The early boom in activity – which is expected to accelerate over the summer months – illustrates how Republicans are maneuvering to succeed Trump. A candidacy from Trump would likely stifle their hopes of becoming the party’s candidate, and at least one candidate has said he will not run if Trump does. But potential candidates don’t waste time preparing for the possibility of an open nomination competition.
In an interview following an Iowa Republican Party dinner here last week, former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad ticked off a list of recent and upcoming visitors to the state, ranging from Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott to former Vice President Mike Pence to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“What I say to any candidate, from either party: come early, come often, get to know the people of Iowa,” said Branstad, who served a record six. terms as governor of the state. “We are going to bring in a lot of people.”
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has become the latest potential candidate to make a pilgrimage to Iowa, embarking last week on a three-day trip that included speeches to the Story County Republican Party and the Lincoln Dinner at the GOP of Iowa.
The first multi-nominee cattle call is slated for next month, when Pence, Pompeo and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem are expected to travel to Des Moines to address the Family Leadership Summit, a rally that will attract evangelicals across the state.
The timing of the start of the campaign is dominated by former Trump administration officials like Haley and Pompeo who, now devoid of the platform associated with performing public office, use travel to keep themselves under pressure. spotlights. But sitting lawmakers are also starting to make inroads into Iowa: Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is hosting an event at Sioux Center next week and also planning an August visit to the state. Florida Senator Rick Scott has visited Iowa twice this year and is expected to return this summer as chairman of the GOP Senate campaign branch. Tim Scott, meanwhile, attended an April fundraiser in Davenport.
Yet more and more awareness is taking place in private. Jeff Kaufmann, the influential president of the Iowa Republican Party, has met with several potential candidates, including Haley, and advised the candidates on which parts of the state they should visit. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative from Iowa who hosts the Family Leadership Summit, spoke to Pence, a longtime friend.
Cotton is looking for another way to forge alliances. The senator has taken on the role of campaign recruiter and speaks with potential challengers for Iowa’s Democratic Congressional District alone. Cotton has also been in regular contact with several members of the Iowa congressional delegation, including Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who in 2020 won the election by an extremely slim six-vote margin.
Coinciding with his trip to Iowa this week, Cotton is set to launch a program to empower military veterans like Miller-Meeks. As part of that effort, the Arkansas Republican is expected to campaign for the new congressman, raise funds for her, and finance attack ads against her potential Democratic opponent.
Some even hire political strategists to help them navigate the state. Pence worked with Chip Saltsman, the GOP agent who helped oversee the caucus victory of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in 2008. Pompeo is advised by former US Ambassador Chuck Larson, former legislator of Iowa and state GOP chairman. The list of other agents who have received information from presidential candidates includes Jimmy Centers, a former senior Branstad official.
For now, the most visible political activity is organized around the 2022 midterm elections, with potential candidates using ballot contests to earn tokens and present themselves to future caucus spectators. Those on the ground say Haley has been among the most aggressive in supporting candidates, sending emails and texts to raise funds for Governor Kim Reynolds and the state’s Congressional delegation. Haley also campaigned for several Iowa lawmakers in the 2020 election.
“There is a lot of room for people to work, fundraise, start the grassroots and help candidates who need help,” said David Kochel, a seasoned Iowa-based GOP strategist. “I guess it’s okay [be] busy here for the next two years before there is any more clarity on what 2024 looks like. ”
Some potential candidates are already mixing up close, personal campaigns with high profile fundraisers and big party speeches. Pompeo made a point of appearing at local gatherings and reaching out to grassroots organizations. In March, just two months after leaving the State Department, Pompeo visited the Pottawattamie County Republican Party, met with the Urbandale-based Westside Conservative Club, and visited the headquarters of a manufacturing company from agricultural material. The former Kansas congressman plans to make similar local tours on an upcoming trip.
The strategy aligns closely with what has become an article of faith: The Iowans want to be wooed.
“The Iowans are very [discerning] voters, and they probably won’t make a decision until they probably see a candidate three or four times, ”said Branstad, who recently appeared alongside Haley and Pompeo at events.
“You have to make a good impression – not just a first impression, you have to make a good impression multiple times and build momentum over time,” added Branstad, who said he didn’t have a preferred candidate yet.
And despite the early date, potential suitors are already facing testing. The Family Leadership Summit, for example, could become a first barometer of evangelical support in a state populated by social conservatives. The focus will likely be on Noem, who this spring opposed religious conservatives when she vetoed a bill that would have banned transgender girls from participating in women’s sports teams over fears he would. be overturned by the courts. Noem then signed a pair of decrees imposing the ban.
Kaufmann, meanwhile, has publicly lobbied potential candidates to find out whether they support maintaining Iowa’s top-prized status. With Democrats openly weighing in on whether to change their schedule following a chaotic caucus in 2020, some Republicans in Iowa have expressed concerns about their removal. While the chances of that happening seem remote – the Republican National Committee largely controls the nomination timeline and has made no indication that it wants a change – that hasn’t stopped Kaufmann from asking Haley at the Lincoln Dinner if she thought Iowa should stay first. .
The former governor of South Carolina replied that she was “okay” with this – as long as her home state retained its status as the first southern state to vote. The remark made the audience of 500 laugh who had crowded into the cavernous Ron Pearson Center in West Des Moines.
At least one Republican, however, is deliberately avoiding the state. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has garnered wide national interest from Tories, has no plans to travel to Iowa, fearing it will further fuel speculation he is preparing a 2024 bid. DeSantis allies say they are squarely focused on his 2022 re-election effort and view talks of a presidential campaign as an unwelcome distraction.
And of course, Trump eclipses the early maneuvers.
If the former president makes a comeback, it’s possible that many visitors to Iowa won’t end up pursuing presidential candidacies. Kaufmann, who noted that he invited Trump to the state, said he had “no doubt that these candidates would rally around him” if Trump ran.
Others, however, see the reception that future Trump successors are receiving as a sign the party may be willing to step down from the former president.
“I think you see the Tories looking a little bit past President Trump, and not because they’re upset at all with what he has done, I think they’re just looking at who else might be there. down for 2024, “said Vander Plaats. “And so that’s what, in my opinion, makes this environment very intriguing.”