Ted Cruz’s Road to Nowhere.

Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Larry Sabato loves to quote T.S. Eliot. In writing about the demise of Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s campaign on Wednesday, Sabato wrote, “To borrow from T.S. Eliot: This is the way Marco Rubio’s campaign ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

Cleaver. Accurate. Well done!

At this time four years ago, Sabato was also quoting T.S. Eliot. “Three of the four candidates for the Republican presidential nomination — Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — might soon agree with T.S. Eliot: for them, April may indeed be ‘the cruelest month.’”

Before we get too carried away, lets look at where things stand today in the GOP delegate race. According to Real Clear Politics, Trump has accumulated 646 delegates, Cruz 397, Rubio 169, and Kasich 142. For comparison’s sake, in 2012, Mitt Romney had racked up 494 delegate to Santorum’s 251 right before St. Patrick’s Day.

One would think comparing the current nomination fight with the one just four years ago would be an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s not that easy. The states that have gone are similar, but the most notable difference is Texas, which didn’t vote until May 29th in 2012. The delegate haul from the Lone Star state accounts for a fourth of Cruz’s delegates to date.

Sabato’s blog post on Wednesday morning was titled, “Titanic Tuesday: Trump Leads but Doesn’t Finish the Job.” It is notably different from his March 15, 2012 headline that read, “Romney Set to Dominate Race Through April.” What’s fascinating to me is how differently the media and prognosticators are treating the 2016 frontrunner in comparison to Romney four years ago.

Let’s be honest, not only could Sabato’s most recent headline legitimately read, “Trump Set to Dominate Race Through April,” but one could have borrowed the same opening sentence. “Two of the three candidates for the Republican presidential nomination — Ted Cruz and John Kasich — might soon agree with T.S. Eliot: for them, April may indeed be ‘the cruelest month.’”

Like Romney, Trump is set to pad his delegate lead in the month of April. This year’s slate of April primaries mirrors what was on the docket back in 2012. Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island are the states in play next month, and they comprise a total of 309 delegates.

Sabato’s 2012 guesstimate before the April contests awarded Romney 193 of the 282 delegates that were available. Sabato had Santorum winning his home state of Pennsylvania, which made up nearly half of the 89 delegates Sabato projected for him. As we know, Santorum ended his campaign before Pennsylvania voted.

In order to make this easy, let’s just assume that Trump wins Arizona and American Samoa to close out March with 713 delegates. Let’s give Cruz all the delegates from Utah. And even though North Dakota’s delegates are all unbound, lets just give those all to Cruz while we are at it. That brings Cruz up to 465 delegates.

If we stick with the same percentage allotment of delegates that Sabato used in 2012, it means after April’s 309 delegates are accounted for, Trump’s delegate count reaches 923. If we award Cruz the other 99 delegates available, which frankly isn’t going to happen, he only gets to 564 delegates. Why does this matter? Because after April, it will be mathematically impossible for Cruz to win the necessary delegates to capture the GOP nomination.

Meanwhile, Trump will only be 314 delegates away from claiming the nomination. As the only viable candidate in the race, Trump should be able to secure the necessary delegates he needs. Do you really think voters is states like California, Oregon, and Washington are going to turn out for Cruz who doesn’t have a path to the nomination? I don’t.

As the race draws to a close, Trump, like every frontrunner before him, will grow stronger as winning the nomination become inevitable. The same stories we see today about contested conventions were also written four years ago. The only difference is that Romney actually had a communications team that proactively drove the narrative that only he could win the nomination.

Donald Trump may be the master of dominating a news cycle, but not having a communications team that pushed back every day on what others are saying about the race is making life difficult for him. Don’t fool yourselves, Trump has clear path to 1237. Ted Cruz and John Kasich on the other hand, have a road to nowhere.



29 Days Left – The State of the Caucus Race

Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

If you are into politics, there will be no better place to be for the next month than the state of Iowa. The holidays are over. The Hawkeye football season is over. We love college basketball, and while conference play is upon us, it doesn’t get serious until March. For the next 30 days, the Iowa Caucuses will take center stage and dominate discussions and news coverage around the state.

As we enter the final phase of the caucus campaigns, it’s a good time to evaluate where things currently stand. While there are still a dozen Republican candidates in the race, from my perspective, there are five candidates to watch.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz: I don’t care what the polls say on any particular day, Cruz is the frontrunner in Iowa. Besides having an advantage in the fundraising department, Cruz’s Iowa advantage is that he has tremendous appeal to conservative activists who are frustrated with everything Washington.

The majority of these people are the type that caucus every cycle, which means that the Cruz campaign doesn’t have to spend a ton of time educating its supporters about how the caucuses work or motivate them to turn out on February 1st. The Cruz campaign is also committed to Iowa. The Texas Senator has spent ample time here and is scheduled to be all over the state this month.

The Iowa Caucuses are Cruz’s to lose.

Donald Trump: The New York businessman has been the most talked about and thus interesting candidate for president in 2015. If Trump’s dominance in the media is going to continue, he’s going to have to win Iowa or New Hampshire. The media has been obsessed with the capabilities of the Trump campaign. While this is understandable, one can never accurately analyze a campaign until Election Day.   On the evening of February 1st, we will know whether the Trump campaign is for real or not.

Trump has the highest ceiling of all the candidates, which means that he has the potential to dominate in Iowa if the campaign turns out the people it has identified through all its events and activities over the past year.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio: Ever since he formally announced his candidacy, Rubio has been a candidate with a tremendous potential. The pundits have ridiculed Rubio for a campaign that values national media exposure and TV ads over personal appearances, but he’s campaigning across the state now. As they say, it’s better late than never.

There is plenty of excitement and good crowds at Rubio’s events. Can he win Iowa? Sure. Will he win Iowa? I have no clue. Rubio’s events are very staged, and the well-spoken candidate refers to a grocery list of talking points throughout his remarks. Staged and scripted are not necessarily good attributes in caucus campaigns.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: Rubio’s competition in Iowa is going to come from Christie, not Jeb Bush or some other establishment candidate. Last week, I attended a couple Christie events and came away very impressed. While Rubio’s events are scripted and staged, Christie’s are unpredictable and fantastic political theater. Christie is probably the most talented politician in field. In Marshalltown last week, he was asked some great questions, people volunteered that they are caucusing for him, and when asked something bizarre, he skillfully defused the situation like a pro.

Christie is a dark horse in Iowa, but I like everything he’s doing, and he has a month to go. Christie doesn’t need to win Iowa. He just needs to get a bump by being a surprise.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee: Call him a long shot or an underdog, but I think Huckabee is another dark horse. Cruz benefits greatly from the fact that neither Huckabee nor Santorum are considered viable in the eyes of voters. Just remember, viability is based entirely on polling numbers and fundraising numbers. I think both candidates are better positioned than the polls will ever suggest, and between the two I think Huckabee is more likely to surprise.

Huckabee announced that he plans to hold 150 campaign events in the month of January. That means he’s going to be everywhere, and for someone as likeable as Huckabee, that’s a smart strategy.

Quick Hits:

Dr. Ben Carson: Continues to set the fundraising pace, but his campaign is a complete mess. Since the Iowa State Fair he’s spent just 10 days in Iowa. The caucuses are a lot like the Iowa Lottery; you can’t win if you don’t play.

Rick Santorum: Yes, I have a soft spot for Santorum. He’s as serious of a candidate as they come, and he makes that point in his new TV ad. “If you want someone to read you one hell of a bed time story, Ted Cruz is your guy. If you want to protect America and defeat ISIS, Rick Santorum’s your president.”

Jeb Bush: The media made a big deal about the Bush campaign cutting it’s TV advertising in Iowa last week. All you really need to know is that it’s been over a month since Bush has visited Iowa. He returns next week, but the reality of the situation is that he’s not much of a factor in Iowa.

Rand Paul: He’s not the candidate is father was, and Ted Cruz’s libertarian leanings have also cut into his support in Iowa, but Paul’s campaign in Iowa is underestimated. If any candidate has flown under the radar, it’s Paul. He might not have what it takes to have a top three finish like his father did in 2012, but he could make things interesting on caucus night in some of those eastern Iowa population centers.

State of the Race: How I see things in Iowa with just over 100 days to go

IowaAs of today, there are just 106 days until we will know the winner (hopefully) of the Iowa Caucuses. As the trees change colors and the farmers bring in the harvest, the presidential race also enters its final season before Iowans caucus on February 1st. Multiple candidates are constantly in the state vying for support. And the voters themselves are feeling the need to figure out which candidate they want to caucus for next February.

Before we embark on the leg of the campaign leading up to the Iowa caucuses, now might be the best time to take a step back and analyze each candidate in regards to how they are positioned in Iowa. When assessing the field, I always break things down into subsets.

In this race, you have religious conservatives – Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal. The establishment candidates are Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, John Kasich. The outsiders are Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and Rand Paul. Participation ribbons will be rewarded to Lindsey Graham and George Pataki.

Religious Conservatives

The Cruz campaign claims that they have the best ground game in the state. I’m not sure I believe it. Do they have passionate grassroots activists? Sure. But everyone does. The mistake that caucus campaigns can make is that they start believing their own hype. I’m far from writing off the Cruz campaign in Iowa, but I do think that they are living in somewhat of an echo chamber.

At the Cruz campaign office opening a few weeks back, Steve Deace made the argument that what makes the Cruz campaign different is that it’s made for the long haul because they have raised a lot of money. The belief is that Cruz is the most principled candidates in the race, and as other candidates drop out, their supporters will naturally end up with Cruz. Talk about wishful thinking.

Besides being wishful thinking, I don’t think it works like that. First, I think Huckabee, Santorum, and Jindal are all in through Iowa. Why would they get out now? Second, if you are a Cruz supporter, you are already with him, and if you are not, I don’t know if you automatically default to Cruz because your candidate either isn’t viable or does drop out.

I also think there are two types of religious conservative voters. The first types are your socially conservative political activists. This is Cruz’s bread and butter, but these voters also like Bobby Jindal, who’s been very aggressive in tone and campaign strategy in Iowa. The other type of religious conservative voter is your typical church-goer. These voters are not looking for someone to take a flame-thrower to Washington like Cruz and Jindal. They are looking for a more thoughtful socially conservative candidate who they could be proud to see in the White House. These voters are more likely to be older and make up the base of Huckabee and Santorum voters.

I fully understand why people believe Cruz is the frontrunner in this bracket, but I think this is a much closer contest than anyone else would believe. Santorum and Huckabee have been successful in Iowa in the past two caucuses for a number of reasons, but if they have one thing in common besides being the most viable social conservative in the race at the end, it’s that they were able to relate and connect to people in a very authentic way. Cruz struggles mightily with that.

I had long thought this was going to come down to a contest between Cruz and Huckabee, but I see all four of these candidates being in the race until people caucus in February. The question is, who will be standing after the caucuses? This is where identifying your supporters and turning them out matters. None of these campaigns look to be all that sophisticated today, but that could change.

Cruz has the potential.
Huckabee has the personal connections.
Santorum has a unique message and firm grasp on the issues.
Jindal is either a wild card or the spoiler.

The Republican Establishment

This bracket is a mess. The top candidates in this tier poll at seven, eight, or nine percent in Iowa. The lower tier comes in with maybe two or three percent. The main reason for the mess that is the establishment field in Iowa is a lack of early commitment and misreading what was going on in Iowa.

Everyone and their brother believed that Iowa was Scott Walker’s to lose. His sudden departure from the race created a gaping hole for an establishment candidate to now emerge. The mistake that people made was believing that Walker was competing for the conservative vote in Iowa or that he was some mythical creature that appealed to everyone. Low and behold, we found out that he was flat as a candidate and, in the end, didn’t appeal to anyone.

The candidate with the best campaign in this bracket is Jeb Bush. If the Bush campaign knows how to do anything, it’s block and tackle. The campaign is sound, but the candidate struggles. Marco Rubio is the exact opposite. The candidate is great, but the campaign leaves a lot to be desired. If I had to wager, I’d put my money on the person with the best campaign, and in this case, since Bush also has that famous last name and a well-financed Super PAC, it’s not an exciting wager, but it’s one that makes sense.

The wild card is Carly Fiorina. She’s got charisma like Rubio. She’s impressive on the stump, and people want her to do well. The problem is that she has no semblance of an actual campaign. Fiorina is completely dependent on exposure in the debates and her associated Super PAC in Iowa. It’s a real shame that she isn’t running a traditional campaign in Iowa because, if she was. I think she could finish first in this bracket, which would be huge for her.

Kasich and Christie might end up being factors in Iowa, but not in the traditional sense. Their fundraising figures and poll numbers both suggest that they would be wise to focus more on New Hampshire than Iowa. Still, both candidates have support in the state, and by not throwing in the towel in Iowa, any vote they can get in Iowa hurts Bush, Rubio, and Fiorina. And that, my friends, is why you have to campaign in Iowa, even if you don’t plan to make it your focus.

Bush has the best ground game in Iowa of this lot.
Rubio has tons of potential.
Fiorina is the wild card and likely spoiler.
Kasich and Christie just make it harder for any establishment candidate to actually win Iowa.

The Outsiders

Trump might have spent most of his campaign money on flying around in his 757 and on campaign swag, but it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that he has the largest campaign staff in Iowa, and they guy leading his effort here, Chuck Laudner, knows a thing or two about how to organize for a caucus.

It seems like every two weeks or so, the media starts beating their drums declaring that Trump isn’t serious and his exit from the race could come at any time. Really? Actions speak louder than words. He’s campaigning in Burlington this Wednesday, which is in a pretty sizable county, but it’s one that Bush, Rubio, Fiorina, Kasich, Christie, and Carson have yet to even visit. As we have seen, it’s a pretty big deal when Trump comes to town, and especially when he goes a little bit off the beaten path to a place like Burlington.

The Carson campaign is a difficult one to figure out. He spends as much time on official book tours, during which he doesn’t really campaign, as he does campaigning in early states. He has done well in Iowa, and he is a likable individual. But like Trump, he has to convince people that he’s presidential and serious about running for president.

The surprise isn’t how well Trump and Carson are polling, it’s how well they are doing with actual caucus goers. Both are attracting new people to the process, but when you look at the people who come to see them at campaign events, they are mostly full of typical caucus goers. The difference between the two campaigns is that I trust that the Trump campaign will do a better job of telling it’s supporters where and how to caucus.

Rand Paul insists that he’s committed to his presidential campaign, and I do think that he has a very unique and loyal base of support in the state. I also recognize that the Paul campaign knows exactly what they need to do to organize for a caucus. Where the doubt creeps in is the political reality that he is also up for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2016.

If Republican candidate Matt Bevin loses his bid for governor of Kentucky on November 3rd, one can bet that Paul will be encouraged to end his presidential race and focus on his re-election. Thus, I’m still not convinced that Paul will be a candidate on caucus night.

Trump is unavoidable and better organized than you think.

Carson may have reached his ceiling. The social conservative candidates will have to peel off the religious conservatives who like him. There are plenty of ways to do it.

Paul is only interesting if he is a candidate on caucus day, which is hard for me to see.

Overall ranking as things stand today.

  1. Trump
  2. Carson
  3. Cruz
  4. Huckabee
  5. Bush
  6. Rubio
  7. Fiorina
  8. Santorum
  9.  Jindal
  10. Paul
  11. Christie
  12. Kasich

Bottom Line: I’m just not impressed with how the establishment candidates approached Iowa.

Bush goes after Donald Trump – Thursday Roundup

bush-jeb-donald-trumpIt’s been an interesting week in the Republican race for president. Why? Because the Trump campaign isn’t doing anything. This odd break in the 24/7 coverage has allowed an opening for the Bush campaign to take a free shot at Trump.

While I’m not convinced that Bush is the right candidate to take on Trump, the latest video from the campaign is very well done.

Last week the Bush campaign tried, unsuccessfully in my opinion, to attack Trump by highlighting an article where Trump said that his sister would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court Justice. Trump’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, is pro-choice and once rejected a suit that would have stopped the practice of partial birth abortions. To be clear, Trump also added, “I think she’d be one of the best. But frankly, we’d have to rule that out,” but that didn’t stop the Bush campaign from trying to make hay with the pro-life community.

The reason why I thought that was a poor attack for Bush to make is that it could have been easily turned around on him. You know who is also pro-choice? Bush’s own mother and sister-in-law, who are two former First Ladies. Injecting family into a tussle with Trump is the absolute last thing the Bush campaign should do.

The next day, the Bush campaign tried to paint Trump as a hypocrite by sharing an image of the letter that Trump sent Nancy Pelosi when she became the first female speaker of the of U.S. House of Representatives. Again, it was a bad tactic for Bush to try since his flattering words about Hillary Clinton have already been used against him in a web video.

Unelectable from ForAmerica on Vimeo.

The latest line of attack on Trump from Bush is a clear and direct hit. “The Real Donald Trump” video has been viewed over a half million times in just the first day alone. Using video of Trump and letting people hear him talk about how pro-choice he was and how he identified himself as a Democrat will be the most effective way to critique Trump.

The real question is whether or not the attacks on Trump actually help Bush, who has been relegated to a second tier candidate.

Rand Missing from Iowa? Now there is an APP for that.

It seems that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is campaigning everywhere but Iowa. It’s now been over a month since Paul stepped foot in Iowa. He didn’t even visit the Iowa State Fair, but he did make time to visit the Minnesota State Fair. Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot?

Paul is taking the road less traveled. Recently he campaigned out west where he made stops in Idaho, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and Alaska. He’s also made stops in the northeast states of Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Paul recently wrote this on his campaign’s Facebook page, “Everyone knows how important Iowa and New Hampshire are. But my campaign is built for the long haul[,] and these western caucus states are the next step after the early voting states hold their nominating contests.”

In 2015, Paul has only campaigned in Iowa for 10 days, which puts him right in the neighborhood of days spent by candidates like Chris Christie (11 days), Marco Rubio (10 days), and Jeb Bush (9 days) who are all tepid about campaigning in Iowa.

In the latest three polls out of Iowa, Paul has polled at just two, three, and four percent, the same as Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has hardly spent any time campaigning in the state.

Perhaps Paul’s absence in Iowa will be offset by a new app his campaign released. The app allows you to take a “selfie” with the Kentucky Senator. I can see why they thought it was a good idea, but as I demonstrated on my Twitter account yesterday, it’s not very well thought out. I posted pictures with Rand in all sorts of different situations. I had fun with the app, but it was all at his expense.

If Paul struggles with anything, it’s that he’s doesn’t have an engaging personality on the campaign trail. The photo app, which I’m sure was designed to be fun, really only highlights his struggles with retail politics.

Good Stuff from Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie doesn’t get a ton of attention here because Iowa isn’t necessarily a focus for his presidential campaign, but these two videos should help him everywhere. Christie’s pro-life message is a good one, and he nails President Obama and the Democrats on the Iran deal. Good stuff that needed to be shared.

Governor Chris Christie Roll Out Pro-Life Message

Christie: Every death Iran causes is now on Obama’s head
http://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=4459243436001&w=466&h=263Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.com

Are we about to Cull the Herd

cullIn the age of Super PACs, it has been widely accepted that the field of 17 Republican presidential candidates would be with us for a while. The only thing on the horizon that would knock a candidate out of the race seems to be the Iowa Caucuses themselves. Yet recently some campaigns have showed signs of trouble, and suddenly the big and unruly GOP presidential field might just be able to fit on a single stage.

Here is a look at who’s in trouble and why.

Rick Santorum: Last week Politico published a piece on the Santorum campaign that noted how his national campaign manager, Iowa State Coordinator, and digital strategist all left the campaign for the cozy confines on a new Super PAC that will eventually focus on boosting his ground game in the early states.

Santorum raised just over $600,000 since launching his campaign in late May. He didn’t need a lot of money to win Iowa in 2012 and later become Romney’s chief rival, but the 2016 race isn’t just a repeat of the 2012 contest.

Romney didn’t contest Iowa until late in the caucus process. Rick Perry, who had plenty of campaign cash in 2012, didn’t enter the race until August. It was the ideal climate for a candidate like Santorum.

The 2016 race is completely different. Not only is another former caucus winner, Mike Huckabee, running hard in Iowa, but also the competition is fierce and coming from all sides – from Scott Walker to Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump to Rand Paul. That’s not to mention the competition from strong social conservatives like Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal.

No two caucus cycles are ever the same, which is why it was critical for Santorum to build a campaign apparatus that was better than the one he had four years ago.

Rand Paul: The Kentucky Senator has a different type of problem. Paul raised $7 million dollars for his campaign, and his associated Super PAC raised another $3 million. The money is not bad, but it’s not the haul many people expected. There have also been multiple news articles that describe that it’s a chaotic mess inside Paul’s campaign. For as bad as it may be, that’s not why he makes the list.

Last week, three close Paul associates were indicted by the federal government in conjunction with the investigation into the illegal payments that Ron Paul’s campaign made to then-State Senator Kent Sorenson. If paying Sorenson under the table wasn’t bad enough, those involved in the elaborate scheme, Jesse Benton, John Tate, and Demitri Kesari, not only tried to cover it up, but in doing so, lied to federal investigators.

How hard did they try to cover their tracks? Yesterday, the Loudoun Times-Mirror reported that Kesari is being investigated in conjunction with a robbery in Gloucester, Rhode Island. The home that was broken into belonged to the parents of Jared Gamble, a Ron Paul worker, who died at the age of 26 in 2013. Gamble’s connections with Kesari stretch back to the National Right to Work Committee.

This is problematic for Paul because Benton and Tate run the only Super PAC that Paul has endorsed. Benton is also a member of the Paul family through marriage. Tate is the former head of the Campaign for Liberty. These indictments are not just a glancing blow to Paul’s presidential campaign; they are a direct hit on the Paul political machine.

What’s worse is that all of this comes at a time when Paul’s poll numbers are stalled in single digits. At some point, he has to wonder if his presidential campaign may hurt his chances of re-election to the U.S. Senate back home.

Rick Perry: CBS News reported that Rick Perry stopped paying his campaign staff this past Friday.   That was the news that followed a National Journal report that indicated that he had stopped paying his South Carolina staff. Perry will campaign on, but the staff has all been told that they are free to look for other employment.

The news regarding Perry’s finances is a reminder that even in the world of Super PACs and million dollar donors, it is absolutely necessary for campaigns to raise hard dollars. It’s pretty obvious that Perry is a better candidate in 2016 than he was in 2012, but the same can’t be said of his fundraising operation.

It’s unfortunate because I still believe that, with the necessary resources, Perry could contend in Iowa, but presidential politics is the toughest beast anyone can ever hope to tame.

So that’s three, how do you get them on the same debate stage?

It is absolutely necessary for the news organization hosting the debates as well as the RNC to adhere to a one percent polling average threshold. That’s originally what Fox News had, but they lowered it to allow Lindsey Graham into the afternoon debate. That move also allowed George Pataki and Jim Gilmore onto the debate stage.

Santorum and Perry seem destined to continue their campaigns, but in a month’s time, they could be in danger of not being able to surpass a one percent threshold. It’s a cold reality, but no money and essentially no staff means no traction in Iowa, let alone national polls. All of a sudden, our 17-member field gets down to 11 pretty quick. That’s still a monster, but much more manageable.


Takeaways from Iowa Quinnipiac Poll

caucus set

It’s been almost a month since we have seen new polling data on the Republican field in Iowa. On Wednesday, Quinnipiac released its latest Iowa poll that shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in the lead with 18 percent, followed by Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, who are in second place with 10 percent each.

Caucus polling is always difficult, but especially so when you have a field of 16 legitimate candidates. While I don’t put much stock into summer caucus polls, they do help up pick up on some trends that are developing. Here is what jumps out at me.

Interest vs. Support

With the caucuses still eight months away, I think it’s incorrect to believe that candidates have actual support in Iowa. Campaigns are just now beginning to take shape, and it’s the work that each candidate’s campaign operation does that will turn interest into actual support.

I think if you look at the Quinnipiac poll as a gauge of interest instead of support, it makes more sense. It’s clear to me that Walker has the most interest in Iowa. Trump and Ben Carson have also been two of the most active campaigns in the state. While Trump has dominated every news cycle since announcing, Carson has quietly been putting together some impressive events across the state.

Scott Walker’s Downward Trend

Walker’s support in the Quinnipiac polls has dropped in each of their 2015 Iowa polls. He went from 25 percent in February, to 21 percent in April, and now stands at 18 percent. Perhaps he will get a bump when he announces his candidacy, but I think Walker has for the most part squandered the early advantage he once enjoys.

The other thing that sticks out to be about Walker is that his unfavorability rating is only 6 percent. That is incredibly low and is bound to creep up in to the 20 and 30 percent level over the course of a contested campaign. When that happens, suddenly Iowa becomes anybody’s ball game.

Rand Paul’s Negatives Jumped

In the first two Iowa Quinnipiac polls of the year, Rand Paul was viewed favorability by 58 and 59 percent of the Republican’s surveyed. His favorable number has since dropped to 53 while his unfavorable number when from 23 in May to 31 in July. I guess it wasn’t wise to blame Republicans for the creation of ISIS.

Rick Perry’s Numbers Improved

While Rand’s numbers dipped, Perry’s spiked. In the May Quinnipiac poll, Perry’s favorability stood at 51 percent. In the latest poll, that number jumped to 61 percent, and his unfavorable number when from 30 to 21 percent. Perry’s over all ballot number has only moved up from 3 percent to 4 percent, but the improvement in his favorability number is a sign that he has rebuilt his brand that was tarnished by his 2012 campaign.

Cruz’s Iowa Numbers Reflect His Iowa Activity

In February, Cruz was at 5 percent, in May, 12 percent, and now he’s at 9 percent. Cruz’s favorability ranking is unchanged. My conclusion is that when Cruz campaigns in Iowa, he does well. Republicans like him, and as I’ve said all along, he’s a natural fit for a caucus campaign. Cruz’s two-month absence from the state stunted his growth. He will get out of Iowa what he puts into it. The ball is in his court.

Huckabee at 5 percent?

One of the surprising numbers in the poll is that Mike Huckabee was only at 5 percent, which is down from 11 percent in Quinnipiac’s earlier polls. Huckabee’s favorability numbers remain steady, so I’m not sure I would sound the alarms on the Huckabee campaign after seeing the results of the poll. I actually think the Huckabee campaign is one of the few campaigns in Iowa that appears to have the right approach. It’s not glitzy, but they are doing the type of work that’s necessary to win a state like Iowa.

The Trump Bump!

I thought poll after poll told us that something like 60 or 70 percent of Republicans would never, ever, EVER, support The Donald? Trump has owned every news cycle since he made his announcement. And if there is one truth in politics, it’s that there is no such thing as negative press. You want – no, you need – people talking about you. Trump has mastered this skill.

The thing to remember about Trump is that it’s not just a bunch of hot air. He actually has nine campaign staffers working in Iowa. How many other candidates can say that today.

I love what Carson is Doing

To conservative activists, Dr. Ben Carson is somewhat of a celebrity. Carson has done a great job of campaigning across the state, and if he keeps up a healthy Iowa itinerary he’s going to build on his current vote share. The debates will be important for a non-traditional candidate like Carson. If he is thoughtful, well-spoken, and can inject some new ideas into the mix, the sky is the limit.

Bush and Rubio

Nationally, I think the Bush campaign has really done a good job since his official launch. While he’s not the strongest national frontrunner we have ever seen, there is no disputing that he not only occupies that space but is also leading in New Hampshire. I put Bush and Rubio together here because on of these campaigns needs to fully commit to the playing aggressively in Iowa.

As things stand today, I like Bush’s chances of having success in Iowa more than Rubio’s. I can see what the Bush campaign is up to, but I have no clue what the Rubio campaign is trying to accomplish, unless the Republican caucus he’s trying to win is in the Iowa State House or Iowa Senate.

Walker Feeling the Heat from Iowa GOP

IMG_4698-X3It was the best of times…

Over the weekend the Des Moines Register released its latest Iowa Poll in conjunction with Bloomberg Politics. Once again, the poll shows Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leading the large and talented Republican field.

While Walker only gained one point since the Register last polled the Republican presidential field in January, the big change is the size of Walker’s lead. In January, he led Kentucky Senator Rand Paul by just one point. Walker’s lead over the field has now grown to seven points, well outside of the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

Walker sets the pace in Iowa with 17 percent. Paul and Dr. Ben Carson tie for second place in the poll with 10 percent. Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush both garnered 9 percent. Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio both drew support from 6 percent of the likely caucus goers who the Des Moines Register polled.

Walker’s lead is substantial. His seven-point lead over Paul and Carson is larger than what nine other presidential hopefuls could muster in the poll. The latest Iowa poll confirms that Walker is a clear frontrunner in Iowa, but other polls indicate that Walker is the overall frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

In addition to performing well in Iowa polls, Walker has also led in some recent national polls. Other states polls that show Walker leading the Republican field in states like Pennsylvania, Washington, and Arizona is evidence that Walker is more than just an Iowa phenomenon.

It was the worst of times…

While the polls suggest that Walker appears to be solidifying himself as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, the Republican Party of Iowa’s quadrennial presidential straw poll is making life difficult. Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio have each publically stated that they will not be participating in the event, but the rest of the field is in the midst of a staring contest.

The pressure is on Walker to participate. If Walker plays in the event, it’s easy to see how the Republican Party of Iowa salvages the event despite the national media’s desire to see the event come to an end. If Walker joins those who pass on participating in the 2015 Straw Poll, the event will essentially be dead.

The question for Walker is, how confident is he about his Iowa prospects?

As a neighboring governor who is currently atop of Iowa and national polls, one would think that Walker’s campaign may be eager to cement it’s frontrunner status. The problem is that early poll numbers indicate interest in particular candidates, not necessarily organizational strength. This means that, Walker currently has advantages over the field, a Straw Poll victory is not a certainty.

Walker and the other candidates who have yet to confirm their attendance to the Straw Poll are now being publically pressured to participate. An online petition made the rounds on Friday afternoon. The petition originated from the leaders of the county central committees of the state’s two largest counties – Linn and Polk. The petition links to a Washington Times article titled, “Scott Walker no-show could kill Iowa straw poll

Another Washington Times article over the weekend featured comments by Dr. Cody Hoefert, the co-chair of the Republican Party of Iowa. The article states that Hoefert texted campaigns over the weekend warning them that not participating in the Straw Poll could have consequences. “Four northwest Iowa GOP county chairmen told me Friday that they won’t support, help or promote anyone who doesn’t attend the straw poll,” Hoefert told the Times.

It’s pretty clear that the Republican Party of Iowa is getting more aggressive with the campaigns who have yet to confirm their participation in the Straw Poll. And while they may not be singling Walker out, there is a big difference between applying heat on a candidate that is currently leading in the Iowa polls and others who are farther back in the pack.

The reality facing the Walker campaign is that, if they participate in the August Straw Poll, they don’t have a lot to gain, but they have an awful lot to lose. While it might not be a matchup in the eyes of the media, Dr. Ben Carson, who is already confirmed that he is participating, is also currently second in the polls. A straw poll victory over Walker would be a huge win for Carson and a devastating loss for Walker.

Should Walker follow the lead of Bush, Huckabee, and Rubio and skip the event, it appears that all the good will and interest that Walker currently enjoys from Republican activists could evaporate. Even with Walker’s current standing in national polls and polls in other states, Iowa is vital to Walker’s pathway to the Republican nomination.

It’s clear from the Walker campaign’s lack of interest in the Straw Poll that they would likely prefer to forgo participating in the event. Yet, with all the pressure being applied on Walker, se shouldn’t be surprised if he begrudgingly participates.


Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com 

Live Coverage of the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner

Eleven announced and likely 2016 presidential candidates will take the stage at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines tonight for the Republican Party of Iowa’s Annual Lincoln Dinner.

Here is the speaking order.

Senator Rick Santorum
Dr. Ben Carson
Governor Bobby Jindal
Governor Jeb Bush
Governor Rick Perry
Senator Rand Paul
Governor George Pataki
Senator Lindsey Graham
Carly Fiorina
Donald Trump
Governor Scott Walker

Doors Open at 4:30, Dinner begins at 5:30, and everything is supposed to wrap by 9:30.

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Huckabee May be Closer to the Lead In Iowa Than It Appears

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.01.39 PMThe latest poll of Iowa caucus goers has Scott Walker leading the crowded and talented field of Republican presidential aspirants. Walker leads by eight points over second place finishers Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Texas Senator Ted Cruz finished fourth with 12 percent, and 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee finished in fifth place with 11 percent.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the four fresh faces are leading the polls in Iowa. It’s only natural to want to get to know or have a favorable opinion of new and emerging leaders. This isn’t just evident in recent polls, but we have seen these fresh faces get a better response from the audience at each of the multi-candidate events that have been held in Iowa this year. The oldest of the bunch is Rand Paul, who is only 52 years-old. Walker, Rubio, and Cruz are still in their forties.

As the 2016 Republican field takes shape, the early advantage goes to those who have that “new candidate smell.” It’s important to realize, however, that it’s just that, an advantage. If previous election cycles have taught us anything, it’s that polls tell us very little about the race until the actual contests nears.

Case in point, Iowa polls in May of 2007 showed Rudy Giuliani narrowly leading John McCain. Things looked good for the national frontrunners in Iowa at the time. Giuliani’s Real Clear Politics poll average on May 1st was at 22.3 percent, McCain’s average was 21.5 percent. One month later, both candidates announced that they would not participate in the Republican Party of Iowa’s Straw Poll that year, and while both maintained a presence in Iowa throughout the caucuses, neither were real factors in Iowa.

Mitt Romney, the national frontrunner in 2012, faired much better. In May of 2011, Romney led the Republican field in Iowa. Newt Gingrich was in second place, followed by Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum. The polls in Iowa and nationally throughout the fall were tumultuous to say the least. And while Romney remained strong in Iowa, the early polls never identified the eventual caucus winner, which was also the case with the early polls in 2008.

When you look at these early polls, one needs to realize that respondents oftentimes project their feelings on a candidate that they have yet to meet or fully know. Just look at the latest Quinnipiac Poll in Iowa. Respondents were asked whether a candidate’s position on issues were too conservative, not conservative enough, or just about right. Guess who likely caucus goers think is, “just about right?” Sen. Marco Rubio.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said that Rubio’s positions are “just about right.” I hope Quinnipiac asks that same question in five months because, instead of scoring at 65 percent on the questions, I’m pretty sure that Rubio will be somewhere in the low fifties. Why is that the case? Because people are projecting what they want to believe on a currently popular candidate they don’t yet fully know.   It shouldn’t surprise you that Gov. Scott Walker also scored high in this category. Again, as people begin to interact with the candidates and know their positions on a multitude of issues, the polling will change.

The early polls indicate that there is a lot of interest in Walker in Iowa. You don’t need a poll to figure that out.   There is also interest in Rubio, Paul, and Cruz. Not only is that a good sign for those candidates, but it also gives them the green light to come to Iowa and turn the interest into real support.  Jeb Bush had a green light in Iowa a few months ago, but instead being aggressive and starting to reach out to Iowans, his campaign never really engaged here, which makes being successful here much more difficult than it should be.

And even though the polls don’t show it, I think it would be a big mistake to think someone like Mike Huckabee has seen his moment pass. The former caucus winner is perhaps the most personable candidate in the Republican field, and his communication skills are unmatched. Unlike Rick Santorum and Rick Perry who also ran for president before, Huckabee enters the 2016 race as a much stronger candidate. Huckabee is better known, better organized, and has a more experienced team in place than he did in 2008. It would be difficult for other candidates to say the same.

Huckabee himself is also a better candidate than he was eight years ago. In his announcement speech in Hope, Arkansas, on Tuesday, Huckabee not only rolled out a wide-ranging platform, but he also found ways to jab pretty much all of his likely opponents. Huckabee didn’t mention any names. He didn’t have to, but if there was an area in which he struggled in the 2008 race, it was his inability to aggressively campaign against his opponents.

On Wednesday night, Huckabee told a crowd of 250 to 300 who gathered to see him at Living History Farms that he was happy to be back in Iowa. “You know the craziest thing I’ve had to deal with over the past several months is people have said: ‘Well, I don’t know if I’ll be with Huckabee or not. I’m just not sure he’s going to run.’ And I’m thinking: ‘How many bread crumbs have I got to leave on the trail before the birds get the idea here?’”

With Huckabee now officially in the race, the race is on for the support of the most loyal and dedicated block of caucus goers – Christian conservatives. While some of Huckabee’s most loyal backers from 2008 are still with him, he’s going to have to win back the support of others who are going to do their due diligence and vet the entire field regardless of who they have supported in the past.

Still, when you are looking at the all the polls that are coming out that show Walker or some other new face in the lead, just remember that there is a familiar figure in mirror who maybe closer to the lead than they appear.





Some Candidates Begin to Emerge at Iowa Faith and Freedom Kickoff

Jindal TFLNine Republican presidential hopefuls attended the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 15th Annual Spring Kickoff on Saturday evening in Waukee, Iowa. Another candidate, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, addressed the crowd with a short video message, and surrogates from most of the other candidates who did not attend also addressed the gathering of nearly 1000 activists.

The question on everyone’s mind after another marathon multi-candidate event is always, who won? Unfortunately it’s not that easy, especially when with such a large and diverse group of candidates.   To be honest, it’s not necessarily fair to judge a candidate like Carly Fiorina straight up against Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Fiorina is a classic underdog and Cruz is a conservative favorite.

Instead trying to identify winners and loser, I think it’s more important to determine what each candidate tried to accomplish and whether or not they were successful. Every candidate had something different they were trying to accomplish on Saturday night.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio

All eyes were on Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Saturday night at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s 15th Annual Spring Kickoff. Rubio made his first trip to Iowa as an official presidential candidate over the weekend and was the first candidate to take the stage. The room was full of excitement as Rubio was announced, and the 43-year-old presidential candidate kept the energy up with one of the best-delivered speeches of the night.

Some of Rubio’s best lines included, “Government is no replacement for our churches, our families, and our homes,” and, “You can’t have a strong country without strong people, and you can’t have strong people without strong values.”

Rubio made a great first impression on Saturday, but to be a real factor in Iowa, he’s going to have to commit to doing the retail politicking that’s required in a state like Iowa.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

Paul was received well by the conservative audience. If one thing was made abundantly clear by the reception Paul received on Saturday night, it’s that he can make a play for the support of evangelical and socially conservative voters in a way that his father never could.

As expected, Senator Paul made a point to talk about the debate he had in the media with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the topic of abortion. “I’m tired of us retreating on this issue, and I’m going to push back,” Paul declared. “I think we can win this argument,” he said. “I plan to be a big part of it. I’m going to keep talking about it.”

Not only was Paul smart to attend the event – it’s the first Iowa cattle call he has attended – but I thought he did exactly what he needed to do. Paul wasn’t one of the names that people were talking about after the event, but he surpassed every expectation I had for him at the event, and just being an acceptable choice of those in this crowd is a victory in and of itself.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry

“It’s good to be in Dallas,” Perry said as he opened his speech. “Dallas County,” he added to laughter from the audience. Perry entered Iowa with all the trappings of a frontrunner in 2012, but he seems much more comfortable as an underdog for the 2016 race.

Perry spoke about second chances, and cited numerous examples from the Bible. From the reaction of the crowd, it seems like the environment is such that Iowans are open to giving Perry a second chance. Perry’s message is also much more positive.

“I’m so optimistic,” Perry said as he began to close his remarks. “Not of just the future of this country, but I’m optimistic about this world that we live in. You think about who we are, you think about where we’ve been. This is a resilient country. We’ve been through a civil war. We’ve been through two world wars. We’ve been through a great depression. We lived through Jimmy Carter, and we will make it through the Obama years I’ll promise you. This is our time to put America back on track. To again show the world that America and the American values we have are the future of the world and the savior of the world.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

It kind of odd, but Jindal was probably one of the least known candidates to address the crown on Saturday night. Jindal doesn’t get the news coverage that a Cruz, Walker, or Paul receive, and Jindal did not participate in either the Iowa Freedom Summit or the Iowa Ag Summit. Jindal needs these big stages to become better known and impress activist. Not only was his speech was well received, but people were talking about him after the event. Mission accomplished.

Jindal is starting to turn some heads. Earlier this month, Jindal was well received at The FAMiLY Leader’s Southeast Iowa Regional event, and now he has accomplished the same in Waukee on Saturday night. Jindal has all the raw materials that make up a good presidential candidate, but one was beginning to wonder if he was capable of breaking through in a crowded Republican field. On Saturday night, he proved that he can.

Carly Fiorina

Once again Fiorina used her time in the spotlight to criticize Hillary Clinton while highlighting her accomplishments. Fiorina panned Clinton’s road trip by telling the audience that she had logged 1222 miles in Iowa last week and spoken to over 2400 Iowans in 15 cities and towns. Her best line of the night, “I have to tell you, I will take Casey’s pizza in a car to Chipotle’s takeout any time,” Fiorina said, “My favorite is sausage, and I prefer to order and eat without my sunglasses on.”

Fiorina is well liked and respected by Iowa Republican activists. She may be a long shot, but she is going to be a surprise on caucus night if she keeps it up.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum

Santorum was greeted warmly, and if you watched closely, you might have noticed that these Iowans are proud of the fact that Santorum won the 2012 caucuses. It’s almost as if they are happy that Santorum was rewarded for his hard work and determination for the last campaign. Other candidates received more applause, but Santorum has earned the respect of Iowa Caucus goers. Santorum doesn’t need to work to earn their respect if he runs in 2016, he needs to convince them once again that he is deserving of their support.

Santorum used his time in front of 1000 conservative activists not to tout his conservative credentials, but to make the case for why he is the best suited to be the Republican nominee in 2016. Santorum reminded the audience that, while he eventually was credited with winning the Iowa caucuses, he didn’t get the win when it counted which would have given his campaign a boost.

Santorum argued that the media is wrong when they say he surged late and won Iowa. He then correctly pointed out that his surge actually occurred after the four early states, which is a good argument for him to make. Santorum surmised that the reason for his success was his blue-collar economic message. He warned that Republicans are stuck on a 35-year-old message on the economy, and they need to fine-tune their message in order to connect with the middle class.

Santorum started off on a good note by sharing a funny story about the last caucuses, and it was smart for him to use his previous successes make the case for himself in 2016.   What I didn’t like is that his speech could have been entitled, “I told you so.” I don’t think you grow support by reminding people that you were right all the time. While I agree with the points he’s making, I think he needed to find a better way communicate them.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

I was fascinated by the different reactions the audience had to the introductions of Huckabee and Santorum. While Santorum has earned the respect of Iowa caucus-goers, they still really like Huckabee. The polls bear this out, too. While Santorum finds himself back in the low single digits, Huckabee routinely polls near the top in Iowa.

As always, Huckabee used his down-home charm and story telling ability to connect to the audience. His message was simple – we must return power back to the people. He used this theme to talk about eliminating the federal Department of Education and eliminating the IRS by enacting the Fair Tax. Huckabee was the only candidate who really talked about major tax reform at the event.

Huckabee then warned the audience about the apparent hostility towards Christianity in America today. “Not just in our lifetime, but as never before in the history of this great nation, we are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.” Huckabee blamed this phenomenon on the fact that too many people in the country suffer from a lack of knowledge.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz

No candidate excites Iowa conservatives like Cruz has over the past couple of years. Cruz’s speeches are loaded with red meat and applause lines. Cruz is the definition of a conservative firebrand. The similarities between Cruz and Congressman Steve King are endless. To many conservatives, he’s the fighter on the issues that they are passionate about. To others, he’s controversial.

Despite King’s standing among Iowa conservatives, he’s never been able to capitalize on that politically. Unlike Cruz, King has never sought higher office, but Cruz needs to hope that all those conservatives who cheer him on believe in him enough to support him over other less controversial candidates.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Walker is currently the clear frontrunner in Iowa. He draws a tremendous amount of interest amongst caucus-goers, and the only question is whether his campaign will harvest all of that interest into support. I thought Walker’s speech was a bit disjointed on Saturday night, but Walker hit his stride near the end of his remarks. TheIowaRepublican.com will have more on Walker’s weekend in Iowa tomorrow coming up this week.