The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Iowa
For all the flack Iowa is taking about not being a representative selection process for a presidential nominee, it created some interesting outcomes that the Republican Party will be dealing with in the weeks or months to come. As I said yesterday, Iowa is not about picking winners. It’s about culling the crop of the bottom tier of candidates. But the dynamics of the Iowa campaign may have created some outcomes the Party wasn’t expecting or planning for. Most likely the folks in Chicago with the Obama campaign were just salivating watching everything play out in Iowa. They may have been handed their ticket to re-election thanks to the Iowa caucuses. So what is the Good, Bad, and Ugly of Iowa?
Let’s start with the Good of the Iowa caucuses. First of all, the field appears to be narrowing with the bottom two candidates most likely calling it quits. Iowa voters did what many of us wanted to do and that was to publicly tell both Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann they are not presidential candidate quality. Bachmann took the message to heart and suspended her campaign. Perry is coming back to Texas but appears to be continuing his campaign, at least through South Carolina. But it definitely created more of a barrier for Perry to continue. Iowa also culled Tim Pawlenty (kind of wish he would have stayed in) and Herman Cain, although his problems were bigger than Iowa.
Iowa also elevated Rick Santorum to a top tier candidate for social conservatives. Granted, he may have lucked out on timing by not having to endure a couple of weeks of scrutiny into his record. But Iowa votes held true to their values and stood behind Santorum on caucus night. The challenge for Santorum is that this late boost doesn’t give him the time to ramp up for New Hampshire or South Carolina. Santorum has get the cash flowing in and build a national campaign staff while trying to campaign hard in the Granite State. Personally I think he’s going to be challenged to accomplish those tasks.
One of the things we’ve all been waiting to see happen was how the Super PACs, those new beasts created by the Citizens United decision, would play in the campaigns. Three of the candidates, Romney, Paul, and Perry, had companion Super PACs that were well funded and helping provide negative campaign ads against the opponents. While Super PACs can provide positive ads in support of their candidate, they run more risks of crossing FEC lines. It’s actually much easier for a Super PAC to go negative, attacking the opponent without having to breach the line of collusion with the candidate.
Newt Gingrich was definitely the target of the majority of Super PAC attacks in Iowa, so much to the point that they probably contributed to his fourth place showing in the caucuses. Gingrich has his own Super PAC but apparently took a pledge to not go negative during the Iowa campaign. Going into New Hampshire I’m sure Gingrich is going to reassess that strategy and “tell the truth” in an interesting way. Santorum may be the loser in this race of the Super PACs. He’s the only candidate that doesn’t have one in his favor. He needs to funnel funds to his campaign anyway.
Probably the ugliest part of the Iowa caucuses was the fractured state of the Republican Party in terms of nominating a candidate. Granted, if you’re a Democrat you’re loving every bit of this political theater as it further weakens the candidates and their positions. But if you’re a Republican it demonstrates how fractured the party is. If you look inside the Republican Party there are four distinct factions that are trying to “get along” – traditional Republicans, Tea Party Republicans, libertarians, and social conservatives. Some of theses groups overlap at points but no one group “owns” the Republican Party mantle.
Those dynamics played out during the Iowa campaign, with the Tea Party folks shopping candidates the most. Everyone watched the anti-Romney movement take shape in Iowa, starting with Bachmann, moving to Perry, then to Cain, then to Gingrich, and finally to Santorum. The libertarian faction found their candidate in Ron Paul and locked in behind him long before any others. Unlike the Tea Party folks, who may hold their nose and vote for Romney if needed, Paul supporters are unlikely to get behind anyone but Paul. Social conservatives seem to be just looking for someone who opposes abortion and supports traditional marriage. After that, they’re pretty forgiving.
New Hampshire and Beyond
What this now means is the field is still fractured leaving Iowa, if not more. Gingrich has turned the race personal with an avowed attack planned for Romney. Gingrich said he didn’t plan to run nasty ads. “But I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative, that may be more a comment on (Romney’s) record than it is on politics,” he said in the article. The problem is Gingrich still has some baggage of his own he needs to shore up. As pointed out in an extensive Politico article Gingrich’s worst enemy appears to be himself.
Romney is the clear leader going into New Hampshire but Jon Huntsman has been anxiously waiting for him and the fight. Hunstman has been polling at 13% (Romney at 47% and Paul at 17%). There’s not a lot of time for much shifting to occur so any ground must be gained fast and with some pretty decisive actions. You can only expect the campaign to get worse before it gets better. With Romney and Santorum both coming in with a virtual tie in Iowa, both will be working to score wins in NH or SC. Past history has shown that winning two of the three early states almost guarantees the nomination. Since IA was a toss-up that means FL will probably be the deciding state.
Iowa didn’t decide the winner of the Republican nomination and it culled one candidate going into NH and SC. It started the standard of Super PAC attacks that will only carry forward into future races. It also created a series of showdowns on the way to FL. Iowa did leave a mark, regardless of how people view it.