Donald Trump’s ground game strategy: Rely on help from outside organizations like Turning Point

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Donald Trump’s campaign is taking a vastly different approach to 2024 compared with 2020, with plans for fewer staff and expenses, including what the campaign views as superfluous brick-and-mortar offices. Instead, the campaign pledges to run a more efficient operation that will lean heavily on data modeling, microtargeting and relying on wealthy conservative groups for data, infrastructure and significant bank accounts to help find Trump a pathway to the 270 electoral votes needed to secure victory in November.

“(The) ability to work with outside groups on field work alleviates the need to have the same size staff footprint as in previous cycles, allowing us to retain a greater share of resources for advertising and paid voter contact programs than in past cycles,” a senior Trump adviser told CNN.

Of those groups, perhaps one of the most important is Turning Point Action, which is hosting Trump in Michigan on Saturday. It will be his second engagement with the organization in as many weeks. Turning Point was one of several groups that sat down with campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and James Blair during a donor retreat earlier in the year that focused on how outside groups could best assist Trump’s reelection effort.

TPA — an affiliate of Turning Point USA, the youth organization started by Trump ally Charlie Kirk — is aiming to ultimately spend $108 million on a get-out-the-vote effort in key battleground states, according to two sources familiar with the plans. The “Chase the Vote” program has built out infrastructures in Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, all states that Trump won in 2016 but lost to President Joe Biden in 2020. While Trump speaks to the crowd this weekend, the group is planning to sign up more local volunteers as well as pass out job applications to beef up their program, particularly in the Wolverine State.

Democratic operatives have mocked Trump’s campaign for their limited hired staff on the ground, as Biden’s team has continued to build out its own massive ground game operation.

“You need boots on the ground to win an election,” said one veteran Democratic strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “(The Biden campaign) is far outpacing Trump’s operation on this front.”

But Trump’s team members insist they do have people on the ground — they just aren’t all paid by the campaign.

The TPA program is built around “relational organizing,” a form of community organizing that requires hired “ballot chasers,” full-time staff who are trained to build relationships with specific members of the community and ensure they vote in the upcoming election.

Kirk and Tyler Bowyer, TPA’s chief operating officer, created the program after Republicans faced major losses in the 2022 election.

Using data from the last several election cycles, TPA has identified thousands of right-leaning low propensity voters — including voters who have voted for a Republican in recent cycles, but did not cast a ballot in 2020 or 2022 and cannot be relied on to show up in November. Many of these voters are in Republican districts.

“The prevailing wisdom of the consultant class before was, ‘Let’s go to those swing districts and really try and move those voters.’ Well, we don’t agree,” one source familiar with the plans told CNN. “We’re going where the Republicans are. We’re going to drive up score in those areas and get the people that stayed home in 2020 or 2022.”

Ballot chasers are hired locally and given a list of 400 to 600 of these voters that they are responsible for getting to the polls this cycle however they can, within the law of the state — including driving them to cast their ballots, helping mail their ballots and encouraging early voting.

“We want them to be the mayor of their territory,” TPA spokesman Andrew Kolvet said. “They’re throwing BBQs in the park, they’re getting to know their neighbors, they’re hosting local events so that when voting month comes along, they already have a relationship with these individuals so they can get as many pieces of paper in the ballot box as they can.”

“The 2020 election was decided by a handful of voters in three states. TPA plans to engage with hundreds of thousands of voters in these states,” Kolvet added.

The approach of relying on outside groups is untested. Advisers said this would be unlike any other traditional campaign strategy in modern history — only made possible by a recent Federal Election Commission ruling that allows campaigns to directly work and coordinate with outside groups. It’s also born out of a crucial challenge the Trump campaign has yet to solve for: money.

Trump’s campaign has struggled for months to keep pace with Biden’s growing war chest amid the former president’s ever mounting legal fees.

Republican operatives described the effort as valiant but risky.

“You are placing a lot of a trust in these (outside groups), who might be hard to manage,” said one operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

A former RNC official who also requested anonymity to speak candidly said, “There’s not a presence being built up, they don’t have a footprint. They have a handful of staffers in the states.”

“This isn’t a messaging war,” the former official said. “This is going to be a turnout fight … when you don’t have people out there building relationships and you don’t have the intense infrastructure, you don’t have as many offices, you don’t have as many bodies. … It seems that they are miscalculating how this election is going to be won.”

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