November 23, 2015

Iowa and New Hampshire Strategies Come Into Focus

  5:41 pm

We are now, today, exactly ten weeks away from the Iowa caucuses on February 1. As the date of the first actual votes draws closer, the strategies in the early states are slowly coming into focus. Today, two articles show how the races in Iowa and New Hampshire are shaping up behind the scenes.

First, the Hawkeye State, where Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are setting up for a Battle Royale. As Politico notes with their lede, “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz weren’t the only candidates in Iowa this weekend, but they might as well have been.” But what about Trump and Carson? Let’s let an Iowa resident explain it:

“Trump’s out there in the front, but he’s not presidential. He’s not going to make it. So it’s shifting. Ted Cruz has been more available and he has quite a following, especially the younger generation. And he comes here regularly,” said Greg Crawford of Des Moines, who along with his wife Julie listened to seven GOP presidential hopefuls for three hours Friday. “But there is a lot of interest in seeing more of Rubio, because we’ve all seen in the debates how smart he is and how he can be inspiring. Everyone is starting to sense it coming down to those two.

Politico notes that Iowans’ “expectations” are “that Trump and Carson are near the apex of their support – or will soon be in eclipse” and that they have started moving on to real candidates now. That means Rubio and Cruz. So how do these two plan to win the caucuses?

For Cruz, it’s simple: rebuild the same coalitions that gave Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum their caucus victories in ’08 and ’12. So far, it appears to be working: Cruz is solidifying his hold on the evangelical community and the conservative grassroots activists. As one Iowan pastor noted, “If you go to my church on Saturday, every car will have a Cruz sticker on it.” Cruz is also seen as having an inside track to Bob Vander Plaats’ endorsement, which, coupled with Steve King, could be more than enough to put him over the top on caucus day.

So what is Rubio’s strategy? He entered this race as the compromise candidate – everyone’s second choice – and that’s how he’s planning to win Iowa as well. He’s meeting with pastors and doing some Christian conservative events, such as the Family Leader Forum last Friday, but he knows he won’t win that demographic and he’s hoping to peel off just enough support from that group to keep Cruz from winning. Meanwhile, he is also racking up support from “governance-minded establishment conservatives [and] Tea Party-oriented fiscal conservatives.” In other words, Rubio is attempting to build a wide coalition of support while Cruz focuses on a narrow but deep well of support.

So far, it’s anybody’s ball game. You can hear how close of a call it is in the way voters describe their choice:

“[Rubio]’s my number one choice right now; Cruz is number two,” said Melissa Hines, who attended Rubio’s first town hall Saturday morning in Oskaloosa. “Marco’s a little more electable in the general, and that’s why we lean a little more to him.”


“I’m more impressed than ever,” said Robert Auld, after hearing Rubio in Oskaloosa. “I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen in the media, but I’m especially impressed with what I heard today.” Auld names Rubio and Cruz as his two favorites – for now, Rubio has the edge. “I like his youth and his vigor and his ideas. I think he’s right that we need a new generation to make things happen,” Auld said.

At this point, I’d put Cruz as a favorite to win Iowa, but it could go either way depending on how the next 10 weeks shape up. Which then brings us to New Hampshire, where the battle isn’t Cruz and Rubio, but rather Bush and Rubio.

National Review has a glimpse into how Jeb and Marco are strategizing in the Granite State, and it comes down to one thing: age.

Jeb Bush is doing more than 20 points better in favorability ratings (!) among senior citizens than he is among the general electorate. This fact is driving his last-ditch desperation effort in New Hampshire: focus on getting out the senior vote while Rubio is focusing on younger generations. Bush has several factors working in his favor with regards to this improbable gamble: first, New Hampshire’s population is older than the national average; second, Republican primaries tend to draw disproportionate numbers of older voters; and third, older voters have historically been much more likely to go out and actually vote than younger voters.

This confluence of realities — New Hampshire’s aging population, the disproportionate tendency of older voters to vote, and Bush’s popularity among that demographic — explains why half of the “Jeb Can Fix It” bus tour was spent in far-flung Carroll County, 90 minutes north of the Manchester media market. A quarter of all Carroll County residents are 65 or older, according to the Census Bureau, nearly twice the national average.


The median age [at Bush’s event] was Medicare-eligible; nearly every attendee had white hair, though some covered it with caps commemorating service in the conflicts of epochs past.

“These,” Hunt says, looking out over Bush’s audience inside the Wright Museum, “are the reliable voters.”

Meanwhile, Rubio is doing the same thing in New Hampshire that he’s doing in Iowa: attempting to build a broad coalition of voters. Of course, naturally, his events are drawing more millennials:

The event couldn’t have looked or sounded more different from Rubio’s appearance earlier that day at St. Anselm’s in Manchester. There, addressing an overwhelmingly youthful audience that had been warmed up with an unedited version of Tupac’s “Changes,” Rubio related to Millennials with talk of Candy Crush, student-loan reform, NFL football, Uber, and, of course, the forthcoming Star Wars film. It wasn’t without substance; Rubio made his case that the old guard of politicians is peddling “20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems.” America, he told them, “is in desperate need of leaders that understand life in the new economy.”


Rubio explained that his host, the company Granite State Manufacturing, was producing this kind of innovative combat equipment to win the wars America has yet to fight. “We cannot survive the global perils of the 21st century with a military built for the 20th,” he declared. As a political motif, it was consistent with what Rubio had preached the previous afternoon while addressing a roomful of Millennials at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester — right around the time Bush’s campaign bus was touring retirement communities up north.

This contrast, NR notes, is “jarring and highly instructive.” But they also note one glaring flaw in Jeb’s plan: Rubio’s attempt to build a broad coalition in New Hampshire is working so far; in fact, in the crosstabs of the latest polls Rubio is beating Bush among all age demographics – including senior citizens.

In Iowa, Rubio hopes to peel off enough conservative evangelicals to launch him ahead of Ted Cruz, who is focusing on that group. In New Hampshire, Rubio is hoping to peel off enough senior citizens to launch him ahead of Jeb Bush, who is focusing on that group. And in both states, the voters are expecting Donald Trump and Ben Carson (along with Kasich, Christie, and others) to be non-factors by the time February rolls around.

It’s an interesting look into the strategy of these three candidates, but there is another danger inherent in Rubio’s plan that has yet to be illuminated: Rubio will be fighting a two-front war in February. He’ll be battling with Cruz, who has the luxury of focusing on Iowa, at the same time he’ll be battling with Bush, who has the luxury of focusing on New Hampshire. Rubio’s time and resources will be divided, and whatever the results in Iowa, he’ll have to pivot immediately to New Hampshire while Cruz would assumedly head straight to South Carolina.

This could end one of two ways for Rubio: like Romney 2008, or like Romney 2012. In both cases, Romney decided to contest both states against opponents who focused only on one. In one case, Romney was soundly defeated; in the other, he ended up as the Republican nominee. In about ten weeks, we’ll find out which path Marco Rubio will be taking.


November 2, 2015

Poll Watch: Carson Still Leading Trump in Iowa

  11:11 am

KBUR/Monmouth College Iowa Republican Caucus

  • Carson – 27.5%
  • Trump – 20.4%
  • Cruz – 15.1%
  • Rubio – 10.1%
  • Bush – 9.0%
  • Fiorina – 4.1%
  • Christie – 2.3%
  • Kasich – 1.9%
  • Huckabee – 1.7%
  • Paul – 1.6%
  • Jindal – 1.3%
  • Gilmore – *
  • Graham – *
  • Santorum – *
  • Pataki – 0%
  • Undecided – 3.8%

Survey of a mixture of live calls and robocalls was conducted Oct 29-31 and has a margin of error of ±3.37%.

(h/t to reader Newbie.)


October 23, 2015

Poll Watch: DMR Poll Shows Trump Falling to Second in Iowa by 9 Points

  8:34 am

The gold standard has spoken: Trump is losing Iowa, almost by double digits.

Bloomberg/Des Moines Register/Selzer Iowa Republican Caucus

  • Carson – 28% (18)
  • Trump – 19% (23)
  • Cruz – 10% (8)
  • Rubio – 9% (6)
  • Bush – 5% (6)
  • Paul – 5% (4)
  • Fiorina – 4% (5)
  • Huckabee – 3% (4)
  • Kasich – 2% (2)
  • Jindal – 2% (2)
  • Santorum – 2% (1)
  • Christie – 1% (2)
  • Graham – 0% (0)
  • Pataki – 0% (0)
  • Gilmore – 0% (0)

Survey of 401 likely caucus goers was done Oct 16-19 and has a margin of error of ±4.9%. Numbers in parentheses are from the August DMR poll.


August 31, 2015

Poll Watch: Carson Ties Trump in Iowa

  11:09 am

Monmouth University Iowa Republican Caucus

  • Carson – 23% (8)
  • Trump – 23% (13)
  • Fiorina – 10% (3)
  • Cruz – 9% (7)
  • Walker – 7% (22)
  • Bush – 5% (7)
  • Kasich – 4% (2)
  • Rubio – 4% (5)
  • Paul – 3% (5)
  • Huckabee – 2% (6)
  • Santorum – 2% (3)
  • Christie – 1% (1)
  • Jindal – 1% (4)
  • Perry – 1% (3)
  • Pataki – * (*)
  • Gilmore – 0% (0)
  • Graham – 0% (0)
  • Undecided – 5% (11)

Survey of 405 likely caucus goers was conducted Aug 27-30 and has a margin of error of ±4.9%. Numbers in parentheses are from the July Monmouth survey.

It will be really interesting to see how the media cover results like this. Much of Trump’s support has come from self-fulfilling news cycles: Trump leads in a poll, the media cover Trump more than the other candidates combined because of it, therefore Trump leads in the next poll and the cycle continues. With Carson breaking out and tying Trump in Iowa, if the media decide to take the spotlight off of Trump and put it on Carson, it could have similarly inverse effects…

And it will be interesting to see if there really is some sort of alliance between Trump and Carson. If Trump starts feeling threatened by Carson, how would he even go about attacking him? “I love Ben Carson, but he doesn’t have any political experience and has a tendency to say crazy things.” Oh, the irony…


August 28, 2015

Attention Fellow Poll Nerds

  2:00 pm

The new Des Moines Register poll, the gold standard in Iowa polling, is set to be released in the next couple of days. Democratic results will be made public at 5 pm Saturday and Republican results at 5 am Monday morning.

That is all.


July 20, 2015

Des Moines Register: Trump a “Wholly Unqualified Feckless Blowhard” Who “Pollutes the Policial Waters”, Should Drop Out Now

  7:33 pm

The Des Moines Register is one of the most respected go-to publications for serious coverage of the American political process, especially as it pertains to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. Tonight, their editorial board released an official editorial that aims to deliver massive body blows — and perhaps a knockout punch — to Donald Trump. Some highlights:

It’s time for Donald Trump to drop out of the race for president of the United States. …

Trump, by every indication, seems wholly unqualified to sit in the White House…

His comments were not merely offensive, they were disgraceful. So much so, in fact, that they threaten to derail not just his campaign, but the manner in which we choose our nominees for president. By using his considerable wealth, his celebrity status, and his mouth to draw attention to himself, rather than to raise awareness of the issues facing America, he has coarsened our political dialogue and cheapened the electoral process.

He has become “the distraction with traction” — a feckless blowhard who can generate headlines, name recognition and polling numbers not by provoking thought, but by provoking outrage.

In just five weeks, he has polluted the political waters to such an extent that serious candidates who actually have the credentials to serve as president can’t get their message across to voters. In fact, some of them can’t even win a spot in one of the upcoming debates, since those slots are reserved for candidates leading in the polls…

Trump has proven himself not only unfit to hold office, but unfit to stand on the same stage as his Republican opponents.

As they say on the internets, read the whole thing. It’s absolutely scathing in its critique, and the number of punches pulled clocks in at precisely zero.


July 1, 2015

The Primary Calendar: Strategy, Discipline, and Necessity

  2:55 pm

As we explored here on Race back in November, successful candidates for President generally view the primary calendar as unfolding in three phases:

There’s an old axiom in politics that voters don’t really start paying attention until Labor Day. Understanding that, then, we can roughly divide the primary calendar into three sections: pre-Memorial Day, Memorial Day to Labor Day, and post-Labor Day:

  • Pre-Memorial Day: Use this time to build your campaign team. Put the framework in place, fill it with talent, grease up the machine, and get ready to push the start button. This first phase is when you plant field offices, meet with early backers and surrogates, and most importantly, hire talent. At this early stage, the most important thing to do is build a lasting framework that will carry you through the next year and a half — and which will not require your attention during the crazier, busier seasons to come.
  • Memorial Day to Labor Day: Normal people don’t pay attention to politics during the summer months, so once you have a campaign framework in place take this time to do as many fundraisers as humanly possible. This is your chance to build a warchest with which to dispatch your opponents once the race begins in earnest. Lay low, don’t oversaturate, and fund that campaign.
  • Post-Labor Day: Campaign, campaign, campaign. This is when people start paying attention, so this is when you start introducing yourself to them. Media blitzes, interviews, ad buys, and public campaign stops in early primary and caucus states all start now and do not end until you bow out of or win the race.

These three phases might seem pretty obvious, but they’re not for many candidates. Without a long-term plan like this is place, many candidates will attempt to do all three things (campaign structure, fundraising, and campaigning) all at the same time, ending up doing none of the well. Additionally, many candidates will waste time holding public events and campaigning during the summer months, then enter the post-Labor Day race woefully low on funds (meaning they cannot campaign as much during the most important portion of the race because they will be fundraising) or having peaked too early with no way to continue momentum (see Romney, 2008).

Of course, none of these are hard and fast phases. They bleed together — every candidate will do some fundraisers during each stage, for instance, to keep the coffers from going empty. And media outlets will have dollar signs and ratings charts in their eyes, scheduling primary debates whenever they can throughout the calendar. But as a good general rule of thumb, sketching out a campaign according to that calendar is what leads to a successful nomination attempt.

Since we are in the middle of the second phase right now, it’s a good time to check in and see how our candidates are doing in following this framework. Obviously, with the primary campaign getting started late (by modern standards), phases one and two are blending together for many candidates. But the general principle is the same: do all the behind-the-scenes work before Labor Day, don’t oversaturate during the spring and summer, and then pull back the bow and launch strong in September. Generally speaking, this allows a candidate to peak at the right time and also allows him or her to build a sustainable campaign organization that will withstand the intense fall and winter months.

It also, as we will see front and center in the next week or so, allows them to report strong fundraising numbers when the FEC reports are due (they have to be submitted by July 15, but most candidates will announce their totals before that).

So right now, in other words, candidates should be cramming as many fundraisers into their schedules as possible, meeting with bundlers and donors and financiers, and building their infrastructure behind the scenes. None of that garners headlines or wins news cycles — but that’s the point: it’s not supposed to. Not yet.

It’s also the reason the polls at this stage don’t matter. Oh, sure, everybody says that about the polls early on in campaigns (especially the candidates who are trailing in them), but this year it’s even more true than usual. By this time in 2008 there had already been three debates and millions of dollars of advertising dollars spent. By this time in 2012, we had already seen two debates and a lot of political ads. This year? Zero debates and barely any ads (zero primetime television ads that I’m aware of). There has been no chance on a national stage for these candidates to introduce themselves yet, and no large events to shift the numbers one way or the other outside of individual campaign announcements.

Not all candidates are keeping their heads down and focusing on behind-the-scenes work, though. Many are out campaigning — and some are campaigning way more than others, breaking one of the cardinal rules of the calendar. Of course, some of these candidates with low name recognition (Fiorina, Cruz, Carson, et al) have to campaign in order to get people to start paying attention to them, which is the curse of the lesser known candidate. The calendar is never in their favor. But even some of the more well known candidates are wasting time right now on the campaign trail rather than doing the long, slow work of building the foundation for a successful campaign later on.

As one data point, let’s consider the state of Iowa. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register, here are the number of events each candidate has held in the Hawkeye State since March (with the number of events broken down by month afterward into Mar/Apr/May/Jun/Jul):

  • Huckabee – 39 events (6/4/9/13/7)
  • Santorum – 39 events (8/9/11/10/1)
  • Jindal – 28 events (1/5/3/5/14)
  • Perry – 24 events (5/5/11/2/1)
  • Cruz – 23 events (5/7/-/8/3)
  • Carson – 22 events (-/-/7/14/1)
  • Paul – 22 events (-/5/9/-/8)
  • Graham – 21 events (4/1/1/9/6)
  • Fiorina – 18 events (2/13/2/1/-)
  • Trump – 14 events (-/5/3/5/1)
  • Walker – 13 events (2/5/3/2/1)
  • Bush – 9 events (3/-/3/2/1)
  • Rubio – 6 events (-/2/-/2/2)
  • Christie – 5 events (1/-/-/4/-)
  • Kasich – 5 events (-/-/-/5/-)
  • Pataki – 2 events (1/-/1/-/-)

As you can see, Huckabee and Santorum have basically been living in Iowa, to the exclusion of ensuring their campaigns will remain viable long term. This communicates their obvious strategy: it’s Iowa or bust for these two with no plan beyond that. Given that they pull 5% and 4% support, respectively, in the latest Iowa poll despite pressing flesh for five months now would seem to indicate that they are headed straight for the bust column. Perry and Carson are in similar spots, with Perry saturating the state in May and Carson camping out there in June. Perry still only gets 4% in Iowa polls, where it looks like Carson’s campaigning is at least paying off with a small boost in support.

I’m more interested in the bottom of the list, however — the candidates who have basically ignored the state. Pataki’s numbers are to be expected, since he’s not going to compete in Iowa anyway, and Kasich and Christie are just now getting into the race. (They both held a number of events in Iowa in June.) But what of the other candidates? Specifically, the Big Three: Bush, Rubio, and Walker. All three have essentially ignored the state, especially in May and June. And all three are showing themselves to be more disciplined candidates than the rest of the field, taking time to do the fundraisers, hirings, and foundational work rather than hitting the campaign trail early. This is obviously tremendous news for Governor Walker; even while basically ignoring the state, he has a solid lead in Iowa. This also offers a glimpse into the Rubio campaign strategy – he’s saving the headlines and campaign appearances for later and focusing on other things right now. If he is indeed being informally advised by Romney and his team, this strategy makes complete sense: it’s the same one Romney used en route to victory in 2012. Bush is, of course, the big question mark: will he invest in Iowa at all during the later stages of the campaign? Or will he write off the state with token appearances and instead focus on New Hampshire?

So, I said all of that to say: it’s early. Disciplined, winning campaigns are doing what disciplined, winning campaigns do. Meanwhile, desperate second- and third-tier campaigns are doing what they do. It won’t be long until the wheat is separated from the chaff, so to speak, and the long-term planning pays off over the short-term quest for headlines.

Nobody really pays attention until Labor Day anyway.


June 12, 2015

It’s Official: Iowa Straw Poll Dead

  9:28 am


May 29, 2015

What if Iowa Holds a Straw Poll and No One Comes?

  3:46 pm

When Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee announced they would not compete at the (new and improved?) Iowa Straw Poll this August, all eyes turned to the other candidates to see what they would do. After all, Iowa’s own Republican governor publicly said the straw poll has outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to die, but the Iowa GOP voted to continue the circus for at least one more go round. Would anybody show up? Or would the conventional wisdom — a candidate has almost nothing to gain and everything to lose by competing — prevail, meaning the straw poll would be playing to an empty room?

The body blows continued: Shortly after he announced he was running for president, Lindsey Graham announced he would not be competing. Then Marco Rubio’s campaign said it would be “highly unlikely” the Senator would compete, either. And now, we might be able to write the pre-mortem for the Iowa Straw Poll everybody is itching to write.

The Iowa GOP held an informational meeting for campaigns who are interested in the August event, and only seven campaigns (out of a potential 18) showed up:

  • Ben Carson
  • Chris Christie
  • Ted Cruz
  • Carly Fiorina
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Rick Perry
  • Donald Trump

Making it worse, one of those seven campaigns was Lindsey Graham’s, who made it clear they weren’t joining the straw poll but were just attending out of respect for the Iowa Republican Party. So in reality, only six campaigns are even interested in competing this year. Six out of eighteen — let that sink in for a moment.

Noticeably absent: Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. Rand’s father used to make a political career out of gaming straw polls; it looks like Paul the Younger has no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Santorum’s lack of interest in the straw poll matches Huckabee’s in terms of seriousness: both have won the Iowa caucuses, but now face the reality of weakened support and severely negative press should they compete and lose here in August.

Scott Walker’s absence may be the most startling, however. With Bush and Rubio both bowing out, one would think this would be a prime opportunity for Governor Walker to score an early and easy victory. Plus, the Iowa caucuses are an absolute must-win for him come February, being a neighboring conservative governor, so the Straw Poll would give him a chance to put a slew of organizational pieces into place early. He must have decided the risk wasn’t worth it, though — and who could blame him?

So who is planning to compete? Donald Trump and Ben Carson. That’s it. Those are the only two candidates who have committed to attend the 2015 straw poll. Even if Christie, Cruz, Fiorina, and Perry all decide to get in (remember, Perry famously skipped the straw poll last time to announce his candidacy at the Red State event), that’s not much of a lineup to attract voters. While it might be a few minutes of fun to watch Christie bloviate all over a roomful of Iowans, nobody would mistake this for a serious event in any way, shape, or form. (Which is why I think Fiorina will ultimately skip it as well – she is desperately trying to be seen as a serious candidate, and running around at an event where Donald Trump could be the main headliner certainly doesn’t play into that.)

And so it is that the straw poll fizzles out and finally dies, with little fanfare or recognition. RIP, Ames Straw Poll, 1979-2015. It was fun while it lasted.


January 21, 2015

Bush Reaches Out To Iowa’s GOP Chairman

  5:35 pm

The Des Moines Register reports:

Jeb Bush buoyed Iowa Republican leaders hopes today that he won’t spurn Iowa if he runs for president in 2016.

During a telephone call with Iowa’s Republican party chairman, Bush repeatedly said he’s not a candidate, he’s just exploring a bid for the presidency.

“But there was a resolve in his voice,” Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told The Des Moines Register this afternoon. “What I heard is a man that’s ready to come out and tackle the Hawkeye state.”

Kaufmann said he thinks Bush lined up the telephone conversation because he’d commented recently in the media that only two major candidates from the GOP potential 2016 lineup had yet to contact him: Bush, a former governor of Florida, and Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee.



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