As the old saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has only attended two multi-candidate events in Iowa this year – the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event in April and the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner in May.
With a field of 16 Republican presidential candidates, it’s easy to forget about candidates when they are not campaigning in your state, and skipping out on a number of high-profile evens can make it seem like the candidates who are not attending are not all that active in Iowa. Yet, just because a candidate isn’t taking the time to share a stage with their many competitors doesn’t mean they are not laying the groundwork for a formidable Iowa caucus campaign.
Senator Rand Paul isn’t your typical Republican. His libertarian leanings and focus on the federal government’s intrusion in people’s lives sets him apart from most, if not the rest of the huge field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination. Paul might not be riding the so-called circuit like his many of his contemporaries seem content in doing, but make no mistake, he is running a formidable caucus campaign in Iowa.
Paul has made five trips to Iowa since officially launching his bid for the Republican nomination for president in April. While Paul might not be showing up at every multi-candidate event in the state, he’s campaigned in 19 counties across the state in 2015. That’s just six fewer than Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum who have visited 25 counties in Iowa this calendar year. What’s more impressive is how well orchestrated the Paul campaign events are.
Last week, I attended Paul’s campaign event in Poweshiek County. The event was interesting to me for a number of reasons. First, Craig Lang, the former President of the Iowa Farm Bureau, hosted the event at one of his son’s farms. Second, the event was in Poweshiek County, a place I called home eight years. Third, the event was on a gravel road. A presidential event in the middle of the day basically in the middle of nowhere is always going to get me to circle the event on my calendar.
I was impressed with the turnout. About 50 or so people attended the event, and even though this wasn’t your typical campaign event, the mechanics the Paul campaign is deploying in Iowa was easy to see. First, the Paul campaign is wisely using Eventbrite to ticket their campaign events. Getting people to pre-register only makes the task of collecting data from the event easier. The event was well staffed, but the event itself was entirely reminiscent of Steve Forbes’ campaign events in the 2000 race.
As Paul arrived to the venue and talked briefly to the event host and posed for pictures with the Lang family, Steve Grubbs, who signed on with Paul a year ago to help lead his effort in Iowa, had everyone in attendance line up so they could meet the candidate personally and pose for a quick snapshot taken by Grubbs himself. After shaking hands and posing for pictures, the event kicked off with a video of Paul’s wife Kelley, who talked about how they met and the life they have together. Paul then took center stage, delivered his remarks, and took some questions. Before the event closed, Grubbs grabbed the microphone and enticed people to join the campaign, and if they pledged their support today, they got a snazzy Rand Paul Iowa lapel pin.
This isn’t just similar to what Forbes did back in 1999, it’s exactly the same thing. Heck, Paul is even out there pushing a smart 14.5 percent flat tax proposal. Something else that was similar was the campaign literature. The Forbes campaign was always flush with books, handouts, signage, and bumper stickers. I was just standing around with my camera and a staffer came up and gave me 20-page pamphlet on that explains who Senator Paul is and what his plan is to, “Defeat the Washington Machine and Unleash the American Dream.”
Last July, I wrote the following about Grubbs going to work for Paul:
- If Grubbs understands one thing really well about caucus campaigns, it’s the mechanics of getting people to attend events and then getting people to volunteer to get involved in a campaign. This is why Paul’s hiring of Steve Grubbs is a brilliant move. Should Rand Paul decide to run for president in 2016, he can’t simply run the same style of campaign his father ran in Iowa in 2008 and 2012.
- By hiring Grubbs, the Paul political operation is acknowledging that they understand that they have to approach Iowa differently than Ron Paul did. There was nothing wrong with Ron Paul’s campaign, but Rand Paul has more opportunities to expand his father’s existing network.
- While I think getting Grubbs is a brilliant move for Rand Paul, I think it’s equally important that he got him onboard early. Grubbs can help Paul shape his approach to Iowa, which is incredibly important. Grubbs was on-board for Forbes early for the 2000 race, and he was able to make a big impact. Grubbs was brought on board late for Herman Cain in 2012, and thus his impact wasn’t as great. I’ll tell you this, had Grubbs been onboard with Cain early on and if Cain had followed his advice, I think Cain could have really done something in Iowa.
You can already see the positive influence that Grubbs has had on Paul’s campaign. The media often wonders if someone like Paul could be a mainstream Republican candidate because of his views, but I think what makes a candidate mainstream is how they approach a campaign and if they are capable of having a broad audience. Paul has succeeded in doing both in Iowa, and you are kidding yourself if you don’t think that Grubbs is partly responsible.
I’ve attended campaign events for most of the Republican candidates, and most of them are pretty laid back affairs, which if fine, but Rand Paul’s campaign events are better than anything I witnessed in the last caucus cycle and are at the top of the class this cycle.
Sometimes I think that too many Iowans put too much focus on a candidate doing the “Full Grassley,” which means campaigning in each of the state’s 99 counties. Hitting all 99 counties isn’t what matters. Just ask Michele Bachmann. She made it through all 99 in 2012. What matters is what you do with the time that you spend in each county.
I’ve been to campaign events where the candidate doesn’t even ask for people’s support. I’ve been to events where I’ve walked out wondering what the purpose of the event was. Sure, you’re running for president and this is an opportunity for people to kick the tires, but what good is it for the campaign if they don’t know who was there and they didn’t go through the process to see if the attendees will support them or not?
Paul’s campaign events, besides being really well attended, serve a number of purposes. First, they create an opportunity for people to get to meet him via the photo line and question and answer period. Second, the event educates people about his life and history. Third, each event ends with a strong pitch to join the campaign. If a campaign isn’t doing those things, it’s simply wasting time.
With Paul, I find myself occasionally speculating that he isn’t as active as maybe he should be. Yet seeing his campaign in action last Thursday just proves that his Iowa operation is a well-oiled machine. Paul also delivered a message at the event that most, if not all, Republicans would be supportive of and rally behind.
The question for Paul has always been whether he can grow his support beyond what his father did in Iowa in 2008 and 2012. I think that’s easily doable and likely to happen if he keeps running the type of campaign he currently is in Iowa. That’s good news for Paul, and it’s something that should make the rest of the field very nervous.
Photos by the one and only Craig Robinson – TheIowaRepublican.com