February 1st is literally just around the corner with a mere 11 days left, as of this post, in this election cycle before the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses are held. It’s crunch time for the presidential candidates and it’s going to come down to executing the game plan flawlessly.
Winning Iowa is about organizing, usually. This election cycle, however may be setting the stage for a whole new way of winning the vote in the Hawkeye State. Trump is taking an unconventional approach to the Iowa Caucuses with big venues full of large crowds, but what remains true as always is that each presidential hopeful has to turn out their voters with ballot in hand. Who accomplishes this remains to be seen, but let’s break this down by taking a look at the leading candidates and what they need to do to finish strong in Iowa.
The Cruz campaign has hit a few bumps in the road as of recent in Iowa. The Sarah Palin endorsement for Trump sent a message to Iowa voters that as a conservative it’s ok to vote for a candidate like Trump. While Iowans still reserve a strong independence in selecting their candidate, the Palin endorsement will make inroads on wavering voters trying to decide between Cruz and Trump.
Governor Branstad equally threw a wrench into the monkey works by explicitly stating that he “wants Cruz to lose Iowa.” This was in reference to Cruz’ lack of support for the Renewable Fuels Standard, which in essence is the standard that sets the mandated levels for ethanol blended fuels. By Cruz taking a position against the RFS, he has pitted himself against Branstad and the reaction was visceral. This will not help Cruz in a state that leads the nation in ethanol production.
Cruz must protect his base and the conservative capital in Iowa is in the northwest part of the state. Sioux and Lyon counties are the epicenter of Iowa conservatism and predictably vote for candidates that fit the brand. They went for Santorum in 2012 and Huckabee in 2008. If Trump, Rubio or any other candidate steals one of these counties away, look for a not-so-successful night for Senator Cruz.
If Cruz is to win Iowa, he must win northwest Iowa, and take some of the larger counties in central Iowa such as Polk, Dallas or Story. This is where Des Moines and Ames are located and are larger population centers. Equally important will be Dubuque and Scott counties. These counties are catholic and pro-life and will tell us if Cruz is resonating with eastern Iowa.
Trumps game plan is simple; overwhelm the competition by bringing in voters spanning all sorts of demographics. Trump has support from conservatives, evangelicals, tea-partiers, union members, independents and even democrats. An element important to the Trump campaign is first-time voters. The campaign is knee-deep in caucus training and is focused on ensuring that every potential Trump voter has the information and means to cast their ballot.
Trumps campaign is strong and well organized in Iowa. Chuck Laudner, the State Political Director, has structured his operation into the four congressional districts with experienced Field Directors heading up each one. Beyond that, they have worked the structure down to the county and precinct level having identified supporters who are committed to speaking at the precinct level on behalf of Trump and getting out the vote. Laudner runs a tight campaign and holds his people accountable.
If Trump wins any of the counties in northwest Iowa that will be an indicator that he has strong conservative support. Additionally, if he wins counties in central Iowa, which are traditionally establishment strongholds, he will show the broad appeal that has been touted of his candidacy.
The Carson campaign has been working for some time in Iowa, possibly longer than any other campaign, to put an organization together that can execute a sound ground plan and get real results. It’s not for the lack of effort by Ryan Rhoades, Carson’s State Political Director, and his staff that the campaign has been languishing. Part of this is due to the candidate, himself.
Carson suffered some setbacks when the media made him the focus of their negative research on the stabbing incident and Carson’s supposed false claim of receiving an appointment to the United States Military Academy. Carson’s claims were subsequently verified and some new organizations were forced to retract their erroneous reporting.
As of recent, Carson’s National Campaign Manager Barry Bennett and Communications Director Doug Watts resigned their positions due to a dustup between them and some of Dr. Carson’s friends who advise him within the campaign. It seems as if Carson has lost the zeal for the campaign trail and is satisfied with simply making a show.
Carson is competing for the same territory that Cruz is competing for. He needs the evangelical vote en masse and if this were a normal election cycle that would account for about 40 percent of the GOP caucus vote. In 2008, and again in 2012, the Iowa GOP turned out about 20 percent of registered Republican voters. With the strong interest this year, that number could go much higher and this would make it harder for the Carson campaign to win in the state.
Of the establishment candidates running, Rubio seems to have the greatest appeal as a young, energetic, Reagan conservative who is also Latino. This is exactly the face that the national party wants to put forth to prospective, new voters to change the way the party is perceived. The problem Rubio has is, Rubio.
He hasn’t worked nearly hard enough in Iowa having spent only five days on the campaign trail in January. Not to say that the organization Is not deep and structured enough, but try looking up where the Iowa campaign headquarters is located and the phone number. It’s not easily found and nor is the candidate.
Rubio will need to win Woodbury and Pottawattamie counties in western Iowa. These were Romney counties in 2008 and 2012 and if he can make gains here, combined with eastern Iowa counties such as Linn, Blackhawk and Johnson, he can hope for a decent showing. Rubio is going head-to-head with another establishment candidate; Chris Christie.
The Christie campaign plan is about specific targeting. It’s no secret that early January polling data gave the Christie campaign some hope that there was a window of opportunity to take on Rubio for the establishment mantle in Iowa.
In 2012, Romney dominated Iowa’s most populated counties such as Dallas, Polk, and Story in central Iowa and Linn, Johnson and Dubuque in eastern Iowa. In large measure, Romney performed very similar in 2008. For Christie to be able to challenge Rubio and place well in Iowa, he needs to beat Rubio and any other candidate here.
The Lower Tier
The remaining candidates, Paul, Bush, Fiorina, Kasich, Huckabee and Santorum simply do not have the momentum in Iowa needed to challenge for a strong showing. Bush has campaigned only one day in January and seems resigned to yield any chances here. Kasich never really invested in an Iowa effort. Huckabee and Santorum have been unable to yield that old magic of previous campaigns and are likely capped out at their single digit poll numbers. Paul continues to fight, but is maligned to a very specific demographic of conservative libertarians and college students. Fiorina has worked hard in Iowa and has a decent organization with Iowa talent, but has not caught fire here.
We will soon find out the truth. Which campaign is the real deal, who’s worked harder to connect with Iowans, and most importantly, who is seen as strong enough to take on the presumptive Democratic nominee in Hillary Clinton.
Iowa is an agriculture state and when harvest season arrives farmers must separate the chaff from the kernel. The harvest is due here in just over a week and a half, and Iowa will once again serve a very important role in separating the winners and the losers. Each candidate will then get a better sense if they are chaff that will blow away in the wind, of if they are worthy of the Iowa golden kernel award.