When will the caucus campaigns begin in earnest?
Questions like these have been debated to death at local coffee shops and in newspaper columns for months now. It’s understandable for Iowans and the media to ask these types of questions, but what these people are really pondering has nothing to do with when the caucus campaigning starts. What they are really waiting for is when the frontrunner is going to be ordained so that the 2012 caucus picture comes a bit more into focus.
I believe that those who are awaiting the arrival of the frontrunner, the one candidate that all others can be measured against, might be waiting for something that will never arrive. While an ordained frontrunner would make things easier from the reporting side of things, I’m convinced that this race does not, and probably will never have a frontrunner until the final moments of the caucus campaign.
At some point Iowans and media cannot wait around any longer. As a kid, my parents would threaten to leave without my brothers and me if we were doodling around right before the family was to hit the road. In regards to the caucuses, some candidates like Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum have been patiently waiting in the car for moths now to make sure it doesn’t leave without them.
Other candidates like Mitt Romney and Ron Paul might not have run to the car like the other three did, but they have been through this routine before. They will either know how long they can wait it out until the car actually pulls out of the drive, or in the case of Romney, might have alternate transportation already in place.
Like my parents, I’ve decided that its time to get on the road.
To be honest, there is no better time to declare the start of the 2012 caucus campaign than today since exactly one year from now, barring any minor date changes, Iowans will go to their caucuses to show their support of their preferred candidate.
Not only are we exactly one year out from the caucuses, but also later this week is the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is referred to as CPAC. Even though some social conservatives have criticized the event in recent years, it is my belief that the entire 2012 presidential field will be there to address the conference. That also means that the field of candidates doesn’t include Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin.
Throughout the day, I will count down the top ten caucus contenders from number ten to number one. It is important to realize that the ranking of the candidates is based on both their potential and what they have already began to put in place for their potential campaigns.
Anyone who underestimates Gingrich does so at his or her own peril. Gingrich seems to be built for the type of campaigning that the caucuses require. His knowledge of issues and the endless policy proposals that he has developed over years make him better prepared to do the one-on-one campaigning in Iowa than any of his likely opponents. These traits will also benefit him in the numerous presidential debates that will take place between now and the caucuses.
The number two spot might seem a little high for a candidate that only began to flirt with a caucus run about a month ago, but Bachmann is a unique candidate. Unlike the other candidates on this list, Bachmann will appeal to both social conservatives and tea party activists. If she runs, it’s easy to see her doing really well in Iowa. She has proven herself to be an astute fundraiser. She raised $13.2 million in 2010. That’s as much as Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, and Duncan Hunter raised for their 2008 presidential campaigns combined. It’s also almost as much as Huckabee raised for his entire campaign. That figure is also more that Speaker John Boehner raised in for his congressional campaign in the 2010 cycle.
While Iowans are comfortable with him and his Midwest roots allow him to relate well with Iowans, Pawlenty lacks a natural caucus constituency that is necessary if you want to win Iowa. In many ways, Pawlenty should appeal to most caucus goers. He’s pro-life, a proven tax cutter, and has shown the ability to be successful in a state that is difficult for Republicans. Yet, he doesn’t own the pro-life issues like a candidate like Rick Santorum does, he’s not going to be the big idea guy like Newt Gingrich will be, and he can’t take credit for the RGA’s 2010 victories like Haley Barbour will. You get the picture.
Romney invested millions of dollars and countless hours in Iowa during his 2008 campaign. His early Iowa strategy not only worked, it worked extremely well. Romney went from being a second tier candidate in late 2006 and early 2007, to a formidable challenger in the summer, to the national frontrunner by the fall. Romney’s problem was that he peaked too early. As we all know, Romney suffered a big loss in Iowa to Mike Huckabee, which was followed by a loss to John McCain New Hampshire.
Keep an eye on Rick Santorum. The way that the 2012 presidential field is shaping up, Santorum may find himself with very little competition when it comes to signing up Iowa’s numerous social conservative voters. There will be a huge void created if Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin don’t run in 2012, and those votes could easily go to a candidate like Santorum.
Paul finished fifth in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, but only a few thousand votes behind John McCain and Fred Thompson. Had Paul been better organized and focused on building a grassroots caucus mechanism sooner, it’s likely that he could have finished in the top three, which would have been a huge boost for his campaign.
Besides Speaker of the House John Boehner, it would be hard to find another Republican who had a better night on November 2nd than Haley Barbour did as the head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Under Barbour’s guidance, the RGA invested millions of dollars in races all across the county and celebrated many victories.
His proposed truce on social issues didn’t set will with social conservatives. Even thought Daniels has a solid prolife record, his call for a truce has put such a sour taste in the mouths of those who have been fighting for life and traditional marriage that Daniels is going to be treated like he’s a pro-choice candidate. To some extent, this was the case for Ron Paul in 2008, who’s anti-war foreign policy made some people believe that he was liberal on social issues.
There is little doubt that Iowa caucus goers will be attracted to his values and demeanor. It also doesn’t hurt that he looks like he comes out of central casting. He just looks like what you think a president should look like. While Thune has a lot of things going for him, he voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the fall of 2008. It is very likely that Thune will be the only candidate to have voted for TARP. That’s not a position that’s going to endear one’s self with conservatives and tea party activists in Iowa.
Even though it’s hard to see a scenario where Cain wins the Iowa caucuses, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to see him making a impact in them. Candidates with no prior elected experience have done well in the Iowa caucuses. Pat Robertson (1988), Pat Buchanan (1996), and Steve Forbes (2000) each took home second place finishes in the caucuses. In fact, in 2000, 53 percent of the caucus vote went to candidates that had never held elected office (Forbes, Alan Keyes, and Gary Bauer).
As always, feel free to discuss, speculate, or disagree in the comment section.
Photos by Dave Davidson
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