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Is political data crunching all about reaching select voter segments with tailored messaging? Usually.
But for Senator Marco Rubio's campaign, it's also about securing delegates. The Florida Senator's data firm, 0ptimus, has been factoring in the complex web of delegate calculations when developing data models used to inform budget and resource allocations, voter segment targeting and ad buys. If the race continues to tighten, delegate-infused data modeling could even help inform where the candidate holds town halls or visits with voters.
By considering delegate math, 0ptimus appears to be taking a somewhat novel approach. This year, with the primary race expected to remain contentious for longer than usual, delegates are a real concern on both sides. Already on the Democratic side, delegate allocation has been the source of much hand wringing in that neck-and-neck contest.
"Our modeling, targeting and analytics has to be tuned to take into account these parameters and we have been doing delegate math scenarios for months now," said Scott Tranter, partner at 0ptimus, which collected $463,000 from the Rubio campaign in 2015 and worked with the Senator's leadership PAC before he entered the presidential race. The firm's entire staff of around 22 people is working on the Rubio account.
"We are preparing for various match-ups and eventualities," said Mr. Tranter. "More importantly we know how to get that data actionable as the campaign decision makers start to deploy staff, paid media, field programs and the candidate's finite but precious time,"
He suggested that delegate numbers will become increasingly important after Saturday's GOP primary in South Carolina, where the top vote-getter receives the bulk of the delegates.
In states that divvy up delegates proportionally, the Rubio campaign might make strategic plays to go after delegates in districts where it has a strong chance of winning, rather than targeting media buys and resources based solely on persuading swing voters or driving likely supporters to the polls.
"The funny thing is data science isn't a widget, it's a style of play," said Mr. Tranter, stressing that his firm has incorporated delegate considerations into Rubio's data models since it began work on the campaign. "Delegate math is a logical thing to apply data science to."
Including delegate computations in the data modeling could have a real effect on campaign decisions, suggested Mr. Tranter. For instance, a campaign's media strategist might decide to target more ads to voters in DMAs that cover more delegate-awarding districts. Of course, the models still must consider other data to determine whether a candidate can attract voters in those DMAs and districts at all.
And, though 0ptimus has been working on its models for months, Saturday's vote in South Carolina could change everything. If, for instance, Sen. Rubio comes out ahead of Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, suggested Mr. Tranter, the delegate data chessboard will shift. "That could all change Sunday morning," he said. "It's a constant reassessment."