Thom Tillis has one thing going for him in his bid to get to 40% of the vote in the May primary. Dr. Greg Brannon. Full of naive exuberance and Tea Party crazy, Brannon is clearly a candidate who is not ready for prime time. He’s yet to really leverage his Rand Paul endorsement and he’s running his campaign backwards. At this rate, he’ll leave a lot of votes on the table for Tillis to pick up.
Last week, Brannon announced that he’s opening four campaign offices and recruiting volunteers. His manager says he’s running a grassroots campaign. But, really, he’s just struggling to put together a volunteer field operation, which should be the final stage of a campaign, not the opening.
A well-run, well-funded field or grassroots operation can increase a vote margin by as much as 5%, but not much more. To get there, a candidate needs to have widespread name recognition and a relatively deep base of support. And to get that, a candidate needs to have built and funded a successful communications program. Brannon has done none of that.
Too often, candidates confuse grassroots campaigns with insurgency or groundswell campaigns. John McCain’s Straight Talk express in 2000 and Howard Dean’s upstart effort in 2004 were insurgencies. While they both struck a chord with disgruntled constituencies within their parties, they were both struggling to raise enough money to compete. They were trying to turn their anti-establishment credentials into dollars, not just volunteers. In 2008, Barack Obama built a grassroots base but spent millions in technology and traditional communications to do it.
According the the latest poll, Brannon has low name recognition among likely Republican primary voters. Before his campaign can successfully utilize field operatives, people need to know who he is. Otherwise, when His canvassers or phone bankers ask people to support Greg Brannon, the question they are going to get is, “Who?”
Grassroots support never emerges in a vacuum. It’s got to have a trigger. Claiming the Tea Party mantle and spouting worn out talking points won’t do it.