In politics 19 days can be an eternity.
In 19 days before my fellow Iowans caucus in local churches, schools, fire houses, and even homes the Republican field will have two more debates, we’ll be exposed countless radio and TV ads, and who knows how many trees have been sacrificed to send us mailers that most of us don’t want.
The Iowa Caucuses, unlike a primary where you can vote all day, are party-organized meetings.
In 2016 both Iowa Republicans and Democrats will meet for our precinct caucus at 7:00 pm on February 1 at the location determined by the county party. This has a community feel, as you see friends and neighbors and people generally arrive early so there is time to chat. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss candidates, issues, and elect precinct representation to our county party’s leadership, as well as, decide who we’ll send to the county convention.
During presidential election years the first order of business is the presidential preference poll.
Republicans decide this by secret ballot, but before we vote all candidates can have a representative speak on their behalf. Having a speaker who can clearly and energetically articulate support for a candidate is crucial as there are people who show up to caucus undecided. They want to hear what their friends and neighbors have to say. There are also those who can come in and change their minds. Well-organized campaigns have this covered, campaigns that are not well-organized don’t.
Also the design and purpose of the caucus means it is the grassroots, not just casual voters, of a party that participates. All of this makes the Iowa Caucuses very difficult to predict.
Then you have the flurry of activity that takes place in the days leading up to the Iowa Caucuses. It appears that Iowa nice has gone out the window and the long knives have come out in circles who don’t want to see the current front runner in Iowa, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (RTX), win Iowa or the nomination. This isn’t a surprise.
Will he be able to survive the onslaught? The latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll shows he has taken a six-point hit since their last poll, but still leads Trump by three points after being attacked on ethanol, marriage and even his citizenship status.
Even after that, Cruz maintains the highest favorability rating among likely Iowa Caucus goers at 76 percent.
If one looks at the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls (as of Wednesday) it’s clear to see that we have a Cruz vs. Trump dogfight on our hands. Cruz holds a one-half point advantage. It doesn’t get much closer than that! Combined they have the support of almost 53 percent of likely Iowa Caucus goers.
There are a lot of unknowns. There are questions about the polling. Are the turn-out models accurate? Are they being weighted properly? What kind of a turn-out will we see? How many first-time Caucus voters will we have? How many are undecided and how soft is the support of those who say they are backing a candidate?
Will evangelicals still turnout the majority of caucus goers? In 2012 exit polling showed that 55 percent of those who participated were evangelical or born- again Christian. If there is a strong evangelical turnout, advantage I believe goes to Cruz as he has been consistently leading among evangelicals.
Will we see a significant crossover from the Democrat Party, as well as, independents registering as Republicans to caucus? If that happens the advantage is Trump’s.
Cruz has an impressive operation in Iowa. Trump has seen thousands attend events in the Hawkeye state? Cruz has had hundreds attend his events which have been more frequent and saw well over 3,000 people attend his religious freedom rally in Des Moines in August. Trump, however, has a wildcard in the guy leading his Iowa campaign – Chuck Laudner – who knows how to win the Iowa Caucuses and the campaign has offered caucus training for those who have attended his events.
Cruz has coalitions among homeschoolers, an important voting bloc in the state, as well as, with pastors. The number and quality of endorsements Cruz has racked up in Iowa has been impressive.
Who will have the best turn out operation?
Another wild card: former Iowa Caucus winners Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 have criss-crossed the state, built their own organization, and have been taking shots at Cruz along the way.
I believe they both will outperform their polling numbers, but by how much? I don’t think it is likely that either will win, but they could hurt Cruz which in turn helps Trump.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is in the driver’s seat for the third ticket out of Iowa through the establishment lane. He is also making a play for evangelicals, but how much that hurts Cruz is uncertain. Chris Christie appears to be mounting a challenge to Rubio for the third ticket out.
He’s spent more time in Iowa in January than in previous months, and he has a number of former staffers to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad working with him.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Carly Fiorina who could have been competitive for the establishment lane have largely faded (or in Kasich’s case was a non-starter in Iowa).
Dr. Ben Carson is another wildcard. While his star appears to be fading fast he did have an impressive grassroots organization going for him at the start of the race. How much of that is still intact? Carson still has the potential to play spoiler to either Cruz or Trump.
Cruz has maintained a balance between social conservatives and liberty voters in Iowa.
Will U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) succeed in pulling some of that support from liberty voters back? Cruz’s absence during the Audit the Fed cloture vote this week has been noticed and used as an attack. Paul has also set a goal to see 10,000 college students caucus for him. If he can pull that off it could be a game changer.
These are questions that won’t be answered until February 1.
Right now it looks like a Cruz-Trump dogfight, but just like Iowa’s weather that could change in an instant.
Shane Vander Hart is the editor/founder of CaffeinatedThoughts.com, a popular Iowa-based conservative website, and is the co-host of Caffeinated Thoughts Radio a weekly program heard on The Truth Network 99.3 FM in Des Moines, Iowa.