With Donald Trump at door, Scott Walker's team fortifies in Iowa

Story highlights

  • Scott Walker has held the lead in Iowa, but Trump is knocking at the door
  • Republicans see the Walker super PAC's $7 million ad buy as a "strong move"

Washington (CNN)Iowa has long been the must-win state for Scott Walker, but the growing threat of Donald Trump has the Wisconsin governor's team fortifying its battlements in the state.

The super PAC backing Walker, Unintimidated PAC, told CNN Wednesday that it was buying $7 million of air time in Iowa and starting to saturate the airwaves in September, a major marker. The PAC is also planning to announce buys soon in Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Walker has long led most polls of Republican caucusgoers in Iowa, starting from his breakout speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit this past January. And Walker, with his level Midwestern demeanor and northeast Iowa roots, plays naturally in the state directly adjacent to his.
    Still, the Walker lead has slipped away little by little as Trump has solidified a core of Republican supporters across the nation.
    The official Walker campaign, meanwhile, touted the support of its Iowa Leadership Team, Wednesday, with dozens of elected Republicans. Walker is also expected to release the names of leadership teams in Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina as well in the coming days.
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    "There is no doubt he is the frontrunner in Iowa today. This is partially, I assume, to stop the Trump factor dead in its tracks in Iowa," said a Walker fundraiser who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the direction of the Walker campaign.
    The latest Iowa poll, conducted by NBC/Marist in mid-July, found Walker's support at 19% and Trump's at 17%. For Walker, that represented a slight drop from a Monmouth New Jersey poll conducted over a similar period in July 16-19 where he was at 22% and a bump for Trump, who had been at 13% support.
    Trump rocketed to the top of New Hampshire polling, knocking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from his perch there. And Trump's standing in national polls has consistently dwarfed opponents going on two weeks now.
    Iowa appears to be the last outpost for anyone not named Trump.
    The Walker campaign argued against reading much from movement by the campaign or the super PAC -- which is barred from coordinating with the campaign -- at this point.
    "We have a pathway in every state you listed and more. We have a candidate who can appeal to more primary voters than most and we plan to take advantage of that. Our announcement tour was three weeks and hit 16 states for a reason," Walker communications director Kirsten Kukowski said Wednesday.
    For his part, Trump has actually built an organization in Iowa, under the leadership of Iowa campaign veteran Chuck Laudner.
    And, should he decide to spend any of his own money, Trump could spend on-air almost indiscriminately, placing him at a level with money leader Jeb Bush. But, for now, Trump has been enjoying free airtime via the national press (something competitor Sen. Rand Paul griped about last week.
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    Craig Robinson, a veteran Iowa Republican operative and editor of TheIowaRepubllican.com, called the Walker PAC ad buy "a strong move, and a smart move."
    "He's proven he's going to put the time and effort here going county to county, he's made that abundantly clear since announcing his presidency," Robinson said.
    Robinson doesn't see Trump as a threat in Iowa. Instead, the big Walker ad-buy looks like it's aimed at other Iowa contenders like Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
    "This is a real telling moment," he said. "In some ways, I wonder if they're going to just try to scare people out."
    The Walker team, however, has made no secret of its need to win Iowa, privately telling CNN before the Trump boom of what that means. And, as realism goes, the campaign has largely ruled out fighting in Florida -- where native sons Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are clear favorites.
    The Walker team does however have a southern strategy , that leans on a strong showing in South Carolina.
    Unintimidated PAC adviser Brad Dayspring pointed out Wednesday that the Iowa buy was just the first in a string of announced moves.
    More immediate for Walker, himself, will be dealing with The Donald on stage and in person before a national audience for the first Republican debate. Walker has refused to engage Trump -- who has occasionally turned his ire from Bush to Walker -- but the two are arranged to stand side-by-side for two hours Thursday night.