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Posted at 12:13 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

The Fix Six: The top free agent Iowa GOP operatives in 2012

By Chris Cillizza

In March alone, nine -- yes, nine! -- potential Republican presidential candidates will trek to Iowa.

Last night it was former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and pizza magnate Herman Cain -- all of whom appeared at an Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event in Waukee.

Later this month, Gingrich, Cain and Santorum as well as Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann will speak at the Conservative Principles Conference hosted by Iowa Rep. Steve King.

And, it will only get better -- or worse, depending on your perspective -- as winter turns to spring and candidates begin the full court press in Iowa in advance of the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses set for Feb. 6, 2012.

Each of the serious candidates are already on the hunt for the best political talent in Iowa -- the men and women who can guide them to victory (or an overperforming of expectations) in the Hawkeye State.

While some of the talent is already spoken for, there are plenty of top free agents that every candidate would like to have on their side.

Our Fix top six -- gleaned from conversations with smart politicos in the state -- is after the jump. Stay tuned for our Fix top six free-agent operatives in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in the coming weeks.

And make sure to check out our Fix top six national political operatives still on the market. (One of them, Jim Dyke, signed on with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour yesterday.)

The Fix Top Six Free Agent Iowa Operatives (listed alphabetically)

Matt Gronewald: Gronewald is seen as a rising star within the Iowa Republican party, having run the state's legislative campaigns in 2010 where GOPers picked up 16 seats. Prior to his work with the legislature, Gronewald did some Iowa work for the early stages of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign and in 2006 managed the unsuccessful bid by then state Rep. Bill Dix in the 1st district. (Dix is now a state senator.) Gronewald's connections to the state legislature are impossible to replicate and, therefore, very valuable.

Doug Gross: Gross has been in and around Iowa politics for the better part of the last thirty years -- both as a staffer and as a candidate. (He was the party's nominee for governor in 2002, losing out to then Gov. Tom Vilsack.) Gross served as co-chairman of then Texas Gov. George W. Bush's Iowa finance team in 2000 and was former Gov. Mitt Romney's Iowa chairman in 2008. Gross is also former chief of staff to Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and a key adviser to the governor.

Bob Haus: Haus has a long history with the Iowa caucuses, having run then Texas Sen. Phil Gramm's 1996 effort in the state, served as a consultant to businessman Steve Forbes' 2000 Iowa campaign and headed up former Sen. Fred Thompson's Iowa bid in 2008. Another bonus to landing Haus: He ran the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and, as a result, will have an insider's knowledge of how to win what really is the first vote of any import in the 2012 race.

Brian Kennedy: Kennedy is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa and a candidate in his own right, having run for -- and lost -- a GOP primary for the 1st district in 2006. Kennedy has connections that go well beyond the borders of Iowa, however, having served as a Republican National Committeeman and as a member of the Republican National Convention Platform Committee. In 2008, Kennedy served as an Iowa adviser for Romney.

Marlys Popma: Evangelical voters comprise a significant segment of the Iowa Republican caucus vote and no one knows how they think -- and vote -- better than Popma. Popma spent much of the 2008 cycle working as the head of evangelical outreach for McCain's presidential campaign, having signed on with the Arizona Senator way back in 2006 to run his coalitions effort in Iowa. Prior to McCain, Popma did a stint as the deputy national director for Gary Bauer's 2000 presidential bid. She's also served as the executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa and as president of Iowa Right to Life.

Nicole Schlinger: Schlinger is regarded as the top fundraiser in the Hawkeye State via her firm Capitol Resources. In addition to her financial chops. Schlinger also has a telemarketing firm known as Campaign Headquarters that would be a very welcome addition to any presidential candidate trying to reach as many Iowa voters as possible. Schlinger ran Romney's 2007 Iowa straw poll operation, delivering a victory for the former Massachusetts governor.

By Chris Cillizza  | March 8, 2011; 12:13 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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