The Iowa Caucuses are unique. In a recent piece I wrote last week for Breitbart News I explained what makes the First in the Nation Caucus state unique.
The Iowa Caucuses, unlike a primary where you can vote all day, are party-organized meetings.
In 2016 both Iowa Republicans and Democrats will meet for our precinct caucus at 7:00 pm on February 1 at the location determined by the county party. This has a community feel, as you see friends and neighbors and people generally arrive early so there is time to chat. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss candidates, issues, and elect precinct representation to our county party’s leadership, as well as, decide who we’ll send to the county convention.
During presidential election years the first order of business is the presidential preference poll.
Republicans decide this by secret ballot, but before we vote all candidates can have a representative speak on their behalf. Having a speaker who can clearly and energetically articulate support for a candidate is crucial as there are people who show up to caucus undecided. They want to hear what their friends and neighbors have to say. There are also those who can come in and change their minds. Well-organized campaigns have this covered, campaigns that are not well-organized don’t.
Also the design and purpose of the caucus means it is the grassroots, not just casual voters, of a party that participates. All of this makes the Iowa Caucuses very difficult to predict.
Two things that are key in Iowa. One is having a candidate and a message that resonates with the party’s grassroots. The other is organization. Who will be able to turn out voters?
Who at this moment has the best organization in Iowa?
Here is a rundown of candidates starting with the top five candidates according with polling:
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX):
Last week another Breitbart News article highlighted Cruz’s organization in Iowa:
Cruz’s national political director, Mark Campbell, told Breitbart News about the massive volunteer operation they’ve set up in the Hawkeye State.
Campbell said that their voter outreach program is “built on the neighbor to neighbor idea. We want neighbors, family members and co-workers forming friendships and reaching out to people in their own lives.”
“There’s 1,500 precincts in Iowa and we’ve already recruited over 1,000 precinct chairs, an over 240-person leadership team, and 2,300 coalition members,” Campbell said. “We just cracked 100 state leaders and pastors. We’re past 5,000 volunteers. The other thing that we’ve done, is we got 700 volunteers to come in from around the country. Between them and our Iowa volunteer team, we’re able to make thousands of calls.”
While Jeb Bush tries to get by with ten paid staffers, Cruz has an entire building full of volunteers. Literally. The campaign rented 24 apartments in Des Moines to house all of his out-of-state workers. The setup is called “Camp Cruz.” And unlike in most dormitories, there are no “Safe Spaces.”
Jennifer Jacobs with the Des Moines Register tweeted on Monday that Cruz had grown his precinct chairs:
Sign of heavy Cruz ground game: 1,300 captains in Iowa's 1,681 precincts, aides tell me. Many will do speeches, all will advocate for him.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) January 18, 2016
Cruz has held 119 events over 47 days.** He has six staff* members in Iowa according to P2016.org.
There are questions surrounding Donald Trump’s organization. Trump who has held several rallies in the state that have attracted thousands of Iowa. One has to wonder if Trump has rallied fans or voters. He has seven paid staff in Iowa according to P2016.org.
The New York Times casts doubt on the strength of his organization:
One volunteer leader enlisted by Donald J. Trump to turn out Iowa voters has yet to knock on a single door or to make a phone call. Another is a “9/11 truther” with a website claiming that the Sept. 11 attacks were a government conspiracy. A third caucus precinct captain, who like the others attended a training session in West Des Moines last month, said the campaign’s goal of having them each enlist 25 supporters was unrealistic.
“There’s probably not even 25 registered voters in a precinct,” said the captain, Kathy Hawk, a retired trauma therapist in Ottumwa, who began making calls only on Monday…
…Some volunteers in charge of turning out supporters to caucus on Feb. 1 are given lists of all registered Republicans in their precincts to contact, ignoring the large number of independents and Democrats who appear to be leaning toward Mr. Trump. Moreover, the volunteers urge people to caucus regardless of whom they support, which risks turning out voters for Mr. Trump’s rivals.
“I got 12 to go to the caucus, but I don’t know if they will actually vote for Donald Trump,” said Rick Shaddock, a precinct captain in Fairfield and the one who maintains the Sept. 11 conspiracy site.
Mr. Shaddock said one of Mr. Trump’s senior Iowa operatives, Marshall Critchfield, had told him not to bring up his conspiracy views when calling voters.
“Marshall took me aside and told me, ‘Rick, when you’re talking to people about Donald Trump, maybe you shouldn’t mention 9/11,’ ” he said.
Compared with the well-oiled machines of other leading candidates in both parties, particularly that of the Cruz campaign, the Trump ground game in Iowa seems partly an afterthought, as if Mr. Trump’s strategy is to leverage his charisma — the appeal that draws thousands to his rallies — to motivate voters.
“Normally, I at least know the country chairs and I see some organization,” said Gwen Ecklund, chair of the Republican Party in Crawford County, who said Trump staffers weren’t doing as much as other campaigns.
“Quite frankly, I haven’t seen quiet as much of his organization at a country level as the other candidates,” said Warren County GOP chair Rick Halvorsen, who couldn’t recall having seen Trump representatives at the party’s monthly meetings.
Don Kass, of the Plymouth County GOP, said he’d been fielding calls from other campaign officials inquiring about speaking arrangements on caucus night, but has yet to hear from Trump’s team.
Dozens of people interviewed by The Associated Press in recent weeks at Trump rallies across the state say that while his team is active online, they have had relatively little personal contact from the campaign. Many said they had yet to receive a phone call or a campaign mailing. None reported a knock on the door.
And on a recent Friday evening, Trump’s main campaign office in suburban Des Moines was shuttered by 7 p.m. Three miles up the road, Cruz’s headquarters hummed with the sounds of more than 30 volunteers placing calls at tables festively decorated with potted poinsettias.
I’m not willing to write off Trump however because of Chuck Laudner who is leading his Iowa efforts. Back to the AP article:
His team in Iowa is led by Chuck Laudner, a highly respected political operative who ran 2012 caucus winner Rick Santorum’s Iowa operation. They have diligently built a voter database using the information entered when fans sign up online to attend his events, where Trump staffers canvass the crowd seeking commitments and answering questions.
Tana Goertz, Donald Trump’s peppy Iowa campaign co-chair, boils down the caucus process to a few easy steps. The last one? “If you can write T-R-U-M-P, you’ve just done it!” she told a crowd outside Des Moines this week.
They have the funding, and they have staff in Iowa. We just don’t know much about their organization beyond that.
Trump has held 39 events over 28 days.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Rubio just announced on Monday that his campaign has over 300 leaders representing all of Iowa’s 99 counties. He currently has seven paid staff in the state according to P2016.org.
The National Review ran an article in December that was not complementary toward the campaign pointing out some complaints about the campaign:
Much of the negative attention has focused on New Hampshire, a state whose moderate electorate could be more receptive to the establishment-friendly Rubio. But behind the scenes in Iowa, criticism of Rubio’s operation has deepened. There are whispers here that prominent Republicans have scolded his campaign in recent days for its failure to organize in the Hawkeye State.
Stories abound of Rubio and his team missing easy opportunities to connect with voters: The time a line of people waited for him after an event, while his field staffers ate pizza backstage; the appearance he canceled at a major evangelical gathering for no apparent reason; the Saturday he spent here recently watching football with his state chairman, Jack Whitver, rather than holding public events.
Rubio’s staff told the Washington Post his organization is much stronger in Iowa that what people realize.
“Look at the agricultural leaders list and the business leaders list we’ve released,” he said. “By the end of the week, we’ll have leadership in all 99 counties, over 300 people, and that’s going to demonstrate a broad breadth of support. They didn’t come on board yesterday — they’ve been for us for a long time. It’s pretty obvious we’re consolidating a strong portion of the vote here.”
Rubio has held 77 events over 38 days.
Dr. Ben Carson
Carson has had a shake-up among his national staff, but his Iowa staff remains in place.
Carson has seven paid staff working in Iowa according to P2016.org. They announced county chairs in all 99 counties this fall.*** Beyond that the strength of his campaign’s organization is unknown.
Carson has held 85 events over 36 days.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
Paul recently announced he has 1000 precinct chairs. He’s making a play among college students trying to rally 10,000 college students to caucus for him. He has four paid staff in Iowa according to P2016.org.
The Daily Caller reports:
Over the course of the past few months, the campaign has had between 40 and 50 college students in Iowa making phone calls on a daily basis in an attempt to attract the Libertarian-leaning millennials Paul’s father, former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, managed to captivate during his presidential bids and time in the House.
“We’ve organized all across Iowa on campuses, we’re recruiting what we call our Iowa 10,000 to try and bring 10,000 college students to the caucus – so we feel really good that our grassroots effort are really strong there,” Senior National Advisor Michael Biundo told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In addition to that, we’ve organized 1,000 precinct captains throughout the state. You need a lot of organization to get people out on an icy, cold Iowa night to spend several hours at the caucus location – and having done it before, having that many precinct captains is a significant milestone a lot of campaigns can’t tout.”
Paul has held 104 events over 37 days.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Santorum has spent the most time in Iowa bar none. He has held 239 events over 83 days. He has completed a “full Grassley” completing a tour all of Iowa’s 99 counties. According to P2016.org he has eight paid staff in Iowa.
Santorum has not yet released his numbers of county chairs and precinct chairs so the strength of his organization is yet not clear.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
Trailing only Santorum, Huckabee has spent a lot of time in the state. His campaign has pledged to complete his 99-county tour and complete 150 events in January. Huckabee has held 181 events over 67 days.
Politico reported on December 17, 2015 that Huckabee had 13 paid staffers in Iowa.
They have boasted 229 county leaders and 79 county chairs. They have yet to announce their number of co-chairs.
The former Hewlett-Packard CEO has held over 105 events over 52 days in the state. P2016.org reports just one staff member for Fiorina in the state.
Fiorina’s campaign has not released any numbers of state, county or precinct leadership.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Christie has held 63 events over 30 days. He has four paid staff members in Iowa according to P2016.org. They have announced 125 leaders/endorsements in the state.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
Bush has held 38 events in 21 days in Iowa. On December 30, 2015 the Des Moines Register reported over 20 paid staff members. The campaign has also has announced over 255 county chairs, city chairs, coalition members and members of their “Iowa leadership team.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich
Kasich has spent the least amount of time in Iowa holding 20 events in 12 days. P2016.org reports he has two paid staff in Iowa. This fall he announced an Iowa Leadership team consisting of 28 current and former public officials, business and community leaders.
As it stands right now without knowing the status of Santorum’s and Trump’s campaign organization it appears that Cruz has the strongest organization in the state.
* Number of staff does not include state chairs and co-chairs who are typically volunteers.
**Information for events and days spent in Iowa obtained from The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Caucus candidate tracker.
***Numbers for a campaigns organizations obtained through press releases I’ve received directly and information provided at P2016.org.
Disclosure: This writer has endorsed U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for President.