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After Scott Walker’s exit, it’s an all-out scramble in Iowa

Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, poses at Davenport, Iowa, on Friday. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

If you were looking for a Republican presidential candidate over the past few days, chances are good that they were here in Iowa.

There was Carly Fiorina, posing for photos with tailgaters at a University of Iowa football game. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas opened his state office. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio swung across the western part of the state. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush stopped at a diner. Three candidates came here to Davenport, on the state’s eastern edge, in three days.

With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s departure from the presidential race, Iowa is one place where a winnowed field is focusing its attention to re­calibrate the race. The state’s Republican electorate includes a heavy dose of evangelical conservatives, but that hasn’t stopped Republican candidates of all types from scrambling to scoop up Walker activists, operatives and voters.

“This is a point now where everyone is kind of resetting and re-looking and reevaluating,” said Craig Robinson, a former Iowa Republican Party political director. “It feels like we’re almost starting fresh again, at least in Iowa.”

Walker, who became a national darling of the tea party by taking on his state’s public employee unions in 2010, surged nationally to the front of the Republican pack early this year based largely on the strength of his support in Iowa. But then businessman Donald Trump entered the race and rode a wave of discontent with career politicians — including Walker — to the top of the polls here and nationwide.

Walker’s support fell, as did that of other established Republican candidates, notably Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Trump was joined by two other outsiders — businesswoman Fiorina and neurosurgeon Ben Carson — at the top of the standings.

Iowa’s caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 1, don’t always predict the party nominee, but they can deliver momentum to the winner heading into subsequent contests.

Walker’s exit, perhaps more than others’ might have, has caused particular uncertainty because he appealed to both establishment and evangelical voters — meaning that activists who adhere to many shades of Republican ideology may be up for grabs. Walker started his ground game in Iowa very early, and many activists — whose volunteerism and grass-roots networks are crucial to winning the caucuses — committed to him months ago. Since then, they have barely glanced at other candidates, according to several Iowa Republicans. With Walker gone, some are likely to look at the field with fresh eyes.

Read: Inside the collapse of Scott Walker’s presidential bid

“It puts in play a lot of people,” said Cory Crowley, Iowa director for Kasich. “Probably, if you talk to some of them, they admit they picked too soon, and it gets them back on the board. A lot of them are elected officials and activists.”

Everyone from Cruz to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to pick up Walker supporters — as well as donors from both Walker and former Texas governor Rick Perry, who also dropped out this month.

Fiorina spent two days in the state over the weekend, trying to take advantage of her surging poll numbers after the last Republican debate. She is looking to appeal to people who view themselves more as conservatives than Republicans; she also is courting women, fiscal conservatives and those fed up with the establishment.

During an appearance at St. Ambrose University, Fiorina, looking to harness distrust of Washington and the growing popularity of candidates who are not politicians, branded herself a “citizen, not a politician, running for president of the United States.”

She assailed Planned Parenthood, railed against “crony capitalism” and vowed to make technology a central part of her administration, including polling people by smartphone from the Oval Office.

At a tailgate party before the University of Iowa football game in Iowa City on Saturday, Fiorina spent hours shaking hands and posing for photos with people, many of them clutching beers. She signed the cast of a 9-year-old who had broken her arm on a playground and ate a turkey sandwich while sitting on a cooler.

Fiorina was confronted by about 15 protesters from Planned Parenthood, including a woman dressed as a packet of birth control pills. Fiorina has been under fire for her description in the last Republican debate of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of fetal tissue.

At her appearance at a Rotary Club luncheon in Davenport, Mark Anderson, 72, said he is “really disappointed” that Walker, his first choice, dropped out of the race. He said Fiorina has now vaulted to the top of his list, based on her business background and outsider status. A rotating cast that includes Cruz and Rubio takes second place, Anderson said.

“There are some others who need to drop out,” he said. “There are just too many in the field.”

Cruz is trying to lock down a conservative and evangelical base of support across the nation and sees Iowa as key to that strategy. He is appointing a faith outreach coordinator in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. He has committed to visiting all 99 as well, and he ventured up to the Minnesota border this weekend.

Cruz boasted of his campaign's thriftiness while opening his state headquarters in Urbandale on Saturday. He said he waited to open the headquarters, which had been run out of his state director's living room, and ramp up his field staff until he had more money in the bank. Cruz's campaign raised more than $14 million in the first two quarters.

The Texas Republican noted that Walker and Perry both dropped out of the race because they ran out of money.

“We’re committed to not following those mistakes,” Cruz told reporters.

Kasich, another “establishment” candidate by virtue of his experience as a governor and in Congress, is making a more muscular push here now that Walker has dropped out. He has spent most of his time campaigning in New Hampshire, but he attended a cybersecurity forum and a hog roast in western Iowa on Saturday and plans to come back to the state Wednesday.

Some activists are still weighing their options. Linda Kortemeyer, 67, of Davenport, likes Trump, Carson, Rubio and Fiorina; she said she never liked Walker. The outsider candidates appeal to her because, she said, so many decisions in Washington are being made by career politicians who make choices based on favors doled out or owed.

Kortemeyer is not a huge fan of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) but was critical of his decision to resign, saying he should see the job through.

Kortemeyer didn’t think Fiorina had a chance in the most recent GOP debate but found her “very presidential.” Kortemeyer doesn’t fully agree with Fiorina’s stance on defunding Planned Parenthood because she believes the organization offers health services to women who don’t have doctors. Despite this, Kortemeyer decided to fully support Fiorina after hearing her speak here.

“I’m voting for her,” Kortemeyer said. “She’s just what we need to get people off their duffs. How many of us have given up? I think she’s calling us to action.”

John Wagner in Urbandale, Iowa, and Jenna Johnson in Washington contributed to this report.