Stop us if you've heard this one before — the vast field of GOP presidential hopefuls is gathering in a critical early state this weekend to give speeches, woo voters and court activists. That's what's been happening nearly every weekend since the beginning of the year, with Republican groups, influencers and politicians each hoping to attract top-tier candidates to their event.
With national Republicans trying to limit debates this year, the multifaceted events have become the new normal for both candidates and the media. On Saturday, both announced and likely GOP candidates will head to Iowa for the next one, where freshman GOP Sen. Joni Ernst will hold her inaugural "Roast and Ride."
So far, there have been at least a dozen different cattle calls since January. And if it feels like there's been a lot of cattle calls this year, maybe that's because there's a lot of cattle. For lesser-known candidates in such a crowded field, the different events offer a chance to try to and catch fire with often little investment or infrastructure needed.
To national observers, the cattle calls have become the new debates and a way for hopefuls, who haven't been getting as much attention, to boost their profile, so they can ultimately make it onto the debate stage later this year.
"A lot of the folks in the field not named [former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush, [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, or [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio, they don't have very high name ID," national GOP strategist Ford O'Connell said. "That's why the cattle calls are taking on an added importance in the way we haven't seen before."
The field will naturally be winnowed down after the first few states vote early next year. But until then, if candidates aren't able to get momentum before the debates, "donors aren't going to open up their wallets," O'Connell said.
That makes their continued performance in such cattle calls all the more important along with building their political operations.
"Everything's been turned on its head, because of the capping of the debates and the calendar," O'Connell warned. "You know if you're not on the first one or two debate stages, it's going to be hard to get past New Hampshire."