In Iowa, Newt scrambles to put campaign organization in place

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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URBANDALE, Iowa — Inside the quiet headquarters of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign here are empty tables lining the wall.

These tables will soon be used by volunteers to dial potential caucus voters, something other Republican campaigns operating in the first state to vote in the 2012 race have long been doing.

But staffers with Gingrich’s campaign in Iowa on Monday morning were still waiting on a shipment of about 100 phones to arrive.

The campaign for the surging candidate — who is the front-runner in Iowa according to the latest Des Moines Register poll — is working furiously to get organized ahead of Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses and to get basic campaign tools like phones installed for volunteers.

While the former House speaker has surged in polls to the front of the pack here, his ground game has been non-existent in Iowa until just recently.

Gingrich only recently rehired his Iowa staff — some left the campaign in June — and opened up a headquarters in a modest office park outside of Des Moines last week.

It’s routine for presidential campaigns to use volunteers to make calls all day to Iowa Republicans to locate supporters and enlist help for the caucuses, said Tim Albrecht, a veteran of campaigns and the communications director for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

“It’s done through phone calls,” Albrecht told The Daily Caller of winning a caucus. “It’s not done through television ads. This isn’t a primary.”

“This is not people going to their usual voting location anytime between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. casting a vote for their favorite candidate,” he said. “This is about showing up at 7 o’clock at maybe a school or maybe a church or maybe somebody’s living room — which is not your usual voting location — showing up on a cold winter night on Jan. 3 to cast your vote for your candidate.”

The campaign only has six paid staff in the state and no other offices.

Katie Koberg, a senior campaign adviser to Gingrich’s Iowa campaign, told The Daily Caller in an interview that Gingrich’s Iowa campaign is “lean, efficient, streamlined.”

“It’s not the number of offices you can open, and it’s not the number of people you can hire,” she said. “It always starts with and it always ends with the candidate and the message. And is the candidate and the message resonating? Absolutely. So if that’s working, then the other parts come into place.”

Koberg was among a handful of Gingrich staffers, both in Iowa and from the national campaign, who resigned en masse in June out of frustration with the campaign strategy put in place by the candidate. She returned to the campaign in November to help rebuild his state organization.

Steve Grubbs, who until this weekend led Herman Cain’s presidential campaign in Iowa before the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO dropped out of the race, stressed the importance of a robust ground game that recruits precinct captains for caucus night.

“I would say Newt’s campaign is like a start-up business,” Grubbs told TheDC in an interview. “He suddenly has the financial resources and now he has to scale quickly.”

“On caucus night there are 1,800 precincts,” he said. “And most precincts will ask if there is somebody who will stand up and speak on behalf of a candidate. And to the extent that there are undecided voters in the room — and there are always a few — it’s important, I think, to have someone who makes a strong set of remarks for the candidate.”

He said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Rep. Ron Paul have the strongest ground organizations in the state.

“I think Gingrich is getting up to speed but he has a long way to go to catch up,” Grubbs said.

Koberg was mum on specifics when asked about the ground game being employed by the Gingrich campaign. “That’s part of the playbook,” she said. “And as all good coaches know, you have a playbook, but you don’t share it with the other teams.”

While Gingrich only added staff in Iowa recently, Koberg would say avid volunteers have aided him in recent months.

“Newt has a very good core group of friends and followers in this state who are amazingly loyal and have been working tremendously hard as volunteers to continue to get him in front of the right people and continue to help him test the message and get the message out,” she said.

Sixty-four-year-old Judy Reynolds is one such volunteer who is managing the door at the headquarters. She lives in Culver, Indiana and took vacation from her job at a boarding school to move to Urbandale for six weeks to help Gingrich before the caucuses.

“I showed up the Monday before Thanksgiving,” she said. “I actually got here before the headquarters was open.”

Some of the duties for the former Republican National Committee staffer include helping putting together a list of volunteers to do phone calls when the phones arrive and serving as a receptionist at the new headquarters.

Reynolds takes pride in joining the campaign before Gingrich’s surge.

“Some of my family and friends thought I was nuts, but I said ‘no, this guy keeps going up while everybody else keeps going down.’ I’m not for him because I think he’s going to win,” she said. “I just think he’s got more ideas and better judgment and all than anyone else I’ve seen for a long time.”

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