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.



December 7, 2014

What’s Been Happening in Iowa?

  9:55 am

Iowa is home to the Iowa Caucuses, the first real contest on the road to becoming the next President. The Des Moines Register recently published a tally of what possible future Presidential primary candidates have been up to in their state:

Fifteen Republican potential presidential candidates are on Iowans’ radar, ranked here by their events in Iowa since the 2012 elections. Also presented: their support in an Oct. 1-7 Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll.

Candidate Trips Events Days Caucus Support % First Choice % Second Choice %
Rick Perry 8 *33* *15* 13 7 6
Rand Paul 6 24 10 18 10 8
Rick Santorum *9* 19 12 8 3 5
Ted Cruz 6 12 8 13 7 6
Bobby Jindal 4 10 7 5 1 4
Chris Christie 4 8 4 11 6 5
Marco Rubio 4 8 5 5 2 3
Mike Huckabee 5 7 6 17 9 8
Rob Portman 1 7 2 0 0 0
Ben Carson 2 6 3 18 11 7
Paul Ryan 3 4 3 18 8 *10*
Mitt Romney 2 4 3 *25* *17* 8
Scott Walker 2 3 2 9 4 5
Mike Pence 1 1 1 1 0 1
Jeb Bush 0 0 0 12 4 8

Thoughts on the above:

  1. Rick Perry appears to be serious about running. He’s been to more Iowan events in the past two years than anybody else — eleven more than his closest rival, Rand Paul.
  2. Rand Paul has as much support as either Ben Carson and Paul Ryan, yet he has made more trips and has more than doubled the events that they have done put together.
  3. Rick Santorum was the last ABR (Anybody But Romney) standing in 2012. He’s made more trips to Iowa than anybody else. He even won the caucuses last time, yet he registers only single digits in support.
  4. Mike Huckabee has only made a handful of trips to the state yet pulls in a respectful 17% support. He’s a man to watch.
  5. Rob Portman has been to seven events in Iowa during a two day marathon, yet he is the only person with 0% support.
  6. Ben Carson and Paul Ryan only have a small number of visits and events yet each pulls a respectful 18% support. They are definitely men to watch.
  7. Mitt Romney has only made a couple of trips to Iowa. He continues to say he’s not planning on running, yet he has considerable more support in Iowa than anybody else. If you recall in 2012, he didn’t even campaign in Iowa except in the last week or two before the caucuses were held, yet he finished second by less than 25 votes.
  8. Scott Walker doesn’t seem to be doing that well in spite of being a fellow Midwesterner. (Shades of Pawlenty and Bachmann perhaps?)
  9. Jeb Bush has not visited Iowa at all in the past two years yet pulls down double digit support.

Edited to add Jeb Bush line to chart and the comment about his level of support in my thoughts.


October 25, 2012

Today’s Des Moines Register’s Front Page

  9:13 am

Byron York tweeted this photo:

Wow! Just look at all the ways they subtly dig Obama to Romney’s benefit:

  • Obama’s got a scowl. Romney has a smile.
  • Obama’s looking back over his shoulder. Romney is looking forward.
  • Obama’s headline is negative. Romney’s is positive.
  • Obama’s subtitle talks about “Romnesia”. Romney’s talks about overcoming challenges as a country.
  • Obama’s head is lower than Romney’s and is place in the lower center of his picture. That is about the worst place, composition-wise, to place it. Romney’s head, on the other hand, is placed at the ideal upper left 1/3 x 1/3 spot.
  • Obama’s crowd shows little energy. A fair chunk of them are looking elsewhere. Romney’s crowd have the arms raised reaching for the candidate and are focused on him. Only the bodyguards are looking away.
  • The top line of the paper speaks of Halloween and features a Jack-o-lantern. Which candidate looks more like a scowling Jack-o-lantern? And in case you missed the subtlety, which candidate is the Jack-o-lantern over?

If some newspaper had done the reverse to Romney, we would be screaming bias.

The Register hasn’t yet officially made their endorsement, and they have insisted that they would not hold Obama’s pettiness against him, but the way they’ve composed this front page certainly makes one wonder.


October 20, 2012

Minnewisowa Rising Again?

  4:33 pm

The imaginary superstate of “Minnewisowa,” first suggested in 2004 as the electoral combination of three demographically and politically similar individual adjoining states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa — now in the closing days of the 2012 presidential election emerges again as a battleground phenomenon.

In 2008, all three states voted for Barack Obama, and by sizable margins. Only four years before, one voted for George W. Bush (Iowa), one voted for John Kerry (Minnesota), and one was too close to call until the wee hoursof election night (Wisconsin). These three midwestern farm states, each with one large metropolitan area, and origins of similar ethnic immigrants in the 19th century, offer a total of 26 electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins them all (more than Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, or Illinois offer individually). Furthermore, because of their proximity, a TV media market buy for one state can affect the neighboring state, and a campaign appearance in one if often widely reported in the others.

At the outset of the 2012 campaign, only Iowa seemed a possibility for the Republican ticket, whoever that would be. After the nomination of Mitt Romney for president and Paul Ryan (from Wisconsin) for vice president, however, it became quickly clear that Wisconsin would also be in play. Finally, after President Obama’s disastrous first debate with Mitt Romney, even traditionally Democratic Minnesota is showing signs of becoming in play by election day as a potential electoral tsunami moves across the nation, with a clear momentum for Mr. Romney in virtually all polls.

I remain skeptical that Minnesota will cast its electoral votes for Mitt Romney in the meeting for that purpose in the U.S. Congress on December 17, but it is, for the first time in this cycle, at least imaginable.

If indeed what is now considered a provisional “trend” is a true momentum, a sweep of Minnewisowa will happen, as it did in 2008, and be part of a decisive Romney victory.  I must hasten to add, however, that one more presidential debate remains, and slightly more than two weeks will occur before most voters (many have already cast absentee and “early” votes) will make their final choices. No clear outcome in the presidential race is visible yet.

So far, Minnesota has seen very little of the presidential campaign. Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama, as well as Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan, have appeared for private fundraisers (there is a lot of political cash in this state). But political ads have been virtually non-existent except when they are broadcast from Minnesota stations for the purpose of reaching voters in northern Iowa or western Wisconsin. The Obama campaign has a minimal presence in the Gopher State, and the Romney campaign has almost nothing visible. The 10-point margin for Mr. Obama here in 2008, according to most local polls has dwindled, perhaps to half, but all the “battleground” action has appeared elsewhere the presidential race. The final result in Minnesota, if this condition continues, could bring another 10-point margin or a nail-biter (the latter perhaps more likely if the national trend to Mr. Romney follows unabated).

Wisconsin and Iowa, too, have uncertain outcomes. Team Obama has  poured significant TV ad expenditures into both states. Mr. Obama probably cannot afford to lose both, especially as he is likely to lose Indiana, another midwestern state he narrowly won in 2008. Mr. Ryan is not necessarily as popular in all of Wisconsin as he is in his home district. The Democratic U.S. senate candidate Tammy Baldwin is also so far doing better than expected in her race with popular former Governor Tommy Thompson. On the other hand, several failed recall elections of GOP officials instigated recently by the state Democrats have tended to demoralize the liberal party here.

Republican voter registration in Iowa in recent months exceeded Democratic registration for the first time in years. That advantage, while relatively small, has grown since then. Mr. Obama won his first upset victory in Iowa in 2008, defeating Hillary Clinton, and his campaign, despite the state’s small number of electoral votes, considers it critical, and has put notable resources here. The state lost a congressional race in redistricting, and two incumbents. one Democrat and one Republican are running against each other. At least one other congressional race could be close. Mr. Romney virtually tied Rick Santorum in the presidential caucus here earlier in the year (a recount gave the win to Mr. Santorum by a handful of votes), but he has so far not pulled away (as he has in neighboring Missouri and Nebraska).

With less than two weeks to go, therefore, little is settled in the lands of Minnewisowa. There is enough suspense, however, to make the superstate a bellwether on election night, although the numerous battleground states on the east coast (which will report their results earlier), may remove the suspense when those eastern returns come in.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.


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