The top six free-agent 2012 GOP operatives
Every presidential nominating fight is like an iceberg -- the bulk of it is below the surface.
That's especially true when it comes to staff. Most average voters have no idea who the campaign manager or senior adviser is on any campaign -- Mark Penn, of course, excepted -- but the reality is that those men and women are the ones shaping the campaign message, raising the money and making sure the candidate is where he (or she) need to be at all times.
Many top Republican staffers have already been snapped up by presidential campaigns-in-waiting but there are still a lot of folks on the sidelines -- weighing offers and deciding the best place to take their talents. (LeBron James reference!)
Our list of the top six -- we couldn't limit ourselves to just five! -- free agent Republican operatives in the 2012 presidential talent pool are after the jump. For the purposes of this exercise, we've limited our picks to people on the national level.
Make sure to stay tuned for our lists on the most wanted Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina operatives too!
* Nick Ayers: Ayers is, without question, the most coveted staffer still not signed to a campaign yet. He spent the 2008 and 2010 cycles as executive director of the Republican Governors Association, working with Gov. Haley Barbour (Miss.) to turn the committee into a financial juggernaut that outshone even the Republican National Committee. Ayers cut his political teeth in Georgia working for then Gov. Sonny Perdue. Now, he's fielding offers from a variety of campaigns -- and potential campaigns -- at the moment. Whoever lands him will have scored a major coup.
* Gentry Collins: Collins may be best known for being the guy who wrote the memo that brought RNC Chairman Michael Steele down. But, Collins has a long pedigree in presidential politics that includes a deep knowledge of Iowa -- his home state. Collins headed up former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's Iowa effort in 2008 but hasn't inked a deal with his former employer -- or anyone else -- just yet.
* Jim Dyke: Dyke has the sort of political pedigree most presidential campaigns would die for. He served as the communications director at the Republican National Committee during the 2004 re-election race of President George W. Bush then went into business for himself forming Jim Dyke & Associates in 2005. Since that time, he's immersed himself in the creation of the outside group effort on the Republican side, serving on the board of American Crossroads and playing a senior role in Resurgent Republic, a conservative-aligned polling effort. Plus, Dyke lives in South Carolina and knows Palmetto State politics intimately well.
* Mike DuHaime: DuHaime has already been at the top of a presidential campaign once -- serving as campaign manager for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's bid in 2008. Duhaime's more recent claim to fame, however, is as the senior strategist for Gov. Chris Christie's (R) successful 2009 campaign in the Garden State. He also oversaw the 2010 independent expenditure campaign at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. DuHaime currently works at Mercury, a public-affairs and consulting firm.
* Brian Jones: Jones is a veteran communicator, having served as communications director at the RNC and, for a time, Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential bid. Jones, like most good press people these days, has a background in research. He was research director at the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2002 cycle.
* Heath Thompson: Thompson is a low-key presence in Washington but a major player in Republican campaign politics. After spending several years working for Republican media guru Scott Howell, Thompson and fellow Howell alumnus Todd Harris started their own firm earlier this year. In 2008, Thompson advised Giuliani and two years later served as the lead strategist for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Thompson also has strong ties to South Carolina, having lived and worked in the state for years.
| February 17, 2011; 12:42 PM ET
Categories: Eye on 2012
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