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“Iowa is a terrific learning ground. You learn, in Iowa, how to execute the fundamentals in politics,” said Steve Elmendorf, former Gephardt chief of staff and senior adviser. “Travis learned from the best.”
The team looked great on paper, but the result was less than stellar. “It’s not very often that you finish fourth in the primary and still believe you ran the best campaign,” Lowe remembers with a smile. It probably helped that there was some fun involved.
Lapp recalls a “sweaty mess of corduroy” as he and Lowe would face off in marathon air hockey matches at the Family Fun Center in Des Moines. Burton, who lived with Lowe, confirmed the perspiration and plenty of time spent at Wellmans Pub and Rooftop, down Ingersoll Avenue from their temporary quarters.
“He comes from solid Iowa stock,” Burton said about the Iowa City native, who invited him to spend Christmas with his family because the caucuses fell so close to the holidays.
After Gephardt dropped out of the race, Lowe went to work in Virginia for Gen. Wesley Clark’s short-lived campaign. “I loved my family, but I was having a good time,” Lowe said about his frenetic pace.
As the 2004 general election drew closer, Lowe worked in Michigan briefly for America Coming Together, the liberal 527, before parachuting into Connecticut with the given task of bolstering Democrat Jim Sullivan’s challenge to then-Rep. Rob Simmons (R) in the 2nd district. Without a buy-in from the candidate, it didn’t go well, and much of the consulting team (including Lowe) left before the race was over. Sullivan lost by 8 points.
“He knew what the problems were and knew how to fix them,” according to veteran direct-mail consultant Ed Peavy, who hired Lowe after the pair left the Connecticut race. At Mission Control, Peavy’s firm, Lowe got a crash course in direct mail in races from city council to the U.S. Senate and got his first taste of an IE operation from the vendor side.
“He was far better than I even thought he was [at first],” recalled Peavy, who exploited Lowe’s love for Iowa football by choosing a superior team when they played the “NCAA Football” video game for PlayStation. The two men also shared other moments that revolved around Iowa sports, such as the time they were on the road together listening to the radio when the No. 3 seed Iowa team was upset by No. 14 seed Northwestern State University in the 2006 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Lowe’s brain is wired for details. He recalls the three-pointer in the corner that defeated the Hawkeyes that day and the yardage of the last-second touchdown pass that vaulted Iowa over Louisiana State University in the 2005 Capitol One Bowl. It might help that Lowe was present for that one.
Democrats hope to utilize that attention to detail.
“He has a granular understanding of every district, from the recruits to the Democratic performance to where the persuadable voters are,” DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said.