At Politico today, Alexander Burns and Maggie Halberman offer the ultimate insiders’ account of the 2016 “invisible primary” among Republicans, based almost entirely on their and their sources’ assessment of who has and hasn’t already set up a “turnkey” organization ready to rumble when the buzzer sounds. I have to say I’m more than a little shocked at the two proto-candidates they consider best prepared:
If the 2016 starter’s pistol fired tomorrow, at least a few contenders would be able to jump into action almost immediately. Marco Rubio, now halfway through his first Senate term, has surrounded himself with presidential-level strategists and policy advisers from the outset. His political operation is run by South Carolina operative Terry Sullivan, while the Rubio PAC Reclaim America brought on former Bush-Cheney and Fred Thompson fundraiser Dorinda Moss to manage the money flow.
A closer look at Rubio’s finance reports reveal an even more sophisticated operation at work. In addition to several vendors long associated with Rubio — the TV firm Something Else Strategies and the pollsters at North Star Opinion Research — Rubio has paid hefty sums to more specialized political consultants, including $150,000 to the Republican data analytics firm 0ptimus. Also working for Rubio is digital consultant Mike Harinstein, a former Americans for Prosperity digital guru now at the firm Core Focus Consulting.
And Rubio’s political machine isn’t just waiting for the “go” order. Reclaim America ran TV ads last year for Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, while his pollster was paid for multiple surveys. If Rubio runs, he’ll have plenty more hiring to do — especially in the early states — but the core of his national operation is perhaps the strongest in the field.
Giving Rubio an early run for his organizational money is Bobby Jindal, who has formed two independent groups to push his national message: a federal PAC, dubbed Stand up to Washington, and the policy nonprofit America Next.
Like Rubio, he has a core set of consultants experienced in presidential politics. They include the pollsters and ad men at OnMessage Inc., a Virginia-based firm that has worked for Jindal for a decade and employs former Jindal campaign manager Timmy Teepell.
And the Louisiana governor has been aggressively courting national finance types, making four trips to New York City in this calendar year to compete on turf where Christie was once the overwhelming favorite, as well as trips to other major cities, like Chicago.
Now get this:
Neither Rubio nor Jindal has caught fire in the earliest rounds of horse-race polling, a reality that supporters say counts for little this far out.
Well, that may be true if you’re talking about a proto-candidate nobody knows. But Rubio has experienced a rather notable nose-dive in polls after being widely hailed as the Savior of His Party a year ago. And Jindal is hardly an unknown quantity, either; he’s having to deal with bad impressions he’s made over and over again at various high-profile forums, and has home-state problems that show no signs of going away.
The kind of invisible-primary assets attributed to Rubio and Jindal in this piece could be Potemkin villages (Jindal’s “policy nonprofit” hasn’t exactly come up with any stunning ideas just yet; check out their webpage, and we don’t really know if his fundraising trips have panned out). Remember all the hype about Tim Pawlenty awe-inspiring 2012 organization? Or the genius of Rick Perry’s brain-trust (nearly all of whom have been discarded for Perry’s 2016 campaign)?
Until we see some real on-the-ground-in-Iowa-and-New-Hampshire organization, some real money, a real campaign strategy, and yes, at least a pulse in public opinion surveys of early-state voters, I’d say we should hold off on giving any awards to ’16 prospects who can just show you a crowded travel schedule and some on-paper “infrastructure.” Right now, I’d say Marco and Bobby’s most tangible “invisible primary” asset right now is buzz from Politico.