The campaign for North Dakota Governor and Republican presidential candidate Doug Burgum said it’s rolling out a “cutting-edge voter contact surge” that will target more “persuadable” voters.
Will it be enough to move the needle for a long-shot candidate on the outside looking in to next week’s second GOP presidential debate?
Team Burgum said the text video-to-voter program “hyper-targets highly persuadable Republicans and conservative-leaning independents likely to vote in the Republican presidential primary.”
So look out, Iowans and Granite Staters: If you’re on the targeted list, you can expect a 30-second Doug Burgum campaign ad or message coming to a text message near you.
Apparently, Burgum’s targeted text blitz is patterned after what Never Back Down — the super PAC supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ run for the White House — is doing. As German-owned Politico reported earlier this month, the high-powered political action committee was tasked with introducing DeSantis to an identified 34,634,388 Republican primary voters.
In particular, the “surge,” as the folks in the Never Back Down Georgia headquarters called it, trained its candidate marketing initiative on the first four nominating states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada.
According to Politico:
Those identified as potential DeSantis targets in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Manchester, New Hampshire, saw “Anthem” and “Steel” on broadcast television, during NASCAR races and NCIS episodes, while in Mason City, Iowa, and Reno, Nevada, it was delivered only over streaming platforms or so-called connected television devices like Roku or Xbox. Des Moines residents received text messages including links to the ads while those in Charleston saw nothing on their phones. Voters in the Iowa side of the Omaha media market and on the New Hampshire end of Burlington, Vermont’s market got seven direct-mail leaflets, while every other voter in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina received only four. In Mason City, Iowa, the pro-DeSantis ad was delivered via text message, direct mail, connected television devices and rural radio stations.
The $17 million “experiment” seems to have failed on the surface. Since DeSantis entered the GOP presidential nomination chase in May, his polling numbers have plummeted. He’s at 12.7 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics average of 2024 Presidential Nomination polls, trailing front-running former President Donald Trump by 44 percentage points. In early May, an ABC News/Washington Post Poll had the Florida governor garnering 25 percent support from Republican voters.
But Never Back Down chief strategist Jeff Roe told Politico there’s a method to the data madness.
“Sifting through 330 million consumers to find 34.7 million Republican primary voters is a Herculean task,” Roe told the German-owned news outlet. “You can only do that with a deep commitment to data. And you can’t do that without understanding exactly how to apply that directly to voters when you can no longer do it in the simplest and easiest way possible in the past.”
Burgum’s campaign seems to have faith in its version of “the surge.”
The Burgum-backing Best of America PAC appears to be ramping up its previously announced media buy ahead of next week’s debate. Last month, the committee announced it would spend $3.9 million on an ad blitz. Ultimately, the figure came in at $6 million. Last week, Best of America added another $2 million-plus in national broadcast, live sports and radio advertising, according to public documents.
“Now is the perfect time to deploy our national voter contact surge,” said campaign spokesman Lance Trover in a statement. “It takes time to begin changing numbers and the ballot is always the last figure to move.”
“Our direct to voter contact is timed to provide a lift ahead of the 2nd debate,” Trover added.
Burgum will need a lift to make it on the debate stage this time around.
Thanks to novel fundraising scheme in which the campaign gave away $20 gift cards for at least $1 donations, Burgum met the individual fundraising requirements to make the cut for the first Republican primary debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee.
But the threshold for the second debate next Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA, is tougher.
The Republican National Committee mandates candidates poll at 3 percent in two national polls or 3 percent in one national poll and 3 percent in one poll from two of the four early-nominating states. Polls must be conducted on or after August 1 and up to 48 hours before the debate.
Burgum has hit the 50,000 unique donor requirement. He is polling at 4.5 percent on average in New Hampshire, and he hit the threshold with 3 percent support in Iowa, according to a recent Emerson College poll. But the North Dakota governor is basically flatlining in the national polls, with an average of 0.2 percent.
Polls must have been conducted on or after August 1, and candidates have until 48 hours before the debate to meet the polling requirement.
Burgum told reporters in New Hampshire this week he’s confident he will make the debate, airing on Fox Business.
“With these clubhouse rules that require national polling as well, we shifted some resources towards national advertising and name awareness but only a couple of weeks ago. So it takes a while to settle it in,” he said.
As he told The Iowa Star a couple of weeks ago, Burgum said if his campaign doesn’t make the polling threshold, he’ll continue to campaign. He intends to be on the Iowa and New Hampshire caucus in primary ballots come January.
“In the end, it’s the voters who get to decide how the field gets narrowed, not a cable network and not clubhouse rules,” he said.
It appears former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson will not make the debate cut, either.
While the RNC hasn’t released a debate lineup, qualifiers appear to be DeSantis, Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Trump clearly has qualified in donors and polling, but he has said he will not attend the second debate after skipping Milwaukee. Instead, the former president plans to hold a rally on debate day in Detroit, where United Auto Workers members at the Big Three Automakers are on strike.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Doug Burgum” by Doug Burgum.