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What Happened to the Vaunted Iowa Campaign?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Michele Bachmann, an Iowa native, has already established a campaign office there for the presidential caucuses on Jan. 3.

“It’s a significantly smaller operation than it was four years ago,” said Brian Kennedy, chairman of Romney’s Iowa Steering Committee. “The campaign benefits from the fact that Gov. Romney spent so much time in Iowa and built a lot of support four years ago. He hasn’t had to invest in the same manner this time.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s struggling campaign insists it is prepared for the caucuses with one office in West Des Moines and nine staff members, including a paid consultant and four regional field directors. Robert Haus, Perry’s state director, said it’s a strategic move not to show Perry’s organizational hand before next month.

“I would never want to put a list out there,” Haus said. “Then people start trying to pick them off.”

Many Iowa operatives argue the presidential underdogs — former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas) — have the strongest, most traditional organizations. But even their top aides are mum on the specifics of their caucuses turnout operations.

Paul has a single, small office running in Ankeny, including five full-time staffers who work with volunteers, according to his Iowa campaign chairman, Drew Ivers.  

“We’re in the respectable position and about the same level as we were four years ago in terms of the nuts and bolts in the number of precincts and counties,” Ivers said. “We have more identified supporters in each of those 1,784 precincts than we did four years ago.”

In 2008, Romney took second place and Paul came in fourth.

Santorum has been the most public about visiting all 99 counties in Iowa but has just one office, in Des Moines. Minimal fundraising has forced him to run a bare-bones operation.

“From everything I see, Santorum is doing things the right way and probably what a lot of folks consider the old-fashioned way, getting down to the precincts. Bachmann’s doing the same thing,” said Chuck Laudner, a Santorum supporter  and longtime Iowa operative. “But that’s about it. ... I still show up at meetings where not every campaign has a representative at it. That’s just so unusual.”

Bachmann, an Iowa native, lists 12 members of her state leadership team and one Urbandale office on her website. Eric Woolson, a top Bachmann aide, did not return an inquiry asking for more details about her campaign.

Organized underdogs and unprepared or under-the-radar frontrunners will make for an unpredictable result in Iowa one month from now. Iowa operatives say that, if anything, this year’s candidate caucuses organizations remind them of another kind of election: a primary.

“I think with the advent of technology, the influence of a lot of different communications channels, the caucuses are more hybrid in 2012 than they’ve ever been before — a hybrid between a traditional caucus and a primary,” Haus said.

Traditionally, presidential campaigns organize differently for primaries and caucuses. Campaigns focus more on local organization and voter recruitment in a caucus system, and they put a greater emphasis on statewide polling and television campaigns in a primary.

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