Friday, October 23, 2009

Join Us At the Picnic 2

Marc Ambinder elaborates on his suggestion that Pawlenty skip Iowa, and I still don't buy it.

Yes, caucuses favor extreme candidates, and that isn't likely to be Pawlenty's strength. But it's not as if Iowa is an outlier; the Republican electorate overall is likely to support candidates they perceive as very conservative in 2012. That's not great luck for Pawlenty.

But Pawlenty doesn't have to win in Iowa to be viable. He just has to get some traction there -- partially in order to keep other candidates from gaining traction. If Pawlenty passes and the field finishes, say, Palin/Romney/Huck in Iowa, then how is Pawlenty, who enters the 2012 cycle with very little national exposure at all, going to finish better than third in New Hampshire? And if Romney and Palin finish 1-2, in whichever order, in Iowa and New Hampshire, is there any reason to think that Pawlenty can suddenly leapfrog them to win in South Carolina? Meanwhile, if Romney and Pawlenty skip Iowa, which one is likely to get more national media attention leading up to New Hampshire -- the one who is already nationally known, or the one who is nationally still very obscure?

Yes, it's apt to be very difficult for someone who movement conservatives don't like to win in Iowa, but only because it's going to be difficult for someone who movement conservatives don't like to win the nomination. As so many candidates have learned, however, you get nominated by competing not by waiting for the perfect state to run in.

I just can't see any logic at all for skipping Iowa for anyone but the most well-known and most well-funded frontrunners -- and even then, I think it's very, very risky.


  1. I would add two things working in Pawlenty's favor for an acceptable showing in Iowa. Pawlenty is very personable and charming, even when measuring him against other personable politicians. He's very good at working a room. If he camps in Iowa for two years, he'll make a lot of friends. Also, I'd be willing to bet his name recognition is higher in Iowa than in most other primary states (and higher than the other candidates who are not national figures yet). Obviously its not as high as any of the more nationally recognizable figures like Palin or Huckabee, but its something.

  2. Hi Jonathan,
    Just discovered your blog...great stuff.

    I'm totally with you here. Ambinder doesn't really know what he's talking about. I'd make these additional points:

    1) I think he overestimates the relative size of what one might call the hard-core Christian conservative vote in Iowa. Sure, it's significant, but the state has usually voted for a mainstream conservative candidate, including Bob Dole twice and George W. Bush in 2000 when he was a "compassionate conservative" challenged from the right by Steve Forbes. In 2008, Huckabee was the obvious favorite of this bloc, while the two leading moderate candidates didn't even contest the state, and Huckabee still got only a third of the vote.

    2) While the activist base might prefer Palin or Huckabee in their heart of hearts, I'm not convinced by Ambinder's argument that Pawlenty wouldn't be perfectly acceptable to a sufficient number of them as an (electable) alternative. Flip-flopping on climate change just doesn't seem to be a sufficiently venal sin, as it were, to disqualify him from consideration.

    3) Ambinder presents the possibility of *both* Huckabee and Palin running in 2012 as a reason for Pawlenty to skip Iowa. This seems backwards to me. Even if Pawlenty were not beloved by conservative activists, the presence of both candidates would presumably divide the right-wing vote, making a Pawlenty victory *more* likely than if only one of them ran.

    4) He's the governor of a neighboring state. How can he justify skipping Iowa to the press and his supporters elsewhere? Where is he likely to do well, if not in his own backyard?

    5) The Buchanan brigades? Really? Has Ambinder traveled back in time to 1992?

    Dave Hopkins

  3. Skipping Iowa is suicide for Pawlenty or anyone else running in 2012. McCain didn't skip Iowa in 2008 so much as he focused his meager resources at the time on New Hampshire. Expectations were so low that he actually exceeded them by finishing fourth. So I don't count McCain as having skipped Iowa. When his poll numbers in the Hawkeye state at the last minute he fit in a visit or two.

    McCain aside, who has been successful in skipping Iowa when most everyone else was there? It didn't work out for Giuliani last year. The Florida or bust strategy sunk America's Mayor.

    I want to look back to Ambinder's archives from 2005 and see if he said anything along the lines of, "You know Hillary is a shoo-in for the nomination and John Edwards did well in Iowa in '04 and has camped out in the state since. If this Obama guy decides to run, he should skip Iowa. Not only does he not stand chance against those two, but there has to be a tremendous climb for an African American to win in such a homogeneously white state."

    I love the Iowa conversation that has taken place over the last two weeks, but it has been silly. No one will skip the state in 2012. In fact, Huckabee is headed there and to South Carolina next month. There is no one who has ever been successful in winning the nomination of either party who has selectively skipped one of those first contests (at least not without others following suit).

    Only 26 months to go (assuming Iowa goes in January 2012*)! I say Iowa will be as good as ever.

    *The Democrats are meeting again tomorrow to look at the nomination rules for 2012, including scheduling. We'll see if Iowa remains in January or not.


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