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.



South Carolina Primer

firstsouthlogoFour years ago, I spent about ten days in South Carolina for the First in the South primary. It was fascinating getting to experience what it’s like in another early state, and it was also nice to escape Iowa’s winter weather and hang out around the ocean in Myrtle Beach or Charleston. Both cities hosted major presidential debates within the span of days back in 2012.

Heading into South Carolina, I expected it to be similar to Iowa, but you know, just a lot warmer. I had heard about all the evangelical voters there and just assumed it would be a lot like Iowa. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was an eye opening experience. Yes, there are plenty of evangelical voters there, but I think they are different from Iowa’s brand of evangelicals.

The campaigning is also much more harsh. Some of the radio ads where brutal. If you think things get heated in Iowa, go check out South Carolina in a presidential primary. Just today, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said, “When you come to South Carolina, it’s a bloodsport. Politics is a bloodsport.” Can you imagine Terry Branstad saying that. Heck, we all went nuts when he said Iowans shouldn’t vote for Sen. Ted Cruz. How tame! I had to chuckle when Haley added, “I wear heels — it’s not for a fashion statement, it’s because you’ve got to be prepared to kick at any time.”

In 2012, South Carolina really ended up being a two-person race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. If you recall, Gingrich owned both the Fox News and CNN debates. The audiences at both events made it sound more like a football game than a presidential debate. Frankly, I think South Carolina in 2012 really foreshadowed what the 2016 Republican presidential campaign has been like in many respects.

Gingrich trounced Romney by securing over 40 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 28 percent. Rick Santorum, the just crowned winner of the Iowa Caucuses came in third with 17 percent of the vote. Gingrich carried the rural parts of the state and Greenville in the north. Romney had narrow victories in Columbia, Charleston, and in and around Hilton Head.

The 2008 results map probably gives you a better idea of the political geography of the state. Mike Huckabee is in brown and John McCain in tan. While the 2008 had a similar sized field, almost 170,000 more people voted in the South Carolina primary in 2012 than 2008. Still, as results come in it, does give you an idea of what to look for.

Sen. Marco Rubio needs to do well along the coasts and in the more densely populated areas like Columbia, Rock Hill, and Greenville. Sen. Ted Cruz needs to do well in the northern part of the state, including Rock Hill and Greenville, and he needs to be strong in the rural parts of the state. Donald Trump is the wild card, and as we saw in Iowa, he can make the county results map look like a map of a foreign country.

Trump has a similar persona as Gingrich, and with a big lead in the polls, we shouldn’t have to wait long for the networks to project him as the winner if the polls are anywhere close to being accurate. For the rest of the candidates, it’s going to be New Hampshire all over again. Look for a tight battle for the second and third spots. And as we saw in New Hampshire, coming in second place will be just as good as winning so long as your name is not Donald J. Trump.

For the third place finisher, it’s going to be a lot like the 2007 and 2011 Iowa Straw Poll. The third place finishers in those two events, Sam Brownback and Tim Pawlenty, ended their campaigns shortly there after. I’m not saying that either Cruz or Rubio are at risk of having their campaigns blow up over night, but a third place finish is going to hurt either of them in a significant way.

South Carolina is tailor-made for someone like Cruz. In fact, his style of politics fits better there than it does in Iowa, and we saw what his campaign did here in Iowa. Oh, and it’s no coincidence that Conservative Review held a convention in Greenville on Thursday night since they are in the bag for Cruz. Rubio, on the other hand, has the endorsement of Haley, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and Congressman Trey Gowdy, all three being next generation leaders. When you have those kinds of endorsements, you should be talking about winning, not coming in second.

Trump’s fine so long as he wins. If he loses, sound the alarms. A loss would be devastating considering where he stands in the polls. John Kasich is out just to finish ahead of Jeb Bush, and if he does, that may end Bush’s candidacy. Bush simply needs to surprise, which means he’s in the same boat as Dr. Ben Carson.

It should be a fun Saturday night. I hope my meager knowledge of South Carolina is somewhat helpful. I just wish I was back in Charleston, what a great city!


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The Establishment’s Half-Hearted Effort in Iowa

Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Mitt Romney may have never won the Iowa caucuses, but in both of his presidential runs, he did show establishment Republicans that success can be found in the state. Romney never even carried a third of Iowa’s 99 counties, but his focused effort in Iowa allowed him to rack up nearly 30,000 votes in each of his runs.

Romney’s previous runs should provide the more mainstream and moderate candidates in 2016 a road map in approaching what at times can be a difficult state. Yet surprisingly, neither Sen. Marco Rubio, Governor Chris Christie, nor Jeb Bush seem the least bit interesting in following Romney’s path when it comes to Iowa.

Even though Romney never actually won Iowa, it would be wrong to categorize everything he did in Iowa as a failure. When one looks at the results of the past two caucuses, you realize that the Romney campaign was efficient and focused when it came to Iowa. Those are two traits that are even more important this cycle as the race for the nomination has become more nationalized and the field of candidates is large and unruly.

In his 2008 race, Romney carried 24 counties and garnered 29,949 votes. Four years later, he only carried 16 counties but still garnered 29,839 total votes. Santorum was able to win six counties that Romney carried in 2008 and Congressman Rand Paul won seven counties that Romney won four years earlier, Romney picked up five new counties in 2012, three of which, Polk, Story, and Cerro Gordo, were some of the most populated.

Of the 13 counties that Romney had carried in 2008, but lost in 2012, only one, Woodbury County, is one that Romney actually contested. The rest were rural counties that Romney was able to travel to in 2008, but did not focus on in 2012.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if you take the counties Romney won in 2008 and 2012, you essentially have a road map to the parts of the state where moderate candidates like Romney would be wise to invest their time. In all, there are 30 counties that Romney was able to win. So, if you are Rubio, Christie, or Bush, it would seem to logical to follow Romney’s footsteps.

Surprisingly, the three candidates who are best positioned to pick up those caucus goers who once supported Romney have not made a point to campaign in those counties. Since the Iowa State Fair in August, Marco Rubio has made 26 campaign stops in these counties and has only visited 11 of the 30 counties. Christie made 18 campaign stops, but only has visited nine of the 30 counties that Romney has won in Iowa.

It’s even worse for Jeb Bush, the once frontrunner who everyone thought would follow Romney’s approach in Iowa since he hired some of the key components of Romney’s Iowa operation. Bush has visited just eight of the 30 counties and only done a dozen or so campaign stops.

Beyond the fact that these candidates have basically ignored some key territory that could help their performance in Iowa, it’s almost embarrassing to see where they have not campaigned. Rubio has done a better job of late of campaigning across the state, but perhaps it might be wise to spend a little more time in the western part of the metro. The running joke is that Rubio always campaigns in Ankeny, a growing northern suburb. But besides back-to-back appearances at Noah’s Events Center in West Des Moines which is barely inside Dallas County, Rubio hasn’t spent much time in what is a critical county for him.

Christie hasn’t made it to Dubuque since July and has yet to travel to Sioux City as a presidential candidate. He will make his first visit there next week. Bush hasn’t even been to Iowa since December 2nd, and while he returns next week to make stops in Johnson, Poweshiek, and Polk Counties, he hasn’t visited Pottawattamie, Story, or Woodbury counties in a long time.

Iowa gets a bad wrap because mainstream Republicans have struggled to win here in the caucuses. Instead of blaming Iowans for how they vote, perhaps we ought to be critical of the campaigns that these establishment candidates are running. The media is obsessed with stories about each campaign’s ground game in Iowa, yet they overlook the simple fact that its difficult to win over voters you have either never met or made little or no effort to go after.

The frustrating thing about all of this is that while it may be impossible for someone like Bush, Christie or Rubio to win Iowa, each of them could use a strong or surprising finish to increase their odds at winning in New Hampshire. Of course they will make appearances in Iowa over the last few weeks before the caucuses, but if you are a supporter of any of these campaigns, you should be embarrassed by the half-hearted effort each of them has made in Iowa.

The Washington D.C. pundits and the Republican donor class have spent the past six months contemplating how best they could prevent either Donald Trump or Texas Senator Ted Cruz from winning the Republican nomination. Instead of spewing their hate towards those they despise or digging deeper into their pockets to help fund efforts to derail Trump and Cruz, all it really ever requires was a little hard work and time on Iowa’s four-lane highways.

The result of the laziness of these campaigns can already been seen in the Iowa polls, and it will likely be more noticeable when you look at the results map on caucus night. Trump and Cruz are likely to win in areas where Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were not successful in the last two caucuses. The most important place to watch is eastern Iowa, an area that Romney always owned.

Trump has already shown some strength in southeast Iowa by holding impressive events in Burlington, Ottumwa, and Oskaloosa. Cruz’s strength is found in conservative northwest Iowa. As they both continue to campaign across the state, they are likely to only get stronger. Conventional wisdom is that Rubio is positioned to make this a three-person race. He will get his vote share, but he’s not going to be the surprise in Iowa.

The surprise is more likely to come out of the forgotten candidates like Sen. Rand Paul and his passionate young supporters. Paul has announced that he already has over 1000 precinct leaders in place. That’s problematic for a lot of campaigns, especially in eastern Iowa. The Paul campaign is well organized, and like Romney’s organization, it is efficient and focused on places they know they can perform well.

Mike Huckabee is campaigning everywhere in the final days of the caucus campaign and just completed traveling to all of Iowa’s 99 counties since he announced his candidacy, which is more impressive than counting all the visits you made when you were just thinking of running. Huckabee’s support is loyal and organized.

In going through the process of looking at who has campaigned where since the Iowa State Fair in these 30 counties, a surprising name continued to pop up. Carly Fiorina has campaigned in 15 of these counties, doing 24 campaign events. She’s done a better job of traveling the state than Rubio, Bush, and Christie.

The caucuses are all about retail politics and relationships. To do well, you have to make yourself assessable to voters. The establishment candidates have failed to figure that out.



Iowa Caucus Perspective: Ground Game Edition

IowaPrimaryThe New York Times took a swipe at Donald Trump’s Iowa campaign on Saturday. The article was titled, Donald Trump Campaign Lags in Mobilizing Iowa Caucus Voters. The article claims that Trump’s ground game in Iowa isn’t up to the task of turning out people to their local caucuses on the evening of February 1st.

The article states that Trump’s campaign only had 130 people participate in its first caucus training. The campaign has not invested in voter canvasing like others have. And finally, recent voter registration numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office showed no significant growth in Republican registrations. More simply put, the New York Times believes that the Trump campaign is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

To back up its claim, the Times points out that Rand Paul has already signed up 800 precinct captains. Where did they get that number? Straight from Paul campaign. Now, I find the number to be very believable. The Paul campaign is well run with plenty of seasoned Iowans at the helm. But let’s not forget that that the Paul campaign isn’t showing many signs of life in Iowa or anywhere else. It’s somewhat ironic that the Times is willing to take a campaign’s word on how well organized they are when that same campaign is mired in low single digits in Iowa and everywhere else.

The Times also noted that the Ben Carson Super PAC has more than twice as many Iowa staffers than the Trump campaign. That too may be accurate, but just because they have twice the number of Iowa staffers that Trump and most other Iowa campaigns have, doesn’t necessarily make them twice as good or twice as effective.

The Times claims that the Trump campaign as not put in the work to canvass potential Iowa caucus goers. Yes, it seems likely that the Trump campaign has not called through the list of registered Republican voters to take their temperature on their candidate, but it seems to me that the Trump campaign has used its campaign rallies to self-identify Iowans. If you show up or request a ticket to attend, it means you are interested. If you filled out a supporter card and identified what you are willing to do for the campaign, it means they have a hot lead.

Frankly, the Times article went out of its way to suggest that Trump is not doing what it takes to win in Iowa, but failed to really offer an example of another campaign who was doing it right.

The article did mention Ted Cruz’s 48-bed dormitory and the 500 out-of-state activists who are coming to Iowa to help the campaign. It sounds impressive, but bringing in a bunch of outsiders to convince Iowans who to caucus for isn’t necessarily a great idea. I’ve talked to some people who have encountered Cruz people out canvasing door-to-door. If you think the Trump campaign is foolish for sitting on a stacks of supporter cards or lists of people who attended events, then what does it say when the Cruz campaign sends some gal to a strange neighborhood she’s never been to in her life to knock on doors and talk to people about her candidate?

The fact of the matter is that none of the campaigns in Iowa are overly organized. And if we are being completely honest, even the best campaign should be nervous as hell six weeks out from caucus night. Organizing for the caucuses is a herculean task. Not only are you organizing turnout in almost 1700 locations, but there are a bunch of voters who are not about to let a campaign, even one they may support, tell them what they need to do.

Call it whatever you want, but the term “Iowa stubborn” can accurately describe many Iowa Republican activists. Just ask them, they are the experts. They don’t need a preppy kid from the Bush campaign or some out-of-stater who has a Ted Cruz poster hanging over their bed to tell them how to caucus.

Personally, I love these people. I may actually be one of them. These are people who instantaneously know when there is a problem, and they are more than willing to point it out. And if a campaign had asked for their input early on in the process, they would just have looked at them and said, you are the experts, I’m sure you will figure it out. Good luck ever herding that kind of cat before caucus night!

Another major factor that nobody is talking about is overall turnout. I would imagine more turnout numbers would be bandied about if the campaigns on the ground in Iowa had any clue about where they currently stand. The one piece of information in the New York Times article that stood out to was the 48,000 people the Trump campaign is attempting to turnout.

Let’s first put that number into perspective. The largest vote getter in the history of the Republican caucuses in Iowa is Mike Huckabee, who in 2008, received 40,841 votes. To put that into perspective, George W. Bush got 35,948 in 2000. If Trump can turn out his 48,000, I don’t thing he can be beat. I also think a candidate like Cruz will struggle to get more votes than Bush got in 2000.

You can tell a lot about a campaign once you get a clue as to what they think turnout is going to be. For instance, in 2007 while working at the Iowa GOP, someone from the Romney campaign stopped by the office after hours, and after chatting for a while, I asked this person what they thought overall turnout would be. They said very low, somewhere around 76,000. I chuckled and said that there was no way we wouldn’t break 100,000, and I couldn’t see us falling below 1996 numbers.

It was at that moment I realized that the Romney campaign was completely screwed. Earlier in the day, I had written my projection on post-it note on the back of a picture on my wall. My prediction was somewhere near 110,000. On caucus night, more than 118,000 people participated.

Why was the Romney projection so far off? Because turnout had to be that low in order from Romney to win. They had the best ground campaign money could buy. The candidate did the most events in the state. In their mind and in the minds of the media, nobody else could hold a candle to what Romney had in Iowa. Romney also knew that they were going to turnout 30,000 people on caucus night. No way did they ever believe that Huckabee would could turnout 40,000. Thus, the Romney campaign believed that those 30,000 caucus goers would be good for at least 30-40 percent of all caucus goers.

Boy, were they wrong. The big mistake they made was not really respecting Huckabee. Instead of being worried about his broad appeal, they laughed and ridiculed his cobbled together campaign. It was a mess, and it was cobbled together. The Huckabee campaign consisted of just a few field staffers. Eric Woolson, his Iowa campaign manager, knew what he was doing, but was overwhelmed by the Huckabee surge. A candidate who was articulate, folksy, and incredibly likeable held it all together.

Four years later, Santorum not only rebuilt a similar coalition of voters, but his campaign wasn’t going to win any awards for having the best staffers in Iowa or the being the best prepared. Frankly, Santorum’s team was probably a little better organized, but still people would scoff at the notion if you thought that he had assembled an all-star team.

There are a lot of similarities between politics and sports, but if we have learned anything about politics in Iowa it’s that the old sports adage that the best team always wins, doesn’t always apply. Mitt Romney ran the best caucus campaign in Iowa in 2008 and 2012, and all he has to show for it is two-second place finishes. And again, I don’t see anyone out there with a campaign organization that’s in the same league as what Romney built.

Jeb’s Quiet Push in Iowa

Bush IA
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com


On Monday night in Ames, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush spoke to a couple hundred Story County Republicans at the Judge Joseph Story Dinner at the Prairie Moon Winery. Bush didn’t appear to be a candidate who felt out of place in Iowa. During his 20 minute-long remarks, Bush displayed his passion for getting America back on the right track, and he was optimistic about the country’s future, saying that he feels fortunate to have the opportunity to be a candidate for president.

Bush’s remarks also included some veiled jabs at his new nemesis, Donald Trump. At one point in his remarks, Bush said, “I hope you won’t fall prey to the louder voices in our own party and certainly of the other party that are always trying to divide us, to separate us, rather than trying to unite us.”

Bush, who described himself as a happy warrior who, “wakes up with joy in his heart,” also said, “I’m running to win. I’m not running to make a point. I’m not running to say that my form of conservatism is better than somebody else’s.” Bush made it clear that his goal is to win.

Bush believes that in order for Republicans to win they must broaden their appeal. “This is about campaigning in places Republicans have not been in a while. It’s about campaigning in Latino communities in this country and encouraging them to join our cause. It’s about going to the black churches and talking about school choice. About talking to people about how we can empower them by giving them the tools to earn success on their own.”

Bush’s point that the Republicans need to campaign in places outside of their comfort zones is something that Republicans needs to realize is important. Bush drove that point home by saying, “Mark my word, a conservative is never going to President of the United States again unless we recognize the world has changed. It’s not that they are not conservative, we just haven’t asked them to join our cause.”

Jeb Bush was never going to set the record for the number of times a presidential candidate would visit Iowa this cycle. Bush is never going to be the preferred candidate of conservative activists either. Yet, just because Bush isn’t pounding the pavement like Rick Santorum, Rick Perry or Mike Huckabee doesn’t mean he’s not making a strong play for Iowa.

Bush is making just his fourth trip to Iowa this week. In addition to his Ames visit, he visited Sioux City on Monday afternoon. Tomorrow, Bush will campaign in Council Bluffs. Even though he has spent limited time in the state, his campaign has made a point to visit the areas of the state that will be critical for him if he hopes to be competitive on caucus night.

To understand what Bush needs to accomplish in Iowa, one only needs to look at the results map from the 2012 Republican caucuses. In order for Bush to be strong in Iowa, he has to be strong in the state’s metropolitan areas. This is essentially what Romney was able to accomplish in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Even though Bush has only made four trips to Iowa, his initial visits have included Polk, Dallas, Story, Pottawattamie, Woodbury, Linn, and Johnson counties. Romney carried every one of those counties in 2012 except for Woodbury County, which he lost to Santorum by 173 votes. Romney carried that county in his 2008 campaign. To Bush’s credit, he has also visited two counties that Romney performed poorly in – Marion and Washington counties.

Like a lot of other candidates Bush has his work cut out for him in Iowa, but the army of young campaign staffers that descended to collect attendees’ information after his speech in Story County on Monday night proves that Bush was being serious when he said his goal was to win. When it comes to Iowa, never believe what you read in those national publications about who’s ignoring what state, just listen to the candidate and observe the staff.

It was pretty clear last night that Bush is going to be more aggressive in Iowa than people think.









Iowa Republicans Appear to be Open to Immigration Reform

immigration-reformAn Iowa presidential poll conducted back in April by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group that advocates for immigration reform, shows that the actual views of Republican caucus goers on the hot-button issues may be different than you might expect.

When likely caucus goers were asked if they would be willing to support a candidate for President who supports a multi-step approach to granting illegal immigrants legal status, 81 percent of respondents said yes.

The steps being discussed in the poll included a requirement to pay a fine, back taxes, learn English and American civics, be financially self-supporting, and pass a criminal background check in addition to securing the border, and implementing an updated workplace employment verification system.

The perception of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses is that they are typically dominated by staunch conservatives, yet the results of this poll that focuses on the immigration issues paints a much different picture on this particular issue.

Even when asked if they would be willing to support a presidential candidate that supports all of the previous stated immigration reforms but also would allow illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship after waiting at least ten years, the number supporting that position only drops to 74 percent.

The poll also shows that only 30 percent of likely Republican caucus goers believe that all undocumented immigrants living in the United States should be required to leave the U.S. The people who hold that position are fairly firm in their beliefs. Even when told that it would cost taxpayers an estimated $400 to $600 billion dollars and up to 20 years to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants, only 5 percent would change their position.

Immigration is a tricky issue in Iowa. If the issue is not a hot topic of debate nationally, it doesn’t seem to be much of a difference maker in caucus campaigns and local elections. This was the case in 2012 caucuses. The issue played a different role in the 2008 caucuses. In the summer of 2007, immigration reform became a hot topic as the Congress took up the issue. The Republican frontrunner at the time, Arizona Senator John McCain, supported a compromise proposal.

There were a number of factors that caused McCain to shake up his presidential campaign, chief among them was poor fundraising performance, but McCain’s support of immigration reform and how unpopular it was in Iowa at the time, led him to let go of most of his Iowa campaign staff and instead focus on New Hampshire.

This current polling data suggests that, over time, Iowa Republicans have become more open to supporting a number of steps that would address the country’s illegal immigration problem. The only caveat about the current opinions of Iowa caucuses goers on the subject is that, if the Republican controlled Congress chooses to take up the cause, it would instantly be on more people’s radar. For now, the polling from April shows that more people care about taxes, government spending, foreign policy, national security, and jobs and the economy. In the shadow of last week’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage and Obamacare subsidies, it’s safe to assume that immigration policy is currently on the back burner, and it could stay that way for a while.

Even with a vast field of Republican presidential candidates, most of the candidates have seemed pretty measured when discussing the topic. As we have seen in previous caucuses campaigns, the candidates themselves will elevate certain issues. In 2008, Mitt Romney staked out a very conservative position on immigration, which he used to campaign against McCain. In 2012, Michele Bachmann took a hardline approach on immigration and used it to contrast herself to Texas Governor Rick Perry in late summer and fall of 2011.

Thus far, we have seen candidates scramble to get to the right of their opponents on social issues, not immigration. Part of the reason for that is caucus politics, but the other reason is that there are not many 2016 presidential candidates who have a resume that would allow them to use the issue to separate themselves from the rest of the field. The way things look today, the immigration issue might play out like it did in the last caucuses. Some candidate will surely attempt to leverage it, but ultimately the issue might not be a top issue in the presidential race.

Analyzing the Latest Iowa Poll

Opinion_PollingIn modern politics, polling has become just as unpredictable as the Iowa weather. If you don’t like the results of the latest poll, just give it a little time. It’s bound to change. Even though we are inundated with local and national polling data these days, my phone goes crazy whenever the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll is released.

The Register’s polling is well regarded, mainly because in the past few caucuses, the final poll before people attend their caucuses has been pretty accurate. In 2012, the Register’s poll showed the Santorum surge. In 2008, the Register pretty much pegged Huckabee’s victory of Romney.

The same can’t be said of the polls the Register, or any organization for that matter, conducts earlier in the process. The national media likes to talk about how the Republican Party of Iowa’s Straw Poll isn’t a harbinger of the caucuses because Bachmann won the event in 2012 and finished in sixth place on caucus night. The same could be said of the early polls in a presidential race, even in a state like Iowa, which receives a ton of attention from the candidates and news media.

The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll from June of 2011 showed Romney leading Bachmann by just one point, 23 to 22 percent. Herman Cain was all by himself in third place with 10 percent, while Gingrich and Ron Paul both garnered seven percent. Rick Santorum, the eventual caucus winner, was back in seventh place with just 4 percent. The only candidate he led was Jon Huntsman, who was not competing in Iowa.

In the 2008 race, the Register’s Iowa Poll in May of 2007 showed Mitt Romney with a commanding lead over John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Romney led McCain 30 to 18 percent. Giuliani came in a close third with 17 percent of the vote. Mike Huckabee, the eventual caucus winner, didn’t even register any support in the poll.

I’m not saying that you can’t gleam some good information from early polls, but I would be careful not to use early data to write off long shot candidates. The early 2008 poll gave us no indication about Huckabee, but it did tell us that the two national frontrunners, McCain and Giuliani, were in trouble in Iowa. In 2011, the late spring Iowa Poll spelled trouble for Tim Pawlenty, who was already heavily invested in the state, yet was polling in sixth place.

So, what should we take away from the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll?

  1. Scott Walker is the frontrunner in Iowa before the candidates and campaigns begin to distinguish themselves. Walker’s favorability has grown in each poll the Register has conducted since October of 2014. Last October, he had a +39 favorability rating, but 41 percent of respondents didn’t know what enough about him to have an opinion. In January his favorability jumped to +48, and the latest polls has it at +55.

    I have a couple of thoughts about Walker’s campaign in Iowa. One, what the heck is he waiting for? Walker has done very little campaigning across the state, likely because he’s not an official candidate. In politics. you have to strike while the iron is hot. The time to be out there getting people signed up is now. Walker’s high favorability marks are not going to last once campaigns and Super PACs start picking apart his record and recent position changes.

    Two, Walker’s difficult decision wouldn’t be so tough had he been more aggressive as far as Iowa goes. Walker reminds me a lot of Fred Thompson in May and June of 2007. Thompson waited to get in the race because he didn’t want to participate in the Iowa GOP’s Straw Poll. It cost him.

  1. Positive signs for Dr. Ben Carson. Being second in large field of candidates is great for an unconventional candidate like Carson. However, Carson’s campaign should be haunted by Herman Cain’s poll numbers at a similar time four years ago. Cain squandered a huge opportunity that he had in Iowa by not campaigning here or really building a grassroots following. It’s not glamorous going from town to town in Iowa, but it’s what you need to do if you want to be successful here. Carson has said that the reason he hasn’t been here more is that he didn’t want to back out on previous commitments. That’s reasonable, but if he wants to win Iowa or have a shot at the Republican nomination, he shouldn’t stray to far away.
  1. Splintered Social Conservatives. Some have argued that the poll under represents the presence of social conservatives. I don’t buy it. If the poll under represents anything, it’s rural voters. That said, when you add the support that Huckabee, Santorum, and Cruz garnered in the poll together you get 20 percent. That seems about where a strong social conservative would be if there vote share wasn’t being divided up.
  1. Underwhelmed by Rand Paul. Paul being in second place doesn’t surprise me, but him being tied with Carson at 10 percent shocks me. This is especially the case since the Register’s poll sample should favor someone like Paul. Perhaps this explains why Paul seems to be more willing to embrace his libertarian roots than he did a few months ago. Paul has to be careful. There is some fertile ground in the Republican Party when it comes to fiscal issues, but his recent comments about Republicans creating ISIS and claiming they wish for another terrorist attack could really hurt his ability to grow beyond what his father was able to do in Iowa. Paul reminded me a lot of his father in the early 2008 debates this week, and that’s not a good thing.
  1. Santorum has to like this poll. It seems odd to suggest that a former caucus winner should be happy about a poll that shows him tied in sixth with six percent of the vote. Yet, the fact that Santorum is slightly ahead of Cruz is good for him, and he’s only three points behind Huckabee. Santorum’s favorability has increased in each of the three latest Iowa Polls, and he’s tied with a perceived frontrunner in Rubio, who is still enjoying high favorable numbers.
  1. Fiorina is on the move. You can tell that the Register was really fishing to find the Carly Fiorina bump. They asked respondents a set of questions just about her, but she only garnered two percent in the poll. Fiorina’s movement can be found in her favorability rating, which went from -4 to +24 since the middle of January. People seem to always just want to see the overall poll numbers move, so the Register missed the story they were fishing for if you ask me. She is still unknown to 40 percent of Iowa caucus goers, yet her favorability number moved in a big way.
  1. Trump’s numbers are moving in the right direction. The Register is making a big deal over the candidates that people said they would never support. First, it’s a dumb question. People said that about Newt Gingrich at this time back in 2011, and yet, in the fall, there he was contending in the polls. The Register reported that 58 percent of Iowa caucus goers would never support Trump. Then one of their reporters told Trump in an interview that 85 percent of Iowa caucus goers wouldn’t support him. How embarrassing.

    Anyway, the number to look at for Trump is his favorability rating. In January, Trump’s favorability was -42, it dropped to -36 in the latest poll. Yes, the number is still pretty bad, but I’d take a positive direction over the negative direction that Chris Christie and Jeb Bush’s favorability numbers are heading any day. Christie has gone from a -6 last October to -18 in January, to a -30 in the latest poll. Bush’s numbers have dropped from a +22 to a -2. Ouch!

  1. Speaking of Bush. It is shocking to me how poorly he is doing in the polls. All polls, not just Iowa polls. I find him to be a likeable person, yet I think he’s been handled completely wrong. I’m starting to think not even $100 million can help save his image.

Walker Makes His Case in Northwest Iowa

Faith Freedom Coalition 4-25-15 (1896)-X3In Iowa, it seems like there is a marquee presidential event every month. This month, it was the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Annual Spring Kickoff, in March, it was the Iowa Ag Summit, and before that, Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit. All of these events share one thing in common – they are all multi-candidate events that draw national attention and scads of media coverage.

Last Friday, there was another marquee event, but this one was unique. Instead of being held in the Des Moines metro, it was held in Sheldon, a town of 5,100 people in northwest Iowa. The event was a joint fundraiser for six northwestern Iowa county GOP central committees. More that 400 people turned out to see the lone keynote speaker of the evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

It is well documented, that the counties in far northwest Iowa are predominantly Republican. Sixty-nine percent of registered voters in Sioux County are Republicans. O’Brien, Osceola, and Lyon counties all have Republican voter registration that easily surpasses fifty percent. Republicans make up 44 percent of registered voters in Plymouth County, but only 17 percent of the county is Democrat. Cherokee county has the lowest percentage of registered Republicans with 36 percent, but that’s still 15 percent higher than the Democrats.

These six counties are also consistent performers on caucus night. In 2008, Mike Huckabee carried five of the six counties. The only one he lost was Plymouth, which went for Romney. Four years later Rick Santorum carried five of the six counties, and once again, Romney won Plymouth County. It’s not that winning five of the six counties is going to make you a lock to win statewide, but if you are a conservative candidate like Huckabee and Santorum, you have to carry northwest Iowa if you want to win the state.

The opportunity to keynote an event like this gives Walker the opportunity to make a good first impression on all the key activists in these six counties. Walker is already viewed as the Iowa frontrunner, but the opportunity for his campaign to plant a flag in northwest Iowa would only make him more formidable. The question is, did Walker do enough to peel support from guys like Huckabee and Santorum.

Walker, dressed in his campaign uniform of a blue dress shirt and red tie with the sleeves rolled up, stuck to a script that was similar to the one he used at Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit in January. There was plenty of talk about the 2012 recall election, but he wisely used it to communicate that he is better for having gone through that experience. For example, Walker told the audience that, over the past four years, he has amassed a nationwide donor file of 300,000 donors and raised $80 million over the span of the last three years.

When in Iowa, Walker also likes to remind people that he lived in Plainfield, a town of 430 people in Bremer County, from the time he was two and half until age ten. Walker shared a story about how his father, who was a preacher in the town, had asked the local state representative if he would speak at a gathering on the 4th of July. The state representative he was talking about went by the name of Chuck Grassley. To this day, when Walker’s father sees Grassley on the TV, he says, “Now there is an honest man,” and it all stems backs to Grassley keeping his word about attending that 4th of July event.

Walker didn’t mention the Wisconsin-based Kohl’s department store while campaigning in central Iowa on Saturday, but the anecdote did make its way into his speech on Friday night. Once again, Walker told the story about how he uses the stores coupons and Kohl’s cash and then jokingly concludes that they end up paying him to take the shirt. This time however, Walker used a Kohls analogy to tout his view on taxes. Walker noted that Kohl’s is able to be profitable on volume. Walker suggested that the same could be done on taxes if we lower the rates, which would broaden the tax base and thus help the economy grow.

Walker scores points when he is able to talk about his humble roots. In addition to talking about Kohl’s and growing up in Iowa, there was also a reference to washing dishes at a restaurant and flipping burgers at McDonalds. It all makes Walker very relatable and approachable. That, combined with his record as governor which includes conservative accomplishments like defunding Planned Parenthood, making Wisconsin a “Right to Work” state, and passing concealed carry and castle doctrine laws, makes him an appealing candidate.

Walker’s remarks to the conservative were based on growth and safety. “Safety is something you feel,” Walker said. “When I see a Jordanian pilot burned alive, I feel it in my heart. It’s not something you talk about; it is something you feel.” Walker closed his remarks by making the case that America needs to take the lead in the world again. “We need to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us,” Walker stated. “It’s not a question of if we will be attached again, it’s when.”

He closed by telling the story about visiting Liberty Hall in Philadelphia. He shared how he always looked at the founders of America as super heroes because they were bigger than life. Yet, it was at Liberty Hall where he noticed the desks and chairs we of normal size, that he realized the founders were just ordinary people who did extraordinary things. He closed by saying that 2016 is one of those important times in America where ordinary people must once again rise up and take back control of their country.

Walker did a good job of checking all the boxes with his speech, but I’m not sure that he did enough to be the conservative champion many of these people have voted for in the past two election cycles. Walker does have one significant advantage over guys like Huckabee and Santorum. The Iowans I have talked too have seem eager to support Walker, where the past two caucus winners had to do their fair share of convincing voters that they were worthy of their vote.

As things currently stand, Iowa seems like it’s Governor Walker’s for the taking.


Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Cruz’s Crowds Are Nothing Special

TEDCTexas Senator Ted Cruz wrapped up his first swing through Iowa as an official presidential candidate on Thursday. There is no other way to describe Cruz’s trip than as a success, but a few Iowans may be guilty of taking things a little too far.

On Thursday, Steve Deace, a nationally syndicated radio host and contributor to a number of conservative publications tweeted, “I have never seen a candidate drawing the crowds in Iowa the size of Ted Cruz this early”

On Friday, Deace tweeted, “Spoke to a grizzled veteran of Iowa Caucus politics who told me he’s never seen early crowds and energy like he just saw for Ted Cruz.” Whoever the “grizzled” caucus veteran may be, he isn’t alone. I’ve seen and heard the same thing on social media sites.

Cruz and his campaign should be ecstatic about how well the launch of his presidential campaign has gone and the interest he has received around Iowa. All that said, we have seen candidates draw Cruz-like crowds in Iowa before. All this talk about how Cruz is drawing these unusually large crowds simply isn’t accurate. In fact we see crowds like this in Iowa every cycle.

Dr. Ben Carson packed people into a Polk County GOP fundraiser in the fall of 2014. Carson’s problem isn’t a lack of interest in Iowa, it’s a lack of time spent in the state.

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In 2011, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann routinely had large crowds when she began campaigning in the state. Bachmann is the classic reminder that it’s not how you begin a race, it’s how you finish.

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If you wanted to see some good crowds in the 2012 caucus race, look no further than Newt Gingrich. I remember catching up him in May of 2011 at the Olde Main Brewing in Ames. The place was packed. Even though Gingrich would falter out of the gate, in the fall of 2011, he was packing them in again. Gingrich’s problem is that he never devoted himself to holding his own events across the state. Had he done that, I think he would have won the caucuses.


Former Texas Governor Rick Perry also knew how to attract large and enthusiastic crowd in Iowa. The Polk County GOP picnic in 2011 was swimming with people on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

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In 2007, it was Mitt Romney drawing large crowds early on. I remember attending an early campaign stop of his in Cedar Falls. At 9 a.m. in the morning, Romney backed the basement of Beck’s Sport’s Brewery.

Later on in 2007, Rudy Giuliani would hold a campaign event in the gym at Valley High in Des Moines. There were probably more people at that event in 2007 than there were at all of Ted Cruz’s events in Iowa last week combined.

Now if you really want to know what enthusiasm looks like, go back to George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. As a former staffer to Steve Forbes, I would cringe when I saw the big crowds he was drawing. Forbes was no slouch, but Bush was a rock star.

So next time you hear someone say that they have NEVER seen crowds like the ones Texas Senator Ted Cruz is getting, look them in the eye and tell them they need to get out more. When candidates like Cruz come to Iowa in the midst of a lot of media speculation, it’s like the circus is coming to town. This is especially the case outside of Des Moines. A candidate visit is an event, and even if you already have a preference for a particular candidate, many people still feel the need to go see what all the talk is about.

Caucus history also seems to indicate that initial crowd size doesn’t really mean all that much. The last two-caucus winners, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, struggled to attract crowds in the early days of their campaigns. I bet if you asked Cruz whether he would rather be like Mike Huckabee or Michele Bachmann, I’m pretty sure he would take Huckabee any day.


Photos by Dave Davidson Prezography.com

We’re Number One – In Presidential Cattle Calls

IowaWe all know that the state of Iowa ranks first in the nation when it comes to corn and soybean production. Iowa is even first when it comes to U.S. pork production, ethanol production, and wind generation. Yet, Iowa is also leading in another category. We have become the undisputed champion of presidential cattle calls.

At least once a month, there is a multi-candidate Republican presidential event in Iowa. It’s nuts.

January 24, 2015 – Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit.
March 7, 2015 – Bruce Rastetter’s Iowa Ag Summit
April 9, 2015 – Homeschool Day at the Iowa Capitol
April 9, 2015 – The FAMiLY Leader’s SE Iowa Regional Leadership Summit
April 25, 2015 – Iowa Faith and Freedom Spring Kickoff
May 16, 2015 – Republican Party of Iowa Lincoln Dinner
June 6, 2015 – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride
July 18, 2015 – The FAMiLY Leader’s Leadership Summit
August 8, 2015 – The Republican Party of Iowa’s Straw Poll

The Republican Party of Iowa became the latest to join the fun when they released the details of their Lincoln Dinner on Thursday. Already confirmed are Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, and Donald Trump. The party actually listed them in that order. I wonder if there is any meaning behind that.

What’s amazing is that the list of candidate invited but not confirmed to attend would also make for one heck of an event, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee. It just goes to show you how large and dynamic the GOP field really is.

Call the Iowa GOP at 515-282-8105 for ticketing information.

What does the Des Moines Register Have Against the Central Iowa Expo? 

The Des Moines Register has published four articles on the financial situation surrounding the Central Iowa Expo in Boone. All four articles have been published after the site was selected to host the Republican Party of Iowa’s Presidential Straw Poll.

Here are the titles of each article.

Financial troubles at Iowa Straw Poll Venue Raise Concerns – Jennifer Jacobs and Jason Noble

Central Iowa Expo’s poor finances focus of meeting – Jason Noble

Records show years of deficits at Central Iowa Expo – Jason Noble

Bank backs Central Iowa Expo amid financial troubles – Jason Noble

Here is my question for the Des Moines Register. Why did the paper wait to report on the financial problems at the Central Iowa Expo until after it was selected to host the Straw Poll? In August of 2014 the paper wrote, “5 things to watch at Farm Progress Show.” It didn’t say anything about the facilities finances. It did mention that the Farm Progress Show brings in $10 million in economic activity to the central Iowa region.

By having their crack team of political reporters cover the finances of the Central Iowa Expo, one can only assume that they believe it’s some sort of political scandal. It’s not. Furthermore, Senator Joni Ernst and the Republican Party of Iowa should be receiving praise from the media for holding their major events at a venue that is in desperate need of increased activity.

Speaking of the Register

When not trying to tie the poor finances of the Central Iowa Expo to the Republican Party of Iowa, apparently the Des Moines Register is busy monitoring the buffet line at the Council Bluffs Pizza Ranch.

Register reporter Josh Hafner published some shaky cell-phone video from Mike Huckabee’s stop in Council Bluffs a week earlier. Hafner wrote the following.

Pizza Ranch restaurants across the state are already assuming their quadrennial roles as the go-to venue for likely Republican candidates.

That’s good news if you’re one of the roughly 4 percent or so of Iowans who take part in the caucuses. But if you and the family are heading to Pizza Ranch just to enjoy a slice and some wings, you might find your meal interrupted.

Such was the fate of this fellow at a Pizza Ranch in Council Bluffs last week, whose trip through the chicken buffet was halted by a swarm of people surrounding Mike Huckabee during his event there last week. See the video below.

Click here to see the video.

First, Huckabee wasn’t interfering with this guy’s trip down the buffet. It was all-around good guy Dave Davidson. The man seen in the video was stopped for all of ten seconds. No real story right? If the incident was some sort of injustice, don’t you think Hafner would have asked the guy for comment?

Hafner’s original write up on the event wasn’t much better than his week-old cell phone video controversy. It was just more of the gotcha politics the Register is becoming known for.

Ted’s Excellent Roll Out

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has had an excellent roll out for his presidential campaign. There is an advantage in going first, and Cruz scored big. As he heads to Iowa early next week he now has a lot of excitement in the state to greet him. Well played.

Craig’s List – Some interesting articles from around the web.

Scott Walker Shifts His Stance on Immigration Yet Again – Wall Street journal

Is Scott Walker a Flip-Flopper? – The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel Weighs In.

Jeb Bush’s Foundation Offers Courses on Common Core – New York Times

Christie Opposed to Legalizing Recreational Marijuana – Asbury Park Press

Christie calls taxes on marijuana “blood money.” – Asbury Park Press


What does Mitt Romney have in common with Bob Vander Plaats? I tend to like them when not seeking public office.

Romney was on the Tonight Show on Thursday. This was actually really funny.

Still, Romney’s desire to remain in the spotlight makes me nervous that he could very well find himself back in the 2016 discussion if Bush falters.

Fallon’s monologue also included some funny look alikes.

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