WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s unorthodox bid to win the Republican presidential nomination has some distinctly traditional trappings: offices and employees across the country.
Trump, the winner in two of the first three states in the presidential primary season, has long been laying the groundwork for more victories in March, when two dozen states go to the polls, new campaign finance reports show.
In January, his campaign had roughly 100 people on its payroll and a scattershot of field consultants and offices from Alabama to Texas, giving him a head start on connecting with voters as the primary calendar intensifies.
“I think we’re going to do terrific,” Trump said Saturday night in South Carolina, looking ahead to March. “We expect to do very, very well.”
Trump’s efforts are disclosed in his campaign finance report filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission. The records provided by all the campaigns covered fundraising and spending in January, and do not capture any activities in the first three weeks of this month.
The billionaire Trump has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to lock up the GOP nomination. He has so far invested about $17.5 million into his bid, a fraction of what most of the other candidates are spending.
But Trump has been able to pump money into employees and offices in part because he saves cash in important ways: He doesn’t do traditional fundraising, which can be pricey, and has done far less advertising than is typical for a leading presidential candidate.
The robustness of Trump’s field operation as outlined in the January fundraising reports looks more like that of Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton than any of his four Republican competitors.
At the beginning of the year, Trump had more salaried campaign employees than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whom he has identified as his two closest competitors. In addition, Trump had at least 17 paid field consultants in states beyond the first four to vote, a network that touched Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
And his campaign was already paying for office space in eight states that vote in March. Sanders and Clinton each had a presence in at least a dozen states voting in March, their January campaign finance reports showed.
“We need your help to guarantee a huge victory for Mr. Trump,” read a recent email from Trump’s paid Virginia state director, Mike Rubino. “We’re asking that you reach at least 25 new voters a day — everyday — until the election in one of 2 very easy ways: Walking or Talking.”
The email includes addresses for four call-center offices open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week, with additional locations open in the evenings.
Other Republicans — perhaps focused on notching a win in one of the four February voting states — didn’t appear to be thinking much about March back in January, that month’s financial reports show.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich had two offices in March states (including one in his home state), Rubio one and Cruz none, though his campaign headquarters is in Houston, where voters weigh in March 1.
Rubio’s campaign said it will open a Georgia office on Monday, and earlier hung its shingle in Birmingham, Alabama, and Maple Grove, Minnesota.
Rubio’s campaign — which appeared to have no March state field staff in January — is now redeploying people from Iowa and New Hampshire. Among the recent hires is Chip Englander, who had been Rand Paul’s presidential campaign manager. Based in Ohio, he’ll oversee Rubio’s efforts in the Midwest.
Cruz’s campaign showed payments to a handful of strategists in March-voting states, including Michigan.
The campaign finance reports show Kasich and Rubio had little cash to work with in January: They started the month with $1.5 million and $5 million, respectively. Both insist they can pick up new donations after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ended his presidential bid on Saturday. Cruz had $13.6 million at the beginning of February.
With so many states on the cusp of voting, presidential campaigns typically rely on television commercials as a way to spread their message far and wide.
Trump put about $10 million into his advertising plan for the first four states. That’s less than the $17 million Rubio’s campaign has put into television and radio ads, advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG shows.
Cruz is spending a bit less than Trump on TV, but has counted on outside groups to chip in for him with favorable commercials.
Here again, Trump may have an edge: He has sworn off big-money help — from anyone other than himself.
That means he can continue his pay-as-you-go campaign finance strategy while the other candidates either must spend time fundraising for their campaigns, or hope a wealthy donor decides to give big to an outside money group that will lend a hand.
Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.
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