The Trump campaign is struggling to operate at even a basic level in many key states, as it lacks funding and relies heavily on sometimes hostile state party organizations. The developments are raising further doubts about the candidate’s viability in the final weeks of the race.
The latest signal of the Trump campaign’s woes came Saturday with the release of a letter from Trump’s Ohio state director, Bob Paduchik, to members of the state Republican committee. In the letter, he severed ties with the Ohio GOP chairman but said they still expect support from the state party.
“The campaign expects the [Ohio Republican Party] to continue to support the Trump Victory payroll, HR and other services it provides. If Chairman [Matt] Borges refuses to continue meeting that obligation, I respectfully ask the committee to direct the Chairman to meet the party’s obligations,” Paduchik wrote.
Campaign finance filings released Saturday night revealed that the joint fundraising committee with the Trump campaign, the RNC and state parties raised $61.3 million from August through September — a little more than a quarter of the $235.6 million Romney helped raise for the RNC and state parties over the same period in 2012.
It’s a reflection of the challenges inherent to the Trump campaign’s decision to lean heavily on local state parties — in many cases, almost entirely — to run their ground operation in each state.
In one recent example, Ohio residents received mailers funded by the New York State GOP, rather than the Trump campaign or Ohio GOP. A Trump campaign operative in Ohio insisted the campaign works well with the state party, but acknowledged, in explaining the mailer, that there had been some “rub” with the Ohio GOP and it was quicker for them to go through the New York GOP on the issue.
Borges, the state chairman, was quick to push back on questions surrounding their coordination with the Trump campaign, issuing his own letter to Ohio GOP operatives outlining the ways in which the state party has been working “in total coordination” with the Trump campaign.
More responsibilities for state GOPs, but less funding
And though the state parties are carrying a heavier organizing load this cycle without the operational support of the GOP nominee, operatives in a handful of swing states have openly complained in recent weeks that they’re not getting the necessary resources to fund it.
“The RNC based its projections for staffing on the previous nominee, and they haven’t been able to add the staff they expected because Trump isn’t raising nearly enough,” said one swing-state GOP official.
John Ullyot, Trump's deputy political director for communications, told NBC News in an interview that “we’re working very well together with both the state parties and the RNC, and in terms of resources we’re not seeing any problem.”
“The victory fund and state allocations are coming in where we want them, and we’re working with our teams to make sure they get to where they need to be,” he added.
But this week, NBC News was first to report that the Trump campaign decided to give up on Virginia and reallocate the state's staff to other swing states. The move suggested that the Trump campaign saw Virginia as unwinnable and that they didn’t have enough resources to cover every key state.
Ullyot pushed back on that assessment, saying that because the campaign has “finite resources and we know early vote’s a priority in North Carolina, and since it’s right next door, if we need to move staff back [to Virginia] we’re able to.”
Trump’s former state director, however, said part of the issue was that they simply weren’t seeing the money they needed to launch their field operations. Corey Stewart, who was fired from the campaign last week for organizing a protest of the RNC without approval from headquarters staff, charged that the Republican National Committee hampered the campaign’s efforts in the state by failing to deliver those resources.
“The RNC has made a half-assed effort to raise money. In fact, most of the fundraising events that the RNC took credit for were already organized by Trump volunteers. There was still money but I don’t know what happened to that money. I don’t know where it is,” he said.
Stewart pointed to a recent Wall Street Journal report revealing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told party officials to direct funds to competitive downballot races and said he assumed Priebus was behind the lack of funding, "because we’re not seeing any money on the ground in Virginia.”
Far behind 2012
In Florida, the Trump campaign’s reliance on the state party there has left them flat-footed and far behind where Mitt Romney was in 2012 in a state where organizing is key.
One former Florida state party operative noted that, in 2008 and 2012, the GOP nominee “accelerated” what the state party already had in place by “essentially doubling the presence — the number of staff, volunteers, doing data collection and voter registration.”
“[T]hat is what, really, we haven’t seen from the Trump campaign,” the operative said.
But the frustration wasn’t that the state party had to shoulder more of the burden of the turnout operation. “What was frustrating was that parties both nationally and locally rely on a lot of fundraising from the presidential candidate,” and that money, again, wasn’t coming in.
“The state party was ready to press go on a lot of efforts and haven’t — that’s because of a lack of funds,” the operative said.
That’s affected everything from hiring field staffers to opening offices. Where Mitt Romney had 43 Florida field offices open by Aug. 3 of 2012, by Sept. 1 this year, Trump had just one, with promises to open 24 more over the next few months.
An RNC spokeswoman countered that the party has “12 times the number of staff on the ground in Florida as there was in 2012,” noting the party launched a new fellowship program this cycle that deploys trained organizers to work in their local communities getting out the vote. But while those fellows commit to 20 to 40 hours of work each week for the party, they’re all essentially unpaid volunteers, many with little experience in campaigns.
According to an NBC News analysis of campaign finance filings, Democrats had more than five times as many paid staffers as Republicans listed on the payroll in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
And the disparity has local Republicans concerned.
David Johnson, a former Florida GOP chairman, called it “by far the weakest effort on behalf of the state party that I have seen.”
“They haven’t done the investment in it. They don’t seem to have the money there. The resources haven’t been delivered. I haven’t seen an absentee ballot program,” he said.
“They talk about it, I know the RNC had plans to put many hundreds of trained staffers and thousands of volunteers to be out and about — but I haven’t seen the impact of it yet.”