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Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry Have Best Early State Ground Games, Local GOP Insiders Say

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Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Ron Paul are said to have the best ground games in the early primary states, according to local Republican insiders in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Iowa.

In analyses conducted by Patch editors and reporters in the three states -- who interviewed Republican insiders who have been judging presidential races for multiple cycles -- Romney came out on top in New Hampshire, Perry won out South Carolina and Paul finished first in Iowa. Although not scientific, the rankings looked at the number of campaign volunteers for each presidential candidate on the ground, attendance at candidate events and responsiveness to volunteer inquiries.

Iowa Republicans said many of the candidates have not built strong field organizations in the state, Patch reported, and couldn't compete with the group that Paul has assembled. The Texas congressman’s Iowa organization includes a mix of paid staffers, volunteers and local supporters scattered around the state. The Patch report did not rank any of the other candidates as having the second-best ground game in the state.

“It’s not a very good day for organizational efforts,” former Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross said to Patch.

But those interviewed in Iowa said the other candidates cannot be counted out of the state’s ground game war yet, and said that Romney can tap into his 2008 network, while Perry gained a base of support from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s campaign after Pawlenty dropped out of the GOP race.

With New Hampshire’s primary date in flux after Friday’s decision to move the Florida primary to Jan. 31, ground games continue to be judged in the Granite State. Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, is being judged by observers to have the best ground game in New Hampshire. New Hampshire observers pointed to the quality of the team Romney has assembled in the state, Patch reported, along with the visibility the Romney team has shown.

“At the end of the day, the Romney people understand this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Pat Griffin, a senior fellow at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, told Patch. “It’s really about reaching out to grassroots activists, getting people involved, getting the message out in as many platforms as you can. They’ve done it by mail, traditional media and digitally, and by hosting town hall meetings and going into homes.”

The local responsiveness of the Romney campaign appealed to some in New Hampshire, according to the Patch report. This includes sending representatives to the state and being visible at a variety of local GOP events across New Hampshire. Paul and Jon Huntsman were judged to have the second best ground games in the state, for many of the same reasons as Romney.

At the same time, observers view Michele Bachmann as having the weakest ground game in New Hampshire, according to Patch. The observers said the Minnesota congresswoman started campaigning in New Hampshire several months ago with communication efforts, but has not been to the state in a while.

Perry has been judged as having the best ground game in South Carolina, largely due to the backing of 21 Republican state legislators. Observers said the network, spread across the state, gives the Texas governor many people willing to speak at local Republican events, and helps the campaign recruit additional volunteers.

“My role is going to be helping him become more familiar with our needs as the campaign moves forward,” said South Carolina Sen. Larry Grooms, a Perry supporter, in an interview with Patch.

At the same time, South Carolina observers told Patch that Perry needs to spend more time in South Carolina to build on the local network he has assembled.

“That gets you media attention, but endorsements are pretty overrated,” Jeri Cabot, an adjunct political science professor at the College of Charleston, told Patch. “It doesn’t necessarily translate to work on the ground.”

Rick Santorum was given high marks for his ground game by Iowa and South Carolina observers, who said the former Pennsylvania senator has made a number of stops in the states, along with assembling field operations that could potentially help his campaign.

“If Santorum continues to put one foot in front of the other and gets hot at the end, he could win,” Des Moines attorney Jerry Crawford told Patch.

This story was written in partnership with Patch.com in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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