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Trump Lags Behind Clinton In 'Ground Game' Support


So far, it hasn't been a good marriage between Donald Trump and the Republican establishment. But it may be just that establishment that Mr. Trump needs to build his election team in key states - what's called the ground game of getting out the vote. Rob Jesmer has worked for the RNC. He is also the former executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROB JESMER: Thank you.

SIMON: What is the ground game?

JESMER: That is an effort done by every campaign, whether you're running for county commissioner or president, where you try to spend a fair amount of time identifying your voters, persuading your voters to come to you and then building a universe in which you can get them out to vote for you in the fall.

SIMON: So this is recognizing you actually need to get votes in the ballot boxes.

JESMER: Yeah, and I think, you know, now with the advent of early vote and all these different ways in which people can vote, what you do is you spend, you know, six months to a year kind of ranking voters by their propensity to vote, what issue moves them. And, you know, you're going to start out with a smaller - you know, who you know who are going to vote for you. And you're going to start with a group that you think you can get to vote for you if you just get them the proper message. And so that would involve door knocking and, you know, pieces of mail and phone calls. You know, it goes on for several months.

SIMON: And do you share the general perception that Donald Trump is way behind Hillary Clinton in this ground game?

JESMER: I do. I think the RNC has done what they can do. They've been trying with the resources they have to prepare to kind of hand over a operation that was functioning and running. But that was always predicated on the fact that the nominee was going to be able to come in there and raise tens of millions of dollars so they could kind of fund the last, you know, half of the operation. And that part is very concerning with the latest FEC reports.

SIMON: So can't he just write a check?

JESMER: Well, I don't know. I think he spent 40 or 45 million so far, which is a decent chunk of change. No question about it. But you would think that if he was going to write a check, he maybe would have just to kind of avoid all the bad press, but who knows. He's obviously a very unconventional candidate. But the point is, going back to that time issue, writing a check on October 1st is not nearly as helpful as writing a check on July 1st or June 1st. You just need time to build up the operation and go, and, like I said, identify these voters and put them in a category which you can get out to vote.

SIMON: You referred to Donald Trump as an unconventional candidate. And I wonder how you would react to the idea that - he did not demonstrate in the primaries that he just plays a different game than the pros do and wins?

JESMER: I would just suggest to you that winning a primary contest is a lot different than winning a general election contest. And look, he still did spend - like I said, I think it's been $40 to $45 million - so he was outspent, but not in the proportion that he is currently on track to be outspent. If you think about not only the cash on hand - so I think, you know, Secretary Clinton had 42 million, and he had 1 million. And then you look at their super PACs. She had 55 million, and the super PAC for Donald Trump had 500,000. So if - you know, we're almost on track to a-hundred-to-one spending, and that is just unsustainable.

SIMON: If you're a Republican senatorial or congressional candidate, do you worry now?

JESMER: Yeah, of course. You know, normally the nominee is raising tens of millions of dollars a month. Some of that money goes to their campaign. And then the rest that money is going to the national party and state parties to help fund this get-out-the-vote effort, which, you know, obviously benefits the presidential candidate, but also has a tremendous impact on the Senate and congressional races. And so, you know, this is going to be, I think, a rather big departure from modern campaigning. Like, that was kind of the deal, which was the get-out-the-vote in targeted states would be for well-funded. So what that's going to do is put a lot more stress on that operation than they would have hoped or anticipated, you know, a year ago.

SIMON: Rob Jesmer has worked for the Republican National Committee. Also a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Thanks so much for being with us.

JESMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.