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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 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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