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April 11th, 2011

10 Months Out: Presidential Campaigns Begin to Add Iowa Staff

By Kevin Hall and Craig Robinson

Caucus season has begun.  At long last, the GOP presidential field is taking shape.  Candidates have been very busy lately hiring staff, lining up key endorsements, and building their ground games in preparation for the Iowa Straw Poll, and eventually the 2012 Iowa Caucus.  Campaigns will beef up their field staffs once the Iowa legislative session is over, hiring staffers currently working for Iowa senators and house members.

Here is a look at where the probable, and potential, campaigns stand in terms of key hires, backers, and general progress and standing.

Michelle Bachmann: The Minnesota Congresswoman is clearly making a play for Mike Huckabee’s key people. She hired Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa political director, Wes Enos. Another former Huckabee backer, Kent Sorenson, is helping Bachmann organize and is a likely state chairman for her campaign.  Sorenson planned Bachmann’s entire four-day trip at the end of March and was included in the Washington Post’s story about Bachmann’s inner circle.

Iowa Tea Party founder Ryan Rhodes is also reportedly on board, though he denies it.  Rhodes is planning a Tea Party bus tour across the state in June, and would likely officially join a campaign upon its completion.  Sorenson has also told that they will be adding to their Iowa staff in the near future.  Bachmann’s fundraising numbers are outstanding, and since she’s in Congress, can legally transfer her congressional cash into a presidential campaign.  That puts her at a huge advantage.  Bachmann’s Iowa campaign is in strong shape right now.

Haley Barbour: Barbour is in the process of adding Iowa campaign leaders and field staff.  He has been in talks with veteran campaign strategists and should be able to assemble a solid team.

Herman Cain: The former radio host and Godfathers Pizza CEO is getting a boost from conservative activist Caree Severson and former Des Moines Tea Party leader Charlie Gruschow.   Both are expected to play key roles on Cain’s Iowa staff. Sources tell that Cain will make an official announcement about his candidacy on May 3rd, which means that additions to his campaign will begin to happen soon.

Almost entirely unnoticed by the mainstream media, Cain has been meeting with conservative groups in small gatherings around the state and is picking up a lot of support from various spectrums of the Republican Party.  He won the Straw Poll at Congressman Steve King’s Conservative Principles Conference two weeks ago.  However, Cain admits fundraising is the key stumbling block for his campaign right now.

Newt Gingrich: House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer is a big backer of the former U.S. House Speaker, but she has been very busy with the legislative session.  Gingrich already has a large staff that works for his various groups, and they can easily be transferred to Iowa to build his ground game.  Gingrich is another candidate likely to pick up field staffers once the legislative session ends.

Mike Huckabee: His 2008 Iowa campaign staff is mostly committed elsewhere, but his key backers are not.  Randy Davis and many other hardcore Huckabee supporters remain devoted to the former Arkansas Governor.  They are also contacting others who helped Huckabee win Iowa in 2008, to see if those people would vote for him again.

Huckabee’s 2008 state chairman, Bob Vander Plaats, is now the CEO of the Family Leader.  This group is currently forming a statewide, grassroots organization that could easily be transferred to the candidate of their choosing.  Vander Plaats has advised Huckabee not to enter the race until after the Iowa Straw Poll in August.  Some of his key backers appear likely to wait, but Huckabee will need more than that to win Iowa again.

Sarah Palin: Palin staffers have reached out to some Iowa conservatives to gauge their interest in her potential candidacy.  A group of her supporters called is doing grassroots work in hopes that the former Alaska Governor jumps in the race.  One member, Thomas Chanteloup of Council Bluffs, was networking with attendees of the Iowa GOP’s “Night of the Rising Stars” event last Saturday.

However, an actual ground game appears to be non-existent so far.  If Palin does plan on running, she needs to realize very quickly that star power alone will not be enough for her to win.  She has to come to Iowa and campaign hard.  Also, Michelle Bachmann is now occupying much of Palin’s niche, taking away a substantial block of her likely backers.

Ron/Rand Paul: It seems more and more likely that the elder Paul will be the one running.  The Texas Congressman’s 2008 Iowa organization remains intact and continues to grow.  Four of the 15 members of the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee are also members of Paul’s Campaign for Liberty organization.  They have insured that Ron Paul will not be ignored by debate organizers the way he was in 2007.  Both Pauls have now headlined important Iowa GOP fundraisers in the last 12 months.  That never would have happened four years ago.

Ron Paul is an effective fundraiser, and his supporters are as committed as any in the political realm.  They have shown an uncanny ability to win straw polls and might be difficult to beat in the Iowa Straw Poll this August.  If that happens, Ron Paul’s candidacy can no longer be dismissed as insignificant.

Tim Pawlenty: The former Minnesota Governor has assembled the largest Iowa staff and group of advisors of any candidate so far.  Multiple sources tell that Iowans for Tax Relief president Ed Failor, Jr. is helping Pawlenty in an advisory role, which includes interviewing potential staffers.  Former Huckabee campaign manager Eric Woolson is running Pawlenty’s Iowa communications.  Former Iowa GOP chairman Chuck Larson, Jr. and campaign veteran Karen Slifka, have been on the payroll for months and are valuable assets.  Terry Nelson and Sara Taylor, both Iowa natives with national campaign experience, have been involved with Pawlenty’s PAC since late 2009.

Ben Foster, who brought the campaign some unwelcome attention this week, was hired last fall as a field staffer and helped in various house races around the state.  He built some good will for Pawlenty in the process.  Several other staffers from Iowa with campaign experience have signed on and will be announced soon.  Chad Airhart, chairman of the Iowa Republican County Officials Association, and Fayette County GOP chairman Jim Kirkpatrick are among the influential people backing Pawlenty.

Pawlenty has said that he will be announcing additional members of his Iowa staff soon.  It is expected that Pawlenty will hire experienced staffers from the Victory 2010 campaign, one of Iowa’s Republican congressional campaigns, as well as someone with connections to the Vander Plaats and Huckabee campaigns.

Mitt Romney: Despite reports that the former Massachusetts Governor might not compete in Iowa, he has already hired some field staff to work the state, according to multiple sources.  They will not begin full scale operations until after the Iowa legislative session.  Romney’s Iowa campaign will not be nearly as bloated as it was in 2008, but he will have at least something of a presence here.  David Kochel, owner of Redwave Communications, was a key component of Romney’s last campaign and will be again.

Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania Senator has hired the Concordia Group, headed by Nick Ryan and Jill Latham, as consultants.  They provide plenty of Iowa campaign experience and expertise to help Santorum launch his campaign.

Mitch Daniels and John Huntsman have yet to visit the state this year and show no signs of putting together a significant ground game here, so far.  Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer spoke at the IFFC event in early March, but has not made any other significant inroads in Iowa.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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