In the fifth edition of The Iowa Independent’s 2012 Presidential Power Rankings, the panelists take note of debate performances while continuing to search for consensus on which of the potential candidates will lead the pack.
The panelists again take note of a wide field, commenting on or ranking 13 potential candidates. Yet of those candidates, only two receive a first place ranking from more than one of our panelists, indicating that there is still some unrest among Republicans as they search for an ideal candidate who can challenge a sitting Democratic incumbent and embody the necessary fiscal and social conservative principles that are driving Iowa caucus-goers.
Perhaps most of note in this edition is the entrance of a man initially considered an “also ran” candidate into our top five, another indicator of how soft support can be this early in the process and how some are continuing to search.
Such perspectives have been culled from our staff members, additional state political reporters, party activists, academics, elected officials, political consultants and other insiders to create these rankings. While unscientific, the ranks provide insights that cannot be garnered in traditional polling or from any one pundit as to a candidate’s organizational strength in the Hawkeye State.
All those invited to participate are asked to answer one question: “If the Iowa caucus was held tonight, what would be the results?”
The rankings below provide a snapshot in time based on educated guesses and “gut instincts.” Campaigns were evaluated based on personal perceptions and input from others as to the quality of shoe-leather activity, ability to motivate possible caucus attendees and second-choice support. Panelists aren’t provided a specific ballot of potential candidates, and are free to choose from any Republican candidate — rumored or actual.
With all of that in mind, if the caucus was held tonight, this is how we think it would end.
- Tim Pawlenty — As the only so-called “top tier” candidate to be in attendance at a recent South Carolina debate, it’s little wonder that Pawlenty would get a national bounce as a result of the event. For Iowans, however, the focus on Pawlenty still seems to be the fact that he has surrounded himself with proven staff members and that he continues to relentlessly work the state.
“Pawlenty didn’t shine in the debate as some anticipated he would,” noted one of our panelists, proving that the game of expectations still plays a huge role in the Iowa caucus process.
[Pawlenty] didn’t make any major mistakes, though he still wasn’t particular inspiring. Many called his performance polished, but he still seemed stiff in his gestures,” said another.
But despite “not a lot of national name recognition, not a lot of flash, not getting a lot of love in current polls,” Pawlenty “keeps working hard” and is currently “the slow and steady turtle in the race.”
- Mike Huckabee — At this point, there seems to be few people who are willing to count out former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee. That being said, however, the panelists are nearly unified in their belief that if Huckabee waits until after the Ames Straw Poll to make his jump into the race, he won’t get the Iowa nomination and any hopes he has of leading the national party in the general election will be doomed.
“Most of Huckabee’s supporters remain strong, even as his former staff members have signed with other campaigns,” a panelist said. “But you have to wonder, when the true ‘wooing’ begins, how many will be content to sit around when there are others like Bachmann, Judge Moore and Santorum that could fill the void that Huckabee is leaving behind?”
“I just continue to talk to too many people who supported him last time that are concerned about three things: 1) He doesn’t really have the fire in the belly hence his delay in formulating a staff/campaign, 2) that really when you get beyond an intimate and informal but devoted group of followers, largely perceived to be working on their own, he doesn’t have a campaign apparatus in Iowa so who does he plan on bringing in to run things, and 3) his recent comments about the budget and urging the Republicans to cave on funding Obamacare and Planned Parenthood have sent a signal he’s just not the same guy he use to be, but instaed has spent too much time on Fox News and has lost touch with the grassroots,” said another.
- Michele Bachmann — U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of neighboring Minnesota continues to an obvious cross-over candidate if Huckabee doesn’t soon step up and become serious about 2012. And while she has not gathered the experienced staff that Pawlenty has in the Hawkeye State, she also has not been prone to Pawlenty’s perceived mis-steps.
“[Bachmann] is one of those candidates that you don’t have to wonder where she is or if she is attempting new messaging,” said one of our panelists. “She talks the same to Iowans whether she is appearing before social conservatives or fiscal conservatives, and that type of consistency is something that Iowans notice and appreciate.”
If there is one other candidate in the field that could play spoiler to Pawlenty, our panelists believe at this moment in time it is Bachmann.
- Herman Cain — Former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive and current talk show host Herman Cain makes his first appearance in our rankings at number four, but that doesn’t tell the full story of the energy he has created in Iowa.
“If you could take Donald Trump and remove all the negatives, you end up with Herman Cain,” said one panelist. “He is the Iowa dark horse, and I think he’s one that could trot all the way to the general election finish line.”
“While Gary Johnson and Ron Paul slug it out over a small sliver of liberally-leaning Republicans, Cain has the ability to snag up those votes on common-sense issues while continuing to pull from the larger majority of Republicans that focus on both social and fiscal issues. He’s the real deal and the total package — charismatic, energetic and someone who can take on the Obama machine and win,” noted another.
And while liberal activists have already gone after Cain for comments perceived as “Islamophobic,” our panelists aren’t convinced that such remarks will be viewed negatively by the GOP base. “It’s not clear if those [comments] will be assets or liabilities,” said one panelists, who also noted that if it weren’t for “Paultards owning every online poll ever, Cain would be the unanimous winner of the first debate” by virtue of his ability to articulate his thoughts and the fact that he is an anti-politician.
- Newt Gingrich — Former U.S. House Speaker has consistently appeared at the bottom of our rankings, proving that he could win Iowa. It remains to be seen, however, if he is actually serious about 2012 or if the race for the White House is anything more than “an opportunity to sell more books.”
“[Gingrich’s] name ID, impressive resume, intellectualism, oratory skills and an even more divided social conservative voter base by the entrance of Mike Huckabee in the race gives him a good shot of consolidating just even support to eke out a win. That divided social conservative voter base will largely allow Gingrich — the less charming Republican version of Bill Clinton — to talk about issues and not is personal peccadilloes which is what he does best,” a panelist notes.
Unlike Pawlenty, who is viewed as battling against a major lack of national attention, Gingrich has more national attention than he actually wants — and that is likely to be his downfall. “I still suspect that his personal and political baggage will keep him from winning the nomination, or the caucuses, but he should at least start well.”
Over the past few weeks, Iowans have been drenched in news from from appearances by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, but such headlines only led to a mere handful of our panelists of making him a blip on the campaign radar. Only one panelist gave him a fourth place finish, all others listed him at fifth place — and many more simply noted he’d visited the state without ranking him at all. “He has bragged about his ability to beat incumbents, but that might remind people that he was an incumbent that got beat.”
Despite what some considered to be a good debate performance, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul also didn’t come close to our top five for this installment. Most panelists believe that any support that previously was reserved solely for Paul has now been split between Paul, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (who is viewed as having a much more interesting personal story) and Cain. Given those match-ups, our panelists believe Paul loses every time.
It seems as long as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continues to ignore the Hawkeye State, our panelists are content to continue to ignore him. Those who chose to rank him, placed him low, and others merely lumped him with much lesser-known candidates like Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry.
And while the nation continues to buzz about the potential entry of real estate mogul Donald Trump into the 2012 race, Iowans remain less than impressed. “Trump has set himself up as the anti-Obama, so news that the Obama administration had taken out Osama bin Laden did Trump no favors. When you combine that with the release of a long-form birth certificate and protests by Indy 500 fans of Trump driving the pace car, and it is easy to see that Trump picked the peg issue for any potential campaign and has too much baggage to win any significant Iowa support. All the state party can hope for at this point is that he continues to generate headlines that can sell dinner tickets.”
The campaign for former GOP political insider Fred Karger, which has been rarely mentioned by our Power Rankings panel, received several points of love this week from those who noticed that Karger is attempting to branch out from what has been perceived up until this point as his single campaign issue of gay rights. The fact that Karger is making fiscal noises and, in particular, hoping to draw support from young Republicans was of note to our team, despite the fact that Karger didn’t draw enough support to enter our top five.