Rick Perry Group Gears Up for Iowa Straw Poll

Rick Perry Group Gears Up for Iowa Straw Poll

By Scott Conroy - July 19, 2011

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Rick Perry may not be ready to announce a presidential run just yet, but an advocacy group designed to bolster his increasingly likely candidacy isn't waiting for him to make a decision: It is already laying the groundwork for him in the nation's first voting state of Iowa.

Americans for Rick Perry -- a 527 group that is prohibited from having direct contact with the Texas governor -- is set to open its headquarters in West Des Moines this week under a lease that will run through the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll.

The Iowa branch of the pro-Perry group is composed of a few volunteers and seven paid staffers, most of whom played key roles in former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's Iowa operation before resigning as a group last month amid differences with the candidate over the direction of his struggling campaign.

Perry has not indicated whether he would appear himself in Ames for next month's straw poll -- an important test of early support for candidates who choose to participate -- but the operatives running the Iowa branch of Americans for Rick Perry intend to spend the next four weeks preparing to have a significant presence at the first major spectacle of the 2012 campaign.

"Our goal is to share information both before and during the event about Governor Perry's record and to continue to generate enthusiasm if he runs for president," explained the group's executive director in the state, Craig Schoenfeld.

Six candidates purchased tent space for the Ames Straw Poll, which serves as a fundraiser for the Republican Party of Iowa.

Americans for Rick Perry is one of several 527 advocacy groups that are purchasing plots for the event, and by the end of business on Tuesday the organization intends to have a confirmed space on the campus of Iowa State University, where the poll will be held. The group's parcel will be less centrally located than the designated areas that official campaigns bid on last month.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- widely considered the national front-runner for the GOP nomination -- has opted out of this year's poll after winning the event in 2007 but then finishing a disappointing second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

Though it is too late for a future Perry campaign to purchase tent space, the Texas governor's name may still appear on the straw poll ballot. The Iowa GOP state central committee will vote Saturday on whether any prospective candidates who did not buy space at the Ames event will be placed on the ballot.

Perry told the Des Moines Register over the weekend that while he was not ready to announce a campaign yet, he is "getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I've been called to do."

Along with the prospective candidacy of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Perry's entrance into the race could dramatically shake up the field and would have a particularly significant impact on the other GOP candidates' strategic calculus in Iowa.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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