2016 Caucus

April 7th, 2014
 

Huckabee vs. Santorum Would Be An Epic Showdown With a Bad End Result

Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates are once again descending on the First-in-the-Nation caucus state.   Rick Santorum, the 2012 caucus winner, visited the state two weeks ago, and it’s been reported that he will be back to speak at the Republican State Convention in June.  Mike Huckabee, the 2008 caucus winner, travels back to Iowa this week to speak at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event in the Des Moines area.

Huckabee has made numerous trips back to Iowa since winning the 2008 caucuses, but this time, he’s traveling back to Iowa amidst the speculation that he’s seriously considering making another presidential run in 2016.  Late last year, Huckabee ended his nationally syndicated radio program citing that the time commitment the show required as the reason why he was leaving radio. That sort of time commitment doesn’t allow time for one to travel the country and kick the tires on a potential 2016 presidential run.

Since making his exit from the radio, Huckabee has engaged in political activity that backs up his statements that he’s seriously thinking about running for president.  Huckabee participated in a “Pastors and Pews” event in Little Rock organized by David Lane and his organization, the American Renewal Project.

Huckabee’s decision to leave radio combined with an itinerary that lends itself nicely to a potential presidential campaign has the media salivating.  The 2008 Iowa Caucus winner proved to be a formidable national politician.  His blue-collar populist message allowed him to build a diverse coalition of supporters in states like Iowa, but his demeanor and ability to communicate his unique Republican message helped land him a show on Fox News Channel, which has only helped increase his name I.D. across the country.

When asked if he is open to running for president in 2016, Huckabee said, “I’m a long way from saying, ‘Yeah, I’m in’. ” Yet, he went on to say that he’s getting encouragement from “from places where I never got it before.”

If Huckabee were to seek the Republican nomination, Iowa would surely be key to his strategy.  However, Santorum is also seriously thinking about running for President again in 2016.  Some political pundits have already been contemplating the potential matchup of two heavyweight social conservatives, but not many have really delved into what that sort of campaign would look like and what the potential result would be in Iowa.

Huckabee’s Strengths:

Even though Huckabee’s Iowa victory came back in January of 2008, his bond with his Iowa supporters is as strong as ever.  One can’t overlook the fact that voters may have settled on Santorum in 2012, but they picked Huckabee in 2008.  Thus Huckabee’s support and relationship with some Iowans is just frankly stronger than it is with Santorum based by the timing and nature of his win.

Huckabee’s win in Iowa wasn’t really a surprise.  Santorum surged late – really late.  While one could feel the momentum behind his campaign in the final week of the race, Santorum only beat Romney by 34 votes.  Santorum also didn’t get the opportunity to be crowned the winner on caucus night when all eyes were on Iowa.  He had to wait two weeks before he was announced the winner, and even that was messed up.

Huckabee, on the other hand stomped, Romney in 2008.  He beat Romney by nine percentage points on caucus night.  It was the Romney campaign that was spinning the media saying that Huckabee peaked too early and they had the momentum.  The media bought the line, and while all the polls pointed to a Huckabee win, the media believed that Romney might be able to edge him out.  They were wrong.  Huckabee’s support was not only real, but it was also widespread and motivated.

Due to his television and radio shows, Huckabee has become a household name for Republicans.  Republican activists love conservative personalities on TV.  It’s why everyone from Sean Hannity to Greg Guttfeld gets invited to GOP events around the county.  The past six years have been good for Huckabee’s brand.  Should he run, he will likely be the “celebrity” in the race.  That status makes it easier to raise money and turn people out to campaign events.

Huckabee may also be the most gifted communicator the Republican Party has seen since Ronald Reagan.  Huckabee’s ability to relate to regular voters was impressive during his 2008 race, and that skill has only been sharpened with his work on radio and television.

It also doesn’t hurt that Huckabee is a former Baptist preacher.  In a state where evangelicals and social conservatives are a major voting bloc in a presidential caucus, Huckabee’s background as a pastor gives him a big advantage over Santorum.  When push comes to shove, evangelical voters are likely going to pick someone who is more like them in Huckabee than Santorum, who is an unabashed Catholic.

Santorum’s Strengths:

After reading that, you may think things look bleak for Santorum should Huckabee seek the Republican nomination in 2016.  While Huckabee’s strength is his celebrity, communication skills, and his natural connection to the state’s social conservatives and evangelical voters, Santorum has his own set of advantages that would make him a formidable candidate in 2016.

While Huckabee is a superior communicator, Santorum is an excellent debater.  The number of presidential debates has exploded in recent years, meaning that a candidates debating skills have become incredibly important.  Santorum showed a willingness to size up his opponents and go right at them when an opportunity presented it self.  The best example of this was in Florida’s CNN debate, when Santorum and Romney battled over the healthcare plan that Romney signed into law in Massachusetts.   For candidates to be successful in debates, they are going to have to be able to do what Santorum did to Romney in that Florida.

Another advantage Santorum has over Huckabee is foreign policy issues.  Huckabee has improved in this area since his 2008 campaign, but Santorum’s time in the U.S. Senate has made him well-versed in this area.  While Santorum is most often described as a social conservative, his knowledge and understanding of foreign policy issues takes a backseat to nobody.  Foreign policy isn’t necessarily always a top issue in a presidential campaign, but it is an important factor in a presidential election.

Santorum spent most of 2011 fighting for legitimacy.  That is an obstacle that he will not have to overcome in 2016 should he run again.  That fact alone should make Santorum a much better candidate in 2016 than he was in 2012.  Instead of trying to get the media’s attention, Santorum should be able to focus more on his message.   In 2012, Santorum didn’t really hone his message until his speech on caucus night.  Santorum has a new book coming out called, “Blue Collar Conservatives,” which suggests that he would continue to build on the populist message he developed after Iowa in 2012.

While Iowa may end up being the main battlefield on which Huckabee and Santorum go toe-to-toe against each other, Santorum has the advantage over Huckabee when it comes to the rest of the states.  Santorum was able to compete with Romney in almost every state, while the same can’t be said of Huckabee going up against John McCain.

An Iowa Caucus that featured both Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum would be fascinating to see, but if they both ran it is unlikely that either one of them would be victorious in Iowa.  Both Huckabee and Santorum were able to win the Iowa Caucuses in large part because they were able to unite most social conservatives and evangelicals behind their candidacies.  If they are both in the race, that voting block would be split, making it far more likely that a more moderate candidate would win the caucuses.

Seeing the last two winners of the Iowa caucuses square off against each other would make for an epic presidential caucus in Iowa, but such a battle would likely leave social conservatives disappointed at the end of the day.  We saw with our own eyes how there wasn’t room for two candidates from the same state in 2012 (i.e. Bachmann and Pawlenty).  The same holds true for candidates who appeal to the same voting bloc.


About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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