Considering the fact that Mitt Romney recently made his first visit to Iowa of this election cycle, it appears that he doesn’t intend to seriously contend in the state. And considering that there are a plethora of socially conservative candidates running for the Huckabee vote, and that that vote is therefore likely to be divided up among more than a have dozen candidates, it seems to me like it should be possible for a more mainstream candidate to win the caucuses with a very low overall percentage of the vote.
I have read in several places that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman doesn’t plan on competing in Iowa either, and probably for the same reasons as Romney. Iowa’s Republican base is evangelical and not too open-minded about supporting Mormons, regardless of what policies they advocate. That’s the theory, anyway. But Huntman’s road to the nomination has to start somewhere. He can’t skip Iowa and think he will win New Hampshire. And if he doesn’t win in either of the first two states, he certainly won’t win in South Carolina or have any momentum in Nevada. If I were advising Huntsman, I would advise him to compete heavily in Iowa with the goal of finishing in the top three. Assuming that Palin does not run, I don’t think a second place finish in Iowa would be out of the question and a third place finish should be eminently doable.
Why do I feel this way? Well, part of it has to do with the Iowa caucus system. Here’s an amusing anecdote.
Most grating to Iowa Republicans have been the snide comments from their fellow early state, New Hampshire, which has a more conventional primary election.
In a recent column for the New Hampshire Union Leader that was reprinted in the Des Moines Register, former New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen wrote that important issues don’t get debated in Iowa, because “three quarters of the audience wears tinfoil hats.”
“Iowa Republicans didn’t set out to marginalize themselves, but it’s happened — to New Hampshire’s benefit,” Cullen added. “With several major candidates likely to bypass Iowa, and the odds rising that Iowa’s skewed caucus electorate could support candidates with limited general election appeal, the likelihood of New Hampshire being called upon to make a correction” increases.
Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses because he performed a minor miracle in getting as many people under the age of 30 to show up as people over the age of sixty-four. But, this time around, Romney isn’t even going to try to overcome the tinfoil-hat nature of the Republican base in Iowa. By conceding, he leaves a quarter of the electorate without a candidate. Rep. Steve King, who exemplifies the Crazy, is set to endorse Michele Bachmann. Pawlenty is positioned to straddle the sweet spot between the lunatics and the Establishment. But he’s going to get pulled far to the right. This is where Huntsman can come in and make an electability argument. He can say that unlike Romney, he’s not a career flip-flopper.
The goal is not necessarily to win Iowa, which is probably unrealistic, but to be positioned to pick up the pieces for the Establishment when Romney crashes and burns in New Hampshire. And, make no mistake, every GOP outlet that communicates with voters is going to be gunning for Romney because of the health care issue. He is going to take so much friendly-fire that you could use him as a sieve. He has no chance of retaining his lead in the New Hampshire polls, especially after the winner of Iowa steals all the media attention for a week or two.
Let me put this another way. If Huntsman has not positioned himself to pick up the pieces, the GOP is going to nominate Pawlenty or, shockingly, someone else from their field of loons.