Winners, losers and what’s up with Ron Paul?
Today Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) probably had her biggest round of media exposure since the 2012 presidential campaign started, appearing on all the major networks this morning celebrating her victory in the Iowa Straw Poll. Gov. Rick Perry had his media day yesterday, announcing his candidacy at the RedState Gathering in South Carolina. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, realizing he was going to show poorly in Iowa, headed to New Hampshire to show some love to the other early primary state. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) came barreling through the Straw Poll, losing to Bachmann by around 150 votes and possibly giving energy to his legions of young supporters who helped make his name known in 2008. Finally, former Governor Tim Pawlenty, realizing his campaign was beginning to run on fumes with no gas station in sight, decided to drop out of the campaign this morning. Wow, and we’re only in August.
To start with, the Iowa Straw Poll is a very unique event in a state that’s becoming more and more critical in the US presidential election cycle. The event is a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party and operates in a very unique way. You buy a ticket to cast a ballot so most campaigns will buy blocks of tickets to cut the barrier for voting. The campaigns also drive people to the event and host concerts (Michele Bachmann had Randy Travis) to try to influence voters to cast their votes for them. The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines has become so political if you attend you have to be ready to state your opinion to reporters. So how did the candidates end up after the event was over?
Bachmann was the winner of the poll but only by around 150 votes over Paul. The Bachmann campaign purchased 6,000 tickets to hand out to voters and included a Randy Travis concert in the mix. Of course there was food and other things to keep voters entertained. In the end, she garnered 4,823 votes or 28.55%. Bachmann played her connection to the state she was born in and appealed to the conservative Republican voters in the state which seems to trend more conservative than others. If you’re a social and fiscal conservative you fare well with Iowa Republicans. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Republican Caucus in 2008. However, the state trends Democratic, with 54% going to Pres. Barack Obama.
Bachmann’s performance during the Straw Poll debate on Friday helped bolster her position with conservatives across the nation. Bachmann trotted out several points that she is leading efforts in Congress to repeal Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank bill, and has taken strong socially conservative positions against homosexuals and abortion. However, when quizzed on the Sunday shows regarding her position that gays she took some interesting positions on the matter. According to The Advocate she “tried to dodge questions about her views on gay and lesbian people by insisting to Meet The Press that “I don’t judge them,” but her evasive answers suggested that marriage equality, adoption rights for same-sex couples and even serving in the White House would not be options under a Bachmann administration.”
Looking at the rest of the field Ron Paul was probably the biggest surprise of the day, coming in second in the poll and trailed Bachmann by around 150 votes. There’s a good chance that had Perry been on the ballot Paul could have won the Straw Poll and the story Sunday would have been entirely different. Paul is a unique candidate in that he exhibits conservative positions on some matters but somewhat liberal positions on other matters, following a libertarian position that can sometimes be at odds with social conservatives.
In some ways, Paul could become the true rogue of this election cycle and could create some interesting dynamics as we move forward. Most likely Paul will not win the nomination. However, he could jump out of the Republican race and run as a 3rd party or independent candidate. That could change the dynamics of November, much like Ross Perot did in 1992 or Ralph Nader in 2000. I would suspect that Ron Paul will ride the Republican path as far as he can, leveraging it to keep a national voice through the process. It makes sense and would be a great strategy as long as the money is there. Thanks to his great social media and Internet strategy that will probably not be a problem.
Tim Pawlenty bowed out of the race, citing financial issues as one of the reasons for halting his campaign. Early campaigns usually rely on local money at the state level, leveraging people who have been with them from the start of their political races. Pawlenty was probably competing with Bachmann for money from Minnesota. Pawlenty’s financial problems have been cited on several occasions going into Saturday and finishing a distant third did not bode well for further chances of raising funds. In the debate exchanges with Bachmann on Friday night, you could get a sense of a campaign in desperation.
Romney chose to head to New Hampshire instead of actively competing in the Straw Poll. Seeing polling numbers with Bachmann in the lead at 25% to his 21%, Romney didn’t want a repeat of 2008 when he invested a lot of money in Iowa only to come in second to Huckabee in the Iowa caucus. Iowa’s social conservative Republican base would probably not give him any more love than it did in 2008 so he decided to give his love to a state he should easily win, New Hampshire.
Romney can’t stay out of Iowa though. As one of the lead states in the primary process, he will have to come back to the state to compete and figure out a way to keep his message in front of the voters. Using NH only as his platform will not be enough. He’s also going to have to hone a better message for Iowa voters, having experienced a serious message misstep labeling corporations as “people.” It was a good dialogue with the Iowa voter but the media found its sound bite and ran with it, something a lot of people don’t view favorably in this day and age.
Then there’s the entry of Gov. Rick Perry to the Republican field. We all knew he was going to jump in, the question was just when. As I stated in an entry earlier this year, we’d find out on Perry’s schedule. Perry has flirted with the idea of running for president since last year but added another year of being governor to his resume, dealing with a state budget that started out $27 billion in the hole. After much blood-letting and Perry making “conservative” choices to keep his resume looking good, the Texas budget was passed with some help from the Rainy Day Fund, against Perry’s protests (you have to keep that conservative look all the way to the end).
Perry is a master at communications and timing and, after coming off his evangelical pep rally in Houston, Perry decided to make the jump into the race in probably one of the most competitive ways you could come up with this early in the race. While the rest of the field was duking it out among pigs and corn at the Iowa State Fair and later at the Straw Poll, Perry staged his coming out party in front of the RedState Gathering filled with conservative bloggers. The timing was great, since it pulled media attention on the day of the Straw Poll away from Iowa and to him alone in South Carolina. From there he traveled to New Hampshire to keep Perry Media Tour going in another early primary state.
Perry knows this is his last weekend of truly controlling the message. This past gubernatorial race he literally set the media pace and story by either cutting out reporters or refusing to debate. He did it because he could. But that all changed on Saturday afternoon when he entered the national stage of candidates. Now he has to be at every debate Romney or Bachmann are in and has to be more accessible to the media or his message gets lost in the fray.
Finally there’s the non-candidate who’s been running for president since 2008 – Sarah Palin. Palin couldn’t miss the fun and made an appearance in Iowa to be around voters. She’s still not in the race but still speaks like a candidate. RedState reported yesterday that Palin has all but announced that she’s not running. Palin said in the article “At the same time, I want to be very fair to supporters and not keep them hanging on in perpetuity. It’s fair to them to give them an answer here, in short order, so that they can jump on board with someone else. And/or to decide for themselves what they want to do. So, still haven’t made up my mind, haven’t decided when that announcement would be yet.”
Time is running out for Palin, especially if the field has two strong conservatives in it already. With Perry in the race, I’m sure Palin is becoming more frustrated about entering and is focusing more on selling herself and her books. Palin knows that by creating speculation she keeps the value of her media portfolio up. But something will have to give by the September/October timeframe or people will write her off themselves.
As for the rest of the field, it’s probably ready to call the ball and drop out. From this point forward the media is really only going to focus on Perry, Paul, Romney, and Bachmann when it comes to the main slots. Continuing to campaign from here on out would probably be more about ego than putting together a true campaign. They still get their media voice and that may be the only reason they stay in the race. But for the media to consider them worthy to listen means they’ll have to keep some expensive campaign operations running. Cain is probably the only one able to do that. The rest are most likely running on fumes at this point.
Tonight Perry is taking the fight to Bachmann’s birthplace of Waterloo, IA at the annual Blackhawk County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner. Bachmann originally didn’t have that event on her schedule but now has decided to go to Waterloo to thank the people of Waterloo, but only deciding to do so after Wednesday. If Perry was going to be in her hood she couldn’t miss the opportunity.
From this point forward the Republican race will become more interesting and provide lots to write on and it’s only August.