2016 Contenders Start Organizing Teams in Iowa

Republican candidates are hunting among activists and advisers to build up their early operations.

National Journal
Emily Schultheis
Add to Briefcase
Emily Schultheis
Aug. 12, 2014, 1:22 a.m.

AMES, Iowa — Five Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial con­tenders paraded through Iowa this week­end, as much to see voters as to talk with po­ten­tial staff and lay ground­work for cam­paign op­er­a­tions.

Some po­ten­tial can­did­ates have an early ad­vant­age built from pre­vi­ous for­ays through Iowa. Two former Iowa caucus win­ners, Arkan­sas then-Gov. Mike Hucka­bee and former Sen. Rick San­tor­um of Pennsylvania, still have a strong fol­low­ing among the state’s so­cial con­ser­vat­ives. And both have main­tained a team of act­iv­ists and vo­lun­teers who will be ready to jump on board should their can­did­ate launch a bid.

Hucka­bee traveled to Iowa with three na­tion­al ad­visers: Chip Salts­man, Alice Stew­art, and daugh­ter Sarah Hucka­bee, who worked on Tim Pawlenty’s cam­paign in 2012. But the former gov­ernor main­tains deep ties with act­iv­ists who hoped to see him run in 2012 and are thrilled he’s look­ing at 2016. He spoke at the “Pas­tors and Pews” pro­gram Fri­day morn­ing, a closed-door meet­ing of pas­tors in Ce­dar Rap­ids.

“If Mike Hucka­bee said this week­end, ‘I’m run­ning,’ he would have a reas­on­able or­gan­iz­a­tion ready to go,” said Trudy Cav­i­ness, a GOP State Cent­ral Com­mit­tee mem­ber from Ot­tum­wa. “San­tor­um has people who will be ready to go.”

In­deed, San­tor­um said he has kept Iowa act­iv­ists en­gaged through his PAC, Pat­ri­ot Voices. “We have a pretty good mem­ber­ship here, a pretty act­ive mem­ber­ship,” San­tor­um told Na­tion­al Journ­al after his speech at a Boone County GOP pic­nic. “This is a state that is very much con­nec­ted to na­tion­al polit­ics and it’s fun to be back in town.”

Oth­er can­did­ates will have to work harder to build sup­port and an in­fra­struc­ture in Iowa. That’s why Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have been spend­ing so much time here.

Paul is the fur­thest along in put­ting to­geth­er an ac­tu­al cam­paign ap­par­at­us: He’s hired a pair of former state party chair­men, Steve Grubbs and A.J. Spiker, to run his Iowa op­er­a­tions, and be­ne­fits from some re­sid­ual sup­port for his fath­er, Rep. Ron Paul.

The Ken­tucky sen­at­or wrapped up a three-day Iowa swing last week, cam­paign­ing with loc­al and fed­er­al 2014 can­did­ates and meet­ing act­iv­ists across the state. He scored good re­views and plenty of head­lines from the trip — but also got a taste of the dangers of an on-the-ground trip when he and Rep. Steve King were con­fron­ted by a young im­mig­ra­tion act­iv­ist at a cam­paign stop.

Perry ran in 2012, but many Iowa Re­pub­lic­ans say that since he joined the race late and spent less time in Iowa over­all, many voters are still get­ting to know him. He’s in the midst of a four-day Iowa trip, be­gin­ning in Ames and cris­scross­ing the state for events with state le­gis­lat­ive can­did­ates and con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates alike. He took a sim­il­ar multi-day trip in Ju­ly, which con­vinced many act­iv­ists that he’s a bet­ter can­did­ate than he was in 2012.

“His per­form­ance on the stump, it’s fair to say, has im­pressed people,” said Nick Ry­an, who heads the Amer­ic­an Fu­ture Fund and worked for San­tor­um in 2012. “Which is un­for­tu­nate, in some re­spects, be­cause they’re com­par­ing him to him­self” in 2012.

Perry hasn’t hired paid staffers in the state thus far, but his 2012 ad­viser, Bob Haus, is back on board and is help­ing Perry on the ground. Cali­for­nia-nat­ive strategist Jeff Miller, who pre­vi­ously ad­vised Gov. Arnold Schwar­zeneg­ger, leads his na­tion­al team. Perry also re­cently launched Rick­PAC, a group aimed at help­ing out GOP can­did­ates in 2014. That group is led by former Newt Gin­grich coun­sel Stefan Passantino and in­cludes Mark Miner, Perry’s 2012 com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or, as spokes­man.

Haus has worked to put to­geth­er Perry’s multi-day trips to the state, and says his bevy of pub­lic ap­pear­ances are the best way for him to put him­self in front of oth­er act­iv­ists who could help with an even­tu­al cam­paign.

“He’s try­ing to help as many county parties and can­did­ates as he can while he’s in town,” Haus said. “Those meet­ings are a great way to meet key act­iv­ists.”

But for all the at­ten­tion the can­did­ates at­trac­ted at the state fair and a week­end con­ser­vat­ives event here in Ames, the first real cattle call of 2016 un­der­scored just how com­pletely open the Re­pub­lic­an field is with 18 months to go be­fore the caucuses.

“This field of pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates is about as wide-open to the tak­ing as any that I’ve seen in dec­ades,” said Jeff Kaufmann, the new Iowa GOP chair­man.

In ad­di­tion to the house­hold names who have been work­ing Iowa for months, a hand­ful of new­comers have be­gun to make re­peat vis­its, in­clud­ing Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal, New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida.

Oth­er pro­spects men­tioned by GOP act­iv­ists in the state in­clude Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er, who must fight a tough reelec­tion battle be­fore he can be­gin talk­ing about his 2016 am­bi­tions, and former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush, who hasn’t yet been to Iowa but raised money for Gov. Terry Bran­stad earli­er this year.

Con­ver­sa­tions with al­most two-dozen Iowa GOP strategists, act­iv­ists, and politi­cians por­trayed a flu­id race that is any­body’s game. Party mem­bers had ideas about the type of can­did­ate they’d like to see win and which pro­spects they think have shown up in the state enough to be ser­i­ous, but the pre­dic­tions for 2016 stopped there.

Most pro­spects who are ser­i­ous about a bid will be­gin mak­ing con­crete moves by Novem­ber, wheth­er that’s hir­ing paid staff or get­ting a team of sev­er­al im­port­ant sup­port­ers and act­iv­ists to­geth­er. A hand­ful of op­er­at­ives with past statewide or pres­id­en­tial ex­per­i­ence — in­clud­ing Tim Al­brecht, a former Bran­stad ad­viser; Dav­id Kochel, who ran Mitt Rom­ney’s 2008 and 2012 cam­paigns in the state; Chad Olsen, who’s worked for the Iowa GOP and the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee in the state; and Eric Woolson, who worked with Hucka­bee in 2008 and Pawlenty and Michele Bach­mann in 2012 — are likely to get calls from pro­spect­ive can­did­ates look­ing for on-the-ground help.

Still, Chuck Laud­ner, who ran San­tor­um’s 2012 Iowa op­er­a­tions, said find­ing in­flu­en­tial act­iv­ists in vari­ous re­gions of the state is just as im­port­ant as a statewide strategist or op­er­at­ive team.

“Iowa has this enorm­ous num­ber of grass­roots act­iv­ists, people who have dif­fer­ent spheres of in­flu­ence — maybe in their county, or in a re­gion of the state or some are even statewide,” Laud­ner said. “In­side the party, out­side the party, on is­sues for can­did­ates, every­body knows them. These are the most im­port­ant people here.”

Some op­er­at­ives noted that if the famed Iowa straw poll ends up get­ting scrapped for next year, pro­spect­ive can­did­ates will have more time to get a team to­geth­er.

“The straw poll provided a pres­sure point that was in Au­gust “¦ if that doesn’t ex­ist, then it provides a little more flex­ib­il­ity for some of these can­did­ates,” Ry­an said. “If you’re a really well-known can­did­ate, you don’t need to get in as soon.”

What We're Following See More »
Clinton Foundation Staffers Steered Biz to Bill
3 hours ago

"Two chief fundraisers for the Clinton Foundation pressed corporate donors to steer business opportunities to former President Bill Clinton as well, according to a hacked memo published Wednesday by WikiLeaks. The November 2011 memo from Douglas Band, at the time a top aide to Mr. Clinton, outlines extensive fundraising efforts that Mr. Band and a partner deployed on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and how that work sometimes translated into large speaking fees and other paid work for Mr. Clinton."

Chef Jose Andres Campaigns With Clinton
11 hours ago
House Investigators Already Sharpening Their Spears for Clinton
13 hours ago

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz plans to spend "years, come January, probing the record of a President Hillary Clinton." Chaffetz told the Washington Post: “It’s a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”

Clinton Super PAC Enters the House Fray
17 hours ago

Priorities USA, the super PAC aligned with the Clinton campaign, which has already gotten involved in two Senate races, is now expanding into House races. The group released a 30 second spot which serves to hit Donald Trump and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum, who is in a tough race to win re-election in Iowa's first congressional district. The super PAC's expansion into House and Senate races shows a high level of confidence in Clinton's standing against Trump.

House to Vote on Iran Sanctions Renewal in Lame Duck
17 hours ago

Republican House leaders are planning on taking up a vote to renew the Iran Sanctions Act as soon as the lame-duck session begins in mid-November. The law, which expires on Dec. 31, permits a host of sanctions against Iran's industries, defense, and government. The renewal will likely pass the House, but its status is unclear once it reaches the Senate, and a spokesman from the White House refused to say whether President Obama would sign it into law.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.