WASHINGTON -- In the housing market? Any real estate agent will tell you it's all about location. It's not a bad rule to apply to presidential campaign offices, too: A decision about headquarters can offer an insight into a candidate's thinking. Hillary Clinton has apparently opted to put her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. It's close to her existing office and the Clinton Global Initiative. She owns a home in the suburbs of New York City and represented the state in the U.S. Senate. Plus, she’ll be close to donors.
Her decision was notable mostly for the places she didn’t choose. Clinton's 2008 campaign was run out of an office in Arlington, Virginia, a quick commute from Washington, D.C. The Clintons still own a home in Georgetown, but Hillary may be trying to play down the image that she's a creature of the capital. She also didn’t head back to Arkansas, where she served as first lady for a dozen years, to try to promote her ties with Middle America. That move would have been derided as inauthentic, since she has done little to keep up connections in the state, and it would have been inconvenient as well. And she didn’t put her office in Manhattan, where her current personal office operates -- a location that might have drawn attention to her ties to Wall Street.
A slew of factors can play a role in deciding where to headquarter a campaign. In general, though, money is key (as it is in all real estate decisions). That means not just the price of the office lease but also the proximity to big donors. Third-tier candidates may find they have trouble recruiting staff if they place their campaigns in a far-flung location. Even top-tier candidates find that senior staff, who likely have a family and home already established, are less eager to relocate or do long plane commutes.
Given the expected size of the Republican field for 2016, GOP campaign headquarters are going to cover a lot of territory. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has already staked a claim on his office space in Houston. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is assembling his team in Madison. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has placed his Right to Rise PAC -- a precursor to his eventual campaign -- in Miami. Sen. Marco Rubio may be there as well, although probably in a cheaper building. The two of them will likely be the only candidates headquartered in a swing state.
Sen. Rand Paul, surprisingly, has opened an office in Austin, Texas. The Kentucky senator is expected to announce his candidacy in Louisville next week and to run most of his operations from there. But he has chosen to place his online operations in Austin, which has a growing technology hub. He has recruited several digital stars who are based in the city and who may have been reluctant to relocate.
Back in 2008, it was no surprise that presidential candidate Barack Obama put his campaign headquarters in Chicago. He lived there at the time and represented Illinois in the Senate. The historic link to Lincoln didn't hurt. The surprise came in 2012 when he kept his operations there. Putting his headquarters in the D.C. area would have allowed him to visit campaign staff more frequently. George W. Bush, for example, had his re-election team in Arlington, Virginia.
But Obama opted to let senior staff run the show from Chicago. Some, like David Axelrod, had already returned to the city. There may also have been a political plus in keeping the campaign at arm’s length. Critics had called Obama a “campaigner in chief,” accusing him of making policy decisions with an eye on his re-election chances. With his HQ in Illinois, he could point to the 700 miles between the White House and his political operation.
But it's hard to run as an outsider if your mailings have a Washington, D.C., return address. So Gingrich kept an empty office in Atlanta, using the address of a law firm that represented him there for his official documents.
And it's possible to return home only to discover that no one's been waiting at the door for you. Al Gore started his 2000 campaign with his headquarters in Washington: He was, after all, still serving as vice president to Bill Clinton. But when his poll numbers in the primary slipped, he blamed the problem on his ties to Clinton. He moved his campaign headquarters to Nashville, Tennessee, to capitalize on the optics of working out of his home state. ''I want to take this campaign for the presidency directly to the grass roots and directly to the American people,'' he said.
Gore defeated challenger New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, coasting easily to the nomination. In the general election, though, Gore failed to carry Tennessee. If he had -- even with the controversial loss of Florida -- he would have been president. You can go home again, but sometimes it's not worth the bother.