Candidate Travels—Rationale, Methodology and Limitations

There are many indicators of how much effort a campaign puts into a particular state.  These include visits by the principals, how much the campaign spends on advertising, how much resources go into field organization, and how many appearances surrogates, ranging from relatives to prominent officials to celebrities, make.  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 and top surrogates spent their time in the two months from Sept. 1 to Nov. 3, 2020, showing where they traveled and what they did.  In past cycles, the calendars covered a longer period, typically from June but even as early as March in 2004 to Election Day, but the Fall 2020 campaign was unique as the COVID pandemic put a real crimp on the travel. 

President Trump held a rally in Tulsa on June 20, his first since the outbreak of the pandemic, but the event proved to be a debacle when he couldn't fill the arena (+).  He also held a Students for Trump (Turning Point USA) Convention at Dream City Church in Phoenix on June 23, a big Mt. Rushmore Fireworks Celebration on July 3 and the 2020 Salute to America  at the White House on July 4.  The campaign cancelled a planned July 10 rally in Portsmouth, NH ostensibly because of Tropical Storm Fay.  In August Trump did six rallies (+) and in September fifteen rallies.  Trump's COVID diagnosis on Oct. 2 kept him off the trail for more than a week; he returned with an event in Florida on Oct. 12.  Biden stayed very close to home in Delaware doing mostly virtual events;
from June 2 to Aug. 31 he did six in-person events in Pennsylvania (+).  There were a lot of jokes about how Biden was camped out in his basement.  He did take to doing press conferences and virtual events from the Queen Theatre in Wilmington, and he finally resumed a fuller travel schedule in September.

The contrast between the two candidates' events was stark.  President Trump flouted safety concerns and drew huge crowds to his rallies where he spoke in lengthy rambling diatribes.  Biden held carefully controlled pseudo-events with handfuls of socially distanced attendees or drive in rallies; he stuck close to prepared remarks from the teleprompter.  For the two-month period only instance of Biden overnighting away from home was noted, on Sept. 29 in Cleveland following the debate.  Trump overnighted a number of times at his properties in Florida and Las Vegas
in addition to making day or weekend golfing trips to his properties in Potomac Falls, VA and Bedminster, NJ.

One major change brought about by the pandemic was a significant reduction in the number in-person fundraisers.  Trump and family still did these, but the Biden campaign's were all virtual.  Fundraisers have typically had a significant impact on presidential candidate schedules, to the point where other events sometimes seem tacked on as an afterthought.  That was not the case in 2020.  For example, California has long served as a cash cow for presidential campaigns and still did in 2020, but the in person appearances were very limited.  The Democratic candidates held no fundraisers in the Golden State during the fall.  This had downstream effects, contributing to a paucity of stops in Arizona and Las Vegas which would normally have occured as part of fundraising trips to California.

In addition to the presidential candidates, there are the vice presidential candidates, the candidates' spouses and a whole range of surrogates out on the trail.  Jill Biden was a workhorse on the campaign trail.  In part due to the pandemic, Kamala Harris did the fewest events of any vice presidential nominee in recent cycles.  In September she was mostly in virtual mode, making only seven trips.  The first week of October was devoted to debate prep. including five full days in Salt Lake City culminating with the debate on Oct. 7.  On Oct. 12 the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Harris is a member, started hearings to consider the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.  On Oct. 15 the campaign postponed several events after a staffer tested positive.  Harris' spouse, attorney Doug Emhoff, had a busy schedule.  Former President Obama did a handful of visits to battleground states in the closing two weeks, starting with stops in Philadelphia on Oct. 21.  As in 2016 the Trump campaign took family campaigning to an high level.  Trump's children—Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump—did many events and drew sizable crowds.  They were sidelined for a week following Trump's COVID diagnosis.  Toward the end even Tiffany Trump did some events.  First Lady Melania Trump did just five events in late October and early November.   Eric Trump's wife Lara, a senior advisor to the campaign, was very active.  Vice President Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence campaigned actively.  The campaign did a number of Women for Trump bus tours.  RNC co-chair Tommy Hicks Jr. and Vice President Pence's nephew John Pence, a senior advisor to the campaign, traveled extensively as well.

Methodological Notes
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 traveling press but these were not available).  The thoroughness of these schedules varies.  A problem area is fundraisers, which neither campaign included in their general schedules. 

Information from schedules is then verified and supplemented by a close reading of news accounts found using the Internet.  Information on fundraisers was gleaned from news accounts and twitter feeds of reporters covering the candidates.  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.

Candidate 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.
1 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, unannounced or impromptu stops where the candidate meets a few dozen people, official events and campaign events. 

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 or ten 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.  For example, campaign observer may recall Biden's Oct. 19 stop for milkshakes at a Cook Out in Durham, but would be hard pressed to recall the scheduled event that brought him to the state.  Both Biden and Harris did a number of these events and Pence several.  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.

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.  Trump did quite a few joint appearances with Pence, while Clinton did fewer such events.
Finally, in terms of keeping score, elected officials do official events and campaign events. One could argue that only campaign events should be considered, and official events excluded, but  realistically in the campaign season everything can be seen as political.

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. Back in 2004 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.

2. 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."