On Monday afternoon, Iowa State Senator Tom Shipley confidently stated that he was still an unswayed supporter of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, no matter what the polls said.
“No, I’m not worried,” Shipley told NBC News. “I’m still with him, and we’ve got a lot of time left.”
Five hours later, Walker was out of the presidential race.
Walker’s key Iowa leaders and endorsers were stunned by Walker’s sudden exit from the 2016 race Monday evening, which came after a full weekend of vigorous campaigning in the Hawkeye State.
Now, many are questioning who they will support next.
“I was kind of shocked,” said State Senator Mark Costello on Tuesday morning, noting that the candidate had just recently released new television ads in the state. “He didn’t even have time to see if some of the ads worked.”
State Senator Jerry Behn recalled that he was out working on his farm when he got a text message from his daughter with a screenshot of an article saying that Walker was dropping out.
“I did not expect it at all,” said Behn.
In the wake of Walker’s exit, the campaigns of former Florida governor Jeb Bush and current Florida senator Marco Rubio have crowed about their success in picking up former Walker supporters. But caucus experts say that, in Iowa, the lion’s share of the strong 99-county organization that Walker cultivated might be more likely to get snapped up by a GOP hopeful less associated with the party’s establishment.
“I think it’s a mistake, especially in Iowa, to think that the people who were supporting Walker will drift towards other establishment candidates,” said Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of The Iowa Republican. “When he got into the race, he was the conservative alternative to Jeb Bush… they’re still looking for that conservative alternative to whoever the front runner is.”
State Representative Dean Fisher, who supported Walker and has not decided whom he’ll support next, agreed with that idea. Fisher told NBC News that he “didn’t see [Walker] as an establishment candidate,” but rather as a “breath of fresh air” who would take on Washington D.C.
Walker endorser State Senator Julian Garrett also has not chosen a new candidate to back— though he, like others, has received several phone calls from different campaigns over the past 24 hours. But asked about Jeb Bush, John Kasich or other top state executives seeking the presidency, Garrett paused.
"Let’s just say the governors that are in the race, they are not Scott Walker," he said.
During interviews with Walker supporters, names that came up included more grassroots conservatives such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina rather than Bush, Kasich or Rubio.
That doesn’t mean that other campaigns haven’t successfully snapped up some of Walker’s newly available former devotees, too.
Less than an hour after Walker dropped out, State Representative Terry Baxter was prominently introduced at a Bush town hall event in Mason City, Iowa. Baxter was on Walker’s leadership team earlier that day.
Later on Monday evening, the Des Moines Register noted that Rubio’s campaign had picked up four former Walker supporters in Iowa, and Cruz’s team had gained three new county co-chairs from the fallen candidate.
Even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is currently languishing at 1.3 percent support nationally according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, nabbed a Walker backer Tuesday morning.
But other elected officials in Iowa told NBC News they will not endorse again for a while now, feeling “deflated” at the moment with their candidate out so suddenly.
Behn says he is reminded of his 2011 endorsement of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out early in September of that year.
“I’m a farmer by trade, and I am getting in the fields right now and my whole focus will be getting the crops out,” noted Behn, adding that he’ll “watch from the sidelines” and “play coy” for now.
Shipley said that he will stay neutral for now, too, after learning a hard lesson of Scott Walker’s short-lived 70-day campaign.
“As we know now, if we’ve learned nothing in the past 24 hours, things can change very very quickly."