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March 10th, 2011

Iowa Caucus Campaign “Gets” – Campaign Managers

By Craig Robinson

If there is one thing that I have found a bit annoying early in this caucus season, it’s the countless lists of “must have” Iowa operatives and politicos that numerous local and national journalists have put together.  These lists are only as good and diverse as the reporter’s sources.  Many times, it’s obvious that a reporter talked to just a couple of the “usual suspects” in generating their list of Iowa “must haves.”

The other problem with most of these lists is that they treat an activist the same way as they treat a hired gun.  Earlier this week, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post provided the latest Iowa list when he created his “Top six free agent Iowa GOP operatives in 2012” list.   Cillizza’s list was confined to just operatives, so that’s a good start, but there is a big difference in what someone like Marlys Popma brings to a campaign and what Doug Gross provides.

Popma, who has been involved in and run a number of caucus campaigns, would likely run the day-to-day operation of a caucus campaign. Gross, on the other hand, has no interest in helping a field staffer to do their job, make sure a certain amount of phone calls are made, or recruit precinct leaders.  Gross cares about shaping campaign strategy and can be used to make inroads with the media.  The two are sought after operatives, but they don’t belong on the same list.

Another good example from Cillizza’s list that illustrates this point is Nicole Schlinger.  I worked for Schlinger for seven years and understand what she brings to a campaign.  Her company, which now has a greater focus on telemarketing than when I worked there, can help a campaign with their voter contact program.  She is also equipped to organize campaign event and turn people out.

Schlinger provides a unique service to the candidate who secures her services, but just because she’s on someone’s team doesn’t mean she can deliver votes on caucus night.  Schlinger, who was paid tens-of-thousands dollars a month by Romney and helped her candidate win the Iowa Straw Poll, but she couldn’t get Romney a victory in her home county or even in her own precinct when the caucuses rolled around.  Huckabee beat Romney 42 percent to 20% in Poweshiek County, those results mirrors what happened in Schlinger’s own precinct despite her dozens of employees and volunteers being encouraged to caucus for Romney.

With so much interest in all of these lists, I thought it was time for to generate one of our own.  Ours is a bit different.  Instead of lumping everyone together, we will break down the top ten people in different categories over the next few days.  The following are the categories we have selected.

Campaign Managers


Campaign Staff

County Activists

Tea Party Activists


Iowa Campaign Managers:

These are the people who run the day-to-day campaign operations, develop an Iowa strategy, teach campaign staff, and often times speak on behalf of the campaign and candidate to the Iowa media.  A good campaign manager understands the intricacies of the caucus process and Iowa politics.

The untold story of the 2012 caucuses in Iowa is that Iowa is experiencing a significant brain drain when it comes to political talent.  With a Republican occupying the governor’s office for the first time in twelve years, a lot of the state’s Republican talent now works in state government.

For instance, Jeff Boeyink, who managed Branstad’s 2010 campaign, is now his Chief of Staff.  Chad Olsen, who ran the RNC’s successful Iowa Victory operation, is the executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa.  Those two names would have been at the top of some candidate’s lists.  So, too, would have been Matt Strawn’s name if he hadn’t taken on another term as state party chair.

Below is our list of potential Iowa Caucus Campaign Managers

Gentry Collins: Collins has served as the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Iowa, campaign manager for two statewide campaigns (Doug Gross and Mitt Romney), and has served stints in leadership roles at the Republican Governors Association, Republican National Committee, and McCain’s 2008 general election campaign.  Running an Iowa campaign probably isn’t on Collins’ to-do list since he’s been involved at the national level, but since he took the role four years ago with Romney, it would be a mistake to leave him off the list.

Chuck Laudner: Laudner was the campaign manager for Iowa for Freedom, the campaign which took a lead roll in ousting three Iowa Supreme Court Justices in last fall’s retention elections.  Laudner didn’t need that campaign to prove his conservative credentials.  For years, he has been Congressman Steve King’s right-hand man, where he has been involved in King’s campaigns and also served as his Chief of Staff.  Laudner also was the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the last caucus cycle.  Laudner might be the best conservative organizer in the state.  The only question is whether or not there is a candidate that interests him.

Eric Woolson: Woolson is now off the market as he has signed on with Tim Pawlenty’s campaign.  Woolson has been a fixture in Iowa politics for years and has worked his share of caucus campaigns.  Most recently, he served as Mike Huckabee’s 2008 campaign manager.  His strength is communications, but Woolson proved in 2008 that he was able to do more than just deal with the media.

Marlys Popma: If you want to know the ins and outs of the caucuses, Popma would be a good person to talk to.  She is one of the rare people who gets excited about teaching people how the caucuses work.  When the Republican Party of Iowa put together a caucus training video in 2007, Popma was there lending a hand.  In the last few cycles, she has worked for Jim Nussle’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign and then John McCain in 2008.  Those are two establishment candidates who were also perceived as being the frontrunner in those election cycles.  Popma has worked numerous caucus campaigns, including managing Gary Bauer’s 2000 caucus campaign.  She has also led the Republican Party of Iowa’s caucus to convention process as well as serving as its executive director.

Bob Haus: Having worked for Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes, and Fred Thompson, Haus is a caucus veteran.  In 2007, he didn’t sign on with a candidate until he joined Fred Thompson’s effort that fall.  That campaign ended up not being much to write home about, but that’s more of a story about a missed opportunity than the error on the part of the people who worked on his campaign.

In recent years, Haus has become more of a local media consultant having produced TV and radio ads for Miller-Meeks in 2008, and Rob Gettemy and Steve King in 2010.  Last cycle he also took an active roll in Brad Zaun’s congressional campaign.  Since the last caucus cycle, he’s done work in three of the state’s five congressional districts, which means he has a good grasp on Iowa politics.

Matt Gronewald: While he has not managed a caucus campaign, he does deserve a mention because he’s worked on a caucus campaign before (McCain 2008), and he is also the guy who led the Iowa House campaign effort for the past two cycles. With Republicans gaining control of the Iowa House after picking up 16 seats, Gronewald has a handle on who some of the good, young staffers are, and even more importantly, he has existing relationships with a lot of new legislators.

Drew Ivers: Ivers has been involved in Iowa politics for a long time.  Ivers, who managed Ron Paul’s Iowa caucus campaign in 2008, has continued his reemergence into party politics by becoming a member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s Central Committee and the head of the Campaign for Liberty group here in Iowa.  In 2008, Paul’s Iowa caucus campaign was thrown together on the fly.  Even so, Ivers knew what he was doing, and he just needed more time.  This time around, Ivers will not have to fight the clock.

Bill Salier: Many Iowa conservatives still have fond memories of Salier’s 2002 U.S. Senate primary campaign.  Salier proved to be an exceptional campaigner, and if he had run in the current political climate, there is no doubt he would have been the Republican nominee.  The problem with Salier is that his political involvement is very erratic.  Until he led Tom Tancredo’s campaign in Iowa, Salier was on nobody’s radar except for collecting petitions on the gay marriage issue.  He proved to be a good surrogate for Tancredo, but it’s still to be seen whether or not he can be a grassroots organizer.  Yet, paired with the right candidate, Salier could give someone a big boost.

Christopher Rants: As proof that there is a brain-drain in Republican politics in Iowa, I had to get a bit creative to get to ten names.  I have no idea if Rants would even consider running a caucus campaign, but if he did, it would turn some heads.  Rants understands the good and the bad of Iowa politics better than most.   During his gubernatorial campaign, Rants proved that he wasn’t afraid to take shots at his opponent when the opportunity presented itself.  That is a necessary trait to have in politics, and Rants has it in spades.  It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see Rants pulling the strings in Iowa for a candidate like Mitch Daniels or someone who will make policy the foundation of their campaign.

The Unknown: In every caucus cycle, someone who nobody expected to run a statewide campaign emerges and impresses people.  In 2008, it was a guy like Ivers who was not on anybody’s radar in 2007.  Even Eric Woolson wasn’t considered to be a campaign manager when he signed on to Huckabee’s campaign; he was just a press guy.  Then, the proved everyone wrong.  It’s also always possible that some candidates will bring in talent from other states, while other talent may emerge before our very eyes.

Stay tuned.  We will look at mercenaries and potential campaign staffers next.

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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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