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In campaigns, like in football, there’s a free-agent market. And in this presidential cycle there’s still a lot of uncommitted political talent looking to join the national league.
There’s no doubt that the 2012 White House campaign is off to a late start compared with the 2008 cycle. As a result, many operatives who typically fill vital roles in the early states are still sitting on the sidelines — for now.
Why the delay? Campaigns are much more careful this cycle about how to deploy their resources early on.
After all, the two GOP candidates who spent heavily on staff early in 2008, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), did not benefit from it. McCain was forced to purge most of his staff by the summer of 2007 after his campaign bottomed out financially, and Romney failed to win the nomination despite having an extensive and experienced staff.
“The last thing that any campaign wants to do is spend tons of money early on building up a big, bloated bureaucracy,” said Todd Harris, a Republican consultant who has worked on several presidential campaigns.
Secondly, the primary calendar has changed in recent cycles, and not every candidate is competing in all of the early states. Candidates are picking and choosing more than ever how hard to play in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
“One of the reasons for it is because of the way that more and more candidates are approaching the primary calendar. It used to be that everybody started in Iowa, and then you went to New Hampshire and then you went to South Carolina and onward, and you didn’t really have any choice in the matter,” Harris said. “Way back when, when every candidate competed everywhere, every consultant got hired. Today, it’s not necessarily the case.”
But with a slew of campaign announcements scheduled for early June, it’s clear that the field of GOP White House hopefuls has started to solidify. As a result, many of the following uncommitted operatives — veterans of the presidential contests in the early states — might be soon looking to join a team.
Haus has served in a senior role for Republican White House hopefuls in Iowa for the past three presidential elections. But so far this cycle, Haus is without a home, confirming to Roll Call last week that he hasn’t signed on with a presidential candidate yet but that he’s still interested in doing so.
Haus has racked up several top finishes in the caucuses, including when he ran former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) caucus campaign in 2008, which came in third place, and when he served as a senior consultant to businessman Steve Forbes, who came in second in the 2000 caucuses. Haus also ran then-Sen. Phil Gramm’s caucus operation in 1996, when the Texas Republican came in fifth place.
Regardless, any candidate who picks up Haus this round will have an immediate connection with one of the most influential Republicans in the state. Haus, a public affairs consultant by day, boasts a close relationship with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and produced all of the advertisements for his 2010 race.
Gross was hopeful that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) would jump into the race, but now that he’s out, the lawyer who chaired former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) 2008 caucus operation is officially back on the market.
“I’m just reassessing the entire field now that Daniels has said he won’t get in. I’m hoping to make a decision by the end of the month,” said Gross, Iowa’s GOP gubernatorial nominee in 2002.
Known for his strategic thinking and deep Iowa roots, Gross boasts deep-pocketed connections as the former Iowa finance co-chairman for President George W. Bush during both of his presidential campaigns.
Any Republican candidate who taps Gross also picks up another big prize: proxy access to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R). In addition to being one of the governor’s best friends, Gross was a top adviser in all five of Branstad’s gubernatorial races and served as his chief of staff from 1984 to 1989.
Grubbs is a true veteran of the Iowa caucuses after participating in almost every presidential caucus in the state for almost 30 years; he even met his wife at the 1984 caucuses when President Ronald Reagan was running for re-election. Grubbs has yet to sign on to help a candidate, but he told Roll Call that he’s open to the possibility.
Grubbs’ GOP peers praise him for his “great analytical mind,” but the former Iowa Republican Party chairman also has loads of experience. He was on the field staff for then-Sen. Bob Dole in 1988, served as the Kansas Republican’s caucus chairman in his 1996 presidential race and advised Steve Forbes in 2000. However, Grubbs was less successful in 2008, when he consulted for former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson’s (R) caucus campaign.
As the most recent executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, Laudner was a neutral player last presidential cycle. But as a result of that gig, he knows the Ames Straw Poll game inside and out, and he would therefore be valuable to any GOP candidate looking to compete in Iowa.
Laudner, who has major pull within the evangelical activist community, most recently served as campaign chairman for the operation that successfully ousted three judges for striking down the state’s gay marriage ban.
Laudner is also close to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and served as one of his top aides for many years. He told Roll Call that he’s open to signing on to help a candidate but that he’s in no hurry to do so.
Call Dennehy suddenly single, at least in the political sense. He originally signed on with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who abruptly decided in April that he would not run for president after several months of seriously exploring a bid.
As a result, the former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is back on the market, and local GOP operatives said it’s unlikely that Dennehy will remain on the sidelines for the rest of 2012. “I’m still open to the possibility, but I haven’t made a decision one way or the other,” he said.
Dennehy is best known as the man responsible for orchestrating McCain’s whopping 19-point victory over then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire GOP primary. But he also served as McCain’s full-time national political director through the New Hampshire primary in the 2008 cycle, and he has overseen a slew of other local campaigns throughout the past 20 years and served as executive director for the New Hampshire GOP.
Dennehy also said he’s more open to working as a senior adviser than day-to-day campaign manager for a candidate this time around, and locals say he would be a boost to any of the campaigns — if they can afford to bring him on board. “He would be an asset to any campaign; whether they could all afford him or not is another question,” former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said. “He’s genuinely talented and would command a good pay.”
Granite State insiders joke that Burnett is actually former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu’s (R) ninth child. While that is not the case, Burnett is close to the family that has ruled New Hampshire GOP politics for decades, and he now partners with two of the former White House chief of staff’s sons in his consulting business.
Burnett worked for Sununu’s son Sen. John Sununu as a legislative director and as his deputy campaign manager in 2008, and he worked on former Sen. Judd Gregg’s (R-N.H.) staff. He also boasts presidential experience as Romney’s former political director in New Hampshire in 2008, but so far this cycle he’s uncommitted.
“I was probably most interested in working for Mitch Daniels had he run, but he’s not running,” Burnett told Roll Call. “It’s going to take me a little bit of time to figure out.”
Burnett had been approached about serving as a campaign manager by a couple of existing campaigns but decided against pursing that opportunity because of his young family. However, he said he’s still interested in serving in an advisory role for the right candidate.
If experience counts, then Tompkins is the man to beat in the Palmetto State. He’s been involved in every presidential race since 1976 in the state. Most recently, Tompkins was a key consultant for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) in South Carolina in 2008. But this cycle, he said he’s uncommitted, especially now that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) aren’t running.
“We’ve had a number of conversations with different people, but I’m trying to just determine if I want to get involved,” Tompkins said. “Now that things are starting to settle in and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any more entries into the field, it’s time to make a decision what direction to go in and how to best fit in and be the most effective.”
Tompkins has another major asset in his corner: He’s a past supporter and adviser to the state’s resident conservative kingmaker, Sen. Jim DeMint (R), who he said is on the fence so far about endorsing in the 2012 presidential field.
Dyke was supposed to run Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s South Carolina operation in what was expected to be a pivotal state for the Southern Republican. But now that Barbour isn’t running, Dyke is a free agent again — or as his partner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney adviser Kevin Madden, put it, “I’m very glad that the awkward silences over lunch are a thing of the past.”
But that might not be the case for long. Even though Barbour is out, Dyke said he’s open to joining another race and told Roll Call that he believes Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Romney “are all great candidates, and I suspect one of them will be the nominee.”
Even though Dyke resides in South Carolina, he is best known for his national experience, stemming from his time as communications director for the Republican National Committee, as well as his gigs as a communications adviser to President George W. Bush and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Most importantly, Dyke has worked on four presidential races, including Rudy Giuliani’s South Carolina bid in 2008.
Miller has loads of national political experience but boasts a speciality in the Palmetto State. As former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) campaign manager in 2006 and his deputy chief of staff in 2007, Miller escaped unscathed from Sanford’s team several years before the governor took his infamous trip to Argentina. As a result, he has South Carolina experience but isn’t tainted from the scandal. Most recently, Miller produced television advertisements for the state’s new attorney general and treasurer in the 2010 cycle.
Miller has a connection to one of the most sought-after Republicans in the country after his firm wrote the ads for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s successful 2009 race. Miller has also served as a national deputy communications director for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign and has worked for a couple of candidates in another key early state, Florida.
Miller has already been approached by several campaigns, including Donald Trump’s when he was still considering a bid, but he has yet to sign on with anyone. Miller confirmed that he wants to be involved in the presidential race somehow, but he added, “We’ll see how the field develops, and we’ll see how some campaigns develop.”
Bradshaw remains one of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s (R) closest advisers, which means she’ll continue to be in demand for any GOP candidate looking to compete there. Known by her peers as “Jeb Bush’s Karl Rove,” Bradshaw keeps a low profile in the media but is regarded as one of the most politically savvy minds in the Sunshine State.
She originally signed on with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, with whom she had a history from when she was his intern in President Ronald Reagan’s political office. But since Barbour’s exit, Bradshaw has kept quiet, and sources say she plans to take the summer off before she commits to another campaign.
Bradshaw also has a history with another potential GOP candidate, Mitt Romney. She served as his senior adviser for Florida in 2008, and her talents remain well-respected among her colleagues still working with the former Massachusetts governor.
Enwright is known as one of the most politically savvy minds in Florida GOP politics, but he would also be able to deliver national expertise to any campaign. Like fellow operative Sally Bradshaw, Enwright also originally signed with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R). He was unavailable for comment on whether he would be interested in another White House campaign.
Enwright led President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election efforts in Florida and worked on successful gubernatorial bids for Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. “In a state where you can’t walk across the street without tripping over self-described ‘political operatives,’ Randy actually has a proven record of delivering results,” said Erin Vansickle, a Florida Republican communications consultant.
Enwright also boasts national credentials, including serving as former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) national political director in 2008 and as a regional political director for the Republican National Committee. He’s been the executive director of the Republican Party of Florida and filled the same role in Iowa in the mid-1990s.