Some political operatives spend their entire careers working on political campaigns in hopes of one day landing a prominent job in state or federal government. Once there, the pay is usually good, the benefits outstanding, and you are still able to be actively involved in politics without having to work the six or seven days a week like campaigns demand.
Needless to say, it’s an odd occurrence when someone leaves a prominent state government job for a campaign, but that’s exactly what Chad Olsen has opted to do. On Friday, Olsen will trade in his position Deputy Secretary of State to become the head of the Republican National Committee’s Iowa Victory program, the same position he held in 2010.
The hiring of Olsen is welcomed news for Republicans on the ballot 2014. When Olsen served as Victory Director in 2010, Republicans won 60 seats in the Iowa House, controlled 24 State Senate Districts, and won a gubernatorial election for the first time since 1994. Having a respected, competent, extremely qualified, seasoned veteran like Olsen leading the charge to elect Republicans up and down the ballot in November is a luxury many states never get to enjoy.
While Olsen’s decision to leave state government might surprise many, he’s walking into a great situation as the Branstad-Reynolds campaign has already built a robust organization of 2,000 county chairs and precinct captains in every corner of the state. It’s also a good sign that the RNC is willing to bring on a guy like Olsen a full year from the general election, an indication that the RNC is taking Iowa seriously and that they’re working to build a strong infrastructure in the state.
Continuity in politics is difficult to achieve, but Olsen’s return as Victory Director means that most of the pieces from Branstad’s 2010 election are now back in place. Not only does Olsen have a good handle on what works and what doesn’t in regards to voter contact and turn-out operations, but he has built credibility with lawmakers and candidates through some of the successes he has had in the past. In 2010, the Victory effort did an excellent job of turning out low propensity voters. This was especially impactful in targeted state legislative races where a handful of votes could have swayed the election results.
Getting candidates at all levels to buy-in and participate in the Victory program is important, but not always easy to do. This is where Olsen’s greatest attribute comes into play. Olsen is widely respected by Republicans. He’s professional and passionate about getting Republicans elected. He doesn’t have some ulterior motive and isn’t angling for some other job. He’s focused on the job at hand and doesn’t let personalities distract him from his tasks.
Olsen also has a knack of developing good political staffers. Regardless of the candidate or the size and budget of the campaign he has worked on, Olsen always ends up having some of the best field staffers working under him. It’s not a fluke, it’s a testament to his management style and ability to his ability to teach and motivate his staff. Developing campaign staff is often an over-looked trait when hiring senior level staff, but those low level staffers are the face of the campaign with activists and volunteers. Good campaigns don’t just hire good people – they develop them.
Landing Olsen required a concerted effort by the Branstad-Reynolds campaign in conjunction with the campaigns of Congressmen King and Latham. Olsen’s hiring will also benefit whoever wins the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate next June. In fact, with a crowded and uncertain primary for the U.S. Senate underway, it’s comforting to know that after a nominee has been chosen, an organization will already be in place for the general election.
The hiring of someone like Olsen doesn’t often make newspaper headlines, but it’s these types of hires that can make a difference in the outcomes of campaigns. No matter what stripe of Republican you consider yourself to be, the hiring of someone like Olsen is something that should be celebrated. The real winners are Republican candidates who now have an experienced winner at the helm in 2014.
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