Perry's Team Begins Scoping Out New Hampshire

Perry's Team Begins Scoping Out New Hampshire

By Erin McPike - June 23, 2011

Add New Hampshire to the list of early states where Texas Gov. Rick Perry's associates are making calls about how they can acquire some visibility with Republican primary voters ahead of next year's presidential election.

By now, it's well-documented that Perry's people are putting out feelers in Iowa, the first caucus state. And on Wednesday, Kevin Smith of the socially conservative New Hampshire group, Cornerstone Action, announced that Perry will headline the group's annual fundraising dinner on Oct. 28. But it turns out there's even more work going on behind the scenes.

Fran Wendelboe, a former state GOP legislator turned Republican consultant, is also the president of the Belknap County 4-H Fair. She's the person political organizers need to call if they're thinking of having a candidate make an appearance there, or if they want to rent space for a political booth.

And on Tuesday, one of Perry strategist Dave Carney's lieutenants at the firm Norway Hill Associates phoned Wendelboe in search of details for setting up a booth for a possible campaign.

"I was contacted yesterday by someone who was inquiring about rental space for a political event," she said. "It was one of Perry's people."

Wendelboe suggested that because her event is a relatively small one (there are a number of county fairs sprinkled at different times throughout the state, where politicians can get visibility with just a few Granite Staters), Perry's team's interest is a sign that he has moved beyond the 50/50 stage of deciding whether to run.

Her event runs the second weekend in August, which intersects with the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames (Aug. 13). She pointed out, however, that Perry would not have to show up at the booth; it might just be a matter of political organizing that would provide information to fair attendees interested in learning more about Perry.

And for that reason, Wendelboe noted, "I think the August event is a much stronger indicator than the October dinner that he's leaning toward doing this." She explained, "My event is pretty small potatoes. You don't have someone call to inquire about renting a booth unless you're pretty sure that you may need to book one."

Wendelboe further said that she hadn't been contacted by any of the other presidential campaigns about renting space yet, but allowed that it's very early -- almost two months away. A late start by Perry, of course, would have to ramp up quickly to give his campaign all the visibility in New Hampshire it could get.

At the same time, Carney, Perry's political adviser of 14 years, is based in New Hampshire, and, as Wendelboe put it, "Carney knows exactly what it takes in New Hampshire."

What's more, the field remains fluid. "A lot of people haven't committed yet," she said, adding, "the support is really thin." She also pointed out that she's hoping to work for a candidate and that she's keeping an open mind about Perry. "Perry could be a real deal-breaker for a lot of people," she said. "I think he fits with a lot of Republicans."

Late Wednesday, the organizers of similar small-town fairs in the Granite State were unreachable, but Wendelboe believes she was not the only one who received a call.

Carney and Perry have indicated that they have begun to enter the due-diligence phase for a potential campaign, so it's only natural they would be scoping out the landscape for political events -- just as they're feeling out the GOP's biggest campaign donors.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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