Republican presidential prospects in Iowa for 2012

The decision won't be final until the Republican National Committee's summer meeting in August, but it appears likely that the Iowa caucuses will remain the first presidential nominating contest in 2012. This week the RNC's Temporary Delegate Selection Committee recommended adopting a rule that would allow only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold primaries or caucuses before March 6, 2012. Click here to read the rule, which would also require all states that hold nominating contests before April 2010 to award their delegates proportionally, rather than through a winner-take-all system that is typical for the Republican Party.

So, Iowa will continue to be a frequent travel stop for Republicans considering a presidential bid. It's been six months since I last discussed the prospects of likely challengers to President Obama in Iowa. New speculation is after the jump.

Last October I guessed that only three Republicans had strong chances in Iowa: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and soon-to-be former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Huckabee put together a strong campaign organization in 2007, but I believe his future prospects took a huge hit when a man whose sentence Huckabee commuted as governor killed four police officers last year. Bob Vander Plaats was Huckabee's Iowa campaign chairman before the 2008 caucuses, but he has become a more controversial figure in the Iowa GOP since then.

My opinion on Romney hasn't changed; if he couldn't win Iowa as a prohibitive favorite last time around, he won't win in 2012. The only question is whether he seriously competes here or stakes everything on New Hampshire. The strong resemblance between "Romneycare" and "Obamacare" will be a continuing problem for him, as Republicans across the country rail against the health insurance reform law.

Pawlenty strikes me as a potential winner in Iowa, especially if Romney does not invest much in building a campaign here. His abysmal record on fiscal issues should destroy his credibility, but I don't expect that will be held against him as long as he says, "blah blah blah tax cuts blah blah blah stop out of control spending." Pawlenty adheres to social conservative orthodoxy but doesn't talk about those issues as much as some other Republicans. For that reason, I see him picking up support from members of the Iowa business elite who backed Romney during the last cycle. Pawlenty may also benefit if the social conservative wing is divided among several active candidates.

Sarah Palin can't be counted out in Iowa. She has many passionate followers and high visibility even after resigning the Alaska governorship last summer. Funding won't be a problem for her campaign (though Republican donors should think twice, given how SarahPAC spends most of the money it raises). Her biggest problem here, as elsewhere, will be convincing people she is qualified to be president when she hasn't completed even one term as governor. While we're on the subject of Palin, I again implore Democrats not to use sexist insults to belittle her.

Competition for socially conservative caucus-goers may come from former Senator Rick Santorum. He is scheduled to be the the featured speaker at a Scott County GOP event in June, which would be his fourth trip to Iowa since September 2009. I can't understand why anyone would consider running for president after losing re-election in a purple state by 17 points, but Santorum presumably has his reasons. Someone in Iowa must feel threatened by him, because he's been anonymously attacked as a "pro-life fraud" and an opponent of "right to work" laws. He responded to that criticism while speaking to the Iowa Christian Alliance two months ago. Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican has noted that Santorum "will likely have the most foreign policy experience" among the 2012 presidential candidates.

Representative Ron Paul will be in Des Moines this weekend, attending a regional conference of the Campaign for Liberty. Although I doubt he could win the Iowa caucuses, he may substantially improve on his 2008 showing (fifth place with 10 percent of the vote). Four members of the Campaign for Liberty were recently elected to the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee at district conventions. They include Drew Ivers, who managed Paul's presidential campaign in Iowa last time around. I've always felt that Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq was the biggest obstacle for him with the Republican base. The more George W. Bush recedes into memory and Iraq becomes Barack Obama's war, the less Paul's stance on Middle East policy will hurt him with Iowa caucus-goers. Paul's positions on taxes and the Federal Reserve strike a chord with many conservatives.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has scheduled stops in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines later this month. I don't consider him a serious presidential candidate, however. I suspect he likes staying in the public eye mostly because it helps him raise money for American Solutions. He's got a nice gig going with that outfit.

Final note about the 2012 Republican presidential campaign: this week the RNC's site selection committee selected Tampa, Florida for its nominating convention in August 2012:

Representatives of Tampa, Salt Lake City and Phoenix made elaborate pitches to members of the Republican National Committee, who are meeting outside Washington this week. Tampa was declared the winner after an afternoon vote by members of the site selection committee.

Florida is a perennial – and critical – presidential battleground state. Officials said the Phoenix bid was complicated by the high temperatures in August and the recent debate over the state’s new immigration law. Having the convention in Salt Lake City was seen as doing little to build the party, officials said, considering that Utah is a solidly Republican state.

For all we know, courts may strike down that Arizona law before it is fully implemented, but if I were an RNC member, I wouldn't want to be associated too closely with Arizona either. The political backlash from Latino voters may be bad enough as it is.

Speculate away about the next Republican campaign for president in this thread.

Tags: 2012 elections, president, Republican primary, Tim Pawlenty, Iowa, Iowa Caucuses, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, newt gingrich (all tags)




Any sign of John Thune? He seems taylor made for Iowa. He's from the prairies, is a vigorous and tenacious grass-roots campaigner and has both the hard-right credentials and the easy-going personality that people on the soft right seem to find so re-assuring. I worry about him.

by thesleepthief 2010-05-15 12:37AM | 0 recs
RE: Thune?

Good point. I know he has visited Iowa before, but he doesn't seem to come here as often as Santorum. He probably would be a strong candidate on the GOP side.

by desmoinesdem 2010-05-15 12:47AM | 0 recs
Most Obviously, Disarray.

I think your list is fairly accurate - I'd agree Thune should be in there - but it tends to show how thin the GOP field really is; none of those people strike me as fully formed, viable national candidates in any realistic sense. Further, I think it's absurd not to point to the most obvious hamstring to both Huckabee and Palin - they seem to have cast their lot, especially Palin, with for profit, media driven enterprises. I don't think it's at all clear you can segue back from any media career, especially Fox News, and hang on to political credibility. We have basically no example of anyone testing that theory, or making it work. Moreover, I think this is where the reality that Palin has never, seriously, been on track for another run is going to come clear very soon: she benefits from keeping her name in play as a way to drive general interest in herself, but has done nothing to make anything like a serious run.

Back to the more serious contenders: I think Pawlenty is far weaker than you suggest, not just weak on fiscal issues, but generally uninspiring and someone who failed his shot at being a GOP Golden Boy when it mattered. He may make a credible VP slot, but unless he gets some serious coaching, I can't seem him lighting the kind of fire needed to motivate the GOP bse, no matter how pleasantly he mouths the required platitudes.

And that underlines a general sense of the field - all of the remaining men (Santorum, Romney, Thune... and just for giggles, Scott Brown) share that quality of "next big thing that never quite worked out." Of them, I'd say it's least true of Thune, but mostly because he's flying under the radar (probably since there's nothuing to be gained, just now, in being the most interesting Presidential prospect this far out). Santorum can never shed his rep of being too extreme for mass taste, and Romney, I think, will never be what the base wants - he's too smart, too reasonable, seems like a car salesman no matter how he tries not to... and that Mormon thing is still a nonstarter. Mostly, all of these guys share the qualities of being relatively young, personable, and, in all shallowness, being handsome in a square, expected way. It's more beaiuty contest than political race.

All in all... that's some weak hash; and worse, I think it's true - that's about all they've got, at least now. And it's hard to see how that changes. And sadly, as a Democrat, while that should make me cheer... I actually find it immensely frustrating; without some sort of serious, dangerous opponent, there will be no pressure to  bear on Barack Obama to actually work for a second term. That, it seems to me, sets up a dangerous complacency, one that I think this Administration is all too easily attracted to anyway.

by nycweboy1 2010-05-15 10:24AM | 0 recs
I am sorry I missed this

when it was written. 

In the abstract their best candidate is a Governor with minimal ties to Washington.  Several of their candidates fit that test minimally, and of the group mentioned I think Pawlently scares me the most, though it is a very big mistake to underestimate Palin. 

All of this though, may change quickly if one of two things happen:

1.  The recovery picks up steam - in this instance you might see some of the younger candidates shy away from the race.  My first campaign was in 1984.  In late '83 and the first half of 1983 Reagan looked like a dead duck.  Nevertheless, the potential recovery was one of the reasons Kennedy did not run in '84.  My point here is that the atmospherics may change completely between now and March 2012.

2.  The GOP takes the Senate and the House - in this instance there will be enourmous focus on Washington, and it is possible that someone may emerge during the legislative battles in 2011 that we have not thought of yet.

It is strange.  I doubt there will be a challenge to Obama, so I won't be going to Iowa in 2012.  This means that the next competive Iowa event for Democrats will be in 2016, which is a little sad given how much I enjoy the Caucus process.


by fladem 2010-05-18 01:09AM | 0 recs


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