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Draft Perry Group Adds Volunteers in Early States

Americans for Rick Perry, an independent group promoting would-be presidential contender Rick Perry, has suffered a setback in Iowa, but it’s picking up new volunteers in South Carolina.

Gov. Rick Perry stops for an impromptu press conference in the hallway behind the Senate chamber on July 19, 2011.

A group promoting would-be presidential contender Rick Perry has suffered a setback in Iowa, but it’s picking up new volunteers in South Carolina, organizers said Wednesday.

Americans for Rick Perry, an independent group hoping to “draft” the Texas governor into the White House race, had hoped to snag a prominent booth promoting Perry at the Iowa Straw Poll, one of the first major cattle call events of the 2012 campaign. But the Republican Party of Iowa turned down the group because Perry isn’t on the ballot, said Bob Schuman, a California-based consultant who heads the organization.  

“It’s not the end of the world for us,” Schuman said. “It just makes it harder for us to get attention.” Rules for the Aug. 13 straw poll are to be adopted on Saturday, making it unlikely that Perry will participate as an official candidate on the nonbinding straw poll ballot. If Perry gets in the race, he's not expected to announce before the straw poll ballots are printed.

In the meantime, the pro-Perry group has inherited a bunch of volunteers, with a heavy concentration in the crucial primary state of South Carolina, from a similar draft group once committed to conservative U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Now that DeMint has made it clear he’s not going to run for president next year, many of the activists who were supporting him through Conservatives for DeMint have cast their lot with Americans for Rick Perry.

“We realized that Rick Perry is a conservative who can beat Obama,” said Angela Toft, former director for the now-disbanded group behind DeMint. She said the group had 4,700 members nationwide, many of them in DeMint’s home state.

Both Iowa and South Carolina are key early states in the 2012 presidential race, and Perry is expected to compete heavily in both if he gets in. Perry is in California meeting with business leaders and will travel to Aspen, Colo., for a Republican Governors Association meeting on Thursday and Friday, officials said.

Americans for Rick Perry is an independent 527 group and by law can’t be affiliated with a Perry presidential campaign. Schuman said Americans for Rick Perry will report to federal authorities that it raised $193,500 through June 30. The reports aren’t available yet.

The group is making a big push in Iowa. Among the eight people working for the group there is top Iowa political strategist Craig Schoenfeld, who fled the troubled presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich in June, Schuman said.

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney won the GOP straw poll in 2008 but he is not participating this year. The top three candidates in the running so far are Texas Congressman Ron Paul, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The straw poll helps the Republican Party of Iowa raise money and draws media attention to the state that holds the nation’s first caucus. But experts say it’s more a test of who can best organize and bus in supporters, rather than a true demonstration of a candidate’s political strength.

Schuman said the declared candidates in the contest did not want the party to give any space to Americans for Rick Perry on the grounds at Iowa State University in Ames, where the event will be held. He said Iowa GOP officials told him they could have a spot in the parking lot, but on Monday they pulled the plug on that option, too, Schuman said.

Calls placed to the Iowa Republican Party were not immediately returned.

“They got a lot of pressure from other candidates to exclude us,” Schuman said. “That’s what we’ve been told.”  

The straw poll ballot will be set and printed by July 25, and no candidates can be added after that, according to a report in the Des Moines Register.

Tim Albrecht, an unaligned Republican and spokesman for Iowa’s GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, said officials could adopt procedures to allow write-in candidates, but that would be a steep climb. That doesn’t mean Perry couldn’t make a big splash by showing up and crashing the party.

“If he went to the straw poll, it would be a major development in the race,” Albrecht said.

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