Tyler Raygor knocked on the door of a gray, single-story house in a neighborhood in northern Ames, Iowa. He patiently waited until a man in a hoodie and jeans emerged before launching into his pitch.
In this encounter, the man, Mike Morton, expressed his inclination to vote for either Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida or former President Donald J. Trump in the upcoming caucuses. However, Mr. Morton hadn’t considered Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina. Mr. Raygor, the state director for Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC supporting Ms. Haley, seized the opportunity. He referred to a recent poll showing Ms. Haley with a significant lead over President Biden in a general election matchup and emphasized her tenure as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. After handing Mr. Morton a Haley campaign flier, Mr. Morton acknowledged that he would now take a closer look at Haley, noting, “If you didn’t come to my house, I probably would overlook her a little bit more.”
With less than a month remaining before January’s caucuses, Ms. Haley’s campaign, along with Americans for Prosperity Action, is actively working to build on the momentum gained in recent months. The goal is to reach persuadable voters and firmly position her as the primary alternative to Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination.
Ms. Haley received a last-minute boost with the endorsement of Americans for Prosperity Action, a well-funded organization founded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. This endorsement provided access to donors and injected much-needed funds into her campaign for television spots and mail advertisements. While her campaign initially faced challenges in Iowa against better-funded rivals, the A.F.P. Action apparatus has come to life, deploying a network of volunteers and staff members across the state to engage voters.
The super PAC has mobilized approximately 150 volunteers and part-time staff members to canvass Iowa, with a goal of knocking on 100,000 doors before the caucuses, according to Drew Klein, a senior adviser with A.F.P. Action. Since endorsing Ms. Haley, the super PAC has spent over $5.7 million on pro-Haley advertisements and canvassing efforts nationwide. Financial filings with the Federal Election Commission indicate that the organization had more than $74 million on hand as of July.
Both Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis are vying for a pool of undecided voters, although Mr. Trump continues to maintain a significant lead. Recent polls indicate that Mr. Trump is the top choice for 51 percent of Republicans likely to caucus, up from 43 percent in October. Mr. DeSantis’s support increased slightly to 19 percent, while Ms. Haley’s remained at 16 percent. However, the super PAC’s efforts might be insufficient to overtake Mr. DeSantis, who has invested considerable time and money in Iowa.
Despite recent challenges, including the departure of top strategist Jeff Roe from Never Back Down, an affiliated super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor has established a strong presence in Iowa. He has visited all 99 counties, and his well-funded ground operation, managed by Never Back Down, has been active for months, boasting over 801,000 doors knocked.
The A.F.P. Action’s endorsement is considered by some, like Republican strategist Jimmy Centers in Iowa, as the potential “missing link” for Ms. Haley. However, the group faces a time constraint. Mr. Centers poses the open question of whether Ms. Haley peaked too soon in Iowa and if A.F.P. has sufficient time to catch up. A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, Andrew Romeo, dismisses A.F.P. Action’s efforts as a “rent-a-campaign gambit” by Ambassador Haley, asserting that grassroots success cannot be bought.
A critical component of A.F.P. Action’s strategy is the ground game, aiming to reach voters just as attention to the Republican nomination race intensifies. Mr. Raygor, addressing criticism from the Trump campaign about door-knocking on Christmas, stated, “Maybe not on Christmas, but we’ll be knocking on the 23rd. We’ll be knocking on the 26th. My team’s knocked in negative-30-degree wind chills before. Winter does not scare us.”
However, a recent visit to Ames revealed the challenges of a last-minute push. Among the six Republican voters Mr. Raygor spoke with, one was already a Haley supporter, two were persuadable, and three were firmly supporting either Mr. Trump or Vivek Ramaswamy. One voter, Barbara Novak, emphatically declared, “You’re not going to get me off of Trump, ever.”
In another neighborhood in Cedar Rapids, the efforts of A.F.P. Action staff members Cheryl Jontz and Kyla Higgins to promote Ms. Haley proved less successful. Few residents were interested in answering their doors in freezing morning temperatures, and those who did mostly expressed their support for Mr. Trump. One voter, Lisa Andersen, was somewhat open-minded, indicating a willingness to consider Ms. Haley if former President Trump faced legal troubles.
A spokesperson for the Haley campaign maintains that A.F.P. Action’s support hasn’t altered the campaign’s strategic approach and ground game in Iowa. The campaign has intensified its efforts in the final weeks before the caucuses, including a five-day swing through the state. Additional staff members, such as Pat Garrett, a former adviser to the Iowa governor, have been brought on board to lead the Iowa press team.
David Oman, a Republican strategist and Haley supporter, believes that Ms. Haley is focusing on the metro areas where the majority of Iowa’s voters reside, running a nimble campaign with a small core staff and dedicated volunteers. As Ms. Haley’s team makes a final push in Iowa, the outcome of the caucuses remains uncertain, and the effectiveness of A.F.P. Action’s endorsement and ground game will be closely watched.