On January 3rd 2012, The Republican primaries will officially begin with the Iowa Caucus.
The Iowa caucuses are an electoral event in which residents of the U.S. state of Iowa meet in precinct caucuses in all of Iowa's 1,784 precincts and elect delegates to the corresponding county. There are 99 counties in Iowa and thus 99 conventions. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention, which eventually choose the delegates for the presidential nominating conventions (the national conventions). The 2012 Iowa Caucuses are scheduled to take place on January 3, 2012.
The Iowa caucuses operate very differently from the more common primary election used by most other states. The caucuses are generally defined as "gatherings of neighbours." Rather than going to polls and casting ballots, Iowans gather at a set location in each of Iowa's 1,784 precincts. Typically, these meetings occur in schools, churches, public libraries and even individuals' houses. The caucuses are held every two years, but the ones that receive national attention are the presidential preference caucuses held every four years.
In the Republican caucuses, each voter officially casts his or her vote by secret ballot. Voters are presented blank sheets of paper with no candidate names on them. After listening to some campaigning for each candidate by caucus participants, they write their choices down and the Republican Party of Iowa tabulates the results at each precinct and transmits them to the media. In 2008, some precincts used a show of hands or pre-printed ballots. The non-binding results are tabulated and reported to the state party, which releases the results to the media. Delegates from the precinct caucuses go on to the county conventions, which choose delegates to the district conventions, which in turn select delegates to the Iowa State Convention. Thus, it is the Republican Iowa State Convention, not the precinct caucuses, which selects the ultimate delegates from Iowa to the Republican National Convention. All delegates are officially unbound from the results of the precinct caucus, although media organizations either estimate delegate numbers by estimating county convention results or simply divide them proportionally.
The State of the Race
With 7 days to go until the Iowa Caucus, it is now absolutely clear that Romney is a front runner; other than that, pollsters haven’t a clue as to who will win the ‘First in the Nation’ primary.
According to Real Clear Politics, Ron Paul is leading the Iowa Caucus by 3% (within the margin of error) but Rasmussen Reports show Romney leading by 5% & PPP show Paul leading by 4%. Paul, like Romney has stayed in the early to mid 20’s for some time now and hasn’t really made a move. However in the national polls, Gingrich & Romney are streets ahead of the rest of the field. So it is rather perplexing indeed.
Regarding Iowa specifically, you do have to look at the history of these primaries, to show you that it doesn’t really indicate the eventual nominee.
• In 1980, Ronald Regan didn’t win the Iowa Caucus but yet still won the nomination.
• In 1988, George HW Bush didn’t win but still won the nomination (incidentally, he did win the 1980 caucus against Reagan).
• In 2008, John McCain didn’t win (finished 4th) but still won the nomination.
A win for Ron Paul will for sure wake up the GOP voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida etc to choose a serious candidate. The fact that Paul is in the lead now, may provide that tonic.
Iowa caucus goers have flirted with fringe politicians in the past, however they have never managed to go through with giving them the caucus win.
In 1996, Pat Buchanan almost pulled off a surprise victory; he lost by 3% to Bob Dole.
Media mogul, television evangelist & ex-Baptist minister Pat Robertson, finished second in the 1988 Iowa Caucus.
It remains to be seen as to whether the Paul 'ground game' is and vast and committed as they say it is. It is easy to say over the phone to a pollster who your preferred candidate is, but when the voting starts, will you make that effort to go to the caucus regardless of the terrain – this explains why the weather forecast will decide the outcome.
Low turnout & poor weather= good for Paul; Medium to High Turnout with suitable weather = anyone’s game.
The weather forecast (as per the below) is set fair for caucus day. This means that more people will make an effort to attend, rather than not, which should mean a higher turnout.
Romney has rallied big in the last few weeks and is starting to gain in the polls. He appears to be like a long distance runner, steadily going along and then just rushes through the field to win at the last few metres. He has significantly played down expectations throughout this primary and has only recently started throwing big money into the pot.
Gingrich who led a few days ago, has lost a lot of momentum since he’s been on the receiving end of thousands of dollars of attack ads from rival candidates. It is up in the air as to whether these really have taken their toll and only the result will tell us how badly he’s lost his vote share.
I am warning everyone not to discount Perry & Santorum. Perry has the evangelical vote, Bachman was born in Iowa & Santorum is the classic Social Conservative. I am sure that if the terrain were different, Santorum would be right up there with a serious shout.
CNN, MSNBC & NBC are all terrified of Huntsman & think he’s the real deal. This baffles me as he has been below 5% for since his announcement and hasn’t really got a viable message out. Since he’s been so low in the polls, it may make a better than expected performance look better than it really is and keep him in the race for a little longer.
For the candidates it’s all about expectations. Money dries up really quickly in presidential primary politics. They must come out of Iowa with a credible reason to carry on otherwise life will become difficult. For example, If Santorum or Bachman don't make a serious move and remain second tier candidates, why would anyone look to invest in their campaigns. However, if say, Huntsman or Perry exceeds expectations, then they can lay claim to the momentum and more people will throw money at them.
However let’s not discount the ‘McCain Factor’. He had fundraising problems in the first half of 2007, due in part to his support for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which was unpopular among the Republican base electorate. Large-scale campaign staff downsizing took place in early July, Later that month, his campaign manager and campaign chief strategist both departed. McCain slumped badly in national polls, often running third or fourth with 15 percent or less support and his money completely dried up.
He didn’t pull out of the race but rather changed tack, resumed his familiar position as a political underdog, taking advantage of free media such as debates and sponsored events. By December 2007, the Republican race was unsettled, with none of the top-tier candidates dominating the race and all of them possessing major vulnerabilities with different elements of the Republican base electorate. With that he went on to win the New Hampshire Primary and the won the party’s nomination.
That lesson teaches you that it’s never over until the final whistle. What candidates need to do is convey a message about their candidacy and why it is necessary for our times.
Some candidates thrive on bad press and will use a siege mentality to win votes. For instance, in 2008, Hilary Clinton was running against Obama in New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Obama was coasting and gaining in every poll until the day before the primary when Clinton lost on TV and burst out in tears. Folks then moved to her camp and she won the primary.
Trying to predict the Iowa Caucus is very difficult due to the uncertainty of the electorate. Therefore, I am going to predict the expectations after the caucus.
I believe that Romney will make big gains on Tuesday, he may not win it but he will certainly come away feeling a lot better than 2008. His money will not dry up as he is looking rather strong in New Hampshire.
Even though the focus is on the economy, a part of Iowa still cherishes Social Conservatism, which makes me feel that Santorum & Perry will have better than expected evenings. Bachman will struggle with those two in the race which is why I don't think she will make any gains.
I think that Gingrich hasn’t done enough to counter the negative advertisements and his vote share will lessen as a result. His record, ideas and experience speaks for itself, which will certainly ensure that he doesn’t collapse in Iowa.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Ron Paul wins but I don't believe he will. The weather is set fair and more people will come knowing he may win.
Huntsman will exceed his ridiculously low expectations but not make any serious noise from the basement of the primary.
All of this makes for enriching viewing on Tuesday and we will be following the events closely.