The shake-up of Herman Cain’s campaign team in Iowa has observers questioning whether there are major problems below the surface of the businessman’s presidential bid.
Yet Cain says the exodus of his Iowa campaign team is no “big deal” and is not reflective of any larger issues.
To prove his point, Cain announced five new campaign staffers on Tuesday who will be based in the Hawkeye State.
Five staffers — who were working in both Iowa and New Hampshire — have resigned from his campaign in recent days, including three over the Independence Day weekend.
Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza who has never held elected office but is a star in Tea Party circles, announced the addition of new hires, including Larry Tuel as Iowa state director Tuesday.
In a statement, Cain said Tuel “brings many years of both business and political experience that will maximize our impact in the Hawkeye State.” (Romney takes large lead in NH primary poll, would defeat Obama head-to-head)
Three others — Lisa Lockwood, Zach Dalluge and Steven Hensler — have been named field operatives for Cain in the Iowa.
They take over for Iowa staffers Tina Goff, Kevin Hall and Charlie Gruschow, who all resigned over the last several days. In New Hampshire, state director Matt Murphy and regional director Jim Zeiler both have recently quit.
“I’m pursuing other interests,” Gruschow, a Tea Party leader in Iowa, said in a phone interview with The Daily Caller. “I have a tremendous respect for Herman. I did a tremendous amount of volunteer work for him through the end of April, and then I was on staff for a couple months. I decided that there are some other opportunities and interests that I have.”
Gruschow insisted he’s still on good terms with the campaign and hasn’t been disappointed by Cain. But he acknowledged others who have quit may have done so over disagreement with the strategic direction of the campaign.
“I think a couple of people might have left because they, from what I was told, wanted to see Herman in Iowa more,” he said.
Perhaps the most peculiar reason for why some of the aides may have resigned came from Politico, which, without offering any evidence backing up its assertions, reported that there have been “swirling rumors between Cain’s staff and volunteers in the Hawkeye State accusing each other of affairs, homosexuality and professional misconduct.”
Ellen Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Cain, declined to comment for this story. But Cain himself has dismissed the significance of the departures. (Pawlenty attacks bipartisan commission to end Minnesota government shutdown)
“You’re necessarily going to have early turnover,” Cain recently said, according to the Des Moines Register. And in an interview with Fox News Tuesday afternoon, Cain dismissed notions that that staff turnover will hamper his campaign. “This is not a big deal,” said Cain. “This campaign’s momentum has not skipped a beat.”
But one Iowa Republican insider told The Daily Caller the staff shake-up raises questions about Cain’s brand as a skilled and able businessman.
“[It’s] problematic if he knew about problems with staff and didn’t do anything about it, or didn’t even know–both speak bad of his managerial skills,” said the source.
Rob Taylor, however, chair of the Dallas County Republicans in Iowa, told TheDC that to judge the campaign on the staff turnover would be “naive at best,” adding that this could be a “defining moment for Herman Cain.”
“It’s always easy to judge the abilities of a manager and CEO when everything is going smoothly,” said Taylor. “The real test occurs when the wheels on the bus come loose. His wheels have not fallen off yet, but the lug nuts are loose and the wheels are flopping.”
“The best thing Herman Cain could do right now is stop the bus and tighten the lug nuts on his bus,” added Taylor.
With the Ames straw poll is just one month away, any disorganization in an Iowa team does not bode well. Cain will need a strong showing to prove his candidacy is credible. (Chaffetz endorses Romney over former boss Huntsman)
“Herman needs to be in the top three in the straw poll or he may as well pack up and go home,” the Republican source told TheDC, adding that the “campaign would be in deep trouble at that point” and that fundraising would be “nearly impossible.”
Cain “must have a strong showing in the straw poll to remain viable, yet all the signals now are contrary,” Doug Gross, an Iowa political veteran who was chairman of Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, told TheDC. “[Rep. Michele] Bachmann is taking the air out of his balloon.”
Steve Scheffler, a GOP committeeman, also told TheDC he believes Cain needs to show in the top three or four at the Ames straw poll, though he did ote John McCain was one exception four years ago.
One of the staffers who resigned was in charge of the campaign’s plan for the Ames straw poll in August. The campaign said Tuesday it still plans to compete at the event.
The campaign is planning a grand opening of the Iowa headquarters July 11. Cain has visited Iowa 22 times and placed third, behind Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, in a recent Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters.