Tag Archives: Iowa caucus

Dueling Strategies In Iowa

No one – least of all me – knows what’s going to happen in Iowa tonight. But as the first real voting (in a manner of speaking) to take place during the current electoral cycle, the results are going to be hyped by the media to a far greater extent than the meager delegates totals at stake would seem to justify. . Indeed, no actual party convention delegates will be chosen at all tonight – that won’t happen until later in the spring – although it may be possible to make a rough approximation regarding how the 44 pledged Democratic and 27 pledged Republican delegate are going to be apportioned based on this initial round of voting. But it’s not the delegates that matter tonight – it’s the perception of who over- and under-performed the media expectations game. There’s a reason why Iowa, along with New Hampshire, will attract the lion’s share of the media coverage during the nominating process.
Already the media has blanketed the airwaves with a breakdown of polling trends, and detailed discussion of the likely geographic breakdown of candidates’ support. Can Cruz replicate Santorum’s 2012 showing in the more rural western counties that contain a healthy portion of the state’s evangelicals? Will Sanders’ support be overly concentrated in the student strongholds, rather than spread more efficiently to increase his delegate haul? What about Rubio? Recent polls suggest he might exhibit the last-minute surge that characterized Huckabee’s unexpectedly strong performance in 2008 or Santorum’s equally surprising climb from sixth place in the polls one week out to victory in 2012. Can Rubio replicate Romney’s 2012 strong showing among moderates and non-evangelicals in the eastern portion of the state. All this will be chewed over heavily by the talking heads tonight as we wait for returns to trickle in. (Caucusing begins at 8 p.m. eastern time).
But in addition to all those other questions, here’s why I think Iowa is important. Look at this chart based on data gathered by the Des Moines Register documenting the visits and campaign events conducted by the various candidates in Iowa this election cycle.

                    Days in  Total
Candidate            Iowa    Events
Martin O'Malley       68      191
Bernie Sanders        60      155
Hillary Clinton       50      106
Rick Santorum         95      293
Mike Huckabee         81      222
Ted Cruz              56      152
Carly Fiorina         61      138
Rand Paul             42      120
Ben Carson            47      110
Marco Rubio           48      100
Chris Christie        36       80
Donald Trump          37       57
Jeb Bush              27       51
John Kasich           15       23
Jim Gilmore            2        2

As you can see, the moderate Republican candidates – Bush, Christie and Kasich – spent relatively little time in Iowa, preferring instead to concentrate on New Hampshire where the electorate is viewed as perhaps more ideologically compatible. On the other hand, Santorum and Huckabee have staked their candidacies on replicating their previous success in this state (Huckabee won in 2008, and Santorum in 2012.) If they perform as poorly as polls suggest they will, they are likely to be winnowed from the field as neither is expected to do well in New Hampshire. Cruz has also spent considerable time in Iowa, and he appears to have absorbed most of the Huckabee/Santorum coalition of more rural, lower-income evangelical and conservative voters.

Now look at the Donald’s visits. As befitting his fly-in (and over) big rally strategy, he’s only made 37 trips to Iowa and held a relatively scant 57 events. And yet polls indicate that he and Cruz are running neck-and-neck among likely Republican caucus goers. It is clear that The Donald is counting heavily on first-time caucus goers to turn out for him. The traditional approach to winning Iowa, and to generating that type of turnout, is to run the type of door-to-door campaign that Santorum conducted in 2012, when he visited all 99 Iowa counties. But The Donald is banking that his focus on a relatively fewer number of “huge” rallies will generate the same type of caucus turnout. Cruz, on the other hand, seems to have pursued the more traditional country-level strategy in an effort to replicate Santorum and Huckabee’s success.

One thing that Trump has going for him is that the delegate allocation rules are far simpler on the Republican side in Iowa than they are on the Democrat’s side; Republicans allocate their delegates in rough proportion to the total number of votes each candidate receives. So Trump is not going to be penalized the way a Democrat might be if his support is heavily concentrated in a few areas.

So far, The Donald’s strategy seems to have paid off, at least based on polling. But will it translate into actual votes? Stay tuned.  Caucusing begins at 8 p.m. eastern time tonight.

Meanwhile, for Vermonters, I’ll be on Channel 3’s The :30 tonight sometime between 5:30 and 6 p.m. to preview the caucuses. and then I’ll be back on blogging later tonight.

Gingrich Surges, Perry Drops Out, Santorum Wins Iowa, and Romney Fights Back

Somewhere on the road to inevitability the Romney caravan hit a bump.  How big a bump remains to be seen.

First, the Des Moines Register is reporting that the certified results from the Iowa caucuses will show Rick Santorum winning that race by 34 votes, but with the results from 8 precincts likely never to be known.  So much for Romney as the first non-incumbent ever to have won both Iowa and New Hampshire – one of the very weak pegs on which the media had hung Romney’s mantle of inevitability.  Given the margin of victory initially reported in Iowa (8 votes!), and the fact that Romney actually did no better there than he did four years ago, it was a rather lame claim, but almost every news story I read used it as a lead after New Hampshire. It was a classic case of the media shaping perceptions through the way it framed election results.

More significantly,  this morning CNN is reporting that Rick Perry , who is polling in single digits in South Carolina, will formally announce at 11 a.m. that he’s dropping out of the race.  There is no mention as yet whether he will endorse another candidate.   This is likely good news for Newt Gingrich – but perhaps not as good as you might think.  In the PPP crosstabs from a survey conducted a week ago 37% of Perry supporters listed Gingrich as their second choice, compared to 28% who chose Romney.  Given that Perry was only pulling in about 6% of the vote at the time, the marginal boost to Gingrich – based on this one survey – if Perry supporters move to their second choice is likely to be about 1%.  However, this survey predates Monday’s debate, so it may be that Gingrich will pick up slightly more Perry voters now.  On the other hand, it’s not clear that there are any Perry voters left in South Carolina.

Even that slight amount, however, could be decisive in a close race. And it looks like it is going to be just that.  Today, in the only poll taken entirely after Monday’s debate, Insider Advantage has Gingrich leading in South Carolina, 31.6-28.8%, with Paul at 15.2% and Santorum fading fast at 10.9%.  Note that Newt’s lead is well within the poll’s margin of error. Two previous polls,  however,  both of which were in the field at least in part before Monday’s debate, still have Romney ahead. First, a Politico/Tarrance poll in the field on Monday and Tuesday still has Romney clinging to a slight lead, 31-29%, over Gingrich, with everyone else polling in single digits (including Paul at 9%). Again, that is a lead well within that poll’s margin of error.  In a poll taken mostly before Monday’s debate, however, NBC/Marist finds Romney still leading Gingrich by 10% – but the lead shrinks to 5%, 31-26%, among those surveyed after the debate.   Collectively, these three polls testify to a Gingrich surge  coming out of his debate performance last Monday and heading into tonight’s crucial CNN debate, and only two days before actual voting.   As those of you who followed Monday’s debate with me know, the crucial  turning point in that event was likely Gingrich’s riveting exchange with Juan Williams regarding race, food stamps and Obama – an exchange that elicited a standing ovation from the partisan crowd.  Romney’s equivocal answer to the tax question, meanwhile, didn’t help his cause.

In looking at recent polls, several themes stand out.  First, the Bain Capital attacks are a mixed blessing for Gingrich and Romney, with South Carolina voters narrowly split on whether these attacks are fair or not.  My guess is Gingrich is going to pivot away from this topic and focus on the other elements of Romney’s portfolio, such as his taxes and off-shore investments during the next two days, in an effort to keep the focus on his opponent.  Note that most of the surge in support for Newt is coming from the Tea Party crowd.  Evangelicals, however, are still uncertain about him.  Interestingly, given the attention the media has paid to the SuperPacs, less than 1/3 of those surveyed in the Marist poll say the ads are influencing their choices, but fully 70% say the debates do.   Finally, in a sign that Paul can play a spoiler role, but no more, a substantial minority of likely South Carolina Republican voters say he is an unacceptable candidate.   Consistent with my earlier post, he is doing particularly well among independents, but not among mainstream Republicans.

Clearly, events are breaking in Newt’s direction.  Before anyone jumps on the Newt’s amphibian backside, however, keep in mind that the race moves quickly to Florida, which votes on Jan. 31, and where Romney has huge advantages in demographics, money, organization and – as of now – polling numbers.  It’s hard to see him losing there – at this point.

A final thought. Throughout the fall, when badgered by friends and students to predict who would win the Republican nomination, I always made three points:  First,  I didn’t know, and no one did.  It was too early to predict.  However, if pushed,  I thought Romney’s support was overstated, Gingrich’s understated, and that Perry was potentially the strongest candidate.  Clearly I was wrong about Perry.  I based my assessment of his strength on three factors: his record winning elections, his fundraising prowess, and his record as Texas governor, particularly on jobs.  However, I made my assessment without ever seeing him debate!  As it turned out, he never really recovered from those early stumbles and, in a crowded field of non-Mitt candidates fighting for the same slice of voters, the debate gaffes proved fatal.  This is a reminder that, particularly in the invisible primary when first impressions matter, outcomes turn on more than resumes and issue stances.  Candidate qualities count too.

Keep my Perry assessment in mind the next time I make a prediction.

In the meantime, however, in what is shaping up to be a potentially pivotal event, all eyes will be on South Carolina tonight.  As always, I’ll be live blogging.  The debate starts at 8 p.m. on CNN. Participation was up during Monday’s event, which saw some memorable exchanges.  Tonight there will be only four candidates, the stakes will be even higher , and the potential repercussions from a Perry-like gaffe even larger.   So please join in!

Addendum (11:00 a.m.): Several media outlets are now reporting that Perry plans on endorsing Gingrich.  Stay tuned.

The Iowa Caucus: A View From the Ground

My colleague Bert Johnson is in Iowa and gives this first-hand report about caucus proceedings there:

“There is much about Iowa that is exactly what you would expect: farms, open fields, rolling hills, and frantic presidential campaigns criss-crossing the state in an effort to secure last minute caucus votes.  Driving across the state gives us only a small sense of what the candidates have been through over the last few months. It takes an hour and a half to drive from Dubuque to Waterloo; another hour and a half to Des Moines from there. In between we drive by the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville, a bald eagle circling far from any body of water, and a lone Godfather’s Pizza place by the side of the highway that looks as if it would like to hitchhike its way out of the state.


We start today in Dubuque for a Mitt Romney rally at Weber Paper Company, a suitably modest but successful Midwestern business (website motto: “Call Weber Paper. If they don’t have it, they’ll know where to find it”). Weber is located in an industrial park on the western edge of Dubuque. When we get there an hour ahead of time the parking lot is already full and we have to park across the street. Inside the warehouse is a standard campaign setup – boxes of paper piled high behind the stage and fronted with a Romney for President banner. The media occupy platforms in the rear of the room. FOX News’s John Roberts applies chapstick in preparation for his standup. No wonder – it’s cold in Iowa today and the temperature in the warehouse is 49 degrees, according to the wall thermometer. That’s fine for us rally attendees, who have coats and gloves on, but some young campaign staffers are shivering.

The typical Romney rally-goer is in his or her early 50s. There is an unusually large number of fur coats. Romney’s young staffers wear ‘secret service’-style earpieces as they coordinate amongst each other and (presumably) with other staffers traveling with the candidate. As zero hour approaches, they pass out American flags in two different sizes to the people standing near the front.

Romney arrives only a few minutes late. South Dakota Senator John Thune takes a few minutes to introduce him, and Romney then introduces his family (wife, brother, sister-in-law, and three sons are present). Ann Romney speaks for a few minutes about her husband’s experience and qualifications. Romney then takes the floor to give his speech. He leads with Iran, which apparently test-fired some missiles today, but moves swiftly to the economy, touting his qualifications in the private sector and as a budget-balancing Massachusetts governor. It is a speech focused on competence and management experience. Very efficient and businesslike. After 13 minutes, it’s over and Romney steps down from the stage to shake hands. This is the final sprint and today candidates were not answering questions from the audience.


Off to Cedar Falls, where we arrive at the Park Place Event Center to see Ron Paul. The atmosphere is totally different here. Rather than a warehouse, we’re in a room at a convention center complete with those paneled walls that can be retracted if you need a bigger room. We’re sitting rather than being forced to stand (a copy of the U.S. Constitution has been placed on each chair). No earpieces on the staff. Most importantly, the crowd is much younger and significantly more diverse. The average age is more like early 30s – the youngest crowd I’ve ever seen at an Iowa event. I mention this to the guy sitting next to me and he points out that Cedar Falls is home to the University of Northern Iowa, so students make up “half the town.” Still, I wonder if I’d see this kind of a group at a rally for any other candidate.

Paul arrives with his son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who leads off with a passionate defense of his father and – notably – an attack on Santorum. There is one candidate who seems to be rising in the polls, Rand says (and we all know who he’s talking about), who voted to double the budget of the education department and to increase foreign aid.

Ron Paul takes the high road, explaining the importance of prioritizing freedom and of adhering to the Constitution. Whereas Mitt Romney gives a speech as if he’s closing a sale, Ron Paul speaks as if the most important thing is that you learn something. He’s teaching you a lesson. The depression of 1920-21, which occurred before the government started its wholesale meddling with the economy, was over in a year. Why? We’re invited to conclude that it was because the economy was allowed to run its course rather than being distorted by government interference.

Ron Paul speaks for 14 minutes and four seconds, and then takes off. He’s due in Mason City in an hour. The media, crammed into the back of the room, scramble to file their reports. We almost knock CNN’s Dana Bash off her perch just as she’s about to go on the air. Sorry, Dana. It’s crowded.

Michele Bachmann

Bachmann is lagging in the polls but I wanted to see her because she’s one of the two remaining candidates (the other being Santorum) who is a strong and consistent social conservative, and would therefore seem on paper to be a great fit for the socially conservative Iowa caucus-going electorate. Tonight’s rally is at her campaign headquarters at a strip mall in Urbandale. I almost missed it, but I was lucky enough to see a satellite truck from Minnesota’s KARE – 11 turn into the parking lot. We get there early, and her staff and volunteers invite us in to wait. The rally itself will be outdoors, so we’d better stay inside where it’s warm until Bachmann is about to arrive.

Bachmann’s HQ, just three days ago the site of an Occupy protest at which 18 people were arrested, is full of cheerful and positive staff and volunteers. A few dozen college-aged people staff a phone bank, inspirational signs are all over the walls, and we’re directed several times to take whatever we might want – coffee, soda, or whatever. We’re invited to sign up for a volunteer list, and I note that the form asks several questions about home schooling – whether we were home schooled, are home schooling, or are otherwise involved in the home schooling movement.

Bachmann isn’t here yet because she’s on FOX’s “Hannity” show, so the staff sets up a TV, attaches it to a cable dangling from the ceiling, and turns up the volume so we can all hear.  Once she’s done with her FOX interview, we’re told it will be 16 minutes until she arrives; after a few more minutes of waiting, we file outside.

The Bachmann group is a mixed crowd. Lots of older people, but a significant number of younger volunteers as well. A definite Tea Party contingent is present – there’s a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, a guy pushing his book that satirizes Obama by portraying him as Suess’s “Cat in the Hat,” and so on. This is a smaller bunch, though. Although the Romney and Paul rallies drew hundreds, in Bachmann’s case, it’s just a fraction of that.

Finally Bachmann’s bus pulls into the parking lot. The scene is the most effective visual of the day: the Bachmann decals on the side of the bus seem crisp and brilliant in the bright media lights; Bachmann’s staff has done a great job of making sure the crowd holds signs in just the right places so the camera shots are not obstructed. Bachmann steps out on the back of a pickup truck with her state director, and the crowd cheers. She speaks, but only for a minute and a half. Appearing to analogize her Iowa supporters to biblical loaves and fishes, she urges people to upload photos to Facebook and Twitter and to “multiply multiply multiply!” That’s pretty much all, though – she and her campaign have been at it since 4am and are clearly tired. They turn the music up and the candidate steps down from the truck to shake hands.

Mitt Romney’s campaign is clearly the most polished operation, but it lacks the improvisational excitement of the Ron Paul group or the moral commitment of Bachmann’s effort. What I saw today only reinforces the advantages and disadvantages of Iowa’s place in the nomination system. On the one hand, candidates are face-to-face with real voters – voters who take the process very seriously and often attend many events with the various candidates before making up their minds. The caucus process is deliberative and well-considered. But it takes place in a small state that is in many ways unrepresentative of the rest of the country, and it is therefore unavailable to most Americans. In the last desperate days leading up to the caucuses, it can become more of a spectacle than a serious exercise in democracy. As NBC’s Chuck Todd said on Twitter the other day, “Just about every event we’ve been to this weekend in Iowa is made up of 1/3 media, 1/3 political tourists, and 1/3 actual Iowans.” Still, I’m glad to have been part of the political tourist contingent today.”

Bert will be heading to New Hampshire next where, with luck, he’ll give us another up close and personal view of the proceedings there.  Meanwhile, I’ll be on later today with some last minute assessments of what is likely to happen in Iowa.

Onward Christian Soldiers! (The Latest Iowa Polls)

The Boston Globe headlined yesterday’s paper, “Momentum in Iowa Tilting Toward Romney”.  That’s not what I’m seeing based on the two most recent Iowa polls.

It is of course, a truism that the outcome of tomorrow’s Iowa caucus will depend on which candidate has the most effective get-out-the-vote organization.  But the latest – and likely the last – polls to come out of Iowa give some insight into how different turnout scenarios tomorrow will matter.  The first poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, surveyed 1,340 likely caucus goers, with 50% surveyed on Sunday and the remaining 50% on Monday (margin of error +/- 2.7).  The second, conducted by Insider Advantage, was released this morning without supporting detail, so buyers beware.  Both polls use automated telephone surveys.

The topline results of both polls are similar, and consistent with recent polling in Iowa. PPP has the race a dead heat between Paul (20%), Romney (19%) and Santorum (18%).  InsiderAdvantage scores it similarly, with Romney at 22.7%, Paul 22.4% and Santorum at 18%.  Gingrich is 4th in both polls. Both polls testify to Santorum’s surge; a week ago PPP had him at 10%, so he’s gained 8% since then. Four days ago InsiderAdvantage listed him 4th, at 13.4% – he’s picked up almost 5% there.  Moreover, Santorum may still be climbing; in the PPP poll those who say they decided who to back in the last week went disproportionally for Santorum, with 29% choosing him versus 17% deciding to back Romney and only 13% turning to Paul.  Santorum continues to have the highest favorable/unfavorable ratio of all the candidates as well, at 60/30.  And he is the second choice of 14% of voters, compared to 11% who would switch to Romney, and 8% to Paul (all from the PPP poll).

But here’s where turnout makes a difference. The InsiderAdvantage surveys includes 51% women – that’s a far higher proportion than the actual proportion in 2008, when women constituted only 44% of caucus goers. Similarly, the PPP sample includes 48% women – again on the high side. In contrast, the Des Moines poll weighted their sample to include only 39% women.  This suggests to me that both the PPP and the InsiderAdvantage poll may be overestimating Romney’s support,  since he does much better among women; his support among female voters tops the field in both polls, with Santorum second.

What about independents? The PPP poll only includes 18% independents, while the InsiderAdvantage survey includes 26% from this group.  The Des Moines Register poll, which does not weight by party, included 22% independents, but J. Ann Selzer, in her analysis of the Des Moines poll, indicated she saw a potential increase in the number of independents who might participate. Ron Paul runs the strongest among these voters in all three polls, and by wide margins; he typically gets more than 30% of their vote, with no other candidate breaking 20%.  So, which proportion is correct?  Is it 18%, 22% or 26%? I have no idea.

Finally, there is the age factor. Romney does best among those 65 and older, and again by wide margins; he gets 27% support in the PPP poll and 39% among this group in InsiderAdvantage. No one else breaks 20% support in this age bracket in either poll.   In 2008 this age group constituted 27% of voters, but the Des Moines poll found only 20% of the likely caucus goers came from the 65-and-over group (they actually oversampled from this group to get their final numbers).  If the actual number of 65-and-above voters is closer to 20%, both the PPP and InsiderAdvantage poll are likely overstating Romney’s support.

Keeping in mind all the usual caveats regarding margin of errors, turnout, etc., I’m not seeing – contrary to the Globe headline – momentum shifting to Romney at all. Instead, he appears to have peaked at a level of support below what he received four years ago.  Similarly, Paul’s support may be softening just a bit if I’m reading the last three polls correctly.   I don’t think either is going to come in much higher than the 18-22% they are getting in these last three polls.

Instead, I think the outcome of this race hinges on Bachmann and Perry.  Neither has seen much movement in the last week and both are fighting to prevent defections from their support to Santorum. Perry, in particular, has been hammering Santorum on earmarks in the last few days, but it may be too late to have an impact. Bachmann has been hurt by the highly publicized defection of a key staff member to Paul.  If enough of their support drifts to Santorum, he is poised to win this race, despite polling in single digits three weeks ago. Both are working hard to prevent this. Bachmann has a new television ad up and Perry has hit most of the major media outlets in recent days to bash the other Rick.

If Santorum pulls this out, he may yet vindicate the “old style” of face-to-face retail campaigning that traditionalists – and many political scientists – insist is the key to winning Iowa.  So far Santorum has spent 108 days campaigning in Iowa – Romney has been there only 18.  If I can, I’ll try to get my colleague Bert Johnson, who is in Iowa today and tomorrow, to provide an update on the candidates’ ground games later today. For now, however, the keys to this race are turnout among independents, women and the 65-and-older group.

Meanwhile, grading willing, I’ll be up with a post later that describes a bit more about how the caucuses work.

The Last Shall Be First? Santorum’s Polling is Biblical

I’m not sure what to make of this just released We Ask America poll, but I pass it along simply because it is the first poll conducted covering the last 24 hours. The most notable finding is that Santorum is now alone in second at 17%, with Paul (14%) now essentially bunched in a group that includes Gingrich (13%) and – surprise! – Bachmann (12%).  Although pundits have declared her candidacy dead, here she is ahead of Perry  (10%) and within striking distance (given the 7% undecided) of a top-three finish.   All of which makes me somewhat skeptical that this poll is very accurate . Note that they don’t release any polling internals, except to say that they have surveyed “Republicans”.  If it is only Republicans, and does not include independents or Democrats, it may be understating Paul’s support.  In any case, without more information,  I have no way to evaluate it.  So, with that cautionary note, here are the topline results.


Bachmann  12%

Gingrich 13%

Huntsman 4%

Paul 14%

Perry 10%

Romney 24%

Santorum 17%

Undecided 7%

At this point, I’m waiting on three last polls: the Des Moines Register, which will come out tomorrow night, and polls from ABC/WashingtonPost  and CBS/NY Times.

It’s interesting how the media has been reporting these latest polling results. There’s been much talk that if Romney wins Iowa, and takes New Hampshire, he could close out this nomination race in a hurry.  Perhaps, but keep this in mind.  If Romney’s current polling numbers hold, he will win Iowa with the lowest winning total in this caucus – Republican or Democrat – since it began back in 1972.  That, to me, doesn’t inspire much confidence in a Romney sweep, particularly as the field is winnowed and support begins to coalesce behind his opponents.

Here are the previous Iowa caucus winners and their vote percentages, as listed in Wikipedia (so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these figures).



Bob Dole, in 1996, is perhaps the closest parallel to Romney today – and we all know how that turned out!  Although he did win the nomination, he didn’t do so well in the general election.

Addendum (5:28 p.m.): It appears that PPP will run one more survey beginning Sunday into Monday.  Meanwhile, I’m not certain that either WaPo/ABC or CBS/NYTimes are going to field one more Iowa survey.  So at this point I know there’s at least two more polls coming out before Tuesday.