Ted Cruz’s Road to Nowhere.

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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.

 

 

It’s not the Cruz campaign that’s the problem, it’s the candidate.

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Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was supposed to be a different kind of conservative presidential candidate. He was supposed to be unique because not only did he have impeccable conservative credentials, but he also proved he could raise money and thus could build a national campaign that former caucus winners like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee could never accomplish.

This was the narrative of the Cruz campaign in the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses. When the Cruz campaign opened its Iowa headquarters in September, Steve Deace, a syndicated talk radio host who was deeply involved in the Cruz campaign, made a strong case as to why he was backing Cruz this time around.

“Imagine if Rick Santorum had six months to plan for that primary. Imagine if Mike Huckabee, eight years ago, had a year of fundraising and organization to run a national campaign,” said Deace, who has endorsed Cruz. “Maybe we would not have been sentenced to those nominations,” he added, referring to John McCain and Mitt Romney.

It was an equally powerful and persuasive argument. And let’s be honest, as far as Iowa was concerned, it was true. Cruz dominated the field in Iowa because just winning here wasn’t good enough anymore. The Cruz campaign did an excellent job of convincing Iowa Republicans that they needed a conservative candidate who could win the nomination, not just the caucuses.

Everything was going according to plan until the results from South Carolina’s Republican primary began to come in. Cruz dominated the Iowa caucuses, where 64 percent of caucus-goers labeled themselves as evangelicals. South Carolina should have been even easier since 72 percent of voters there were evangelicals. As we saw on Saturday night, Cruz struggled. He didn’t win a single county and ultimately finished in third place.

Third place is exactly where the last winner of the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum, finished in South Carolina. What happened to all the advantages that Cruz was supposed to have that set him apart from those who had tried and ultimately failed before him?

Let me suggest a theory. The only thing wrong with the Cruz campaign is that its people have yet to figure out how to play nice with others. Even when Cruz was only parachuting into Iowa once a month last summer, people connected with the campaign constantly talked about how Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee should just hang it up.

“It’s not going to happen for them again,” they would say. It’s not that any of this wasn’t true, but when dealing with individuals who may have personal connections with a candidate, you are not doing your candidate any favors by telling them the guy or gal they like sucks. It’s a conclusion they need to come to themselves.

Despite the fact that the Cruz campaign has struggled at playing well with others, it’s difficult to find much fault with the machinery and implementation of their operation. The deficiency on the Cruz campaign can be found in the candidate himself. Cruz may have built a legitimate campaign that was more capable of winning the Republican than Huckabee and Santorum built in 2008 and 2012, but he’s simply not as authentic as they were.

Huckabee had a charm and charisma about him in the 2008 race that made him a difficult match up head to head with Mitt Romney in Iowa, and later in conservative southern states against McCain. Santorum was a passionate blue-collar fighter who matched up well against Romney. Both Huckabee and Santorum had a populist message that made people feel like these candidates cared about people like them.

People rooted for Huckabee and Santorum. They may have been the underdogs in their respective races, but one would think the same dynamic should exist for Cruz since he’s running against a billionaire with a questionable record. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Cruz campaign at times can feel like a church revival, with the candidate himself delivering a sermon full of fire and brimstone. What’s odd is that in the debates Cruz rarely if ever steers the conversation in a direction where he advocates for a strong socially conservative policy. In the 2012 debates, Santorum always found an opening to remind people that strong families are a critical part of a strong economy. Cruz seems content with volleying back and forth on the issues of the day.

In the years that Huckabee and Santorum were candidates, there were key moments when they delivered a message that would silence a room and as the attendees contemplated what Huckabee was saying about human life or what Santorum was saying about his own family. There has been none of that with Cruz. Cruz has focused mainly on the strength of his campaign, the key political battles in which he fought, and the narrative that conservatives were coalescing behind his campaign. In essence, the Cruz campaign has always just been about Ted Cruz and nothing else.

The entire Cruz campaign was built on the narrative that he was the conservative candidate who could win the nomination, but after a big loss in South Carolina they are now forced find a new basis for the campaign. If they couldn’t beat Donald Trump by running ads that featured him supporting late-term abortions in a state like South Carolina, I’m not sure it will ever work.

Cruz was supposed to be different from Huckabee and Santorum, but as one looks at the calendar, you start to wonder if he will win eight states like Huckabee did in 2008 or 11 like Santorum in 2012. For all the talk about the campaign Cruz has built, it only highlights that the problem may just be the candidate himself.

 

 

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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Santorum: Cruz has Dangerous Position on Marriage

Rick Santorum was a guest on KCWI’s Great Day on Tuesday morning. Santorum talked about a number off issues in his 17-minute interview with the KCWI morning team, but when Meteorologist Jason Parkin asked what differentiates him from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Santorum explained it was his view on marriage.

“Marriage is probably the big thing. Ted has the position that states can do whatever they want with marriage,” Santorum stated. “I don’t believe that’s true. Abraham Lincoln said that states don’t have the right to do wrong.

Santorum went on to explain his position in depth.

I would offer to Ted, if the states wanted to do polygamy, that would be ok?   If the states wanted to do inter-family marriages, would that would be ok?

The answer of course is no, it’s not ok. Why isn’t it ok? Because you can’t do wrong, you can’t do something that’s morally wrong and against nature and the natural law.

If you don’t have that position, which I do, then you are saying that states have absolute authority to dictate anything they want on their people. That’s not the country I live in. The country I live in doesn’t give the state absolute power over us to do whatever they want, whether its true or false, rational or not.

I think he takes a dangerous position one that’s not conservative at all, that the sate has absolute power to do whatever they want to do. They don’t. They are constrained too. They are constrained by the truth. That’s the difference between a social conservative and a libertarian who says I’m for traditional marriage, but I’ll let the states do it.

The Santorum remarks on Cruz begin at the 4:11 mark.

The Establishment’s Half-Hearted Effort in Iowa

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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.

 

 

29 Days Left – The State of the Caucus Race

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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.

Ted Cruz: The False Prophet of Social Conservatism

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Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Contrary to popular belief, the 2016 presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz does not present socially conservative and evangelical voters their best chance to put one of their own in the White House. Instead, a Cruz presidency may usher in the total demise of social conservative movement in America.

Last week, Politico released a recording of Cruz assuring a New York City donor that a Cruz administration would not make traditional marriage a top priority.

Cruz went on to explain to the Republican gay-rights supporter who is supporting his campaign that his administration would be focused on defending the constitution, essentially stating that gay marriage is a states’ issue, and thus it will not be something his administration would pursue.

“People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio,” Cruz stated. “That’s why we have 50 states — to allow a diversity of views. And so that is a core commitment,” he added.

Politico’s “closed door” recording of Cruz didn’t show the frontrunner for the Iowa Caucuses talking out of both sides of his mouth, but what it did display is that Cruz isn’t a classic social conservative like the previous two caucus winners, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are.

Cruz is an ardent defender of the 10th Amendment, and to be fair, Cruz has been rather consistent in his political ideology. The problem for Cruz is that, in addition be being perceived as a fighter who will take on Washington and even members of his own party, he’s also perceived as being a staunch social conservative. The problem Cruz faces in the final weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, is that his “closed door” comments open him up to attack from the right on issues like gay marriage.

2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee quickly seized on Cruz’s comments. In a press release, Huckabee stated, “If issues like marriage and the sanctity of life are truly issues of principle and not just politics, then there should not be geographical boundaries to what is right and wrong.”

Had Cruz been running for president in 2012 and not 2016, instead of getting the endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats and three other members of the FAMiLY Leader, Cruz’s position on marriage wouldn’t have even gotten him past the first cut. In 2011, The FAMiLY Leader said that Congressman Ron Paul’s states’ rights position created a “stumbling block” for the organization.

In narrowing the field of candidates the organization would consider endorsing in 2011, the FAMiLY Leader stated, “The stumbling block for the board regarding Representative Paul dealt primarily with ‘States’ Rights’ as it pertains to the sanctity of human life and God’s design for marriage.”

Vander Plaats’ recent endorsement of Cruz grabbed a number of headlines, but most of Iowa’s social conservatives understand that Vander Plaats’ endorsement has more to do with Vander Plaats himself than the candidate he chose to back. Vander Plaats made it abundantly clear that Cruz was the choice because he thought Cruz could win, not necessarily because he is the best candidate on the issues that Vander Plaats and the FAMiLY Leader have long fought for in Iowa.

Cruz’s 10th Amendment brand of conservatism could also be problematic in a state like Iowa because there are still many social conservatives who are frustrated with how gay marriage came to be in the state. It’s not as if the legislature and the governor passed and signed a bill into law or the people voted on a constitutional amendment. The courts struck down the state’s defense of marriage act and then insinuated that gay marriage was now legal.

Iowa is a state where three Supreme Court Justices were ousted through the retention vote process, a result that stemmed from the frustration of voters that gay marriage rights were forced upon the state by the courts and not through the legislative process. Cruz’s “states’ rights” doctrine works in theory, but it does nothing to stop the abuses of judicial activism.

Likewise, if you apply Cruz’s “states’ rights” ideology on other conservative issues, like polygamy, common core educational standards, or something like Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare law that was the predecessor to Obamacare, Cruz can’t really have a problem with such things if he is going to remain consistent in his application of the 10th Amendment.

Cruz recently flip-flopped on the issue of marijuana legalization. Just like his answer on gay marriage, Cruz said, “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

Cruz’s position is one that is easy for him to defend and frankly is rather politically expedient, but it also can get him crossways with social conservatives in a hurry. In a race against Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, or Sen. Marco Rubio, Cruz’s position might not hurt him much. It’s the two former caucus winners in Santorum and Huckabee that could become problematic for Cruz down the stretch.

While both are in low single-digits in the polls, this has been the first time there is a real opening for one of them to exploit. As we saw with Santorum in 2012, even though the caucuses are a month away, there is still plenty of time for someone to make a big move.   The Cruz campaign has claimed that his comments are much ado about nothing. To some voters that’s probably correct, but to those who are passionate about the issues, the same cannot be said.

Like other candidates before him, Cruz is living off the perception of the brand that he has built over the past few years. There is little doubt that he’s a fighter, but the real question is, is he really the socially conservative leader many believe him to be? By acquiescing on cultural issues to the constitution instead of, say, “the law of nature and of nature’s God,” Cruz may win an argument in a court room, but he’s going to lose religious conservatives who adhere to a higher law than that of man.

It will be interesting to see if his position gives new life to an authentic social conservative alternative.

 

 

 

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.

EPA Lowers Renewable Fuel Standard Levels for or 2014, 2015 and 2016

EPA-Building-PlaqueSenator Chuck Grassley:

For months, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise and increase its proposed volume obligations for renewable biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014, 2015 and 2016.  After hearing from Grassley and other senators, the EPA released a final rule today that improves the volume requirements over its last proposal but still underestimates the capacity for farmers and ethanol and biodiesel producers to generate enough renewable fuel to meet higher goals.  Grassley made the following comment on the final rule.

“This rule is a slight improvement but it still sells biofuels short.  The EPA just doesn’t appreciate that farmers and biofuels producers can generate enough renewable fuels to meet the goals set by Congress.   The EPA doesn’t seem to appreciate that the law on the books requires strong biofuels targets and that consumers like the chance to use alternate fuels.  Instead, the EPA took a flawed approach that seems to buy into Big Oil’s rhetoric.  The new rule is not only more than two years late, but it also sets back the development of next generation biofuels.  This rule undermines the efforts to commercialize the next generation of biofuels.  It’s unfortunate that this Administration, which claims to be for renewable and clean energy, would stand in the way of the production and use of more renewable fuels.”

Branstad, Reynolds release statement on EPA’s final Renewable Fuel Standard rule

(DES MOINES) – Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds today released statements upon learning of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume obligation levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

“I am extremely disappointed that the EPA’s final decision failed to follow the renewable volume levels set by Congress,” said Branstad.  “Unfortunately, today’s decision shows the lack of interest in providing consumers choice at the pump, creating jobs and increasing incomes in Rural America, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  This rule falls far too short of a robust RFS and short of the standards set by Congress.”

“This entire process has negatively impacted Iowa families through reduced commodity prices, farm incomes, and farmland values,” said Reynolds. “We were hopeful that the EPA would fully recognize the importance of renewable fuels after years of regulatory uncertainty.  However, the EPA’s decision only marginally improves volume levels in a step that will hurt Iowa families, businesses, and farmers.”

The State of Iowa has supported both the production and use of biofuels, including renewable fuel infrastructure development through the Fueling Our Future Program and the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program, to ensure that consumers have true choices at the pump.

Branstad and Reynolds have been engaged in calling for a strong and robust Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) over the past two years.

Highlights of Iowa leaders’ engagement on the RFS include:

  • State and Federal elected officials, including Gov. Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds, participated in a “Defend the RFS” event.
  • Gov. Branstad traveled to Washington, DC, joining a group of Iowa farmers and biofuels producers, to testify at the Federal government’s only public hearing and met with EPA Administrator McCarthy.
  • Gov. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, Secretary Bill Northey and the entire Iowa congressional delegation sent a joint letter to Federal leadersadvocating for the many benefits that flow from the RFS.
  • Gov. Terry Branstad and Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN) penned an op-ed in support of a strong Renewable Fuel Standard.
  • Gov. Terry Branstad brought together a bipartisan group of six governors to sign on to a letter to President Barack Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressing their support for a strong RFS.
  • Leaders from across the Midwest joined Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds for their “Hearing in Heartland,” which was open to all interested citizens; 83 panelists from across the Midwest Region spoke from the heart about the importance of the RFS to their livelihoods and a healthy rural economy while only two individuals expressed opposition to a robust RFS.
  • Gov. Branstad, in his Condition of the State address, called on the Iowa Legislature to pass a resolution in support of a robust RFS. The Legislature unanimously passed bicameral, bipartisan resolutions calling for the EPA to reverse course and support a strong RFS. View the resolutions: House Resolution 101 | Senate Resolution 101
  • State of Iowa leaders submitted formal comments to the EPA with current data and analysis that provides Federal leaders the opportunity and obligation to revise their initial volume obligations upward.
  • Gov. Branstad joined Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO), in testifying at the EPA RFS hearing in Kansas City, Kansas
  • Lt. Gov. Reynolds participated in RFS event with Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-NE)
  • State of Iowa leaders again submitted formal comments in 2015 on the EPA’s revised RFS proposed rule
  • Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds underscored the importance of the RFS at the grand opening of Dupont’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa in October.

IOWA FARM BUREAU DISAPPOINTED BY JUST-ANNOUNCED ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY BIOFUEL TARGETS 

Farm Leaders Equate Ruling to a ‘Win’ for Big Oil, at the Expense of the American Farmer

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – November 30, 2015 – The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), Iowa’s largest grassroots general farm organization, expressed disappointment in the renewable volume obligations (RVOs) just announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The long-awaited and overdue 2014, 2015 and 2016 targets are years behind schedule and fall short of the agreed-upon levels farmers anticipated.  “While an increase of biofuels from the original proposed rule is welcome news, the simple truth is, this falls far short of promises made to Iowa farmers by Congress in 2007.  We know the EPA is using a flawed methodology to calculate the biofuels targets, which amounts to a win for Big Oil,” says IFBF President Craig Hill. “What’s worse is this makes it apparent that the EPA under this administration is continuing its pattern of ignoring and violating Congressional intent, at the detriment of farmers and our economy, which is especially troubling in Iowa, where one out of every five jobs comes from agriculture.”

Critics have long argued that lowered RFS/RVO targets translate to a boom for Big Oil, because the industry stalled on distribution solutions which were carefully spelled out in the Energy and Independent Security Act (EISA) passed by the President and Congress in 2007.  “Production is there; the technology and innovation to grow biofuels is there, but once again, the EPA continues to disappoint the American farmer,” says Hill, a longtime corn, soybean and livestock farmer.  “Just know that IFBF’s support for innovation and energy independence is steadfast.  Our work continues.”

Santorum responds to Obama’s biofuels ruling

VERONA, PA – Republican presidential candidate, and proud supporter of the Renewable Fuels Standard, Rick Santorum (R-PA) issued the following statement in response to the Obama Administration’s regulatory overreach targeted at the biofuels industry.

Rick Santorum said: “Today’s decision by the Obama Administration is yet another example of this President using his regulatory power to ignore a clear congressional mandate, and break the law in the process. Let’s be clear, President Obama does not have the authority to change a congressional mandate. I support the ethanol and biofuels industry and stand by the mandate remaining the same because of the importance of supporting domestically produced energy. But regardless of what someone thinks of the RFS, conservatives and all Americans alike, should not stand by this President’s continued abuse of power.”

King Comments on Final RFS Volume Requirements

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Steve King released the following statement after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the final volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014 through 2016:

Huckabee and Santorum – Down in the polls but definitely not out.

HuckBVP
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

It’s been said to me a number of times from Republican activists of every stripe.   Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, both former Iowa caucus winners, just don’t have it this time around, and thus, they should take the cue and get out of the Republican race for president.

In the poll-driven presidential campaign that has also been overly nationalized, I completely understand why this sort of thinking is prevalent in Iowa less than three months before people will head out to caucus. While the size of the Republican field has been reduced, it’s still large and cumbersome. And after watching candidates burn-bright for a short period of time before eventually flaming out in the last presidential cycle, voters are taking a more wait-and-see approach to the 2016 race.

Not only is the Republican field large, it is also very talented. There has never been this much competition for people’s support. Whether you favor an outsider, an establishment candidate, or a conservative, there are multiple options for you to pick from. What caucus goers will never tell you is that what they really desire on caucus night is an easy choice. The 2016 Republican race is many things, but easy isn’t one of them.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen many political pundits, some even from Iowa, suggest that Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the odds on favorite to win the Iowa caucuses. It is true that Cruz has momentum, and recent polls confirm that. Cruz has also had solid debate performances. More importantly, in the last debate, he was the only social conservative to make the main stage. Cruz recently earned the endorsement of Congressman Steve King. At the same time, the social conservative field contracted with the exit of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. And let’s not forget that the Cruz campaign and associated Super PACs are flush with cash.

The Cruz campaign looks great on paper, but I just don’t believe the Iowa Caucuses are going to be a simple walk in the park for the Texas firebrand. First, if the Iowa Caucuses were held today, he would likely finish well, but he wouldn’t contend for an outright victory. And while it seems like Cruz suddenly has the entire social conservative lane all to himself, Cruz would be wise not to overlook the two former caucus winners that are still in the race, Huckabee and Santorum.

At the FAMiLY Leader’s Presidential Family Forum on Friday evening, it was Huckabee and Santorum who really shined, not Cruz. It’s not that Cruz didn’t do well for himself, it’s that both Huckabee and Santorum did a particularly good job in the less formal setting where candidates were not limited to 30-second answers and rebuttals.

Of the seven candidates in attendance, it was Huckabee who probably came out the winner. In front of the most socially conservative audience that will assemble before the caucus, Huckabee offered some of the most thoughtful answers on a host of conservative topics. He was the one candidate who actually answered moderator Frank Luntz’ question about how do you protect religious liberty but not discriminate.

“When we talk about discrimination, I think some people think that means you can’t have a different opinion,” Huckabee said. “The fact is that there is a difference between discrimination and discretion. I’m free to have the discretion of my own thoughts and beliefs, and the government is to protect me to be able to be free. I’m not free to keep someone else from having their thoughts, beliefs, and practicing their own beliefs and faith. We sometimes forget that everything in the Bill of Rights, every single aspect of it, was never a restriction on the individual citizen. It never told me what I couldn’t do, everything in the Bill of Rights tells the government what it can’t do to restrict my freedom.”

Huckabee also found a way to promote educational choice and added that the federal government should find ways to promote traditional families and homeschooling instead of fighting these things. In his closing statement, Huckabee talked about the abuses of the judicial branch and the consequences of executives who surrender their power to the courts.

There were two other noteworthy moments for Huckabee. The first came as a response to Cruz saying the U.S. Secretary of State should resign after saying that there was a “rationale” for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in January. The crowd roared, then Luntz broke from the forum’s rules to ask if the candidates would raise their hands if they agreed with Cruz. None of them did, and Huckabee said he would like to speak on the matter.

Once Huckabee had the floor, he stated that he had never been more embarrassed by a U.S. President in his lifetime than this past week when President Obama was more upset with Republicans than ISIS. “Would I like to see Kerry resign, of course. But let’s not forget he is only doing the bidding of the person who appointed him to that position. I have a better idea. Instead of getting rid of Kerry, I’d rather see President Obama resign if he’s not going to protect America.” The audience went wild.

One of the most powerful moments came when Huckabee talked about the toughest job he ever had to do – carry out Arkansas’ death penalty. “If that doesn’t sober you up to reality, nothing will,” Huckabee stated. He then said a president has to make life and death decisions, like sending young men and women in to war. It was a powerful moment, not just because of the seriousness of the topic, but because it showcased what separated Huckabee from the rest of the people on the stage – that as an executive- he has had to make difficult, irreversible decisions.

While Huckabee provided thoughtfulness on domestic issues, it was Santorum who provided an immense amount of depth and perspective on foreign policy. It’s not that Santorum didn’t also provide some great answers on the importance of the traditional family and education, but his ability to clearly define how deal with ISIS and why it must be done in a particular way set him apart from the rest on the stage.

In watching the forum on Friday it appeared to me that all of the candidates have the ability to discuss what’s going on in the world, but not all understand exactly what the U.S. is up against. At one point, Santorum made the point to describe ISIS as a caliphate. He then explained that the only way to eliminate or delegitimize a caliphate is to take their land. Santorum argued that we can’t just bomb them or contain them like President Obama has claimed. We must defeat them.

As was also the case in the 2011 FAMiLY Leader Presidential Forum, Santorum was asked a question that pulled out a very personal answer. When asked if he had ever cursed God, Santorum talked about how he found faith while in the U.S. Senate. He admitted that, during his first five years in congress, he purposely set out to never say the word abortion or even talk about it. Then he explained that his faith walk led him to being the lead sponsor of the partial birth abortion ban after a Senator from New Hampshire opted not to lead that fight since he was up for re-election that fall.

Santorum fought hard and eventually secured the votes to overturn President Bill Clinton’s veto of the measure. At the same time, Santorum’s wife was pregnant, and the couple was told that the child had a life-threatening birth defect. They resolved that they wouldn’t lose their son. They had intrauterine surgery. It was very experimental, yet it was successful. However, three days later, Santorum’s wife got an infection, and Gabriel was born at 21 weeks. “We were blessed he was born alive. We had the opportunity to hold him for two hours, [during] which he only knew love. Then he passed in our arms.”

Santorum then talked about how angry he was with God, but yet he was blessed. He then talked about how his wife, while angry, poured that anger out on pages, in letters to Gabriel explaining their love for him. “Those letters became a book that took pain and horror and turned it into something beautiful.”

What Huckabee and Santorum were able to showcase that they still possess the same attributes that made them successful caucus candidates in the past.   While it may be true that each of them is near the bottom of the polls, it’s important that they haven’t done anything that caused their support to plummet. Both of them are still respected, well-liked, and popular.

Simply put, Huckabee and Santorum may be down in the polls, but they showed on Friday they are not out. The level of content each displayed on Friday night was simply unmatched by the other candidates in attendance.