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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Crazy for Caucus


It's a frenzy of kissing babies, shaking hands and final bus stops as the Republican Candidates try to woo Iowa voters before they caucus today.

With several different candidates each taking the lead at one point or another during this campaign battle, the outcome of this race is just the beginning in this political gauntlet.

Trey Hardin, Senior Vice President at VOX Global, a strategic bipartisan public affairs and communications firm is no stranger to the presidential election cycle.

He started his career in politics working in the White House under President George H.W. Bush, and then directing and managing successful campaigns for Senator John Warner, Congressman Tom Davis, and Governor Jim Gilmore. Hardin offered his impressions of the Caucus in an email exchange.

LL: It is amazing how many candidates have been front runners leading up to the Iowa Caucus. Is it still a toss up as we head into the Caucus?

TH: A week is typically a lifetime in politics but, for Iowa, 24 hours qualifies for that moniker - especially this time around. With 40% still undecided, it truly is anyone's race. At this point the rhetoric and ads have made their impact but the final day is an opportunity to make a personal connection with Caucus goers that could ultimately have the biggest impact.

LL: Given the higher percentage of undecided voters, what are you hearing as the reasons for such indecision?

TH: Iowa Republicans take this process very seriously and are committed to getting it right.  I believe this year's Caucus goers like a little something in every candidate and are taking their time to determine what appeals to them the most. 

The upcoming election in November represents a true watershed moment because of the challenges currently facing our nation.  Recognizing the vulnerability President Obama has with independent voters who supported him in '08, along with the influence this Caucus will have with the following states, Iowa Republicans understandably want to take every available minute to make this important decision.

LL: Who has had the best strategy on Iowa?

TH: Mitt Romney has had the best strategy in Iowa because he has peaked at the right time. This day is typically driven by "values voters" but this year there seems to be a greater interest among Caucus goers in the economy and electability. That has played right to Romney's strength and he has capitalized on it with his messaging.

There is also no question that Romney's team made a great strategic decision in saying/engaging less and focusing more on appearing presidential and as the most electable against Obama. It was the safe route but Romney stayed out of the fray of everything going on between the other candidates.

LL: There has been some talk If Congressman Ron Paul wins, it could hurt the creditability of the Caucus. What do you think about those comments?

TH: I don't believe that any candidates win in Iowa hurts the credibility o this process and state. Iowans take great pride in this process and are committed to getting it right when it comes to picking the best candidate.

Is Ron Paul out of the mainstream? Yes, but he also makes a lot of sense on certain issues to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. If he wins it will be because he earns it and it will ensure he is in play in New Hampshire. That, in itself, would be enough to validate Iowa's credibility.

LL: The negative ads have been bombarding the local tv and radio.

Compared to other Presidential Election cycles, how dirty is this race?

TH: Negative campaigning and ads are part of politics and running for office. It is not for the faint of heart. This race has not been any dirtier than previous campaigns but it has that impression of being dirtier because of some of the personal references to Newt Gingrich's past. Whether candidates like it or not, their character and ethical track record are fair game when running for office because they are ultimately important to the people they will be representing.

LL: Did not going negative hurt Gingrich?

TH: I believe it ultimately will hurt Gingrich. Frankly, it has been surprising that Gingrich has chosen to play the victim here. It doesn't suit him well because he is known as a tough fighter. He was a very polarizing figure when he was Speaker and was not above turning up the heat when necessary so he should know that it is part of being in the kitchen.

LL: Has going negative help Romney in terms of being a candidate to take the heat in "President Obama's Hell's Kitchen"?

TH: Romney's experience from '08 has certainly benefited him in Iowa this time around and I expect the new tools he used this tome around will help him when he is in the ring against Obama.

He knows when to go negative and he also knows to expect punches thrown at him. I believe he learned a valuable lesson from the Brett Baier interview, where he got quite defensive and is not delusional about the level of bloodsport running for office can be. He has been ready for the hits about his religion and he will be ready for the barrage of negative ads Obama would likely throw at him.

LL:  Does Romney have what it takes to unify the Republican Party?

TH: Romney would be able to unify the party behind him in the general because, at the end of the day, all Republicans have their eye on the prize and recognize that this is a unique opportunity to take out an incumbent president. The desire to win, along with economic anxiety, seem to have replaced the ideological vigor that ha historically been the driving factor for party activists. Romney would also have the opportunity to choose a more conservative running mate that could also serve as red meat for the base.

LL: On the flip side, how much money has gone into the Iowa economy?

TH: The economic impact of this Caucus on Iowa, going back to when candidates first stepped foot in the state about a year ago, will not truly be calculated until after everyone leaves town. However, by comparison, in '08 the statewide economic impact was $100m and $25m specifically for Des Moines - and these numbers do not include ad revenue.

Considering the size of this year's ad buys, along with the unprecedented dynamics and amount of candidates still here, it is safe to assume the '08 numbers will be surpassed significantly.

LL: What are the biggest concerns amongst Iowa business owners?

TH: Iowa business owners are very concerned about the costs associated with ObamaCare, the President's commitment to raising taxes on businesses, and the "invisible tax" of over-regulation that chokes small businesses and prevents lending from community banks. Iowa business owners seem more engaged in this process and interested in the results more than ever before.

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A Senior Talent Producer at CNBC, and author of "Thriving in the New Economy:Lessons from Today's Top Business Minds."