In a clear sign we’ve entered a new era in Iowa campaigns, Starting Line hears that the Martin O’Malley-backing Super PAC, Generation Forward, is planning to go all-in for the Iowa Caucus by hiring and running a large field team separate from the official campaign. Sources tell us that a Generation Forward field operation may consist of up to 100 staffers, and early indications on the ground seem to confirm that.
The Super PAC has been advertising for field positions for over a week now, and Starting Line has gotten a hold of several local recruiting emails. The Des Moines Regional Field Director appears to be hiring for at least 10 positions, seeming to make a statewide number of 100 quite plausible. Generation Forward field trainings began this week, and they’re hosting an after-party following the Democrats’ big Hall of Fame Dinner in Cedar Rapids on Friday specifically to kick-off their field organizing efforts.
Having a Super PAC run field efforts in Iowa is certainly a peculiar new tactic in this age of unlimited campaign money, but O’Malley’s PAC isn’t the only one. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise Super PAC was originally tasked with many of the activities an official campaign usually covers – like data collection, polling and the full field operation. When you have another entity that can more easily raise money, you may as well use it to your candidate’s advantage.
For an Iowa Caucus campaign, however, having a field team separate from the official campaign would be very weird to implement. Could field organizers even be present at the candidate’s event to sign people up on commitment cards? Caucus-goers would be potentially meeting with two different sets of staffers for the same candidate. The Super PAC can’t communicate with the official side, so wouldn’t have to also be responsible for turning out on caucus night the people they ID as supporters – because what if they discover people the official campaign doesn’t? Since they can’t share lists, they wouldn’t know, and neither side could (or should) just assume what the other is doing.
Organizing for the caucus is just that – organizing. It’s not like a general election, or even a primary, where you’re pounding on doors to get absentee ballots and running up your vote totals in Democratic-heavy precincts. You have to build grass-roots, volunteer-driven support in every single precinct in the state that can both turn people out on caucus night, and persuade people in the room to join your candidate’s group. That requires building personal relationships between activists and your campaign staff. If there’s two groups doing it, that gets messy. If the Super PAC isn’t doing that, and just focusing on canvassing/persuasion, then how do they funnel good supporters they find to the campaign and turn out supportive caucus-goers they ID?
Avoiding potential coordination will also be tricky. It’s easy to stay separate when a Super PAC is just buying up TV ads, but when you’ve got staffers for both the PAC and official side roaming large events and canvassing in the streets, you’re bound to bump in to each other. They may just require some extra training, though.
All that being said, this strategy may work out pretty well for a candidate like O’Malley who starts with low name ID and could benefit from a large field team knocking on doors to inform people about his stances. O’Malley raised $2 million for this quarter, which is a decent amount even if it’s much smaller than Hillary Clinton’s $47 million or Bernie Sanders’ $15 million. But it may not be enough for a huge, all-out Iowa Caucus staff that could rival Clinton’s already massive operation. So having a well-funded Super PAC come in to spread your name more on the ground could help balance the scale. Having more people out talking about your candidate is always useful.
The question will be just how useful. And of course, if your candidate is calling for a $15/hour minimum wage, you may want to pay your canvassers more than $12/hour…
by Pat Rynard