John Kasich and Chris Christie are shifting their focus to Iowa after spending months running almost exclusively in New Hampshire.
The two Republican presidential candidates are seeking inroads in the Hawkeye State despite the fact that social conservatives Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee won the last two GOP primary contests there.
“It’s a smart political move,” said Craig Robinson, former Iowa Republican Party political director. “They’re not going to be putting all of their eggs in this basket, but I’ve been saying for a while — the establishment candidate that makes a serious play for Iowa could win here.”
On Wednesday, Kasich made only his fifth visit to Iowa this year. He has been to New
Hampshire 16 times, and his campaign has talked openly about its commitment to the Granite State.
But in mid-September, the Kasich campaign hired its first two staffers in Iowa, the first indication he intends to play there.
Now, Kasich’s campaign says he intends to visit Iowa more frequently. The campaign says it has about two-dozen activists ready to go to work. It will roll out endorsements from influential members of the business community soon and plans to tap regional captains to engage with grassroots supporters on the ground.
Still, the Kasich campaign is seeking to temper expectations.
Kasich’s Iowa political director, Cory Crowley, framed it as an acknowledgement that a low finish in Iowa could rob Kasich of the inroads he’s made in New Hampshire.
“This is a nod to the realization that you have to play in Iowa,” Crowley said. “You need momentum from the beginning. Iowa might never get the kind of attention from the governor that New Hampshire does, but he knows that he’s got to spend time and resources here. You can’t finish in the bottom of the pack and then move on to New Hampshire and expect to make the case to voters that you’re electable.”
Meanwhile, Christie held a press conference in Des Moines on Tuesday to roll out
endorsements from a half-dozen Iowa power brokers who have been urging him to run for president since 2011.
Christie has made New Hampshire his second home. He has visited the state about 28 times and is approaching 100 campaign appearances there. But he’s so far failed to gain traction in the Granite State. And with a handful of big Iowa endorsements in his pocket, most notably from agribusiness mogul and influential conservative donor Bruce Rastetter, he’s looking to that state for a boost.
The Christie campaign has four paid staffers in Iowa and will roll out a leadership team there later this week.
“Gov. Christie spent a lot of time here [as chairman of the Republican Governors Association] helping Gov. [Terry] Branstad get reelected, and we’re seeing that investment and those relationships he developed pay off,” said Christie spokeswoman Sam Smith. “He’s ramping up. We plan on competing in Iowa.”
Both candidates will have their work cut out for them.
Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE and Jeb Bush, two other candidates with establishment appeal, sit in fifth and sixth place in the Iowa polls, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Kasich and Christie, meanwhile, sit in 10th and 12th place, respectively.
Rubio and Bush have been up and running in Iowa for a while, and both have redoubled their efforts in the state recently, clawing at one another for supporters and campaign resources left up for grabs by Scott Walker’s exit from the race last week.
Rubio is viewed by many as a candidate with the potential to appeal to both fiscal and social conservatives. Rubio aides declined to say how big his ground operations are, but they say they’ve flipped a dozen former Walker activists, including nine county chairs and the mayor of Urbandale, a Republican stronghold in the state.
Meanwhile, some Republicans in Iowa believe Bush is being underestimated there.
The Bush team this week booked $1 million in advertising time in January, just ahead of the caucuses. A pro-Bush super-PAC has already spent millions in the state and is expected to spend more.
Bush has 12 paid staffers working out of offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, the two biggest media markets in the state. He so far has landed 10 former Walker activists and has been rolling out an impressive array of business leaders and city chairmen committed to working on his behalf.
“Nobody expects us to win,” Bush senior strategist David Kochel told The Hill. “But you look at the history, with Romney getting almost 30,000 votes here in the 2012 caucuses. That’s a segment of voters who aren’t interested in the noisemakers. They’re looking for someone who is a serious candidate with a real plan to turn the country around. … I wouldn’t trade places right now with anyone.”
Republicans in the state say Walker’s early exit has reshuffled the deck for the establishment conservatives looking to compete in Iowa. While Walker was plummeting in the polls and left the race with very little support, he was once the
Walker’s exit also makes the lane for establishment Republicans a little less packed.
“It may have taken Walker’s withdrawal for the rest of these campaigns to notice that this bloc of Iowa voters never went anywhere,” said former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn.
Still, outsider candidates and social conservatives dominate the polls in Iowa. Donald TrumpDonald TrumpReport: Bannon told conservatives 'this is not a debate,' you have to back bill ObamaCare defeat caps difficult week for Trump Social media users troll GOP, Trump over ObamaCare repeal MORE and Ben Carson have huge leads over the rest of the field; Ted CruzTed CruzHow 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation AIPAC must reach out to President Trump Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE is in third place, followed by Carly Fiorina.
Rather than finishing at the top in Iowa, establishment candidates can aim to finish ahead of their direct competition, said Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University.
“You used to have to finish in the top three here for a chance to be the nominee,” Schmidt said. “This year, with so many candidates splitting the vote, there could be five tickets out of Iowa. Certainly the road is paved for a candidate from the party’s business wing to emerge.”