Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Open letter to Iowa Republicans: Use your power wisely during the caucus

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Dear Iowa Republicans:

Right now, you are feeling as proud as anyone can be in your “Leap Year baby” scenario. Every 4 years, the country pays attention to you. And you have worked hard in the modern primary system since 1972 to make sure people care about Iowa the rest of the time. Those farm subsidies don’t pay for themselves, after all.

If our political structure looked at the big picture, they would laugh at the power Iowa has. About 1% of the nation’s delegates come from Iowa; 92% of the population are white, non-Hispanic (2005 numbers). A small, very white dot on the widespread landscape.

Our political structure doesn’t have this wisdom, which is why Chris Dodd moved his family to live in Iowa in 2007 to get ready for the 2008 primary. The Dodds left Iowa and the race shortly after the caucus.

We always say you have a tough choice to make every 4 years. On the Democratic side, Iowans have picked the ultimate nominee 6 of the last 8 times (hometown favorite son Tom Harkin in 1992 and neighbor Dick Gephardt in 1988). Republicans have as many upsets as correct picks in years (minus unopposed candidates): Mike Huckabee (2008), Bob Dole (1988), and George H. W. Bush (1980).

Despite those trends, your state still holds a significant amount of magnitude for deciding the GOP presidential nominee.

Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann have the most to gain or lose in the Iowa caucus. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman won’t let Iowa affect their runs. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are in it, regardless of how Iowa goes. Rick Santorum could stay or leave after Iowa since it won’t matter either way.

In 2008, Romney finished 2nd with 25%, a finish the 2012 Romney would be thrilled to get. Paul had 10%, a figure that should go up in 2012.

Discounting Rudy Giuliani (4%) and Duncan Hunter (1%), the remaining competitors will compete for the share gathered by Huckabee (34%), Fred Thompson (13%), and John McCain (13%). Huckabee and Thompson appealed to social conservatives, Perry and Bachmann’s wheel house. Gingrich can work on McCain’s totals. So unless you all in Iowa know something we don’t, we could see a massive split, thereby reducing the impact GOP Iowans want/need to have.

Iowa Republicans haven’t given a candidate a dominating total, so a general split wouldn’t buck the trend. Little victories can help those who really need it. But what Iowans know the deep dark secret that the Iowa magic only came one time, and that was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

While Iowa’s days were more hype than reality, your state has the power to eliminate. That elimination power cripples the ability to pick good leaders for president. Can’t do well in Iowa? Might as well not run.

The king-making hype is your fault, but the reaction of the rest of the country is their own doing. Presidential candidates should stay in a race for 5-10 states, or until they truly run out of money.

The frustration in most of the country, obviously not Iowa, is that we don’t get to vote for people such as Rudy Giuliani (4%, 2008), Gary Bauer (9%, 2000), Richard Lugar (4%, 1996), or Pierre DuPont (7%, 1988). Maybe we wouldn’t have voted for them anyway, but we should have a chance to decide this for ourselves.

In covering the 2008 primaries, I saw voters in states genuinely excited over having viable choices further down the road than we had ever seen. Democratic Hoosiers, in particular, were excited to see a viable race in May.

This gift is something that Iowa voters get every four years, regardless of the candidates. Maybe this year’s list doesn’t have who you want; of those that are running, you have all the choices, even Santorum.

Unfortunately, this gift isn’t shared by a lot of you Iowa Republicans. The caucus status eliminates any active-duty soldiers fighting for the freedom to vote, college students, learning about freedoms, away on break. Those who are otherwise occupied (work, child rearing) are out of luck. So those who will have the opportunity have extra responsibility.

This will be the first post-teabagger Iowa caucus. You proved conservative enough to select Mike Huckabee in 2008; Perry and Bachmann have to like their chances.

— Newt Gingrich: You have the first chance to show the country whether you believe Newt has changed his stripes. On his 3rd wife and now Catholicism is a lot of change for the former speaker. Has the wheel stopped in a good place for Iowans? Will the vote on Gingrich be based on what he might (or might not) do with farm subsidies?

— Mitt Romney: You won’t vote to put him over the top, even if that ruins your chances of being king-makers. He knows it; you know it. Romney won’t even hold that against you. The question becomes where Romney finishes. A 2nd or 3rd place finish would make his night; anything worse than that makes New Hampshire that much more important.

— Rick Perry: Will Iowans reward his gay-bashing ad? Will you wonder deeply why Perry wore the “Brokeback Mountain” jacket in the ad? Clearly, you aren’t interested in his lack of grasp of the issues or his ability to remember what he wants to eliminate from the federal government.

— Michele Bachmann: After her John Wayne Gacy faux pas, we haven’t heard much about Bachmann’s Iowa roots. Iowa has treated nearby politicians rather well, including Tom Harkin, Barack Obama, Richard Gephardt, and Bob Dole. Even if you don’t count her Iowa roots, her Congressional district in Minnesota isn’t all that far from the Iowa border. Bachmann is certainly conservative enough for Iowa Republicans, she won the Iowa Straw Poll, and her credentials on the gays won’t hurt her in the Hawkeye State. Yet, the pundits don’t think much of her chances.

— Ron Paul: “Why not Ron Paul” could almost be the battle cry for his campaign. Paul, like Romney, has the advantage of being in Iowa in 2008, and drew a decent 10% in an open field. Too bad for him that college students won’t be back from break for the January 3 date. The recent changes of vicious racism in his newsletters will only hurt if you all are paying attention, then again, the 92% Caucasian figures that the charges won’t affect his chances. The better question is whether Paul will get any credit for his finish by the MSM.

— Rick Santorum: Santorum’s conservative consistency would serve him well in Iowa, but his ability to get momentum has never had any, what is the word we want, … momentum. Santorum’s major problem in Iowa and elsewhere is too many far-right conservative voices in the race.

— Jon Huntsman: If Huntsman gets the GOP nomination, it won’t be because of Iowa. Or South Carolina. The Iowa primary Huntsman should have ran in was 1996 or 1976, not 2012.

As for Herman Cain, Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, and the others who thought of this moment, and passed it up, whew, you might have had a shot. Well, Cain was in it, but as Gingrich has taught us, if you don’t marry your mistress, you can’t be taken seriously.

For those who finish out of the top 2 and think Iowa is the nail in your presidential campaign coffin, remember the wisdom of Joe Lieberman’s “three-way tie for third is really fifth place” strategy. Yes, people laughed at that, but that was on the Democratic side. If Perry or Bachmann pulled out a similar thought, that would seem somewhat normal by comparison of what else they have said.

So as you go meet with your fellow Iowa Republicans on Tuesday, you have a task in front of you that the Republican candidates couldn’t do themselves: eliminate a candidate or two. You will receive pressure from comedians such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to keep Perry and Bachmann. You will receive pressure from the status quo to give Romney more love than you otherwise would. You will receive pressure from Newt Gingrich just because he talks a lot and thinks he is very smart.

The beauty of democracy, twisted as it may seem these days, is that you get to decide who lives in the campaign and who dies. Your subtle moves in the caucus will be analyzed under giant microscopes. You will have more reporters in your face since, well, 2008.

Democracy brings responsibility, but we don’t have to tell you that. You’re Iowans. You control the process. Vote with your heart; let us worry about how you did.

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