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
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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.”

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