DES MOINES, IA — To judge them solely by their travels over the past month, you might think Jeb Bush has already plunged into the general election and Hillary Rodham Clinton has a serious fight on her hands for the Democratic nomination.
Whereas the conventional thinking, at least, is quite the opposite: He’s got a real primary race to settle first and she doesn’t.
Bush, who has yet to declare his candidacy for the Republican nomination, has been stopping in states far from the early testing grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire, the first in the state-by-state primary contests for the parties’ presidential nominations. Over the past month, he’s made appearances in Ohio, North Carolina and Colorado, all crucial states in the general election, when Republicans and Democrats battle over the relatively few states that swing from one party to another in presidential elections.
On Saturday, he’ll be in Virginia, which will also be hotly contested in November 2016, even as most of his Republican nomination rivals are appearing in South Carolina — an important early state in the primary race.
“It’s a conscious effort, as he goes through the consideration process, to talk to and hear from people across the board,” Bush spokesman Tim Miller said. “That means in the early primary states and other states that would play a role in the process.”
Bush’s strategy carries potential risks as he prepares to enter a crowded Republican field. Voters in early primary and caucus states are used to personal attention from candidates and could see Bush’s apparent flirtation with the general election as premature.
Clinton, in contrast, is narrowly focusing her travel schedule on the first four states in the primaries, suggesting she wants voters to know she’s taking nothing for granted despite her dominant position in the party.
To be sure, Bush isn’t avoiding the early states. He’s made visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as South Carolina and Nevada, which round out the first four primary contests, and is headed back to Nevada and Iowa next week. Also, he does not have paid staff on the ground in the battleground states.
But a candidate’s time remains one of any campaign’s most valuable assets and how and where the candidate spends it provides the clearest glimpse into their strategy. Bush’s relentless travel schedule has been largely driven by his aggressive fundraising campaign. But he took time out in Ohio last month to speak to the influential Ohio Chamber of Commerce conference, a coveted speaking engagement in a perennial swing state.
This weekend, Bush will give the commencement address at Liberty University in Virginia, a state that Democrat Barack Obama carried twice. In just the past month, Bush has also spoken in Colorado and North Carolina.
Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina were each decided by less than five percentage points in the 2012 presidential election, and are expected to be pivotal in 2016. A candidate who wins a state claims all the electoral votes in almost all states under a winner-take-all system.
Since announcing her campaign in early April, Clinton has limited her campaign appearances to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. She also plans to travel to South Carolina in the coming weeks.
Clinton’s campaign is initially raising money for the primaries, not the general election.
But it’s clear she is keeping an eye on Bush, who is viewed by many of her advisers as the toughest potential Republican candidate in a general election.
For example, Clinton had planned to wait until May to start headlining fundraising events. However, she told aides that because Bush was raising money at such an aggressive pace, she needed to pick up her pace on that front. Fundraisers were added to her April schedule in New York and Washington.
Campaign officials said Clinton’s travel plans haven’t been swayed by Bush’s flirtation with general election states. They don’t expect her to appear in states such as Ohio until late summer at the earliest.
But her team is looking for other ways to engage the general election states. Campaign chairman John Podesta met donors in Colorado on Monday and is expected to make similar stops in states that will be crucial on Election Day.
The campaign has also pledged to have employees in all the states, working with volunteers and organizing efforts to get out the vote.
While campaign officials said those efforts are currently focused on the primaries, they are also a way to start building a foundation for the general election.
THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
JULIE PACE, Associated Press