Trump's Got the Grass-Roots Passion, But the Organization Is Slower to Take Root in Ohio
For months, Donald Trump’s campaign in Ohio had been low-key, unorthodox -- and passionate. But as it heads towards the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the Trump effort is taking on a more traditional tone. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze takes a closer look at the balance between grass-roots passion and campaign organization.
Late last month – after a litany of new reports about Donald Trump’s campaign lagging behind Hillary Clinton’s -- the GOP presidential candidate hired Ohio native and respected political consultant Bob Paduchik to run his campaign here. Trump hadn’t stepped foot in the state publicly since he lost the March primary to Gov. John Kasich. But Paduchik quickly organized fundraisers and rallies in southeastern and southwestern Ohio, both of which backed Trump in the primary and continue to embrace his message.
Last week, thousands cheered him in a gym in St. Clairsville, especially when he promised, “We are going to make our country great again and greater, greater, greater than ever before. Thank you, Ohio. Thank you!”
But Trump’s appeal extends beyond southern Ohio and beyond big rallies.
This is not your father's NASCAR
"This is a nitro funny-car body. This is a carbon-fiber replica," John Bojec explains as he gives a tour of Speed City, a family-run company in Mentor that sells high-performance racing-car parts. Bojec is also a drag racer – the kind of drag racer whose nitro-methane-fueled car hits 320 mph in less than four seconds.
“We have these 10,000-plus horsepower machines that make the ground shake. We have their attention."
And what Bojec wants to do with at least some of that attention is turn it toward Donald Trump – an in-kind donation like no other.
“We have 85 million currently in our fan base. We have a tremendous amount of reach, reach in areas typically not seen in normal political campaigns.”
The message he hopes to deliver in that apolitical space is that Donald Trump is the solution to what ails America. “As a business owner I’m going to go to the person that I think is going to give us the best chance to surviving in this world of business. And I like his persona. I think he knows what he wants and how to get it.”
Finding like-minded sponsors
Speed City took its message to corporate sponsors to underwrite the cost of the Trump car and crew. That’s about $3 million a year to build, race and – repeatedly and extensively -- rebuild.
They had envisioned a car body specially designed along a Trump theme – perhaps playing off the appeal of a campaign music video called “Trump Train.” But they’ve had to scale back on that, settling for bold decals instead of a full paint job on the car set to race in August in Brainard, Minn.
Still, they’re convinced the Trump message and the hot-rod racing audience is a natural.
Organization can't be an afterthought
Danielle SarverCoombs says Speed City is likely right. But the associate dean of Kent State’s College of Communications – who studies politics and the media -- says elections require more than a core audience.
“I think what they’re trying to see is: Are there nontraditional ways to attract voters who are going to not be looking at mainstream media, ... and find new ways to reach them. The critique of that sort of approach is that the people who are going to be exposed to that message are probably ones who are more likely already in the Trump camp.”
According to Michael Cornfield, who heads George Washington University’s campaign management school, reaching outside the camp takes organization: People who know who to target, are trained on how to deliver their message, have the talking points that give a campaign a coherent message and gather and digest “fresh intelligence” on each voter.
“An organized campaign works more efficiently than one that really has just passion going for it.”
Cornfield says Trump’s campaign has been late in recognizing the value of that efficiency. But what of the passion that’s been on display at rallies like the one in St. Clairsville last week, by people like Krista Monroe and Dawn Tenley?
"This is my third rally. We love Trump because he speaks his mind, he’s not politically correct. "
Cornfield and Coombs acknowledge organization without passion has its own set of problems. So the job of the new crew of pros coming onto the Trump campaign in Ohio and elsewhere will be to keep the grass roots nurtured while rebuilding the engine.