Scramble for Romneyland
Governor Mitt Romney with David Kochel, who served as his Iowa Director during the 2012 campaign. Kochel will work for Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign.
“I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent cake,” wrote Leopold II of Belgium on the eve of the Scramble for Africa. And just as the European nations salivated at the riches of the African continent, the dozen-odd Republican candidates are rushing to seize the donors and campaign hands freed by Mitt Romney’s announcement of his non-candidacy.
While no credible Republican candidates have formally announced a bid, fundraising vehicles and campaign hires have been accelerating since Jeb Bush began “actively exploring” a run in mid-December. Political action committees from Mr. Bush’s “Right to Rise” PAC to Scott Walker’s “Our American Revival” 527 fund have sprung up to raise money for what looks to be a long, grueling nomination fight. Mr. Bush especially has moved full-force into the fundraising contest, hosting a $100,000-per-ticket event in Manhattan.
But unlike Sheldon Adelson and the billions of dollars in his pockets, Republicans have a finite amount of experienced campaign hands—and many have just become free agents. David Kochel, Mr. Romney’s former Iowa director, has signed on with Mr. Bush, while the odds of a run by Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) have increased dramatically with the announcement that Jim Merrill, who ran both of Mr. Romney’s New Hampshire campaigns, has chosen Mr. Rubio over Mr. Bush and other potential suitors.
And Mr. Romney isn’t the only politician whose staffers are being aggressively courted: Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) has moved hard after staffers for six-term Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose political operation will be critical for the first-in-the-nation contest. Mr. Walker has hired key aides from newly-elected Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s 2014 campaign. And so while the campaign hasn’t officially begun, other potential candidates like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who recently scheduled a trip to South Carolina, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will watch the ranks of Republican bundlers and staffers dwindle away as they wait to take the plunge. Even more than with traditional operatives, Republican officials worry that their relative lack of tech talent will be stretched even thinner by the number of candidates, rendering a large chunk of the field unable to catch up to the vaunted Obama operation that is now behind ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ms. Clinton is also hoovering up the upper echelon of traditional talent on the left: White House director of communications Jennifer Palmieri became the latest in a long series of staffers from the administration to join her campaign-in-waiting, alongside a range of former Clinton aides. In fact, Hillaryland has attracted so much of the available talent on the Democratic side that some Democrats are concerned that Ms. Clinton will run a second “too many cooks” campaign. Intra-campaign conflict between Obama aides and Clinton loyalists has already begun, with Clintonite David Brock resigning with accusations that Jim Messina, former Obama Deputy Chief of Staff and current co-chair of a Hillary PAC, had planted negative stories in the press.
So if any of you were considering a run, you’d better start shopping for talent. If you wait, there won’t be much left.