got into the race six weeks ago, it means he’s spent 44 percent of his days as a declared candidate in Iowa. Furthermore, he has not yet visited any of the other three early states (although he is planning a visit to New Hampshire), suggesting that getting a foothold in Iowa is a priority for his campaign.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock ranks a distant second for time spent in Iowa — although, at 18 percent of his campaign days, the state still represents a fair chunk of his time on the trail. Like Sestak, Bullock is white, belongs to the moderate wing of the party and has emphasized his ability to win in Republican-leaning areas (like … Iowa!). In other words, he’s exactly the kind of candidate whose hopes of winning the nomination rest on doing well in the Hawkeye State. And indeed, he has only spent 3 percent of his campaign days in any other early state. A little further down the list, Rep. Tim Ryan and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper have also spent much more time in Iowa than in the other three early states combined. (Not coincidentally, they are white moderates from the middle of the country as well.)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar hasn’t focused on Iowa quite as much as Bullock, Ryan or Hickenlooper, but she has spent an above-average 12 percent of her campaign days in Iowa. That could be because the Minnesotan sees next-door Iowa as a good fit for her Midwestern persona (although unlike in New Hampshire, politicians from neighboring states haven’t historically had a special advantage in the Iowa caucuses).

By contrast, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke shows up near the top of the list of Iowa campaigners mostly because he is a relentless campaigner overall. He has spent more than a third of the 140 days since he launched his campaign in one of the four early states — most other candidates are spending less than a quarter of their time in them. So while it’s true that he has spent more time in Iowa than the other three early states, as we’ll see, he ranks high in time spent in other early states as well.

Gillibrand leads the way in NH

Share of days since campaign launch that each Democratic presidential candidate has held an event in New Hampshire, through July 31

Candidate Share of Campaign Days
Kirsten Gillibrand 11%
Marianne Williamson 10
Tom Steyer 9
Elizabeth Warren 8
Seth Moulton 8
Beto O’Rourke 8
Amy Klobuchar 8
John Delaney 7
Tulsi Gabbard 7
Cory Booker 7
Michael Bennet 7
Pete Buttigieg 6
Joe Biden 6
Andrew Yang 6
Tim Ryan 5
Bernie Sanders 4
Julián Castro 4
John Hickenlooper 3
Kamala Harris 3
Jay Inslee 3
Steve Bullock 3
Bill de Blasio 1
Joe Sestak 0

Among candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight. Excluding any visits made before Nov. 7, 2018.

Source: New England Cable News

Meanwhile, the most familiar face in the Granite State is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s spent 11 percent of her campaign days in New Hampshire and is one of just four Democrats who have spent more time in New Hampshire than in Iowa. Rep. Seth Moulton also seems to be focusing on New Hampshire, especially in contrast with Iowa; he has spent 8 percent of his campaign days in the former but just 2 percent in the latter. And a New Hampshire-centric campaign strategy might make sense for these two. New Hampshire has historically favored candidates with local ties: Gillibrand went to Dartmouth, and Moulton represents a Massachusetts congressional district on New Hampshire’s southern border.

Marianne Williamson has spent the second-largest chunk of her campaign in New Hampshire (10 percent of her campaign days), but that appears to be less indicative of her campaign strategy. Like O’Rourke, who himself is a frequent New Hampshire tourist, Williamson has been a prolific campaigner everywhere. She has spent 40 percent of her campaign days in one of the four early states, so spending 10 percent in New Hampshire just means she’s splitting things up fairly equally.

Finally, I was surprised to see that Sen. Bernie Sanders had spent just 4 percent of his campaign days in New Hampshire. The Granite State is a natural fit for Sanders, since he is from next-door Vermont and won 61 percent of the primary vote there in 2016, but he has spent more time in Iowa and South Carolina. However, I think that might be a smart campaign strategy for Sanders, as his built-in advantage in New Hampshire may allow him to do well there regardless. So by campaigning harder in Iowa, Sanders may be calculating that it increases the chances that he wins there as well as in New Hampshire, a one-two punch that would set him up well for the rest of the race. And his visits to South Carolina may demonstrate that he knows he needs to do better in a state where he got blown out in 2016.

Nevada gets overlooked

Share of days since campaign launch that each Democratic presidential candidate has held an event in Nevada, through July 31

Candidate Share of Campaign Days
Marianne Williamson 8%
Cory Booker 4
Seth Moulton 4
Beto O’Rourke 4
Kamala Harris 3
Bernie Sanders 3
Julián Castro 3
Bill de Blasio 3
Elizabeth Warren 2
Amy Klobuchar 2
Joe Biden 2
Jay Inslee 2
Pete Buttigieg 1
Kirsten Gillibrand 1
Tulsi Gabbard 1
Andrew Yang 1
John Hickenlooper 1
Tom Steyer 0
John Delaney 0
Michael Bennet 0
Tim Ryan 0
Steve Bullock 0
Joe Sestak 0

Among candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight. Excluding any visits made before Nov. 7, 2018.

Source: Nevada Independent


As for Nevada, no candidate has spent a plurality of their time in the Silver State. In fact, most Democrats are spending barely any time there. In the period we looked at, from the 2018 midterms to the end of July 2019, six candidates didn’t visit Nevada at all after declaring their candidacy. And all but one have spent less than 5 percent of their campaign days there. This is a bit surprising, since Nevada will be the third state to vote in 2020 — it comes before South Carolina, yet the Southern state is a more popular campaign destination.

Williamson is the only candidate to spend more than 5 percent of her time in Nevada — 8 percent of her campaign days have involved at least one event there. Part of this is because Williamson has distributed her many campaign visits almost evenly between the four early states, which means that, almost by default, she has spent more time in Nevada than any of the other candidates. Sen. Cory Booker has also tried to give equal attention to all four states, so even though Nevada is his least-visited state, he still ranks second there, having spent eight days of his campaign in the state. Moulton, perhaps surprisingly, ranked right up there with Booker, also at 4 percent. In fact, Moulton has come closer than any other candidate to making Nevada a centerpiece of his campaign strategy. Almost a quarter of his days in early states have been spent in Nevada, a higher percentage than any other candidate.

Heated race in South Carolina

Share of days since campaign launch that each Democratic presidential candidate has held an event in South Carolina, through July 31

Candidate Share of Campaign Days
Marianne Williamson 11%
Tom Steyer 9
Kamala Harris 8
Cory Booker 7
Beto O’Rourke 7
Bill de Blasio 6
Joe Biden 5
Bernie Sanders 5
Michael Bennet 4
Seth Moulton 4
Elizabeth Warren 3
Pete Buttigieg 3
Kirsten Gillibrand 3
Tim Ryan 3
Amy Klobuchar 2
John Hickenlooper 2
Julián Castro 2
Jay Inslee 2
Andrew Yang 1
John Delaney 1
Tulsi Gabbard 1
Steve Bullock 0
Joe Sestak 0

Among candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight. Excluding any visits made before Nov. 7, 2018.

Source: Charleston Post and Courier

Again, because of her packed travel schedule, Williamson (11 percent of campaign days) ranks first for the share of time spent in the Palmetto State. The latest entrant to the race, billionaire Tom Steyer, ranks second, having spent 9 percent of his campaign days in South Carolina — but he had only been actively running for 23 days as of the end of July, so that means he only spent two days so far in South Carolina. Whether he continues to prioritize South Carolina (or New Hampshire, the only other early state he visited in July) remains to be seen.

The biggest thing that jumps out from the South Carolina data, though, is how much more time Sen. Kamala Harris is spending here (8 percent of her campaign days) than in any other state. Harris has caused consternation in both Iowa and New Hampshire for not devoting as much attention to those two more traditional (and, it should be said, whiter) early states, but it’s probably smart of her to prioritize South Carolina. Harris has made efforts, with some success, to appeal to black voters, who make up a majority of the South Carolina Democratic electorate. For example, she has already won nine endorsements from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Honorable mentions also go to Booker and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Booker has spent 7 percent of his campaign days in South Carolina, which makes it his second-most-frequented early state. (Like Harris, Booker is hoping that support from black voters will help carry him to the nomination.) And the 6 percent of his campaign days that de Blasio has spent in South Carolina also make it his second-most-visited state.

With six months to go until these states start voting, there’s obviously plenty of time for candidates’ strategies to change. But the data we have now gives us a pretty clear idea of which candidates are putting all their eggs into one early-state basket — and where candidates might want to visit next.


  1. That is, states that hold their primaries before Super Tuesday.

  2. Excluding those who have dropped out.

  3. Counting each day separately for each campaign; that is, if two candidates campaigned in Iowa on the same day, it would count as two campaign days in Iowa.

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