He flies coach, often with just his wife and a single aide in tow. He writes his own TV commercials. His shoestring campaign lacks pollsters, opposition researchers, and most of the other trappings of the modern political operation. To get his message out to America's angry and anxious, he relies on radio talk shows and cable-TV interviews--alternative channels that, he frequently and publicly boasts, permit him to "fly under the radar screen" of conventional politicians.
It's all part of the persona of hot new penny-pinching populist, Pat Buchanan. While GOP Presidential rivals travel with armies of apparatchiks, Buchanan has put together a low-budget operation that's giving his better-financed foes fits. "He's like Stonewall Jackson. He can live off the land with his merry band of guerrillas," says L. Brent Bozell III, chief fund-raiser for Buchanan's 1992 Presidential bid.
Buchanan's surprising show of strength has stunned the political Establishment, which was convinced that money and organization would talk louder than ever in the '96 primary sprint. But Texas Senator Phil Gramm flamed out despite an impressive $21 million bankroll. Steve Forbes has gotten little return on his $20 million-plus investment. And Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole learned that having $26 million, the biggest staff, and the most endorsements doesn't guarantee victory.
ON THE FLY. For Buchanan, low-budget campaigning is a badge of honor. Headquarters tend to be in low-rent--occasionally ramshackle--offices. He does printing at Kinko's, buys supplies at Wal-Mart, and gets pizza from Domino's (whose CEO, Thomas Monaghan, is a big backer). And his tiny inner circle is limited to wife Shelley; sister Angela "Bay" Buchanan, his chief adviser; campaign manager Terry Jeffrey, a former newspaper editorial writer; and communications director Greg Mueller.
Buchanan spent a mere $7.1 million in 1995, reports the Federal Election Commission. That compares with $16 million spent by Dole, $18 million by Forbes, and $11 million by former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander. But the former conservative commentator is nimble. Case in point: The morning before the Feb. 20 New Hampshire contest, Buchanan was preparing for a radio interview when the station aired a Dole ad attacking him as extremist. Buchanan wrote an in-your-face response on his laptop computer, and within hours, his new radio ad calling Dole "a desperate man" was airing.
Buchanan is also an adroit user of free media. Aware that most Republican voters are talk-radio listeners, the onetime radio talk-show host breezed through more than a dozen live interviews on New Hampshire primary day.
GROUP CHATS. Then there are the teleconferences. Buchanan aide Bill Spadea has conducted close to 35 "Pat chats," each hooking up from 150 to 200 targeted supporters and undecided voters in a conference call. Typically, Buchanan gives a five-minute pep talk, then takes questions from callers. Aides say the conferences clinched the narrow victory over Forbes in Alaska's straw poll.
For all his success so far, Buchanan's days of living on the cheap may be over. He has chartered a 90-seat jet for post-New Hampshire barnstorming and plans to hire a professional advance crew to create telegenic media events.
Will Buchanan get spoiled? Nope, says Jeffrey. "We're always going to look for ways to save money, even if $20 million suddenly came to our doorstep." GOP pros doubt that Buchanan's renegade candidacy will attract such big bucks--but they have been wrong so far about his viability. Buchanan is determined to prove that in '96, ingenuity and a message can carry his shoestring operation all the way.