Candidate Travels—Rationale, Methodology and Limitations

Perhaps the most precious resource on a campaign is the candidate's time.  Rallies, discussions, town hall meetings, and impromptu stops allow for personal contact with voters and can generate free media attention.

These calendars attempt to give a sense of how the major party candidates spent their time in the months leading up to Election Day, November 6, 2012, showing where they travelled and what they did.  The general election campaign can be said to have started on April 10, 2012 when former Sen. Rick Santorum suspended his campaign, making former Gov. Mitt Romney the presumptive nominee.  (More broadly, for the incumbent, President Barack Obama, travels throughout the course of the administration are made to an extent with an eye on 2012).1

The calendars are based on publicly available information.  The starting point is information provided by the campaigns and the White House--the daily schedules they e-mailed out to general press.  (Campaigns do provide more detailed schedules to the travelling press but these were not available).  The thoroughness of these schedules varies.  Thus far the Romney campaign has not been providing a lot of detail; there have been many days with just one event on the public schedule and other days with no information at all, and fundraisers are not on their general schedules.

Information from schedules is then verified and supplemented by a close reading of news accounts found using Lexis-Nexis and the Internet.  Through news accounts one can confirm that the events on the schedule actually occurred and pick up many of the off the record (OTR) or unannounced stops.

Using these resources it is possible to create a generally complete picture of travels by the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Visits by the principals are but one measure how much effort a campaign put into a particular state.  Other indicators of activity include how much the campaign spent on advertising, how much resources went into field organization, and how many appearances surrogates, ranging from relatives to prominent officials to celebrities, made. 

Personal visits can be analyzed using a point system wherein a visit by the presidential candidate is assigned the highest value, a visit by the vice presidential candidate the next highest value, and spouses' visits and visits by various surrogates progressively fewer points.2 This type of analysis is not attempted here. 

In attempting to quantify activity by the principals in a state, one can consider the number of visits, number of days, or number of events.

A visit is fairly straightforward.  If a candidate enters a state, does an event or events and then leaves the state, that is a visit.  However, a tricky situation arises where two cities are nearby but on opposite sides of a state border.  For example if a candidate does an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, crosses the Missouri River to do another event in Omaha, Nebraska and then returns to Iowa or does some New Hamphire events with a stop in Maine or Vermont thrown in in the middle, an argument could be made that there were two trips to Iowa or New Hampshire.  In this study, if a candidate does an event or events in a state, drives over the border and goes out of the state for a nearby event or events, and then comes back in state the same day such a trip is considered as one visit.

A day means a day on which the candidate did some sort of publicly reported activity in the state.  For example if a candidate arrives late at night and goes straight to the hotel and then does an event the next morning, that is counted as one day; similarly, if a candidate does some events, overnights, and leaves the next morning without any further events that is also counted as one day.  The problem with using visits or days as a measure of activity is that these give the same weight to a fly-in, fly-out airport tarmac rally as to a full-day bus tour with many stops along the way.

Events is finer measure, but there are ambiguities which must be clarified.  There are many types of events: scheduled rallies where the candidate speaks to hundreds or thousands of people, roundtable discussions limited to invited guests, fundraisers, and unannounced or impromptu stops where the candidate meets a few dozen people. 

One could make a distinction between scheduled events and unscheduled events.  A problem here is that different campaigns or even the same campaign may not be consistent in terms of what they consider an event.  Sometimes schedules note fundraisers and other times not.  Airport arrivals are sometimes on the schedule and other times not.  A reliance on schedules leaves out unannounced or unscheduled stops or OTRs (off the record stops).  Unannounced stops at diners or town squares can be among the more interesting activities a candidate does because they are less scripted.  They are often quite brief, just five minutes or fifteen or twenty minutes.  An encounter with a candidate in a diner or restaurant can have a multiplier effect beyond just the individuals there; they may tell their friends about it, and news photographs may spread images to a wider audience.  Careful research can find many of these OTRs. 

If a candidate goes jogging or takes a bike ride around town that will usually be unpublicized, but the candidate will be seen and there may be reports or photos of the activity.  For example in 2008 there were occasional mentions and reports of Sen. Obama going to a gym to work out or play basketball; but there were other times when he engaged in such activities and they were not reported.  (There are instances where one would want to include such activities, as for example when Paul Tsongas did a photo op at the Concord YMCA during the 1992 New Hampshire primary campaign).

Church services can be a murky area.  Sometimes the schedule shows that a candidate will attend and/or speak at a church service; that is clearly an event.  Other times attendance is a private matter and not publicized, but there still may be photographers on hand to shoot the arrival or departure. 

Private meetings are another difficult area.  Sometimes a schedule will note private meetings; more often they do not.  Some private meetings are reported on, others are not.  Some necessitate that the candidate make a separate trip, and others are quickies tacked on before or after an event.  Without a full schedule, rigorous analysis is not possible.

In terms of keeping score, elected officials do official events and campaign events.   In the case of President Obama's trips calculations are done to determine how travel on Air Force One or Marine One is charged to the taxpayers.  In April 2012 the RNC charged there was a blurring of the lines of official and campaign travel at taxpayers' expense, to no effect. (+An analysis could be done considering only campaign events, and excluding official events, but in the campaign season everything can be seen as political.

The vice presidential nominees had busy schedules and those are tracked here.  Audiences like to see a candidate's wife as well as the candidate.  These calendars do not consistently note husband and wife appearances because the presence of the spouse is not always noted in schedules/reports.  Solo events and appearances by Michelle Obama and Ann Romney (as well as Jill Biden) are tracked.

A word should be said about joint visits.  Having the whole team present—the presidential and vice presidential candidates and their wives—may have a greater impact than if just the candidate appears; if one were doing a quantitative analysis one might want to take that into account.  At the same time, doing too many joint appearances cuts down on the campaign's ability to spread its message. 

Finally, the calendars document the travels of the Libertarian and Green party candidates from the point at which they became their parties' nominees.  Relatively good information was available on Johnson-Gray and Stein-Honkala events, but the low-budget Constitution party campaign was largely below the radar. 

To conclude, these calendars provide as complete a picture as possible of travel by the principals based on publicly available information.  They are not definitive—some unpublicized fundraisers and unannounced stops are no doubt missing—but include all major public events, and as many unannounced events as it was possible to document through extensive research.

1. See Brendan J. Doherty.  Aug. 2012.  THE RISE OF THE PRESIDENT'S PERMANENT CAMPAIGN.  Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
"In this eye-opening book, Brendan Doherty provides empirical evidence of the growing focus by American presidents on electoral concerns throughout their terms in office, clearly demonstrating that we can no longer assume that the time a president spends campaigning for reelection can be separated from the time he spends governing."

2. Molly Willow proposed an amusing scoring system for visits in "The Flip Side" feature titled "Stump 'N' Go" that ran in the Columbus Dispatch on Sept. 2, 2004.  A Bush or Kerry visit counted as 10 points, a Cheney or Edwards visit as 8 points, a solo visit by Laura Bush as 4 points, but a solo visit by Elizabeth Edwards or Teresa Heinz Kerry as only 2 points.  Ms. Willow scored a panolopy of surrogates.  Appearances by musicians or bands with hits in this decade were valued at 3 points (more than the Democratic candidates' wives), but if the musician or band had an older hit the visit was valued at -3 points.  Interestingly Ms. Willow also proposed a distance effect, introducing a multiplier for events in Columbus proper or in central Ohio.