Matt Kibbe left his job as head of the influential grassroots conservative organization FreedomWorks to help lead a super PAC designed to boost Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign. But a poor performance by Paul early could spell disaster for his chances of winning the White House — and cost Kibbe his new job.
So Kibbe has focused the Concerned American Voters operation he helps run on Iowa to make sure that does not happen.
"Rand is going to play in a lot of states, but it doesn't matter that much if he doesn't win any of the four first states," Kibbe told the Washington Examiner. "I think Iowa is our, I don't know about our best chance, but it's a great chance. I think Nevada is a great chance."
The super PAC has about 40 canvassers going door-to-door daily and doing the retail politicking outsourced to super PACs from the presidential campaigns.
The Examiner caught up with two foot soldiers in the Hawkeye State looking for Iowans to join the "Randwagon." Claire Leiter, from Minnesota, and Faith Braverman, from Texas, each gave up their jobs and comfortable lifestyles to follow Paul's mission.
"I tell people at the door all the time I would not be out here sweating, I came all the way from Texas to do this, quit my job as well, gave up my dog, and sold my house and everything because I really wanted to do everything I could to help Rand win, that's how much I believe in him," Braverman said. "I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't convinced that this is the man America needs to get us back on track."
Leiter estimates the group knocks on several thousand doors in Iowa each day and added that quitting her job in Minnesota "definitely increases the intensity of the experience." The group is running an "insurgent campaign" and looking to model its grassroots efforts after the Obama machine's 2008 campaign operation.
Kibbe explained he decided to leave FreedomWorks this summer because he was tired of watching the GOP nominate Establishment candidates such as former Sen. Bob Dole for president year after year. Kibbe began his career in Washington at the Republican National Committee under strategist Lee Atwater but left before he would have had to defend President George H.W. Bush's economic agenda.
"You go to an RNC convention. It feels like an episode of 'Seinfeld' — it's literally about nothing, and I just don't think that works anymore," Kibbe said. "Let's run a real candidate that actually stands for something and galvanize the growing number of independents in this country who have opted out of either Republican or Democratic partisan registration."
While Kibbe's group is focused on grassroots efforts, the Paul-approved super PAC, America's Liberty PAC, is focusing on running advertisements that gain attention in an increasingly crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls. Earlier this year, the group ran a tongue-in-cheek ad that featured an eagle breathing fire and Sen. Lindsey Graham inside a burning car.
But both major super PACs supporting Paul have honed in on a single target — Jeb Bush.
America's Liberty PAC has built a website titled "Bailout Bush," which displays a video featuring a man with a large gray beard in a bathtub of cash with a tiny doll bearing Bush's face. The website highlights Bush's support for the federal government's bailout package for Wall Street under headlines such as "Just like Hillary Clinton, Bailout Bush has a history of shady financial deals."
In Iowa, the Concerned American Voters workers promote Paul as the only alternative to Bush.
"I say things like if we nominate Jeb, we might as well hand it to Hillary, and that's even convinced some Bush supporters to start thinking about Rand, looking at Rand," Braverman said.
Kibbe said it would not make sense to go toe-to-toe with Bush on paid advertising given the huge war chest the governor has amassed, which helps explain why Concerned American Voters is focusing on organizing caucus-goers in Iowa. His lengthy Rolodex of activists and donors for small government causes is expected to provide the juice Paul needs to gain traction.
"I don't hit up any donor that hasn't maxed out to the campaign, and if I do the first thing I tell them is you should make sure you max out to the campaign," he said. "We're not looking for one guy. We're looking for a very broad array of donors, and the problem with the one-guy strategy is that you either have 30 million [dollars] or you have nothing."
The open source atmosphere of campaigning — where you can see what groups and individuals are doing based on their social media accounts and media appearances — has helped him avoid duplicating the work of Paul's presidential campaign. Surveying the field, he predicts there will be an Establishment candidate pitted against an insurgent candidate more in touch with grassroots conservatives across the country.
He predicted that the Establishment candidate could be Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He said it is too early to tell who would compete with Paul for the role of the insurgent candidate, but added, "[Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker's in now and he should be formidable, but it remains to be seen if that's true or not."
"Everything I've learned, particularly in the last five years, about grassroots politics suggests that a guy like Rand Paul can win not just the Republican nomination but the presidency because things are more decentralized now and that disintermediation allows for someone like Rand Paul to raise money outside of the system," Kibbe said. "I'm looking at this race saying if we don't choose sides early, if we don't choose someone that's authentic and compelling not just to the Republican base but to swing independents that may or may not show up, we're going to nominate Bob Dole again in the form of Jeb Bush and we're going to lose."