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August 11th, 2009

An Early look at the 2012 Caucuses

2012-caucuses-copyI have been putting off writing about the 2012 Republican presidential campaign for some time now. Even though I got my start in Iowa politics back in 1999 with Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign and have continued to make my living in Iowa politics since then, I have to admit that all the presidential chatter starts way too early in Iowa.

If I had my way, we would focus making sure Governor Culver is the first incumbent Governor to lose re-election since 1962. I also wouldn’t mind letting people know that there is a government program out there that allows you to trade in your clunker of a congressman for fresh new leadership. The best part of that program is that it doesn’t cost you a dime and could actually end up saving thousands of tax dollars, but like many things in life, things don’t always go my way.

Last week, Des Moines Cityview published a feature story on the Republican contenders for the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to speculate on the 2012 caucuses, but I found it interesting that Cityview had Douglas Burns write a Republican horserace article.

Mr. Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa journalist. He’s written for The Ames Tribune, IowaIndependent.com (an online news site that is funded by the same homosexual activist that targeted former State Rep. Danny Carroll), and his family’s newspaper, The Carroll Daily Time Herald. Burns also worked for Democrat Congresswoman Pat Danner, but what really makes me question his ability to write an objective article on 2012 Republican caucuses is the book he wrote about Congressman Steve King titled “King Kong Krazy.”

Here is how Burn’s describes his book, “King Kong Krazy.”

“U.S. Rep. Steve King, a western Iowa Republican who has long inhabited the fringes within his own party, seems to be hurtling into insanity, and is undoubtedly the biggest freak show going these days in Iowa politics.”

Can someone with that viewpoint really speak to Republican candidates’ abilities in the Iowa Caucuses? The base of the Republican Party is full of people who view Congressman King one of the few champions of conservatism left. So it’s likely that since Burns thinks King is a “freak show,” he probably thinks that the majority of people who vote in the caucuses are as well.

With all of that said, the following is how I stack up the potential field of presidential candidates as we begin to look at the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. Before we begin, let me say that lists like these will change dramatically. If I had done this list in March or April of this year, Mark Sanford and John Ensign would have been included. Now, due to their own self-destructive behavior, they are not even a blip on the 2012 radar.

1. Mike Huckabee (Falling): It should come as no surprise that the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses occupies the top spot as we begin the discussions about the 2012 caucuses. Despite being out-spent my Mitt Romney 20 to 1, Huckabee was able consolidate Iowa’s social conservatives around his campaign.

Looking ahead to 2012, Huckabee will have to deal with something new if he seeks the Republican nomination for president – expectations. No longer will Huckabee be the underdog, meaning, the national media will be looking to see how much money he has raised and what type of organization he is building in the early states.

Just last week, it was reported that Huckabee’s Political Action Committee only raised $305,000in the first six months of the year. By comparison, Mitt Romney raised $1.6 million and Sarah Palin raised $733,000, and both had ample amounts of cash on hand. Huckabee, on the other hand, ended the period with $48,000 in the bank but listed outstanding debts of $63,000. Huckabee could get by with those types of numbers as an underdog, but now, is more expected of him.

Still, Huckabee might be the best communicator in the Republican field, and he’s already proved that can get you a long way in a state like Iowa.

WHO Radio host Steve Deace, an early supporter of Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, believes that the candidate who offers the best solutions will win. “There is no question that Mike has a unique chemistry with the Republican base here in Iowa no other Republican anywhere has right now. Sarah Palin may be able to duplicate that, should she spend the same kind of time here and grow in her presentation of the issues. However, what will be interesting will be to see if Mike has grown, too. What worked in 2008 will not work in 2012 because it will be a different dynamic,” Deace said.

Deace went on to say, “In 2008, Huckabee took advantage of the fact he was really the only candidate running that spent any real time here who made any sincere attempt to mobilize and galvanize the Christian base. But he will need to show both that base and voters across the board that he has an integrated worldview with solutions and not just slogans. Can he integrate his worldview into doing something about infanticide and not just talking about it? Can he integrate his worldview into doing something about judicial supremacy and not just talking about it? Can he integrate his worldview into doing something about the economy and not just talking about it? Voters do not trust the condescending platitudes of either political party, so the old Republican talking points won’t make a dent in the next election. The candidate with the best solutions wins – period.”

2. Sarah Palin (Falling): Sarah Palin’s brand of politics should play well with Iowa Republican. In fact, one could easily argue that she could give Mike Huckabee a run for his money when it comes to lining up support from the GOP base in Iowa. Palin would potentially have the ability to attract women from all political persuasions to her campaign. Part of the trick to winning the Iowa caucuses is finding a way to bring new people into the process, and Palin has the ability to do just that.

While Palin might be the best known candidate in the race, she will also bring with her a lot of baggage. Some of her liabilities have been generated by news organizations’ vicious appetite to destroy her. Yet, she has brought on some of those problems herself. One thing is for certain, if she does run for President, she is going to have to explain why she could not complete one term as Alaska’s Governor. While people tend to favor candidates who have been governors, Palin not finishing one term could haunt her for the rest of her political career.

3. Mitt Romeny: The national political pundits all have Mitt Romney occupying the top spot on their 2012 presidential lists, but for the man who invested millions of dollars in Iowa during his 2008 presidential run, Romney hasn’t stepped foot in Iowa since right before the last general election, and even that event was very low key.

Romney built an impressive political operation leading up to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses but failed to manage his expectations and was a victim of his own success. Romney’s boisterous Iowa campaign eventually caused competing candidates like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani to focus on other states rather than contend with Romney’s well oiled machine.

Both McCain and Giuliani were to Romney’s left in terms of their political philosophy, so when they surrendered Iowa to him in the summer of 2007, Romney was left to wage battle against a rag-tag group of candidates who were all to the right of him on most issues. As we now know, Mike Huckabee was able to consolidate social conservatives behind his campaign and won rather easily. That might not have been the case had John McCain remained a viable Iowa candidate through the entire process.

Looking towards the 2012 caucuses, Iowa could cause a problem for a second Romney attempt for the Republican nomination. Romney is most likely avoiding Iowa in an effort to keep his expectations in check this time around. However, the 2008 caucus campaign between Huckabee and Romney was bitter near the end, and his campaign’s ongoing feud with WHO’s local radio talent did him no favors. It’s also unlikely that those wounds will heal before caucus activity resumes.

Nonetheless, as candidates like Mark Sanford and John Ensign have fallen off the map, Romney remains the candidate who most of the establishment Republicans would seem apt to support. That, combined with his fundraising ability and almost robot-like ability to stay on message, makes him a major player in Iowa in 2012 if he decides to run.

4. Newt Gingrich (Rising): There is no candidate better situated to emerge in the current political environment than Newt Gingrich. Nobody doubts that Gingrich has his eyes set on the White House, but the question has been “when” not “if.”

In the first part of this year, Gingrich raised $8.1 million, a number that dwarfs the amount raised by Huckabee, Palin and Romney combined. What’s different about Gingrich is that he is focusing on issues instead of personality. Having been the main architect of the Contract with America in 1994, Gingrich is once again traveling the country talking about issues, and it’s obvious that people are responding.

In addition to being the idea guy in the race, Gingrich might be the only candidate on this list who has shown the willingness and tenacity to go on the offensive against President Obama’s agenda day in and day out. If he runs in 2012, he is the one to watch.
Will Rogers, a longtime GOP operative and current co-chair of the Polk County Republican Party, thinks that Gingrich would be well received by Iowans. “When Newt was leading the Republican Party, we had a balanced budget, reduced the national debt by $500 billion dollars, reformed welfare, and cut taxes. Since then, he has been at the forefront in the battle of ideas and is unafraid to lead the charge. Newt talks about Jobs Here – Jobs Now – Jobs First. What Iowan doesn’t want that?” Roger’s said

5. Tim Pawlenty (Rising): The Governor of Minnesota is the new darling of the national media. What separates Pawlenty from his likely competition is that, while all of the other candidates either reside in the south or were involved in the 2008 campaign, Pawlenty has been successful in the blue state of Minnesota.

Pawlenty has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration. He has come out against the cash for clunkers plan and has also been an early critic of Obama’s health care proposal. The well-spoken Pawlenty should also do well in the neighboring state of Iowa, and it’s also likely that many Iowans in the northern part of the state have seen him on the local news or watched his campaign ads in the past.

“Pawlenty is just the type of candidate that could connect very well with Iowa voters,” said Jill Latham, a principal at Concordia Group and former Iowa political director for Mitt Romney for President. “He’s a Midwestern governor who has a solid conservative record, is from a working class family, and is a proven winner in a difficult state for Republicans. Once Iowans get to know him, I think they will like what they see and hear,” Latham concluded.

6. Haley Barbour: Barbour didn’t do himself any favors when he gave some remarks that outraged many social conservatives when he was in Iowa earlier this summer to headline a Republican Party of Iowa event. That said, Barbour is in a perfect position to set up a presidential run.

Having control of the reins of the Republican Governors Association leading up to the 2012 caucuses never hurts. In that capacity, Barbour is able to travel the county, increase his fundraising ability, and make friends in some targeted states like Iowa.

As for how he would fair in Iowa, I would never underestimate him even following his remarks earlier this summer. Barbour is an unabashed conservative who isn’t afraid of anybody. If he runs for president, he will be in it to win it, and Iowa would probably be key to his strategy.

7. John Thune: Late this past spring, Sen. Thune was the guest speaker for Congressman King’s annual fundraiser, and he headlined an RPI dinner last year. While visiting his neighboring state is an easy thing to do, it also indicated that he might have his eye on 2012. Thune is a smooth talking conservative who looks like he is straight out of central casting.

8. Rick Perry: Texas Governor Perry faces a stiff primary challenge from current Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson next fall. If he wins, he will likely catapult himself up the list of potential Republican presidential candidates. If he loses, he’s off the list.

Longtime Republican operative Bob Haus thinks that Iowans are looking for proven leadership, and Governors Perry and Barbour might be the best situated to deliver. “Republicans nationally in 2012 will be looking for the same thing Iowans are looking for in 2010: proven leadership. In that vein, you’d have to view Governors Barbour and Perry in a very good light. They’ve seen their states through terrible natural disasters, grown their economies, and stood up to Washington’s heavy hand. They’re strong, they know who they are, and they know how to lead,” Haus said

9. Bobby Jindal: Many Republicans thought the well-spoken Jindal was there answer to President Obama. However an awkward response to President Obama’s first address to a joint session of congress was a flop, and since then, he has been almost non-existent.

10. Mike Pence/Other House Member:
Only one person from the House of Representatives has been elected President – James Garfield. He only spent 199 days in office. While there always seems to be a number of congressmen who run for President, most of the serious contenders are current or former Senators and Governors.

That said, Congressman Mike Pence is different from his former colleagues (Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter) who ran in 2008. Pence is a well-spoken and intelligent candidate who couldn’t be perceived as a single-issue candidate. What makes Pence different is that he has the ability to raise his profile to a level where he could compete with candidates who come from the Senate or Governors’ mansions.

There you have it. Agree or Disagree I would love to read what you have to say in the comment section.


About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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