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Observers: Perry's building strong ground game in IA

DES MOINES, IA -- It has been five weeks since Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared his candidacy for president at the same time as the Iowa Straw Poll was getting underway.

NBC's Alex Moe

During that contest in Ames, 718 Iowans cast write-in votes for Perry -- an impressive performance for someone who had just entered the race. And since then, the campaign has begun building its ground game throughout the first-in-the-nation caucus state.

“Ground game and organization equals success in Iowa,” Perry’s Iowa co-chair, Matthew Whitaker, told NBC News. “I think Gov. Perry is doing Iowa and the caucuses the right way, and I would expect that we would have success.”

Perry, who is currently making his third trip to Iowa, is expected to pay a good deal of attention to the state, as many believe he could win caucuses, even against Michele Bachmann, who won the straw poll in August. The Perry campaign announced 10 new staff members that joined their expanding Iowa leadership team earlier this week, including the addition of Whitaker.

Iowa political veterans are impressed with the Texas governor’s efforts in the Hawkeye State thus far, especially since he jumped into the race much later than the other candidates.

“In some ways, getting in late gave him more momentum and more name recognition,” said Steve Grubbs, a former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. “As soon as he got in, he went right to the front of the pack.”

But the "ground game" for the governor started in the state before he officially declared his candidacy. The independent expenditure committee, Americans for Rick Perry, appeared for weeks during the summer at other candidate’s events encouraging Iowans to cast write-in votes for Perry at the straw poll.

The Texas governor's other Iowa co-chair, Robert Haus, said the campaign can have no coordination or contact with anyone who was associated with Americans for Rick Perry for 120 days, but he acknowledged the group’s aid. “I think they probably did some good work in Iowa, but I also think Gov. Perry is a pretty well known commodity,” Haus said.

One Republican strategist from Iowa told NBC that Perry has a top-notch team in the state. “His campaign team here is solid, aggressive, and hungry for a win. His team has a lot to prove and they know it."

That team, which has a small headquarters in Clive, will continue to expand the campaign over the next few months, according to the co-chairs.

“I think we are going to keep our eyes forward and making sure we have a great campaign in place here in Iowa as we run up to the caucuses,” Whitaker said.

Haus added that Perry is successful at retail politics, and they will play up that strength. “When he sees a crowd, he wants to get in, he wants to shake hands, he wants to talk and say hello -– and that stuff works really well in Iowa, as well as in New Hampshire and South Carolina.”

Neither Haus nor Whitaker would definitively say that Perry would win the Iowa caucuses, but they are hopeful the campaign strategy they are helping lay out will lead to success.

“I don’t play the expectation game. I think he could do very well here, and I think he could win the nomination and be president. We wouldn’t be assembling this team if we didn’t think so,” Haus said.