Before his campaign was threatened by a published report on past accusations of sexual harassment, Herman Cain was riding high in recent national polls. But in order to win the Republican presidential nomination, he's going to have to prove he's able to mount credible campaigns in the early primary states.
Cain staffers and party operatives in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada say the campaign has made recent hires and is ramping up efforts to capitalize on the momentum. But Cain, and his Republican colleagues, have to contend with the head start and deeper pockets of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been enlisting volunteers and identifying likely voters for months, if not years. In many states, local GOP party members say Romney has essentially kept the infrastructure in place from his 2008 presidential bid. And Romney has continued to lead polls in the first four contests--Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida--despite narrowly trailing Cain nationally.
Nonetheless, the crowded GOP field and anyone-but-Romney mentality amongst many conservatives has obviously his rivals with an opportunity, if they can translate buzz into an effective ground game in the coming weeks.
"The game is decided by boots on the ground and therefore turnout ," says Mack Shelley, a political science professor at Iowa State University.
Iowa caucus Jan. 3
Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Romney, whose campaigns boast the largest war chests of the contest, both have paid staffers on the ground in Iowa. Perry has recently begun airing television ads in the Hawkeye state to "reintroduce" himself to voters. Much like early frontrunner Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Perry rode an initial wave of popularity when he entered the presidential contest, but has since fallen in favor. The New York Times reports that he also now boasts the largest field organization in Iowa. Keith Nahigian, Bachmann's national campaign manager, called Iowa "the center of everything." The congresswoman, who was born in Iowa and represents a neighboring state in Congress, catapulted to the head of the GOP field following a straw poll win earlier in the year. Her campaign has since fallen in polls and performing well in Iowa is a must for her. In a show of local support, her campaign released the names of more than 60 "grassroots leaders" located in southeast Iowa who will help organize during the upcoming caucus. But Texas congressman Ron Paul might have a surprise showing in the caucus state, thanks to his fervent legion of young supporters, Shelley said.
New Hampshire primary (expected) Jan. 10
Next up is New Hampshire, where the pressure is on Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to perform. Huntsman, who is polling about 1 percent nationally, has essentially retracted all his efforts in other states to focus on the moderate GOP base of the Granite state.
For Romney, New Hampshire is the state of expectations--the other candidates will try to downplay their own while labeling anything but a Romney blowout as a sign of weakness. Romney holds a large lead over GOP rivals in the polls, thanks to his time as governor in neighboring Massachusetts and emphasis on courting the state's Rockefeller Republican-types since the 2008 election. He also has owned a home in Wolfeboro, NH since 1997.
"Perry has the money but not the organization; Cain has a lot better name recognition and favorabilities than Perry, but doesn't have the money or the organization either; and Romney may not have the ideal message or be the ideal candidate, but he has the organization and the money," said Andrew Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire and director of the UNH Survey Center.
Smith said Perry could get the proper infrastructure in place in time for the January primary, but the window is closing.