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NPR Politics Podcast: Super Tuesday Strategy


Sam Sanders and Tamara Keith are also co-hosts of NPR's Politics Podcast. This week, Sam got together with NPR's Domenico Montanaro, Asma Khalid and Scott Detrow to talk about how candidates figure out their game plan for Super Tuesday. He asked, with contests in 13 states in one day, how do they focus their time?

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: So doesn't it seem a little unfair that Iowa and New Hampshire got months and months and months and months and months of attention but all these states that are at play Super Tuesday get considerably less?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: You're not the first to whine. I mean...


SANDERS: OK, go ahead, though.

MONTANARO: I hear you.

SANDERS: You hear me.

MONTANARO: I mean, it's complicated enough, right? And we've done a couple stories about how the process could be different. All of those things have potential problems, too. So there's nothing really perfect. It's really long. It's really complicated. (Laughter) That's why we're digging into it.

SANDERS: I have a question for the group. There's a very small window between Iowa and New Hampshire and all these states on Super Tuesday. It's really hard to be in all of those states and campaign heavily in all of those states. What goes into the strategy here as far as where you campaign in this really small window for this really big swath of country?

MONTANARO: This is why Super Tuesday usually favors a frontrunner and why it favors somebody with a lot of name ID and with a lot of money because it takes a lot of those things to be able to win across a lot of places, to buy TV ads, to have your name out there. If people know who you are, you don't have to do as much on the ground campaign. That's why there's this tension between grassroots and top-down. A lot of people will say that they want to change the system. Let's have a national primary on one day. If you did that, Rudy Giuliani might be the Republican nominee because...

SANDERS: Who is that...


MONTANARO: Former mayor of New York...

SANDERS: I know. I know. I'm teasing you.

MONTANARO: ...Who was leading in all the polls...

SANDERS: I remember that.

MONTANARO: ...Iowa and New Hampshire...

SANDERS: He had the Florida strategy, right?

MONTANARO: He had the Florida, Florida, Florida strategy. And by the time Florida came around, it was over because he didn't have that grassroots campaigning. But Asma, you could probably talk more about having been on the ground - and Scott, too - on, like, what you've seen when these candidates have gotten...

SANDERS: Does it really change a lot?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I mean, one thing...


KHALID: ...I will say about Donald Trump is, he has actually been in a number of these Super Tuesday states.


KHALID: I mean, he's, early on, been campaigning, say, in Massachusetts. He would fly in...

MONTANARO: He was in Nashville, and...

KHALID: ...Do a rally there, and go up to New Hampshire.

MONTANARO: Yep. He goes big.

KHALID: He goes big.

MONTANARO: You got to go huge if you want to win on Super Tuesday.

KHALID: He hold these huge rallies, but he's been doing this in a number of these Super Tuesday states. So that's - that was Donald Trump's strategy.


KHALID: On the Democratic side, the day after the Nevada caucuses, we had Hillary Clinton - or that night, actually. She flew down to Texas - Super Tuesday state.

SANDERS: I remember that.

KHALID: Where did she send her husband and Chelsea - Colorado - on the ground, grassroots campaign.

SANDERS: And the thinking is, those local stops get you local coverage.

KHALID: They do, yeah.

DETROW: And we have seen some, you know - the one thing when you talk to political scientists about what works best - when you go do a local stop, you do get a bump in the polls because of the local media coverage...


DETROW: ...Of you being there. So there is a lot of value in doing that local stop. The problem is, that has a really short shelf life. And if you get a boost in those polls from being there, it goes away pretty quickly.

SANDERS: So you should backload those stops...

DETROW: Right.

SANDERS: ...Until right before.

DETROW: I think you might get more value in these kind of big arena PAC stops in the Super Tuesday states and later states than you do earlier on because voters who come out and, more importantly, the local reporters who come to see you have not heard the speech 50 times like when you were in New Hampshire and Iowa, there day after day after day. So I think...

MONTANARO: And this is product of your earlier point, Sam, about how Iowa and New Hampshire seem to get a disproportionate amount of attention. Well, when you get that kind of attention, you can do...


MONTANARO: Eight months of stops at diners and...

SANDERS: Exactly.

MONTANARO: ...You know, coffee shops and whatever. You can't do that when it's, you know, a week or two.

CORNISH: That's the NPR Politics Podcast team. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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