NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidates are spending long days on the campaign trail and their nights in a succession of budget hotels, often in small towns. Not Donald Trump.
After nearly every rally, the billionaire real estate developer hops into one of his planes or helicopters and returns to New York so that he can sleep in his own bed in his marble-and-gold-furnished Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan.
In November and December, Trump held six rallies in Iowa, visited a local production plant and held one town hall, flying home each night. His nearest rival for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, has zigzagged around the state, holding around a dozen town halls and twice as many "meet-and-greet" sessions, and bedding down between stops in hotels.
Trump’s determination to sleep at home every night raises eyebrows among election campaign veterans, who say it could cost him. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire often want more personal attention; they feel they play a special role in choosing presidential nominees because their contests are held first.
Trump leads in polls in New Hampshire but he has slipped behind Cruz in Iowa. Cruz has done what U.S. presidential candidates typically do: He has made the state a virtual second home in the run-up to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus.
This week Cruz is crisscrossing the state in a bus, cruising through small hamlets with stops at a pizza place, coffee house and even a water park.
Trump's schedule this week, by contrast, illustrates his tendency to get out of town quickly. On Monday evening he addressed a crowd in Lowell, Massachusetts, and was due to address a rally in Claremont, New Hampshire, just a couple of hours north the following day. Instead of overnighting in a hotel, he flew home. On Tuesday Trump flew to Claremont and then returned to New York.
In an interview, Trump said he needs time each morning in his Manhattan office to run his businesses, which include a string of high-end hotels and resorts.
“It works very well for me,” he said, adding that he can quickly get to and from campaign stops thanks to his private aircraft fleet. “For the smaller airports, the (Cessna) Citation X, and for the larger airports, the Boeing 757,” which has a big bed.
He also has a helicopter, which he used while traveling between his Palm Beach mansion and a rally in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on Dec. 30, where once again he did not stay the night.
“Trump is a man who likes to be on the couch with a good cheeseburger and likes to watch TV - he’s a homebody,” said his friend and former adviser Roger Stone, who recently founded a pro-Trump Super PAC, a political group that can raise unlimited funds to advocate for Trump as long as it does not coordinate with his campaign.
"He likes being in his own bed, even if it means coming into Teterboro or LaGuardia after midnight," he added, referring to two airports Trump uses in the New York area.
Trump rejected Stone’s explanation.
While Trump breakfasts in his Manhattan quarters, with sweeping views of Central Park, his opponents are waking up in Holiday Inns or Courtyard Marriotts.
Cruz spent Monday night in a motel in Missouri Valley, Iowa, where vending machines sold items with long-past expiry dates. His campaign manager Jeff Roe fired off a series of bemused tweets about the state of the motel, lamenting the presence of “the long hair on the pillow” that he found in his room.
Strategists said Trump not only risks alienating potential supporters but also the political operatives in states that can help turn out the vote.
“Not everything in a presidential campaign can be accomplished with a speech or a rally,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, a grassroots conservative political group, and a former White House political director for President George W. Bush. The group has not endorsed a candidate.
“You attend a family event of a supporter in a key state: weddings, funerals, graduations, Christmas parties - these have an important psychological impact,” he said.
Trump said he has stayed in Iowa “numerous times,” but a campaign source who did not want to be identified said he remembered Trump staying overnight only once in Iowa and once in New Hampshire.
That’s a far cry from candidates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has logged more hours in New Hampshire than any other Republican still in the race. Christie and others regularly hold meet-and-greets, attend local government meetings and find ways to make themselves approachable to voters ahead of the state’s Feb. 9 primary election.
In Iowa, where state residents will attend caucuses on Feb. 1, Cruz is in the middle of a week-long bus tour that will take him to 36 different counties.
Former Democratic candidate Chris Dodd took the practice to an extreme in 2008, when he went so far as to move his entire family to Iowa, enrolling his children in school there. He nonetheless lost to Barack Obama.
Trump sees it more as a numbers game. His rallies attract between 3,000 and 20,000 people each time he appears and are often broadcast on television.
“I have more people at one event than most candidates see in a month,” he said.
Even so, Trump said he planned to do smaller events in the future and may even decide on some campaign stops that are veritable pilgrimages for his competitors. One such spot is the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire, where candidates are expected to stop by and greet customers.
“It’s a distinct possibility,” he said.
He also said he would begin making multi-day trips to early primary states like Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, where he can choose to stay at his own hotel, the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.
Reporting By Emily Flitter in New York; Additional reporting by Michelle Conlin in Iowa, editing by Ross Colvin