I’m still not seeing a lot of movement in the second tier polling this early in the game, but some of the local reporting out of Iowa seems to hold good news for Carly Fiorina. She’s been working on her ground game, hitting some of the less frequented, outlying counties and getting into the hand to hand combat it takes to compete there. And by some accounts at least, the locals are taking notice.
About 110 Iowans showed up Saturday morning for a Webster County Republican Women event.
“Everyone I spoke to left inspired by what Ms. Fiorina had to say,” Karen Glaser, co-chair of the Webster County GOP, told The Des Moines Register. “I feel that she is picking up speed, and the more people that hear her, the better it will get.”
What’s clear is that Fiorina, a 60-year-old California native who has barely clocked 1 percent in recent polling, is now on Iowa activists’ radar. Where did this wellspring of admiration and affection come from?
“It’s not at all by accident,” Steve DeMaura, executive director of the super PAC supporting Fiorina, told the Register. “She has been spending a lot of time on the phone talking with people, doing lots of national press, spending lots of time in Iowa, doing one-on-one meetings.”
I’ll confess to being a bit surprised. She’s been consistent in her messaging and some parts of it are not at all popular with the local party power brokers. For one of the biggest examples, aside from Ted Cruz she’s been the only one to stand up in front of the Iowa primary voters and keep on telling them that government mandates for ethanol are not the way forward. In one of the most recent examples before a crowd in Marshalltown, she said, “It’s not the government’s job to determine market access.”
Still, she’s defying the conventional wisdom and is out there going to bat in the small venues you have to win over for the caucus. And she seems to be expanding the tent.
In the last cycle and this one, the only larger crowd for a Westside Conservative Club breakfast in the back room at the Iowa Machine Shed restaurant was in 2011 for Rick Perry, right after the then-Texas governor made his larger-than-life entrance into the presidential race late in the game, said Brad Boustead, one of the organizers.
The crowd for Fiorina last week “wasn’t just our regulars,” Boustead said of the standing-room-only audience of around 150. “She’s getting people out of the woodwork.”
Fiorina was the first GOP contender this cycle to visit Clinton County, despite the double entendre opportunity to taunt Hillary Clinton. Fiorina “had a wonderful reception,” said Diane Cassaday, secretary of the county GOP.
This is exactly the sort of retail politicking you have to excel at to win in Iowa. Of course, the field is crowded and she’s going to have to finish building a serious ground team, but it’s not a bad start. Hitting the Republican women’s clubs is a fairly obvious – and smart – move. One thing she brings to the table is the ability to take on Hillary among what is supposed to be her strongest bastion… women voters. To really get the ball rolling, though, Fiorina will need to be able to generate a couple of big headlines to attract the attention of larger donors and drag the crowd’s attention away from the current frontrunners. She could clearly use one good round of surprisingly improved poll numbers or a particularly strong local appearance to force the cameras in her direction.
If she manages to succeed here she will be showing that you can defy the conventional wisdom and speak the truth in Iowa instead of bowing down to King Corn. Will that work? I’m not holding my breath yet, but it would be great to see.