From the Iowa Caucus
by Tom Donelson on May 21, 2011 at 11:11 AM
Sitting in the Hawkeye state and home of the first caucus, I get the opportunity to see candidates up front and personal. If you want to know why folks are excited about Herman Cain, just spend an evening with him, and you will know why. There is just a presence about the man. He has the crowd rocking. You had people saying Amen and you almost felt you were at an evangelical revival; and when he stated, “In America, you have a right to succeed!” and the place exploded. Cain has a way to connect with the grassroots, a skill that very few politicians have, and this man is a rookie but as he stated when a reporter asked him why start his political career with a Presidential run, “I climbed up the business ladder, but I don’t have time to climb the Presidential ladder!”
There is a movement afoot to recruit Chris Christie as many Iowa major money men, led by Bruce Rasteller (who worked with governor Terry Branstad's recent campaign), are preparing a trek to recruit the New Jersey Governor. Obviously there is much dissatisfaction with the present candidates, but it is early in the election season and sometimes a candidate looks good from afar. Christie won’t get in the race if Daniels does, and if Daniels does jumped in; Christie will support his follow governor. (If Daniels does not get in the race, then look for Christie to do so.)
Speaking of candidates in the will he or won’t he category, while many in the Washington establishment want Mitch Daniels, how long will it take before the media attacks Daniels as a right wing extremist? How about five minutes after he announces. This guy has introduced health saving accounts among state workers while taming union bargaining rights among teachers, cut the budget and least I forget, defunded Planned Parenthood while calling for a truce on social issues. So Mitch Daniels may be moderate in temperament, but his record is of a man on the right, not the center. This will give the media and Democrats plenty of ammunition.
The Iowa caucus is one of those unique events that begins almost immediately after the Presidential election, as anyone who wants to be President treks to Iowa, and the media follows. For many in Iowa, the caucus has several goals, the first being to protect ethanol and farm subsidies, the second; Iowa gets extra attention that won’t occur during the general election and the third, it's good for tourism. Let face it, going to Iowa in December and January is hardly paradise; unless you like snow and cold. So every four years, every media personality comes to Iowa to pay homage to Iowans and we Iowans love the attention. For years, many have criticized having Iowa being the jumping point of the Presidential campaign and with good reason; and while Iowa does not predict the winner, it does weed out the competition. After Iowa, we will have a two or three man race, or maybe I should say, a two or three man or woman race; keeping Michele Bachmann in mind.
Newt Gingrich's presidential aspiration have blown up before they began. Gingrich's criticism of Ryan’s budget has ended his shot of winning Iowa or any other primary as one Iowa Republican told Mr. Gingrich, “You’re an embarrassment to our Party, why don’t you quit now before you make a bigger fool of yourself.”
Gingrich is doing an Iowa tour after his Presidential, but most of the tour has been dragged down in his statement and subsequent apology, which is not a great way to begin a campaign. While some observers like Dick Morris view this as only a setback, I view this as Armageddon for the Gingrich campaign and I don’t see it going beyond August. Hopefully, he has chance to get his old job back with Fox.
Iowa is a state where underdogs can make breakthroughs. In 2008, Mike Huckabee made his breakthrough in Iowa, and this allowed him to last into the spring before McCain wrapped up the race. The most famous underdog who made it out of Iowa was Jimmy Carter, who changed the rules of the nomination by winning Iowa and going on to become President. It was Carter who made Iowa the mainstay for politicians seeking the White House since he showed that an underdog can boost his or her chances and Iowa does have some advantages for a guerrilla campaign. It is a small state that is inexpensive to campaign in compared to other states plus there is plenty of political activists willing to do grunt work of going door to door. It is easier for candidates to meet with voters, even though this is starting to change.
If Carter’s victory emphasized Iowa's importance to an underdog campaign, Steve Forbes used his wealth to attempt to win the Iowa Caucus with an ad war to win the caucus. Forbes in both 1996 and 2000 used his wealth to buy up ads and this promoted the caucus to beyond candidates meeting with Iowans in homes to candidates speaking in front of large audience.
In 2000, Dan Quayle had a meeting in front of 50 people in an activist’s home but Cain's recent performance were conducted in a hotel convention center in front of 250 party regulars. So some of the retail politics have been lost, but there is still much retail politics going on and this does allow candidates to see how their lines work among audiences. For candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, Iowa offers an inexpensive chance to make an impression and get into the race. In 2008, nearly 110,000 Iowans showed up for the caucus, and what wins is who has the best ground game in Iowa. Underdogs can compete with better financed candidates with a ground game. Huckabee depended upon evangelicals to carry his message and upset Romney and McCain while Iowa ended the Fred Thompson campaign.
As the caucus progresses, I will keep readers informed.