WASHINGTON (CNN) — They say you always remember your first.
That’s why, as election results pour in Tuesday night, Rick Santorum will be ready with a fully-charged cell phone and a spreadsheet loaded with names and numbers of Republican candidates to call as soon as their victories — or defeats — are announced.
“We’ll be hitting the phones,” Santorum told CNN. “I’m one of the folks who calls either way. Sometimes it’s more important to call the folks who didn’t win than it is the folks who did because the folks who did get a lot of calls and the folks who didn’t don’t get many.”
For the possible 2016 hopefuls, Election Night calls are about much more than who controls the Senate. This is an early — and important — opportunity to build relationships with candidates at all levels of politics who might come in handy should they decide to campaign for the White House.
Beyond just being a kind gesture, Election Night calls are an opportunity to subtly remind candidates — especially those in early-voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — of their support. In Santorum’s case, his effort won’t stop with top-of-the-ballot governors or congressional races, either. His aides plan to monitor state and local races online throughout Iowa, such the State Auditor and Agriculture Secretary elections, so he can be one of the first to be in touch. He’s hardly alone.
Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, one of the most dogged campaign travelers this cycle, will spend Tuesday night at an event in Louisville for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other statewide candidates. Doug Stafford, a Paul adviser, will be at his side and will have cell phone numbers ready to dial.
“We will call a bunch but will also probably end up talking to more over the subsequent days when they have time to take a breath,” Stafford told CNN. “It has been my experience the most difficult time to reach anyone is on their election night.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to be in his home state on Election Night with the numbers handy for every GOP gubernatorial candidate on the ballot this year. He’s kept an ambitious campaigning and fundraising schedule this year in his role as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
For their part, representatives for Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden wouldn’t detail their Election Night plans, although both have invested time on the trail campaigning for their party candidates.
Other prominent Republicans will stay busy even if they’re not going to such great lengths as Santorum’s phone call spreadsheet. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, will keep tabs on the election results with local candidates and supporters in Burlington.
Meanwhile, in Texas, there will be plenty of 2016 intrigue at a gathering to celebrate Greg Abbott’s expected win in the governor’s race. That party, at the Moody Theater in Austin, will attract three possible 2016 White House contenders Cruz, Perry and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush under one roof.
The election night phone call tradition, of course, is just a small part of the effort that goes into fostering goodwill for presidential contenders. Many potential 2016ers, including Paul, Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have logged tens of thousands of miles supporting candidates this election cycle.
Those efforts kicked into hyper-drive in final days of campaign season. Christie, for instance, stumped in 15 states in the last week of the race. Over the weekend, Santorum traveled to Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and Iowa, where his advocacy organization, Patriot Voices, bussed in volunteers to knock on doors for candidates in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio went to to Iowa to promote Senate candidate Joni Ernst and others. And Cruz hoofed it to Alaska to support Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan.
They’re betting that it will all be worth the effort when the presidential primary season begins in earnest, a time when each contender will be making a very different round of phone calls—asking for support for their own campaigns.