The upcoming Iowa Republican Party Straw Poll will test the organizational skills of the Iowa-based staff who have been hired by the candidates. But Doug Gross, a long-time Iowa GOP insider who ran for governor in 2002, says candidates who do well in the Straw Poll will owe a valuable crew of unpaid Iowa talent.

“I think more important than who they hire is who they attract as their volunteers,” Gross says.

Eric Woolson ran Mike Huckabee’s successful 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign and he’s been hired as a consultant for Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 campaign. Woolson also served as Governor Terry Branstad’s press secretary during the late 1990s and he recalls Branstad always said the best volunteers were the ones who haven’t done it before. 

“By that he meant you may have somebody who’s been a county chair for 15 or 20 years and they may say, ‘Oh, that’s Buffalo Township. We’ll never get more than 20 votes out of Buffalo Township,'” Woolson says. “So you’ve got some new, fresh volunteer who comes in and takes over Buffalo Township and they don’t know they can only get 20 votes — and they get 75 votes.”

Gross says there are a few “super” volunteers in Iowa who are key “gets” for a campaign.

“If you go to these events and you hear somebody doing a war hoop, that’s Joni Scotter and she has a following of volunteers that will go with her anywhere,” Gross says. “Those are the people that you want and you don’t pay Joni. You make Joni believe in you.”

Joni’s enthusiasm is clearly audible whenever she’s at a campaign event. GOP Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks paid tribute to Scotter during a rally in Cedar Rapids last fall.

“Joni’s beside herself up here,” Miller-Meeks said, as the other GOP candidates on stage laughed and Joni smiled wide and whooped with joy. “If that’s not infectious, I don’t know what is.”

Scotter supported Mitt Romney’s 2008 bid for the White House and when Romney visited the state last fall to campaign for Republican candidates, Scotter was there.

“I was out in the hall and I heard this shriek and I said, ‘Joni Scotter is here,'” Romney told the crowd, who laughed along with Romney and Scotter. “And so I said, ‘I know right where I am.'”

Scotter is the regional director of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women. Texas Governor Rick Perry — a likely candidate — already telephoned Scotter, although she’s not revealing the details of that conversation. She’s met personally with most of the 2012 candidates. Scotter says she’s both flattered and embarassed by the attention, but she’s invaluable to a campaign — willing to make hundreds of phone calls to secure spots for yard signs or boost attendance at party events. However, Scotter has decided she won’t publicly back a 2012 candidate.

Volunteers like Scotter may be even more crucial in the Iowa G-O-P’s Straw Poll on August 13th.  As candidate Ron Paul noted this week, a person who casts a Straw Poll vote next month would wield as much influence as thousands of voters in Primary and Caucus contests. Scotter’s 2008 pick, Mitt Romney, won the 2007 contest with 4518 Straw Poll votes. Mike Huckabee finished second with 2587.