Although there have been plenty of comings and goings over the past two weeks, the one event that had the largest impact on Iowa politicos was an official announcement from Mike Huckabee that he would not be a 2012 contender. The news, combined with perceived negatives by establishment candidates, allowed for additional forward momentum in the second tier.
In this sixth edition of The Iowa Independent’s 2012 Presidential Power Rankings, the panelists have begun to see the field of candidates solidify. For the past two weeks, the panelists have discussed and given rankings to a baker’s dozen of candidates, but this week concentrate on only eight.
In addition to discussion on where Huckabee’s previous Iowa support will move, panelists were also heavily engaged in remarks made by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a GOP proposal to overhaul Medicare and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on his previous support of health care reform in Massachusetts. Although there were exceptions, most panelists viewed the remarks as being detrimental at least in the short term.
Here’s how our panelists believe the Iowa caucuses would end if they were held tonight:
Tim Pawlenty — The former governor of Minnesota has been a mainstay in our rankings since its inception due to his seemingly constant presence in the Hawkeye State and the fact that he has surrounded himself with key staff members and advisers who are highly respected by Iowans. There is little wonder, in a time where our panelists have uncertainty about the field, they would once again return to Pawlenty overwhelmingly as the person who would benefit the most if the caucuses were held tonight.
“I think there is a stability factor with TPaw,” one of our panelists said. “He has consistently been here, consistently making noises that he wants to be the next President. It’s also a bonus — in light of what happened with Donald Trump — that he hasn’t personally screwed over the state party. In contrast, TPaw’s ‘nice guy’ persona has gone from boring to totally appealing.”
Another panelist adds that Pawlenty “gets a boost” for this edition because of his anticipated plans to formally announce his candidacy in Des Moines today.
“He was talked about on a very short list of VP candidates for John McCain in 2008, and being not only a two-term governor, but one from a neighboring state, naturally attract Iowans’ interest. He’ll keep doing groundwork, much like how Barack Obama did in 07, and while he may not win, he’ll be in the top three of the Iowa caucus results,” said another panelist while noting that it isn’t just GOP buzz that has many believing Pawlenty is the guy to beat.
“[T]he Iowa Democratic Party cannot stop attacking him … [having] done so far more than any other candidate, and it seems they are worried he is building too much support on the ground.”
Michele Bachmann — Although many in the national media have already discounted a Bachmann bid for the White House, Iowans simply like the fiery Congresswoman. And, just like Pawlenty and Obama, she has an opportunity to create an army of supporters from a neighboring state to motivate and influence Iowa residents. There’s little doubt that she’s a proven money gatherer, and any missteps she makes along the way are often batted aside by core supporters as attempts by the media to cast her in a less-than-positive light.
Bachmann is, according to a panelist, “starting to position herself as less divisive since the death of Osama Bin Laden.”
“She is quietly putting together a formidable campaign with some heavyweight hirings still to come, and she’s the most likely candidate to attract the bulk of Huckabee’s wayward voters looking to find a home. On top of that, she’s got major tea party street cred and more money than any of the other upstart candidates. And she’s also got a secret weapon in State Sen. Kent Sorenson, who is a hero to conservative grassroots voters in Iowa.”
An entrance by Bachmann into the race, several panelists speculate, is hinging on what former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin decides — “once Palin deals with the heartburn in her belly.”
“[Bachmann’s] likely formal announcement in the coming week will generate additional attention for her, only increasing her name recognition. If she is able to follow that with solid campaign moves (e.g., additional staff appointments) and a series of events she could easily pull ahead of Pawlenty.”
Herman Cain — Former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive and conservative talk show host Herman Cain continues to trend upward in the Hawkeye State, but his good fortunes aren’t solely based on his own efforts. A grassroots movement surrounds the Cain candidacy that could rival the 2008 Revolution for its online advocacy.
Our panelists can easily see a move by Huckabee supporters to Cain, and they also give a nod to the fact that Cain offers one of the most energized speeches of any candidate in the field, but they aren’t yet convinced that the campaign has what it takes to last.
“[Cain] does a good job of ‘telling it like it is.’ That kind of straight talk appeals to Iowans. His financial and business experience will be important as fiscal issues will likely dominate the 2012 cycle, but he is also strong on social issues Iowa Republicans care about. On the other hand, there’s much more to running a successful campaign than giving great speeches and Cain will need to make some strong moves in the next few weeks to make it clear that he’s a solid contender.”
The opinion was echoed by another panelist who said, “He sort of draws a little from several different candidates, and has an enthusiastic base of devoted support. However, he also very little real organization and money. His campaign trail rhetoric and stage presence is the best, but he’s also a former Romney supporter who also supported the infamous TARP that launched the tea party in the first place, so with no record to run on he has to prove his sincerity on the campaign trail.”
There is also a sense of mystery surrounding the Cain candidacy that our panelists find simultaneously exciting and disturbing.
“He’s never run for office,” a panelist notes. “There’s no record about him except what he has said of himself, and what his supporters are saying about him. Now, that’s refreshing to some extent — to have someone who isn’t a part of politics as we know it — but it also begs the question if Cain will actually be able to accomplish his goals, or if he really understands exactly what he’s getting into.”
Mitt Romney — The former governor of Massachusetts makes his third appearance in our rankings for this edition, but the inclusion by our panelists appears to be more along the lines of pragmatic than heart-felt.
Iowans continue to sting from the lack of attention Romney has shown to the first-in-the-nation contest state, and many are none too happy with Romney’s continued support of his health care reform plan while governor.
“He had his chance to finally take the Romneycare monkey off his back and win this thing, but instead chose to embrace said monkey proving yet again Willard knows to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” noted one panelist.
Another says, “Democrats are likely to be out thanking Mitt for RomneyCare when he appears in Des Moines this week. It’s the unpardonable policy sin of this cycle — and a nice cover for those uncomfortable with his religion.”
Prior to Huckabee’s announcement, the general belief among Iowa politicos was that Romney would completely skip the state. Now that Huckabee is out, many are watching to see if Romney is willing to take another chance on Iowa — or if he will hold out even longer, in an effort to even further lower caucus night expectations.
“Romney won’t gain many of the Huckabee supporters, but with those supporters split among several of the more socially conservative candidates Romney might have a chance to win the caucuses. … Until he gets serious about Iowa, it’s hard for Iowans to get serious about him—at least as far as the caucuses are concerned.”
Those former Huckabee supporters, well documented throughout our early power rankings, seem to be pivotal for Romney, despite the fact that few of our panelists expect him to directly benefit from their support.
“Mitt Romney [has] become the most well-organized and well-funded candidate in the state. There will no longer be talk of Romney skipping the state … he believes he can now win it.”
And there is a definite upside to Iowa’s fiscal conservatives finding consensus and offering mass support to a single candidate, whether it be Romney or someone else. With so much national discussion about the Iowa GOP being over-run with social conservatives who aren’t in touch with the nation’s over-riding concern for kitchen table issues, the one way to nearly guarantee Iowa a repeat performance as first-in-the-nation would be to shock the nay-sayers with a fiscal conservative pick.
Ron Paul — U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is included in this edition of power rankings by the most narrow of margins. Many of our panelists — even those who had previously been ranking him in the middle of the top tier — have virtually eliminated their support in the wake of Paul’s comments that he would not have gone into Pakistan in order to carry out a mission against Osama bin Laden.
“Intellectually, I think I get what he was saying — that we shouldn’t have gone in without alerting Pakistan authorities. But I also believe it showed his lack of political immaturity for him to say it in the way he did and as soon as he did,” notes a panelist. “It made him look weak. It made him look old. It made him look foolish. I’m quite sure that’s a failure trifecta.”
But it isn’t all bad news for Paul.
“If this were a primary and not a caucus I could see Paul doing much better because of Democrats crossing over to vote for a libertarian who shares some of their foreign policy misgivings of the U.S. as a superpower. I do think he will get even more Christian conservative support this go around because many of those voters are more up to speed on the economic issues he champions than were four years ago.”
Notably absent from this edition of power rankings is Newt Gingrich, who had seemingly overcome his dismal personal baggage and extensive political past in every previous edition to get a mention. He had been kept relevant in our rankings by a core group of panelists, who all but abandoned him for this week’s predictions.
While some of our panelists took note of Gingrich’s comments and were angry/frustrated because of the personal slight to House Republicans, others said they were concerned that the situation spoke to a larger issue.
“Gingrich was a great politician — perhaps one of the best the country has ever known. But he has never had to compete personally in a cycle that is both driven by the 24-hour news cycle and the internet. He simply isn’t ready and hasn’t surrounded himself with people who are protecting him from the mainsteam media’s need to make headlines (or he isn’t listening to his staff).”
Another panelist mostly agrees, “At the very least, the comments fed into the notion that although Gingrich is considered a great ideas man, he doesn’t have much of a filter and tends to shoot from the lip. Put another way, he doesn’t do a good job of staying on message. With today’s 24/7 media, staying on message is critical for a candidate. Gingrich attempted to defend his statements, but the problem didn’t go away and he was forced to apologize directly to Ryan.
“Despite the problem with his comments, Gingrich embarked on an extended campaign tour of Iowa. Attendance at the events was greater than expected and except for one notable exception of a fellow in Dubuque the crowds gave Gingrich a very warm welcome. The problem, however, is whether the people were excited to see Gingrich the former Speaker and Republican mainstay, or if they were excited to see Gingrich the candidate.”
(Editor’s Note: These perspectives have been culled from our staff members, additional state political reporters, party activists, academics, elected officials, political consultants and other state insiders. While unscientific, the rankings 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. They provide a snapshot in time based on educated guesses and “gut instincts.” Campaigns are evaluated based on personal perceptions and input from others as to quality of shoe-leather activity, ability to motivate possible caucus attendees and second-choice support. Panelists aren’t provided a specific ballot, and are free to choose from any Republican candidate — rumored or actual.)