03 January 2012

Tickets Out of Iowa

Iowa kicks off the Republican Presidential nomination process today with the first in the nation Caucuses . Although the Hawkeye Cauci have not been prescient on choosing the eventual nominee, doing well in the Caucuses can give candidates momentum which translates into an instant alluvia of press and campaign contributions.  So it is not sine qua non to win the Caucus, but doing well propels several campaigns in following contests. Conversely, campaigns doing poorly in the Iowa Caucuses tend to be effectively winnowed from the Presidential field.  Political junkies term success in the Caucuses s getting your ticket punched out of Iowa.

Participation in an Iowa Caucus involves some commitment as you need to find the local gathering place and be prepared to banter about politics for a couple of hours on a cold night in January.  Unlike the Democrat caucuses, Republicans still have a secret ballot, so you need not alienate your acquaintances with your final choice of candidates.  Still, this process requires some motivation by participants, hence the emphasis upon organization skills.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX 14th) is expected to do well in the Iowa Caucuses for several reasons.  Paul ran for President in 2008 and some might say that he has been running ever since, so the vestigial organization has significant carry over.  Secondly, Paul seemingly has put all of his considerable resources into Iowa to score at least one victory in the process.  Thirdly, Paul’s libertarian constitutionally oriented message attracts many youthful Paulistians who want less government, isolationism (if not essentially pacifism) and amoral laws.  In a nutshell, what Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand would call “libertarian hippies”. Most of Paul’s opponents acknowledge his formidable organization and expect him to place well, if not winning the Caucuses outright.

Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) is also making his second run for President.  Romney placed second in Iowa in 2008 and has the organizational remnants to again make a strong showing.  Moreover, Romney has a traditional campaign with strong overall organization, including formidable fund-raising.  Yet Romney has been unable to garner much more than 20% support, the same level which he won against Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) in 2008.  Romney is poised to decisively win the New Hampshire primary next week, so until recently he had made limited appearances in the Hawkeye state.  Now that it appears that Romney could be in a three way tie for first place in Iowa, Romney has given more face time to the Hawkeye state.

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is poised to play the darling dark horse candidate.  Santorum invested all of his shoestring resources into Iowa.  Basically, Santorum has lived there for the last six months.  To his credit, Santorum has attended townhall meetings in all 99 of Iowa’s counties.  But more importantly, Santorum has built a strong organization in Iowa, which will translate into having local representatives cajoling their neighbors to attend as well as making speeches on behalf of self proclaimed consistent conservative candidate.  Santorum’s pitch of traditional family values will resonate with evangelical caucus voters and a perception of conservatism may win over the anti-Romney vote.

It is expected that Paul, Romney and Santorum will each win around 20% support amongst caucus goers.  Usually that would translate into three ticket punches out of Iowa.  However, this year may be different.  The Lamestream Media has kept Rep. Paul in the process as his isolationism made for an interesting contrast with other candidates and his core 10% nationwide primary support lends some credibility.  However, Rep. Paul dumped all of his resources into Iowa to try to win one for the Paul Revolution.  Moreover, Paul’s isolationism and his advanced age of 76 limits his appeal to the rest of the Republican base, so his 10% may be a cap on support. Even if Paul wins the Iowa Caucuses, his victory will be effectively ignored by the media and there will be room for one more Caucus candidate out of Iowa.

Thus the race for fourth place may be the more interesting story out of the Iowa Caucuses.  Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN 6th) banked on her Iowa roots and winning the  influential Ames straw poll in August, her time at the top was brief as her attacks on Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) over HPV vaccinations were over-played and contributed to an off-beat media perception.  Bachmann recently released an “Iron Lady” ad which GOP pollster Frank Luntz thinks is an effective ad, but it may be too little too late.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA 6th) had built up momentum from outstanding debate performances and was vaulted into front-runner status in mid November.  But the limelights draws increased scrutiny, which highlighted Gingrich’s many flip flops on issues.  Moreover, Super-PACs supporting the Paul and Romney campaigns went after Gingrich.  It is estimated that 45% of the paid media were negative ads defining Gingrich.  Gingrich was in debt until mid-December due to extravagant early campaign spending and weak fundraising.  So Gingrich made his campaign impecuniousness into a virtue vowing to run a positive campaign and capitalizing on earned media attention in the debates.  But Gingrich changed his tune late in the Iowa campaign and started caterwauling against being “Romney-boated” and other negative attacks.  Yet Gingrich started calling Romney a liar. No wonder support for Gingrich has plummeted in recent days, hovering in the mid-teens. Gingrich must finish in a strong fourth place to fight on, especially in South Carolina and Florida where his conservative credentials will play well.

Governor Rick Perry had an impressive $17 million war chest going into the primaries.  But Perry’s  “Oops” debate performances caused many Tea Party types to question supporting him.  Perry produced slick television ads aimed at evangelicals. And Perry realizes the importance of being perceived as placing well in Iowa, so he changed emphasis against Romney and aimed his fire at upcoming Santorum, with whom he vies for evangelical support.

To try to get a ticket out of Iowa, Perry  has bused in scores of Texan volunteers to gin up support for Perry.  In addition, Perry is doing last minute media rounds and sounds quite convincing. But as former Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) learned in 1996 and former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT) screamed about in 2004, relying on a large campaign war chest or busing in out of state volunteers does not ensure success in Iowa.  If Perry scores fourth place or higher, he will be deemed the viable conservative alternative to Romney.  If Perry has not squandered his war chest in mid-America, he will be poised to do well in South Carolina and Florida and survive to Super Tuesday.  Otherwise, it will show that voters are Fed Up with a lackluster Presidential campaign.

Although political predictions can be perilous, it is safe to say that Paul, Romney and Santorum will be in the top three.  While I wonder how much of the evangelical vote will be taken by Santorum, Perry’s pitch and finances may beat out Gingrich’s debating prowess.  The other campaigns may continue but there will not be momentum for continuing beyond Florida’s primary on January 31st.  If this scenario plays out, the battle of conservatives will be waged in the Game-Cock country of South Carolina to determine this year’s GOP top two.  All aboard?

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