Christie started Tuesday by gathering some of his oldest fans in presidential politics. In the spring of 2011, a group of seven Iowa Republican financiers flew to New Jersey to try (unsuccessfully) to recruit Christie to start a presidential campaign. A little more than four years later, Christie flew to Des Moines to accept endorsements from six of them for 2016. (The seventh, Cameron Sutton, is remaining neutral due to his role as Sen. Joni Ernst’s state director.)
One member of that group, Iowa agribusiness millionaire Bruce Rastetter, was heavily courted by Republican presidential candidates. Back in March, nine White House hopefuls traveled to Des Moines to appear onstage with Rastetter at the first Iowa Agriculture Summit, which the GOP donor organized. And five attended an annual party Rastetter throws at his central Iowa estate this past summer.
“Those are pretty significant endorsements. People look at that as the donor wing of the party, and it is, but there’s some pretty strong conservative individuals on that list as well. That definitely is an interesting shot in the arm,” said veteran Iowa GOP strategist John Stineman. “These are all things you do if you’re going to spend more time here and give more attention here.”
On top of those endorsements, Christie has an experienced team of operatives at his disposal in Iowa, many of whom come from longtime GOP Gov. Terry Branstad’s orbit. Christie’s Iowa state director, Phil Valenziano, served as Mitt Romney’s Iowa field director in 2012 before becoming Branstad’s political director for his 2014 reelection. Branstad’s former chief of staff, Jeff Boeyink, is a senior adviser for Christie in Iowa. Jake Ketzner, who managed Branstad’s last campaign, signed on this month as a senior Christie adviser as well. And Kevin Poindexter, who worked for the Republican National Committee in Iowa, serves as Christie’s political director in the state.
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Christie’s Iowa team is a reflection of the close relationship he has nurtured over the years with Branstad, particularly during his tenure as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Christie met privately with Branstad, who is not expected to make a presidential endorsement, for 30 minutes Tuesday morning.
Now, Christie hopes this infrastructure will begin translating into concrete support among caucus-goers. “I am completely committed to competing and committed to competing hard here,” Christie said at a press conference in Des Moines on Tuesday. “By the time you get to February, you’ll be tired of seeing me,” he added.
Kasich also plans to increase his presence in the state, having just gotten his local operation off the ground. Two weeks ago, his campaign put its first two Iowa staffers on payroll: Cory Crowley, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley, was hired as state director, and state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa was named state chair.