Mark Jacobs’ official entrance into the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate today isn’t a surprise. Jacobs began raising his profile back in the spring when he began talking to local service clubs about education issues. In the later part of June, Jacobs formed a “testing the waters” committee to explore a potential U.S. Senate bid. After four months of “testing the waters,” Jacobs has now officially entered the race.
Frankly, it would be bigger news had Jacobs decided not to run for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat. Come to think of it, when was the last time someone formed an exploratory committee and ultimately decided not to run? Jacobs’ entrance into the race expands the already crowded and relatively unknown field of GOP candidates, but how will his candidacy alter the primary?
Like the rest of the candidates seeking the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, Mark Jacobs is relatively unknown to most Iowans. Likewise, Jacobs doesn’t really have a robust Iowa network that will help him garner votes for the upcoming June primary. What Jacobs does have that his primary opponents don’t is personal wealth that will allow him build a formidable campaign apparatus without the pressure of having to raise money to fund it simultaneously.
Jacobs’ financial advantage has already allowed him to mail an extensive biographical booklet to potential primary voters, and it has also allowed him to assemble an impressive and diverse set of campaign consultants. Rich Schwarm, a personal friend and business partner to Governor Terry Branstad, has helped guide Jacobs through the Iowa’s political waters. Schwarm has also involved another friend and business partner, Des Moines attorney Doug Gross, who himself has been a statewide candidate and consultant.
Handling Jacobs’ mail and fundraising is Nick Ryan, a veteran of Jim Nussle’s congressional campaigns and the manager of his 2006 campaign for governor. Ryan also played an integral role in Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, first by helping Santorum get introduced to Iowans, and later by operating a Super PAC, which helped him win eleven different states, including Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucuses.
On the campaign side, Jacobs has obtained the services of Victory Enterprises, a Davenport based political firm owed by Steve Grubbs that has long been involved in Iowa politics. Victory Enterprises has had a number of successes in primary campaigns. Most notably, they were successful in the contested primary wins of Mike Whalen in his 1st District primary win in 2006, and John Archer’s successful primary in the 2nd Congressional District in 2012.
The company’s eastern Iowa roots and involvement in congressional campaigns as well as its history of being involved in a number of presidential caucus campaigns for years, should benefit Jacobs. Having a seasoned veteran like Brain Dumas at the helm of the day-to-day operations of the campaign is also a benefit.
What’s impressive about Jacobs’ group of Iowa consultants isn’t the individual successes they may have had in the past, it’s that he has been able to bring together a diverse group people, each with a very different skillset, network, and knowledge base of Iowa politics. How this group works together remains to be seen, but the reach of their political networks alone should provide Jacobs with the ability to quickly build a formidable statewide campaign structure.
If you want to know if Jacobs’ entrance into the race will shake up the Republican primary, just listen to the campaigns of candidates who are already in the race.
Joni Ernst made her feelings public when she welcomed Jacobs into the race by sending out the following less-than-welcoming statement. “We welcome Mark Jacobs to the Republican Party, to Iowa and now the race for United States Senate. While his announcement may cause a bit of noise, it changes very little about the race. As a mother, a soldier and a proven conservative, Joni Ernst remains the candidate best able to defeat Bruce Braley and bring Iowa values to Washington. That was true before Mark Jacobs moved to Iowa to run for senate, and it’s still true today.”
A number of candidates and their staff have privately voiced their displeasure about either Jacobs’ exploratory campaign or his unwillingness to participate in the number of forums and debates that are being held. Their frustration is understandable, but it also says something about their campaigns. It’s seems as though the Ernst campaign is a little nervous about the impact Jacobs might have on the race.
As for not attending forums and debates, the last Iowa candidate who avoided county straw polls and forums is none other than Governor Terry Branstad. It is completely understandable why country party organizations and interest groups want to hold these events, but a candidate’s schedule should be dictated by their own campaign strategy instead of the random scheduling of forums. Jacobs will need to educate voters about where he stands on a number of issues, and maybe he will use some forums to do just that. However, until today, he couldn’t attend these functions and continue to have an exploratory committee.
Jacobs’ entrance into the Senate race impacts the campaigns of Joni Ernst, Matt Whitker, and David Young more than it impacts Sam Clovis. Ernst, Whitaker, and Young all have support from a wide verity of Iowa voters, but by and large they all will attract the same type of voter. These candidates, along with Jacobs, appeal more to business owners, professionals, and Republicans who are just hungry to win in November rather than stout conservative activists.
Clovis, on the other hand, occupies the conservative outsider role in the primary. While Clovis has to worry about candidates like Rod Roberts and Bob Vander Plaats entering the race, the impact that Jacobs will have on his campaign is minimal. If the primary, particularly primary spending, remains small in nature, Clovis and his grassroots organization are going to be major players. However, if one of the other candidates is able to marshal the resources to make his or her case directly to a wide array of primary voters, then that candidate will likely become the frontrunner. Right now, only Jacobs would have that ability if he chooses to spend his own financial resources.
As the Republican U.S. Senate field expands, more and more people believe that state convention delegates, not primary voters, will ultimately decide who will be the Republican nominee. However, it is far too early begin writing about convention scenario that is triggered if no candidate garners 35 percent of the vote in the primary. Remember, at this point four years ago, the Republican gubernatorial primary field was equally crowded as Branstad began mounting his comeback. While seven candidates sought the nomination, only three of them, Roberts, Vander Plaats, and Branstad ended up on the ballot.
The leading factor that caused candidates like Christian Fong, Jerry Behn, and Christopher Rants to prematurely end their campaigns was a lack of money and general support. A similar scenario could very well play out in the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary. The field may look crowded now, but all that matters is how it looks on primary day. We have already seen the fundraising slow for some candidates. The question is how long will they stick it out if their fortunes don’t reverse.
Jacobs has an awful lot of work to do to make himself known to Republican primary voters, but the one advantage he has over the rest of the field, including Bob Vander Plaats should he decided to get in, is a significant one. Regardless of who you are, campaigning across the state cost money. Contacting the 200,000 or more people who will likely participate in the primary next June is even more expensive. There is more to campaigns and politics than money, but in a race of newcomers and unknowns, it is imperative for campaigns to have the ability to reach out to voters directly.
As you can tell by the email that the Ernst campaign sent on the eve of Jacobs’ announcement, the tenor and scope of the Republican U.S. Senate primary is about to change. With the first open U.S. Senate seat in 30 years, it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the fact that it’s happening at the same time that Jacobs enters the race is somewhat telling.
Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride.
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