Are you sick of hearing about the impending Iowa caucuses?
Me neither. One week from today, voters in the Hawkeye State will kick off the 2012 election cycle with their mystifying mêlée of...whatever. Anyway, before parsing the polls out of Iowa, I'd like to discuss an interesting development in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination.
It seems that neither Texas Gov. Rick Perry nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who until recently the undisputed frontrunner in the GOP primary campaign) have been able to collect and submit the 10,000 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot in Virginia. For Perry, this is not that big a deal; he wasn't going to be the nominee anyway (thank God), and it will be pretty pathetic if he hasn't dropped out of the race by the time Va. holds its primary. But for Gingrich, not being on the ballot in Old Dominion is a pretty big embarrassment, not least because it's his home state.
Yes, the former Speaker spent twenty years representing an Atlanta-area district in Georgia, but he currently resides in the state that has already delivered us more presidents than any other (eight, to be exact). I recently made the acquaintance of one Bryan Eppstein, a legend in Texas politics. Bryan's reputation as a political shark is such that politicians here have been known to retain him, even if they have no need for his services; they just don't want him working for an opponent's campaign. He told me that Al Gore did not lose the 2000 presidential election because he lost Florida; he lost the election because he failed to carry his home state of Tennessee.
I can remember watching the returns roll in on Election Night 2000, and while the race was still up in the air, I remarked that Bush had won Tennessee. (For the record, Bill Clinton carried Tennessee twice.) I wasn't as politically astute back then as I am now, but I found it strange that the election was so close when one candidate couldn't even carry his home state.
Gingrich's failure to make it onto the Virginia primary ballot is all the more galling when you consider that he's been leading the polls there. In a protracted race for the nomination, every delegate counts, and if Newt and Mitt are still duking it out come February, then effectively conceding a state with more delegates than New Hampshire and Iowa combined before any votes are cast will go down as one of the greatest campaign blunders of all time.
The Gingrich campaign didn't do their candidate any favors with their apparent sour-grapes attitude yesterday. Campaign director Michael Krull:
Only a failed system excludes four out of the six major candidates seeking access to the ballot. Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates.
I agree; voters should have the right to vote for any top contender, which is why Virginia, like all states, has certain requirements that candidates must meet in order for their names to appear on the ballot. Newt Gingrich failed to satisfy all the necessary requirements, so I don't think excluding him from the Virginia primary ballots evinces a "failed" system.
Back to Iowa: Gingrich's decline in the polls has not been matched by an equal surge in one candidate's numbers; instead, it appears that his loss is Mitt Romney's, Ron Paul's, Rick Santorum's and Michele Bachmann's gain. Every poll out of the state in the last two weeks has shown either romney or Paul leading; this has pundits buzzing about the prospect of the 76-year-old Congressman and cantankerous old coot winning (or even finishing a close 2nd in) the Iowa cacuses. Such a result would be in affront to the political narrative that the Iowa GOP caucuses are dominated by social conservatives. (Hence, the impressive performances of Mike Huckabee in '08, George W. Bush in 2000 and Pat Robertson in '88.) One interesting quirk in the run-up to the caucuses this year is the failure of any one candidate to lock in the evangelical vote; Michele Bachmann was the early favorite to win this group, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, and now it appears evangelical Christians are torn between Bachmann, Santorum, Perry and Gingrich. The latter two have had their moments as King of the Hill, and I highly doubt that either of them are coming back. Ditto Bachmann, but swap "Queen for a Day" for "King of the Hill." Santorum, however, has never topped the polls in any state and may just be the next candidate to surge. He's arguably devoted more time and energy to Iowa than anyone else, and his fervent appeal to church-going folk in middle America while running his campaign on a shoestring budget conjures up memories of Huckabee four years ago. (For the record, it was in December of 2007 that the former Arkansas governor surpassed Mitt Romney in the polls in Iowa, where Romney had held a steady lead for months.) My predictions: Ron Paul will soar no higher; he has reached his peak in Iowa, though his current poll position (22.7% in the RCP average) is probably pretty close to what he'll actually pull next week in the caucuses. Santorum will outperform Bachmann among evangelicals and finish well ahead of her in the final tallies. Romney looks good to win; he'll definitely be first or second. Perry and Gingrich will underwhelm but stay in the race, and Baylor will crush UW in the Alamo Bowl.