Jeb Bush starting behind others and nearly from scratch in Iowa

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Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush boasts blue chip donors, some of the best advisers in the campaign business and, of course, a famous political name. But when it comes to first-to-vote Iowa, he’s practically starting from scratch.

The former Florida governor makes his first visit to the leadoff caucus state as a declared candidate Wednesday, where he has just three employees and has made only two visits this year. That’s far less time and resources than most of his rivals for the GOP nomination have invested in Iowa.

“He has some making up to do,” said former state Rep. Renee Schulte, a Bush supporter.

Asked this week if Bush was spending enough time in Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad — a cheerleader for Iowa’s outsized political influence — was telling in his answer. He spoke about someone else.

“I would certainly compliment Governor Perry,” Branstad said, referring to the former Texas governor, Rick Perry. “I think he’s been here the most. And I think he’s building a good organization.” Perry has visited Iowa more than a dozen times in the past year.

Bush’s aides say he can make the best use of the seven months until the caucuses by focusing more on populous areas such as swing-voting Cedar Rapids than on the sparser and more evangelical northwest.

“Governor Bush is looking forward to campaigning all over Iowa in the lead-up to the caucuses. He’s all-in on the Iowa caucuses, and will campaign the right way,” said senior Bush adviser David Kochel, who is leading the early-state strategy. “He’ll go anywhere and work for every vote. He wants to earn Iowa’s support, in the caucuses as well as the general election.”

It’s a break with the traditional type of caucus campaign, such as the one waged by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012, when he visited each of Iowa’s 99 counties as part of an intense — and ultimately successful — strategy to win the state.

It’s the approach Perry, who entered the 2012 campaign later and stumbled during debates, is now undertaking as part of an effort to win the state outright. With the backing of a deep-pocketed super PAC able to support him deep into the primary calendar, Bush appears less reliant on having to win Iowa.

The recent cancellation of the Iowa straw poll may benefit Bush, who had planned to skip it. The straw poll forced some poor performers out of earlier campaigns; without it there may be no event to winnow the large GOP pack before the caucuses. That, in turn, could mean that a finish in the top tier — rather than an outright win — has more meaning than in the past.

To be sure, Bush is hardly ignoring the state.

Kochel, a Des Moines Republican now working out of Bush’s headquarters in Miami, is a veteran Iowa organizer and former adviser to Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney‘s presidential campaigns. Bush’s Iowa campaign director is Annie Kelly, who successfully ran one of the nation’s most competitive 2012 congressional campaigns in Iowa.

What’s more, the Bush campaign is putting out a list of 20 elected officials and GOP activists who are endorsing him.

And he has plans to talk to more GOP activists when he arrives Wednesday to headline a backyard get-together in Washington, Iowa, and later a town hall-style meeting, in Pella, both east of Des Moines.

Former Iowa House Speaker Brent Siegrist, a Republican from GOP-heavy western Iowa, said he was expecting a call from Bush on Wednesday. His message to Bush? To do well will require Bush to keep showing up.

“I think he could still do fairly well here, so he’s going to have to be here,” said Siegrist, who has not chosen a candidate. He said it won’t do for Bush to come to Iowa “and finish ninth.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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