Monday, November 15, 2010

Iowa Caucuses: A 2012 Preview

The general election is over for 2010.  We here in Iowa have a new old Governor and huge new majority in the Iowa House of Representatives.  In all probability, given even minimal leadership from the top, we probably can gain functional control of the 26-24 Senate.  The opportunities to save our state abound.

Nothing in all of these changes is of much interest to anyone who does not live in Iowa.  Of course the people beyond our borders find Iowa most interesting in quadrennial odd years for one very big reason:  the Iowa Caucuses.  As we enter 2011 we are even now preparing for the 2012 Caucuses.  Presidential candidates will soon be as plentiful as the deer the roam our highways.

In 2008 former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took the caucus beauty pageant in a huge upset of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Huckabee became a major player in Iowa off the strength of his close second place finish in the 2007 Ames Straw Poll. 

The landscape has not changed all that much.........or has it?

Mitt continues to enjoy strong support from the Republican moderate establishment (read Branstad/Gross faction).  The Governor will dictate the RPI Chairman and will hire and place the staff at RPI which staff, in turn, will run the Straw Poll.  That faction will provide Mitt with a huge institutional advantage.  Back in 2007, when almost the entire SCC voted for Huck (including some pretty well known and long time establishment moderates), the finance staff-who heard the real master's voice-floated, albeit briefly, the idea of refusing to sell game day tickets to the Huck campaign.  While that idea was a non-starter in 2007, in the entirely new environment that exists today there is every reason to believe that the institutional ruling clique will provide Mitt with every possible organizational advantage.  Otherwise nothing has really changed.  Mitt is the same attractive, likeable if malleable, candidate.  Cautious as ever, Mitt has done nothing since 2008 to gain or lose a vote in Iowa.  Mitt has a strong following and they will turn out for Caucus 2012.

Of course, even those institutional advantages have limited value in a democratic system.  Huck also has a powerful and developed Iowa operation.   The Huckabee organization largely supported Bob VanderPlaats in the last primary.  The 50% of the GOP primary electorate that did not vote for Governor Branstad will make up about 80% (give or take a few points-mostly based on weather) of the Caucus turnout.  Where Huck had a shoe string operation in '07, should he venture north (or is it south now that he is a Fox News celebrity?) in 2011 he will have a large, well financed organization with which to battle the other Iowa GOP establishment.  Huck's organization will be every bit as strong as the Branstad/Gross organization for caucus purposes.  The biggest joke of all is the media canard that Huck can't play in the city.  About half of his 2008 margin was in Polk County, Iowa's only real metropolitan area.  Huck's profile has increased substantially and he will be more formidable in 2012 than 2008.

Two wild cards exist.

The first wild card is, of course, Sarah Palin.  No politician in the United States enjoys Sarah's current celebrity status.  The 2010 cycle showed that Sarah has the staying power that comes from conviction-and we haven't seen a true conviction politician since, uh......1980?  Sarah has married that conviction to a genius for promotion that is reminiscent of early Brian Epstein.  Sarah appears to have no organization in Iowa.  She is also saddled with the last minute endorsement of Governor Branstad-a bitter pill for those saw her as a "Tea Party" candidate willing to take on the establishment.  That endorsement will also provide ammunition to the Huck campaign who will seek to portray her as something other than a tried and true social conservative.

Sarah's campaign will be based on something new, an internet driven outreach on behalf of an already known megastar.   Simply look at the crowds she draws and you have the answer to the question: but how does she sell in Des Moines?  She sells great.  RPI can't fill a 400 person room with 200 freebies for the other contenders (Mitt, Huck, Timmy P, Newt et al) but can draw 1500 for Sarah-and that's a 1500 that mostly represents the 20% of the Party that would never support her but would still pay to see her.  If Sarah continues to display the leadership, courage and conviction that she displayed throughout the last cycle it is highly likely that her celebrity will simply swamp her opponents, here in Iowa and pretty much everywhere else.  People want change and Sarah represents the change they want.

Newt is holding the second wild card-for an entirely different reason.  Everyone knows that Newt is the most brilliant, creative and articulate pol we've got-and by "we" I mean the country.  You might not like him but only the most blind of all hatred would seek to deny Newt's obvious genius and clarity of expression.  Of course, we all know Newt, all too well.  We've seen the divorces, the questionable business deals, the whole nine yards, and we've seen it in HD for 16 years.  The simple fact is the average person just does not relate to Newt and the insipid national media has only animosity for this rare genius.

But history may well yet have it's role to play in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses and history breaks for Newt.  The lunacy of the Obama fiscal policy coupled with the inflationary incompetence of the Bernanke monetary policy has taken the already weakened economy of January 2009 from troubled to terrifying.  We are perched on the edge of hyper inflation and the potential for a Jimmy Carter type of depression-years of slow/no growth, massive unemployment, full collapse of most large industries, etc...  Similarly, we are one big explosion away from the War on Terror becoming WW III for real.  The bad guys still want to kill us.  Our current President appears content to appease Iran, and that may leave a big war in Iran as the only option to contain the mullah's nuclear ambitions by the time the next President takes office in January of 2013.

If the bottom falls out of the world, and we are in a depression at home or a big shooting war in Iran or elsewhere, Iowans, like Americans everywhere, may be so frightened that they will overlook all those personal traits of Newt's that they have been taught to dislike and give the really smart guy a chance. 

The other players, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, John Thune and dreamers everywhere, appear to be auditioning for the number two spot (or perhaps a Fox News program) as they journey through Iowa.   The two governors, Pawlenty and Daniels, have particularly good stories to tell, and both will hopefully play a big role in the nation's future.  (Pawlenty probably will never be President but he could do the world a lot of good by eliminating either of the two socialist Senators that befoul Minnesota's Congressional delegation.)  That future just isn't going to be POTUS XVL.

History may prove me wrong; it does happen you know, albeit infrequently and they do play the games on the field and not the odds maker's offices.  This game should be exciting.

1 comment:

RF said...

A smart guy in today's GOP? - Ain't gonna happen!

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