Cain's Iowa Volunteers Helm Do-It-Yourself Campaign

Cain's Iowa Volunteers Helm Do-It-Yourself Campaign

By Scott Conroy - October 31, 2011

Last Thursday, disabled Army combat veteran Mike Fitzgerald walked into Herman Cain's Iowa campaign headquarters in Urbandale and told the first person who greeted him to put him to work.

A transplant from New Orleans who fled to Iowa after Hurricane Katrina struck, Fitzgerald has never before been involved in a campaign. But just an hour after he started phone-banking for Cain, he was already projecting the poise of an old pro.

“I’m supposed to read a script on the screen, but I don’t do that,” Fitzgerald said, explaining that he prefers to speak off-the-cuff about why he believes Cain is the right man for the White House.

Fitzgerald, 40, signed up to volunteer two hours a day every Monday through Friday, and he’ll have plenty of company in Cain’s now cramped campaign headquarters, which was all but empty just a couple of months ago.

The Gulf War veteran said Thursday there were more than 20 volunteers packed into the small edifice set beside a strip mall, as handymen installed new phones to keep up with the increased volume of call-making.

Though the polls show Cain is a Republican front-runner not just nationally but in the nation’s first voting state of Iowa, there are more than a few doubts about whether the charismatic former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza has the campaign infrastructure in place to make a serious run for the nomination.

(Politico reported Sunday that Cain was accused of inappropriate behavior by two women more than a decade ago while head of the National Restaurant Association. A Cain spokesman denied any sexual harassment took place, and the candidate himself told reporters that he would not comment on the allegations “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.”) 

But Cain’s campaign is attempting to rewrite the rules for how to wage a winning campaign by relying on a team of committed volunteers, rather than paid professionals, to do most of the grunt work, while the candidate himself leaves a light footprint in the early voting states.

“I’ve been in a lot of campaigns and I can tell you I’ve not been in a campaign that is so volunteer-driven as this one,” said Steve Grubbs, a former Iowa GOP chairman and longtime presidential campaign veteran, who signed on to lead Cain’s Iowa effort earlier this month. “The only job for the paid staffers is to use their time to leverage volunteers. So if one staffer mobilizes 50 volunteers a day, you get hundreds of volunteer hours per staffer. That’s the model, and it only works if you have this group of deeply passionate people for the candidate and the campaign.”

The collective presidential campaign experience held by Cain’s four paid Iowa staffers -- all of whom came aboard in June -- is minimal at best.

State director Larry Tuel volunteered on John McCain’s campaign in 2008 and worked with Cain’s Iowa communications director Lisa Lockwood on Terry Branstad’s gubernatorial race last year.

Zach Dalluge, who is nominally responsible for Cain’s list management and field organization in the state, worked in the Iowa legislature and on state House campaigns, while phone-banking guru Steve Hensler has some Senate campaign experience.

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

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