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April 18th, 2011

Pawlenty Courts the Tea Party, Continues to Invest in Iowa

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty made a politically astute decision by attending the Des Moines Tea Party event on Saturday morning.  While the crowd was no where near as large as it was in 2009 or even 2010, the opportunity to address a few hundred die-hard tea party activists doesn’t present itself all that often.

The windblown crowd was respectful to Pawlenty.  There were hoots and hollers when he bemoaned the size and scope of government.  They also enjoyed Pawlenty’s reference to Jimmy McMilian, but instead of saying “The rent is to damn high,” he opted for “The Government is too damn big.”

Even though the two speakers that followed Pawlenty told the audience that the presidential candidate got it wrong, he scored points for showing up.  By attending the Des Moines Tea Party event and others across the country, Pawlenty is sending the message that he respects the Tea Party movement.  Pawlenty might never be “the Tea Party guy” – Herman Cain seemed to excite the audience more than he did, – but by showing up, Pawlenty earned some credibility with that segment of the electorate.

Pawlenty’s Iowa Staff Takes Shape

Pawlenty continues to build his Iowa and national campaign team. Eric Woolson, whom Pawlenty announced was on his team last month, helped shepherd his candidate with members of the media on Saturday.  In addition to Woolson, Tracie Gibler and Dane Nealson were also in tow helping Pawlenty navigate the Tea Party event.

Gibler recently served as the campaign manager for Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ campaign for Congress in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.  Over the past four years, Miller-Meeks has developed an outstanding following in southeast Iowa.  The connections she made on that campaign will be beneficial for Pawlenty.  Gibler also worked for Rudy Giuliani’s campaign in 2008.

Dane Nealson is a former Chairman of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans, State Chairman of Student’s for Branstad, and he worked for the RNC’s Iowa Victory program in 2010.  Iowa Caucus campaigns are built on staffers like Nealson who will be responsible for getting people to support his candidate.   Nealson, an Iowa State grad, ran the Ames Victory office.  With the Straw Poll in Ames in August, Nealson should be able to capitalize on his familiarity with the area to benefit his candidate.

Pawlenty Is Spending Like a Frontrunner

Pawlenty has assembled an impressive campaign team.  Last week, Pawlenty hired Nick Ayers as his national campaign manager, as well as Jon Lerner as his pollster.  He is also being advised by Terry Nelson and Sara Taylor, two Iowa natives, as well as Phil Musser.  In addition to his Iowa staff, Pawlenty is also paying Chuck Larson Jr. and Karen Slifka as Iowa consultants.

Pawlenty’s campaign team is what you would expect from a top-flight presidential campaign.  His campaign operation rivals what Romney and McCain were able to build four years ago.  While it is impressive to see the type of team he has been able to assemble, it also comes with a hefty price tag.

Pawlenty only raised $160,000 for his presidential campaign in its first reporting period.  Musser was already downplaying the fundraising totals on the same day that Pawlenty announced his exploratory campaign.  He told the Politico that he asked donors to wait until April 1 to contribute to the campaign in an effort to avoid the campaign having a lack-luster fundraising report.  That makes some sense, but if the Pawlenty campaign was worried about the appearance of his fundraising numbers, he could have just announced his campaign on April 1st instead of March 21st.

Pawlenty Feels A Lot Like McCain

There are a number of similarities between McCain’s 2008 campaign and Pawlenty’s Caucus Campaign.

Chuck Larson, Jr., Karen Slifka, and Ed Failor, Jr. were all McCain advisors and serve similar roles with Pawlenty.

In 2007, McCain rented the former Nussle for Governor headquarters to serve as its Iowa office.  In 2011, Pawlenty is taking over the campaign office space that was used by Terry Branstad.

Pawlenty just needs to pray that he can avoid the June collapse that McCain experienced in 2007.  McCain was able to rebound and won the nomination, but it is unlikely that Pawlenty could withstand something like that.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.

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