Jeb Bush abruptly cancels TV time to send staff into the field

Story highlights

  • Jeb Bush's campaign is drastically shifting its resources from the airwaves to the field as it scrapped large advertising buys in early-voting states
  • Campaign officials told CNN that it would cancel $3 million in reserved television advertising in Iowa and South Carolina

Washington (CNN)Jeb Bush's campaign is drastically shifting its resources from the airwaves to the field, scrapping large advertising buys in early-voting states in hopes of reviving his floundering bid for the presidency.

Officials told CNN Wednesday that the campaign will cancel $3 million in reserved television advertising in Iowa and South Carolina and is preparing to spend its money deploying upwards of 60 campaign staffers from its Miami headquarters to the first four voting states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The move will double the staffer presence in New Hampshire to more than 40.
    The dramatic spending shift comes as Bush redoubles his efforts in New Hampshire, where the former Florida governor is locked in a battle with other establishment favorites for top billing in a state that traditionally favors moderate candidates. Bush's super PAC still plans a $3.6 million Iowa TV campaign between now and the caucuses on February 1, but Bush's reduced airtime will nevertheless raise questions about how hard he plans to compete in Iowa.
    "It would be a mistake to assume that this is some pulling out of Iowa," said Dave Kochel, Bush's top strategist and a longtime Iowa hand. "However, we know that Iowa is a challenge."
    Bush himself downplayed the move, which was first reported by the Des Moines Register, Wednesday night after a campaign event in Lexington, South Carolina.
    "We have a super PAC that is advertising on television at a rate that is comparable to any other campaign, if not more. And we are reallocating our resources to voter contact and a ground game that will be second to none. It already is," Bush said, adding, "Having the best organization on the ground is how you win."
    But Wednesday's announcement is a far trip from the "shock and awe" fundraising juggernaut that Bush and his allies once planned to build to wow the Republican establishment and donor class. After stockpiling $100 million into a super PAC and raising cash for the campaign at a field-leading clip in the opening weeks of the campaign, Bush's campaign on Wednesday recognized that the campaign's bank account is not all-powerful and that television is limited in its ability to woo voters.
    Bush and his allies long thought that his financial advantage -- as seen in the warchests of both his campaign and his super PAC -- would give him dominance in the Republican primary. But his ad spending has failed to move the needle, and he remains mired in the middle of the GOP field dominated by a man who has spent close to nothing on paid media: Donald Trump.
    Bush placed seventh with just 3% support in a CNN/ORC poll released last week.
    The clearing of Bush's Miami headquarters will send scores of aides to knock on doors, and Bush's campaign on Wednesday was eager to portray the change as merely a recognition that the well-funded super PAC can handle paid advertising on its own. Bush had made early advertising reservations remaining for slightly over $1 million in Iowa, and slightly under $2 million in South Carolina, according to the campaign. No TV reservations are being changed in New Hampshire.
    The campaign will send 10 paid aides to Iowa, 20 to New Hampshire, 10 to South Carolina, and a remaining 10 to Nevada.
    "Frankly, people are tired of hearing from us on the phone. Our response rate is much better when we get people face to face," said Brett Doster, Bush's senior strategist in South Carolina.
    Campaigns routinely increase the size of field staff as voting approaches, but canceling long-reserved TV time is an unusual step that hints at possible worries about remaining hard dollars. In October, the Bush campaign slashed salaries and reorganized its payroll to try and make ends meet, perhaps the first warning sign that a financial problem was brewing.
    Now, the campaign will essentially forfeit the television space to his super PAC, Right to Rise, which cannot coordinate advertising buys or messages with the official campaign. And aides for that group were signaling Wednesday that they were prepared to pick up the slack on the airwaves, pledging more buys that will make up for the absence of the official campaign.
    "Easy for us - R2R - to beef up Iowa TV. Doing big radio, digital and mail. Plus some of our own ground," tweeted Mike Murphy, Right to Rise's head and Bush's longtime consigliere. "We're doing something fun re: IA soon that I doubt any other campaign is doing. Stay tuned to Twitter. @r2rusa ❤️ IA."