Iowa’s two most prized endorsements remain up for grabs as Congressman Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats continue to ponder which GOP candidate they should support. As these conservative leaders mull over their choices, I offer this free advice: Don’t do it. There is nothing to gain for you.
There are basically two candidates in the GOP field who fit the strict conservative mold of King and Vander Plaats. They are Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich has better poll numbers. Rick Perry has more money. However, Bachmann and Santorum are greater champions of conservative principles than Gingrich and Perry. They would face a backlash by choosing anyone other than Bachmann or Santorum.
I have no doubt that the backing of King and BVP could boost any candidate’s fortunes in Iowa. I saw firsthand how much Steve King helped Fred Thompson’s lackluster campaign four years ago. It was too late to propel Thompson to a first or second place finish, but there is no doubt Thompson received more votes because of King’s influence. He reinvigorated Thompson and made the difference between a third and fourth place finish. A lot of northwest Iowa GOP activists switched their allegiance to Thompson in the final days thanks primarily to Steve King’s urging.
Likewise, Bob Vander Plaats toured every county in the state earlier this year, building a grassroots, evangelical network for a statewide campaign. The plan was always to activate that 99-county organization into helping a social conservative candidate win the Iowa Caucus. While the backing of Vander Plaats would turn off some voters, those Iowans would likely support a different presidential candidate anyway.
It is obvious that both men are having a difficult time choosing which candidate to back. Here are my reasons why Congressman King and Bob Vander Plaats should remain neutral in the GOP presidential race:
Bachmann and Santorum are unlikely to win: Those are the two candidates whose views are most in line with King and Vander Plaats. They also sit near the bottom of the polls. It’s Iowa or bust for both campaigns.
Bachmann rose and fell over the summer. Her misstatements on things ranging from Gardisil to John Wayne’s birthplace turned off voters and sent them looking elsewhere. Bachmann also does not appear to have a strong organization in Congressman King’s district in northwest Iowa and did not campaign there until October.
Despite Santorum’s 99-county tour, his poll numbers have not risen above the low single digits. An Iowa poll released Tuesday showed him at 3.3%. He has little money and is still trying to assemble a statewide organization. Santorum is the only candidate not to receive a surge of momentum in the race. Time is running out.
If the candidate they choose does not take a top-two finish in Iowa, King and Vander Plaats could be weakened politically. It will take a lot of work in a short amount of time to accomplish that for Bachmann or Santorum.
Congressman King faces a tough race next year and Vander Plaats’ credibility took a hit from the controversial “Marriage Vow” pledge. Headed into an election year, they want to maintain their status as “kingmakers”. They lose some political power if their endorsement is perceived as ineffective.
Endorsements can backfire: The first rule of endorsements is: Do no harm to yourself or the person you endorse. Conservatives still question Newt Gingrich’s backing of congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava and Santorum’s support of Arlen Specter and Christie Todd Whitman. Vander Plaats used Terry Branstad’s 2000 endorsement of Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson against him in the 2010 campaign. Sarah Palin fell out of favor with some Vander Plaats supporters when she chose Branstad over him.
Although there is no concern about Bachmann and Santorum not being conservative enough, you never know what the future holds, especially considering Bachmann’s penchant for verbal gaffes.
Angering those you don’t endorse: Steve King, in particular, is in a bind because of his friendship with congressional colleague Michele Bachmann. If he endorses someone other than her, Bachmann is likely to take it as an insult and their relationship could become strained.
Santorum was the only candidate who travelled to Iowa to help with the ouster of the Supreme Court justices, a movement spearheaded by Vander Plaats. He was also the only one to attend King’s annual fundraiser this year. Political favors are less likely to be given a second time when the first time is not rewarded.
King has publicly spoken many times about his concerns that it might look like he snubbed the rest of the field if he endorses someone. He also runs the risk of offending the Iowa Caucus winner and eventual GOP nominee. If Steve King does not back those winners, they might be less likely to help his 2012 congressional campaign.
Splitting the vote: I believe these two men could help a presidential candidate, especially if they backed the same one. However, King and Vander Plaats are not necessarily allies and I do not think they would want to share the spotlight and the credit.
If King and BVP endorse different candidates, it will be seen as a competition between them as much as a competition between the presidential hopefuls. That is likely to split the conservative vote, render both endorsements meaningless, and hand the Iowa Caucus to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.
In my opinion, it would be best for Congressman King and Bob Vander Plaats to follow the pattern of Senator Grassley, Governor Branstad and Congressman Latham. Sit this one out and let Iowans choose for themselves the best person for the job.
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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