Listen to pundits, and they opine in grave tones that Donald Trump is coming into the general election campaign with practically no campaign organization in key states. I can attest that this is true in Pennsylvania. And I’m not sure it matters.
Let me tell you a little story.
I went to a Trump rally in West Chester this spring, the day before the Pennsylvania primary, which selects the state’s convention delegates in a pretty peculiar way. Most are elected directly by voters, three per congressional district, and nothing on the ballot will tell you which presidential candidate if any, the aspiring delegate supports.
That means it’s critical for presidential candidates to tell voters which of the candidates for delegate support them. If they don’t, they can win the popular vote and come out with precious few delegates.
So at the Trump rally, I thought surely the campaign would hand out fliers to everyone in line with the Trump slate of delegates for each congressional district in the area.
And surely Trump in his speech would say, “Now listen folks, remember tomorrow you have to cast not one, but FOUR votes. You vote for me, AND you for the three Trump delegates in your district. You can find their names on the fliers you got on the way in, and if you forget it, go to this website. They’re right there. OK, how many votes do you cast tomorrow? Four!!! Right!”
If I were him, I figured, I’d mention this three times. After all, he had thousands of supporters there, inside the building and listening on speakers outside.
Trump spoke for an hour, and he didn’t say it once.
Outside, there were no fliers.
And the next day, Trump’s delegates swept to victory across the state.
I called around the day after the primary and found the three Trump supporters who won the delegate posts in the 17th Congressional District in Eastern Pennsylvania.
They were all women, each from a different county, who came together early as a Trump slate and managed to beat everybody in an 11-candidate field.
And they did it mostly on their own.
“It was really all grassroots,” Lee Snover told me. “The Trump campaign did not pay for a robocall or any mail for us.”
“The campaign did pay for a hand card on election day,” Snover added. “It was very nice, but it was up to us to get a bunch of poll workers and get these cards out.”
Snover and her running mates, Carolyn Bonkoski and Teresa Lynette Villano, shelled out their own money for robocalls and a printed flier they took to Trump-related events and Republican meetings. They did everything they could think of to reach core GOP voters, and spent about $600 apiece in the effort.
It helped that they were active Republicans, but they weren’t the only ones on the ballot.
They managed to get more than 20,000 voters to find their names in the voting booth and give Trump a sweep in the 17th Congressional District.
Get the picture? Not much of a campaign organization, but a cadre of supporters inspired enough to get results on their own.
I’m not predicting Trump will win Pennsylvania or the White House. You can make a strong case he won’t.
I’m just saying something that should be obvious by now: This is not a campaign you can judge by traditional standards.