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March 1st, 2011

TIR Focus Group: Palin is Unelectable; Healthcare Spells Major Trouble for Romney

By Kevin Hall

The Iowa, in conjunction with McClatchy newspapers, assembled a small group of conservative activists last week for a focus group.  The main topic, naturally, was the upcoming 2012 Iowa Caucus.  The group was unanimous, or near unanimous, on several topics.  The most interesting conclusion is that most of them believe Sarah Palin is unelectable.

All but one of the focus group member felt Palin could not beat President Obama.  That is a key factor in determining who they will support in the Iowa Caucus.  The group concurred that Palin stepping down as Alaska’s governor midway through her term represents a major problem.  Although Palin certainly had solid reasons for doing so, explaining that to voters will not be easy.  The field appears it will be stacked with governors who finished more than one term, so Palin will have a difficult time matching her leadership abilities with theirs.  Although most members of the focus group like Sarah Palin, they do not view her as “presidential”.

The attendees, including a diehard Mitt Romney supporter, also agreed that healthcare could doom Romney’s candidacy.  He must come up with a credible explanation for his support and implementation of statewide healthcare mandates in Massachusetts.   Romney has avoided talking about the issue so far.  The group loathes Obamacare and feels Romney will have little chance of winning the GOP nomination unless he is able to capably distance himself from the similar plan he installed in Massachusetts.  “Until he man’s up on healthcare, he moves way down the list,” said Ryan Frederick, 25, of Orient.

Connie Schmett, from Clive, supported Mitt Romney in 2008 and is confident he will be able to explain his reasons for instituting the precursor to ObamaCare.  However, Schmett concedes that she is not sure what his explanation will entail.  “He’s got to come out and make a statement,” Schmett says.  “What that’s going to be, I don’t know.”

This is by no means a scientific poll, nor intended to reflect the intent of a majority of GOP caucus goers.  It is, however, representative of a group spanning various demographics, occupations, and points of view.  The group consisted of Republicans from Polk, Madison, Guthrie and Adair counties.  The ages ranged from 19 years old to 65-plus, with an equal number of men and women.  The occupations varied widely, including a retiree, college student, marine, massage therapist, lobbyist, and farmer.  The college student was too young to vote in 2008.  The other five focus group members backed five different candidates in the last Iowa Caucus.

Four of the six attendees say they have no idea who they will vote for in 2012.  The other two are backing the same candidates they backed in 2008.  Jill Ellsworth, of Urbandale, will support Ron Paul again.  She says the main thing she looks for in a presidential candidate is a “problem solver and someone with a fiscal brain.”  She also considers healthcare and state sovereignty major issues.  For Ellsworth, Dr. Paul meets the criteria.

Stan Gustafson, of Cumming, is a retired marine.  He is looking for a strong leader and believes a strong foreign policy will be a necessity for the next President.  Foreign policy experience, however, is not a prerequisite.  “Ronald Reagan didn’t have any, but he was smart enough to get good people around him,” Gustafson said.  “He was a strong leader and basically won the cold war. “  Gustafson says the ongoing upheavals in the Middle East will greatly test the next President and he is looking for a candidate who will be able to handle the looming crisis.

Other conclusions from the Focus Group:

-Mike Huckabee will be the odds-on favorite to win the Iowa Caucus if he runs

-None of the likely 2012 candidates that did not run last time have made much headway.  However, two members of the group have Mitch Daniels at or near the top of their list.

-Despite numerous visits to Iowa, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is not connecting with voters so far.  Two of the attendees who have seen Pawlenty speak more than once feel he lacks the charisma necessary to win.

-Rick Santorum stands little chance of emerging victorious.  “He is the Sam Brownback of the 2012 election,” said one attendee.  “He will be everywhere, all over Iowa, visiting 300 times, and wind up having 12 people in Decatur County caucus for him.”

The focus group members all seem to be looking for something different in their next President.  If you could combine the attendees’ top issues to create one ideal candidate, here is what he/she would look like:  A strong military leader, sprinkled with a dash of Ron Paul’s monetary views, mixed with an entitlement reformer, stirring in innovation on energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, blended together with a social conservative viewpoint, and splashed with a heavy dose of charisma.  Bake it for a few hours and come up with someone who has electability.     If a candidate can emerge with all those assets, he/she will appeal to a wide swath of Iowa caucus goers and be in prime position to win the GOP nomination.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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