Seasoned political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann offered up insights into the GOP horse race early Friday morning at a forum held at the Iowa Historical Building. The duo pooled their talents to co-author Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, a detailed analysis of the 2008 presidential election.
With the caucuses just over three weeks away, Halperin and Heilemann spent an hour analyzing which candidates they think will likely win, place and show—Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul— but not necessarily in that order.
Despite the fact that New Hampshire’s primary has a history of repudiating Iowa’s pick, Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for TIME magazine, Time.com and MSNBC, and Heilemann, National Affairs Editor for New York magazine and also a senior political analyst at MSNBC, predict that whoever wins Iowa will get an important bump going into New Hampshire this time around.
While Romney has amassed a significant campaign war chest and could mount a war of attrition against the other GOP candidates, Halperin proposed how the momentum behind Gingrich and the organizational support of the Paul campaign could sink Romney’s shot at the White House by early February.
In a nutshell, Romney has to beat Gingrich here in Iowa. Should either Gingrich or Paul win Iowa, and Gingrich win New Hampshire, Romney would have to win in South Carolina and Florida, a make or break firewall for him, to continue to be viable by the time of the Nevada caucus on February 4. “There is only one scenario that Romney doesn’t win and that’s if one person wins three or four of the first four tests. It is imminently plausible that Gingrich could win. If Gingrich stumbles, then Romney is likely to succeed” said Heilemann.
While President Obama’s approval ratings are low right now–41 percent—Heilemann cautioned Republicans from assuming that the 2012 presidential race is theirs to win. Calling Obama a fourth quarter player, Heilemann, who first met Obama when they were both students at Harvard in the late 1980s, says that when he is required to do so, Obama turns on the jets.
“He is one of the most competitive people, and he hates the idea of being beaten by lesser people” said Heilemann. According to Heilemann, Obama views the current field of GOP contenders as “lesser people” and he does not intend to lose to one of them.
The Obama team knows that holding on to the White House will be tough. Their strategy will be to redirect the vote next November from being a referendum on Obama’s first four years into a “choice election” that frames the contest as Obama being the “lesser of two evils” and the GOP challenger as an “unacceptable choice,” said Heilemann.
If Gingrich emerges as the nominee, the authors say may see a third-party centrist candidate come forward, someone like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Americans Elect is a non-partisan direct nominating organization working to advance the prospect of a third-party presidential candidate.
Although many people have concerns that a third-party candidate would dilute the Republican votes and hand the election to Obama, Heilemann sees a third-party candidacy as a complicating factor for Obama at this time.
In addition to speculating on the outcomes of the Iowa caucus and the races that follow, Halperin offered five criticisms that Iowans must address to get it right for 2016.
- There was little organized planning to protect Iowa’s first in the nation status. Iowa’s governor and political leadership must step up to insure that the process of the Iowa Caucuses is respected by other states in order for Iowa to hold on to its position.
- Iowa needs to hold the candidates who participate in the Iowa Caucuses responsible to not campaign in states that try to jump ahead of the set caucus and primary calendar.
- It is not enough for Iowa to want to be first just because Iowa has been first for the past three decades. Iowa’s message needs to be that Iowa is first because Iowans take this process seriously and do the hard work of running candidates through the gauntlet.
- This year’s town hall meetings with candidates have not been as memorable as in years past. They have not been as long or as “freewheeling.” Candidates need to be asked hard questions and challenged by people who are well informed and who follow the process closely.
- Iowa needs more civic, religious and business events to debate the issues with the candidates. There is time between now and 2016 to organize and build a more robust infrastructure. Iowa needs to take the process more seriously to prepare for the next round of caucuses.
Friday morning’s event, which drew a crowd of a hundred people, was organized by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs as part of the Caucus Iowa Speakers Series and was sponsored by the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, and the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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