Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is shoring up his Iowa campaign team. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been hired as a senior political adviser and to head up Pawlenty’s Ames Straw Poll efforts.
“Sarah is a results-oriented person with a great track record in Iowa and around the country,” Pawlenty said in a written statement. “We are very excited Sarah is joining our team just as we are hitting our stride in Iowa.”
Sanders is no stranger to the Iowa Straw poll. In 2008, she managed the efforts for a major Republican contender – her dad, the former Arkansas Governor and now Fox News Host Mike Huckabee, who won the Hawkeye state caucus that year. In 2010, Sanders went on to run the campaign of now-Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), adding further credibility to her already impressive resume.
John “Chip” Saltsman was Huckabee’s national campaign manager in 2008 and is currently the Chief of Staff to Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.). Having hired and worked with Sanders in the ’08 campaign, he knows Sanders capabilities well.
“Sarah is as hard a worker than anyone I’ve ever hired,” said Saltsman. “She came in at 6 in the morning and left at 10 at night. Two days before Christmas Sarah announced to the staff she was staying in Iowa over the holidays. So guess where the rest of the staff was on Christmas Day? We had our Christmas dinner at an IHOP in Ames.”
Pundits are looking at the hire and wondering if Sanders’ decision to join the campaign is an indication of her dad’s support, or possibly his endorsement?
Huckabee said in a statement on Wednesday that isn’t the case. “While Governor Pawlenty has been a good friend of mine for many years, so have most of the other Presidential candidates and I don’t plan to endorse any candidate in the early stages of the Republican primary.”
Nevertheless, Pawlenty and Huckabee have other similarities other than Sanders. Both are former governors of mid-sized states and both have strongholds within the evangelical communities. Leith Anderson, Pawlenty’s pastor, is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and until announcing his recent retirement, was the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in St. Paul.
Governor Huckabee was an ordained Baptist Minister before serving as Lieutenant Governor and then Governor of Arkansas. His connections within the evangelical community were expansive and helped him garner support throughout the south and the mid-west, including Iowa.
Political observers have been waiting to see which candidate is going to capture the bulk of the Christian vote. So far, no one can lay claim to that role but the Pawlenty campaign seems intent on trying. But fundraising has been a challenge. The campaign reported $4.2 million in contributions for the second quarter. However, some of that money has to be held for the general election.
But the question remains, will Sarah Huckabee Sanders be able to breathe new life into Pawlenty’s Iowa campaign and will her maiden name be an asset?
“Sarah’s last name is definitely an advantage in Iowa,” added Saltsman. “Governor Huckabee is well loved there and everyone who met Sarah liked her. But Sarah’s work ethic is her real asset. She would be my number one draft choice if I were putting together a team in Iowa.”