Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Missouri's Own Jeff Roe Was the Wind Beneath Ted Cruz's Iowa Wings

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 6:00 AM

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We can't just blame Iowa. As it turns out, Missouri also has culpability in last night's caucus results. 

Political consultant Jeff Roe, who is based in Kansas City, is Ted Cruz's campaign manager — and the architect of the Texas senator's surprising first-place finish.

Roe is hardly a household name even amongst the political chattering class. (He has less than 6,000 Twitter followers.) Locally, he's most famous for commissioning the mean-spirited ad that upset State Auditor Tom Schweich and may have factored into his suicide, at least according to former U.S. Senator John Danforth, who blasted "politics that has gone so hideously wrong" in his funeral oration. Roe has been labeled "the Karl Rove of Missouri" — and the people calling him that don't consider it a compliment.

But as last night's results proved, he knows what he's doing. Cruz didn't just hold off all the other candidates vying for Iowa's large block of conservative voters. He did it even while beating Donald Trump. It was a wild, complicated race, and you have to respect the guy who figured out how to propel any candidate, much less one who's thoroughly loathed by everyone he meets, to victory.

In an interview with Chris Wallace a few weeks ago, Roe discussed a few secrets to his success — namely, a simple message and strong branding. Roe comes across as intensely analytical. He doesn't just know how long the average voter looks at a mailer (17 seconds); he knows how long he wants you to look at one touting Cruz (45 seconds). "When we communicate with the voter, we want it to be simple, clear and reinforce our candidate's brand," he says. For Cruz, that was "strong Christian conservative leader."

A recent New York Times Magazine piece delved more deeply into how Roe & Co. made those words resonate for Cruz, who'd hitherto been identified mostly as a conservative, not necessarily a Christian. Writes Robert Draper,

One morning early in January, in the lobby of a public library in Onawa, Iowa, I listened to Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, as he explained a central challenge of his previous few months. ‘‘Prior to March 23,’’ Roe said, ‘‘if you were to word-cloud ‘Ted Cruz,’ which we do every day — take all the Google mentions and Internet searches, dump them into a file and form a cloud — you can’t find ‘evangelical.’ ’’ In other words, voters were largely unaware of the Tea Party firebrand’s religious faith. To convince evangelicals that Ted Cruz was the ‘‘righteous’’ candidate, Roe told me, his team needed to sell him as such, from the very beginning: ‘‘Regardless of what you’ve got in the bank, you’d better determine the narrative of the campaign, and show that’s who we are, every day.’’

Last night's results suggest that effort worked beautifully.

Yes, Iowa is unusually dominated by evangelicals, and yes, if Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are any indication, Cruz faces an uphill battle to get the Republican nomination, much less win a single state. But we have to hand it to Roe. Never before has a candidate that so many Americans find this intensely annoying managed to make it this far.

Really, if Roe can win the caucuses with a face as punchable as Cruz's, imagine what he could do with a candidate who's only marginally aggravating!

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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