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Nikki Haley expands Iowa footprint as debate performances fuel momentum

October 10, 2023
| Des Moines Register by Brianne Pfannenstiel

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is expanding her Iowa footprint following a pair of well-received debate performances that have prompted fresh interest among many Republican caucusgoers in the first-in-the-nation state.

The campaign is opening its first headquarters in Clive, adding two staffers with Iowa political experience and actively hiring others as it seeks to capitalize on the momentum.

Hooff Cooksey, who was Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign manager during her 2018 run, will join the team as an Iowa adviser. Cooksey also worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governor’s Association in regional political director roles in Iowa during the 2020 and 2022 election cycles.

“Nikki’s building a movement in Iowa, calling for a new generation of conservative leadership,” Cooksey said in a statement. “Iowans want an inspiring, relatable and tough candidate to rally behind, and that’s exactly who Nikki is. She’s in this to earn every single vote, and I’m looking forward to joining the team.”

The campaign also hired Troy Bishop, who was U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s 2022 field director, and it’s seeking to bring on other Iowa campaign veterans in regional political director roles.

“Nikki’s momentum is real,” Billy Mackey, the campaign’s Iowa political director, said in a statement. “Our phones are ringing, and people are signing up in droves. Nikki has been putting in the work in Iowa and now we are growing our team. It’s clear Iowans love that Nikki is campaigning the Iowa way.”

Even with the new hires, Haley’s Iowa operation is far smaller than those of some of her rivals.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign just announced it would shift roughly 20 staffers from its Tallahassee, Florida, headquarters into Iowa, and his allied Never Back Down super PAC has blanketed the state. But even with the aggressive focus on Iowa, DeSantis has yet to make meaningful progress in closing the polling gap with frontrunner Donald Trump.

A Haley campaign spokesperson said their focus has been on growing relationships in the state, respecting donors’ dollars and building out an operation at the right time.

“We’re in a marathon, not a sprint,” the spokesperson said. “And we have made no secret about the fact that we are a leaner machine but also a meaner one. So our efforts on the ground are growing with us.”

Haley’s current Iowa expansion comes amid renewed interest from national donors and a slate of Iowa polling showing her surpassing several of her rivals to move into third place behind Trump and DeSantis.

A Real Clear Politics rolling average puts her at 8.8% — ahead of entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (7%), U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (6.8%), and former Vice President Mike Pence (3.4%).

But she still trails DeSantis, who is at 16%, and Trump, who holds a commanding 49.2%.

In New Hampshire and South Carolina, which follow Iowa on the presidential nominating calendar, Haley has surged into second place ahead of DeSantis — a development that Trump appears to have taken note of as he turns his ire on her.

“MAGA, or I, will never go for Birdbrain Nikki Haley,” he wrote on his social media platform Truth Social following the second GOP presidential debate. “No loyalty, plenty of lies!”

“Love this,” Haley responded on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “It means we are in 2nd and moving up fast. Bring it.”

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