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January 6th, 2012

Iowa Caucuses 2012: Losers Edition

Kent Sorenson:

State Senator Kent Sorenson did irreparable harm to his reputation in the final days of the 2012 caucus campaign.  Sorenson, who served as Bachmann’s campaign chairman in Iowa, stood by his candidate at a stop in Indianola on Wednesday afternoon December 28th, but a few hours later, he was on Ron Paul’s stage endorsing the Texas Congressman.  Sorenson’s decision to wait until the final hour made him look like he was a rat jumping off a sinking ship, but his decision to not tell Bachmann or the campaign about his decision was also in poor taste.

In his speech announcing his switch to Paul from Bachmann, Sorenson told the crowd and the media that he was doing so because he felt that Paul was the only candidate who could defeat Mitt Romney.  Sorenson then spent the next few days bashing Rick Santorum in a number of nasty robo calls.  Santorum lost by just eight votes and on caucus night was the only one who could have beat Romney.

Late on caucus night Sorenson tweeted, “While I didn’t support him, I am hoping Santorum pulls out the win over Romney.”  Really?

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP):

AARP was very visible in Iowa during the 2012 caucus contest.  They had a big tent on the grounds of the Iowa Straw Poll, sponsored debate spin rooms and the media center in Des Moines, and they mailed their members a DVD voter guide.  The only problem is that the voter guide doesn’t include Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum.

Romney chose not to participate in the project and Santorum wasn’t invited because he didn’t break the five percent national poll average threshold.  AARP is allowed to set whatever criteria they wish, but the fact that the top two candidates in Iowa didn’t participate shows that their materials didn’t impact the race at all.  Furthermore, as they plan to distribute it to their members in other early states it’s even more worthless since it includes Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, who are both already out of the race.

Congressman Steve King:

Talk about a tease.  Congressman Steve King used his position as the conservative standard barer in Iowa to weigh heavily on the caucus process.  Candidates such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum attended fundraisers for the Congressman’s re-election campaign over the last couple of years.  King’s Conservative Principles PAC helped kick off the campaign season when Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Haley Barbour.  King also helped moderate a debate between some of the candidates in South Carolina as well as the Lincoln-Douglas debate between Gingrich and Cain in Texas.

Perhaps nobody in Iowa had more access to the candidates than Congressman King,  and yet, he was unable to make a decision.  Just hours before the caucuses, he explained that his heart and head just were not in the same place.  While King couldn’t come to a conclusion, his new congressional district sure did.  Rick Santorum won 33 out of the 39 counties in the district.

King makes hay with all of the attention that the caucuses bring, but by not endorsing, his sway in caucus politics has waned.  It’s somewhat disturbing that none of Iowa’s federal elected officials endorsed a candidate.  The caucuses are all about participation, but it seems like most of the top elected officials think its just about getting some attention.

Late Entrants

For two cycles in a row now we have seen candidates try to jump into the presidential race after the Iowa Straw Poll and fail miserably.  In both cases, the advisors for Fred Thompson in 2008 and Rick Perry in 2012 thought they were such seasoned politicians that they didn’t need any time to hone their skills by traveling the back roads in Iowa.  They were wrong.

In most cases, campaigning in Iowa makes a candidate stronger.  The Perry campaign reminded me of a kid cramming for a test.  After procrastinating for months, he worked his ass off for two week.  He got better, but he still couldn’t finish near the top of his class.

The Tea Party:

The Tea Party movement in Iowa had absolutely no impact on the caucuses.  Iowa has never had a strong Tea Party due to a variety of reasons, but one would have thought that the caucuses would help change that.   It didn’t.  Michele Bachmann was the clear Tea Party favorite early on.  Tea Party of Iowa Chairman Ryan Rhodes worked for her campaign, but she finished in last place.  It’s not Rhodes’ fault she did so poorly.  To his credit, he stuck by Bachmann’s side when others deserted her.  Still, Bachmann was the Tea Party darling in Congress and basically got no love on caucus day.

Other Tea Party leaders supported candidates who have admitted that they supported TARP.  Since the Tea Party movement in America was born in opposition to TARP, is seems odd that they would find a home there.  That’s especially true since they publically denounced an Iowa Congressional candidate because he once worked for Wells Fargo, who took TARP dollars.

Strong America Now:

Strong America Now went all out in Iowa.  They hired staff, put on huge events, bussed people to the Iowa Straw Poll, and ran television ads.  It was an impressive outfit, but it unwisely saddled up with one candidate, Newt Gingrich, who finished a distant fourth place on caucus night.  Gingrich was by far the most vocal support of the group, so the group’s support of him wasn’t out of line.  Yet, since they gave three candidates “A” grades, it seemed odd that they would back just one candidate.  Had they just focused on attacking Mitt Romney, the one candidate who would not sign their pledge, they could have helped propel all of their candidates.

The Iowa Straw Poll:

Some of my fondest political memories involve the Iowa Straw Poll, but like many others, I think the time has come to replace it with something else.  The event does help Iowa winnow the field, but the argument could be made that it not only knocked out Tim Pawlenty, but it basically bankrupted Michele Bachmann, too.

There are other ways to conduct major events that people would look forward to and that candidates wouldn’t feel pressured to commit to win or feel the need to bypass the event.  Iowa Republicans should put their heads together now and figure out what to do next.  The event has become too costly and thus unwelcoming to some candidates.

Polk County Convention Center/Greater Des Moines Partnership:

Speaking of costly.  The Republican Party of Iowa made the decision not to coordinate the caucus media center.  The media center is a headache in itself and also costs a lot of money.  The reason why the parties like to have it is because it’s nice to have a place where the media can congregate.

With the Iowa GOP out, The Greater Des Moines Partnership organized it.  That was good, but they didn’t heed the advice from both political parties who told them not to try to make money off of the event.  Prices were so high that media outlets couldn’t afford to have their journalists work out of there.  In some cases they would credential just one person from their organization while the rest worked out of hotel rooms.

Four years ago, the media center was beehive of activity.  This year it was pretty sleepy.  It’s too bad – the media center can be a really cool place, but it was pretty drab this year.

Ron Paul:

For the first time ever, Ron Paul actually lost.  It’s always difficult to assign expectations to Paul because his supporters are so unique that he’s almost impossible to beat.  The Paul supporters thought they were going to win and win big.  It didn’t happen.  In his speech Paul told his supporters, “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”  I agree, but they all expected more than a distant third place finish.

House Leadership Endorsements:

Both Speaker of the Iowa House Kraig Paulsen and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer endorsed Newt Gingrich.  In a year where endorsements were hard to come by, those two endorsements were some of the biggest to be had.  Still, it didn’t matter.  Gingrich failed to win one county, including the counties where Paulsen and Upmeyer live.

Mitt Romney:

It’s difficult to say that the guy who won the caucuses is a looser, but hear me out.  While Romney ignored and downplayed Iowa for most of the last two years, he came in big at the end and played to win.  His campaign also expected to win big.  Romney was set to deliver a big speech.  The teleprompters were set up at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, but were taken down at the last minute.   Regardless of the final vote, Santorum was the winner on caucus night.  And the fact that Romney couldn’t give the speech he intended to give is all the evidence you need to understand he was a loser on Tuesday night.

Steve Deace:

You might not know this, but Steve Deace is a big deal.  The syndicated radio show host was on CNN the day after the caucuses trying to explain what happened to Gingrich.  Deace said that one of Gingrich’s people told him that they thought Deace’s endorsement saved Gingrich from finishing in fifth place.  He then said, “Folks have to keep in mind that I had one radio program between the time I endorsed him and the time we went to the caucuses.”

I understand that Gingrich’s statements on reigning in the courts were the key to Deace’s endorsement of Newt, but it still didn’t jive with his previous actions.  Deace also had a confusing moment when he tweeted about Herman Cain being inappropriate with a member of his staff, but then refused to talk about it in the press.

Many people credited Deace for Huckabee’s big win in the 2008, and rightfully so.  The aid he gave Huckabee and the constant bashing of Romney surely made a difference, but after seeing what Rick Santorum was able to do with basically no help from Deace, we now must question what impact Deace really had four years ago.  Once thing is certain – not being on WHO Radio this cycle limited his influence greatly.

Photo by Dave Davidson –


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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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