My Thoughts On The 2012 Iowa Caucus

Photo of 2012 Iowa Republican Candidates for PresidentEvery four years Iowa becomes the center of the political universe for a short time as Iowans, along with the citizens of New Hampshire and South Carolina, get to vet the candidates for President in a way the rest of the nation doesn’t.  We get to see them in person, shake their hands, and ask tough questions.  Any Iowan can meet any candidate, often many times, as they criss-cross the state.  Iowa is uniquely qualified to retain its important role as the first in the nation caucus State for two main reasons: Iowa voters are smart, informed, and skeptical.  If you can win over enough Iowans to generate significant momentum, you are ready to campaign in larger States.  It’s a true test of the candidate’s ability to demonstrate their readiness face-to-face and it is a test of the campaign’s organizational strength to mobilize people to show up for 2-3 hours on a cold January night to support a candidate.  In addition, Iowa is small enough that potential candidates don’t have to have Mitt Romney’s deep pockets to come here and be competitive.  Rick Santorum proved this year that working on a relatively tiny budget can get you success if you work hard, capture volunteers, and resonate with the base.  If any State larger than Iowa or New Hampshire were to get the kind of important early role we have, it would severely limit those able to test the waters of a Presidential race (the establishment in the Beltway would love this!).

I’ve had time to process last night’s Caucus and thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here:

1. Chairing a precinct caucus is the best way to ensure you get home at a reasonable time.  Although our precinct has never been one to get out of control or waste terrible amounts of time, I thought we could be more efficient.  Four years ago I was asked to be temporary caucus chair and convinced my caucus to elect me permanent chair (the first order of business is electing the person who will run the rest of the meeting) after I promised “fairness and a record short caucus.”  I had a few older ladies hug me afterward for getting us out by 8:25PM.  This year I was re-elected caucus chair and got us out of there by 8:30PM.  I didn’t beat the record we established last time but we can awfully close.  I also had the unique opportunity to have Frank Luntz (Fox News pollster), the Smithsonian, The New Yorker, and a few others storm into the room before the event started and grill me on the campaigns, the caucus process, and my thoughts on Iowa’s role.  It was very interesting.

2. Same-day voter registration is unwise and needs to be changed.  It was very clear to my wife (who checked everyone in) and me that many disaffected Democrats and Independents showed up and switched party affiliation simply so they could cast a protest vote for Ron Paul or participate for Romney simply because they could.  I’m grateful more people are getting involved in the Caucus process, but it has become increasingly clear as the morning news rolls out that there were plenty of spoilers out there trying to distort the outcome.  It is also clear that Mitt Romney would not have won by 8 votes if we didn’t have same-day registration.  Mitt Romney and Ron Paul rode to impressive finishes in Iowa because Democrats and Independents were able to crash an official Republican Party event…not because they resonate with the the party faithful.  I suggest doing away with same-day registration and closing the window on registration changes one month (or however long it takes to create and print new lists for use on Caucus night) prior to Caucus night.  This still allows anyone remotely engaged in the process to think a few weeks ahead and get registered.  Campaigns can still identify potential supporters ahead of time and get them registered.  But it eliminates one political Party from spoiling the results of the other and keeps the process honest.  I’m sorry, people, but if you can’t decide you are going to exercise your civic responsibility a few weeks out from Caucus, you don’t need to be there.  Eliminating the same-day registration may not make a huge statistical difference, but it would add piece of mind and a sense of decorum and control as well as give outsiders the sense that this really is Iowa Republicans choosing their candidate.  We must stay way above board if we are going to keep our role intact.

3. The big winners: Santorum and Ron Paul.  Ron Paul has made it clear over the last 12 hours that he won the youth vote.   It is also painfully clear that he won the same-day voter registration vote too.  So basically Ron Paul was successful on the backs of the inexperienced, the noncommittal, the Democratic spoilers, and  the chronically disaffected protest voters.  There is no doubt he resonates with the Libertarians and Republicans with Libertarian leanings.  I also think he has some good ideas on domestic policy and love the idea of eliminating many Federal departments.  He is, however, the candidate that attracts the tinfoil hats, liberal spoilers, peaceniks, and the youth vote (which are generally poorly educated on what it is to be an American and are protesting a system they have no confidence in).  Santorum, however, proved that if you work Iowa correctly through hard work and retail politics, you can be successful!  Congratulations to him and his campaign.  Very impressive.

4. Bachmann goes all in and loses.  I was undecided about Bachmann other than questioning some of her personnel choices and the fact that she can come across a bit shrill as late as last Summer (She did hire Drew Kline, however, which I think was a great move as he is a great guy who I hear did great work for her).  As I participated with the American Principles Project on the Iowa Tea Party Bus Tour, I was able to see the Bachmann campaign in action the first part of July at a rally in Des Moines she participated in with us.  Her national campaign staff was haughty, unaware of what each other was doing leading us to feel lied to about a number of things, and she was allowed to be seen as a rock star too good to interact with supporters or other organizations there.  Her failure to engage in retail politics until late in the primary cycle was a big mistake and cost her dearly.  Her failure to capitalize on the Straw Poll win and mitigate the excitement about Perry when he jumped in the race further hurt her campaign.  They did the right thing in hiring Eric Woolson late in the game (he’s the best in the business) but it was too late.  She announced she’s done today and Santorum and Perry will probably divide up most of her supporters.

5. The race is still wide open.  Like Huckabee and Robertson (among others) before them, Santorum and Romney could be yesterday’s news at any time.  Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and even Rick Perry still have a shot at an upset.  Let’s hope New Hampshire chooses someone other than Romney (or makes it close like Iowa).  If Romney fails to break away and South Caroline and Florida fail to anoint the establishment’s heir-apparent, there is hope for Santorum, Gingrich, and Perry.

6. I have my phone back.  I have a landline at home for Rachel’s business.  After weeks of 20-35 political calls per day, I’m happy to hear the phone ring and think it might actually be someone we want to talk to.  I think the “Do Not Call” registry should be expanded so we can have the option to opt out of political and charitable calls.  I’m especially annoyed if the call does not originate from the actual campaign headquarters by a human being or from the physical location of the charity by a human being.  These massive call centers and robo-call services are offensive.  I’m ready to donate to any cause that puts an end to the abuse of my home phone line should I choose to opt out.

What are your thoughts and takeaways?

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