(Updated: 6/15/2012 Ron Paul actually did win Iowa. But not because of turnout. He won because Paul supporters stayed after the caucus and got themselves elected as delegates. 21 of the 24 delegates going to Tampa are casting for Paul)
The Iowa caucuses are less than three weeks away. The Republican field of candidates has been a rollercoaster ride of front runners. First, Michele Bachmann; an Iowa native, was the favourite until she made a bunch of wild statements and then she faded. Texas Governor Rick Perry got into the race and surged to the lead until he stuck his foot in his mouth several times. Then he plummeted in the polls. Not long after, Herman Cain became the Republican darling until his past infidelities finally caught up with him to the point that he had to drop out of the race altogether. Currently, Newt Gingrich; once thought to be politically dead, has risen to the top of the polls. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney; who purposely elected to omit campaigning in Iowa after futilely spending several millions in the 2008 Presidential campaign, remains relatively consistent in the polls.
And then there’s Ron Paul. While all the other candidates (with the exception of Jon Huntsman, the only real candidate in the clown car) stake out super right wing stances in a race to the bottom and a gambit to appeal to the Tea Party, Ron Paul has been the one lone Libertarian voice in the Republican campaign. He has been consistent in his small government views and has avoided the stigma of kowtowing to the winds of change like some other candidates.
Many polls have Paul competitively challenging the status quo in Iowa. Paul has also won many straw polls indicating extreme voter enthusiasm (straw polls are an informal gauge of people’s opinion at a particular event such as a debate). But it doesn’t matter how enthusiastically one pulls the lever on election day. What matters most is turnout. This is where Ron Paul will probably dominate. Because, though straw polls are not a good measure of viability, they are a good measure of reliability. Many Republicans are less than enthusiastic about voting for anyone in the current crop of candidates but Ron Paul supporters have a certain rabid devotion that keeps him winning straw polls. Why is that important?
Iowa is a state that holds a caucus. A caucus is a relic of the early days of the nation. It’s a way to choose a nominee to run for office against the nominee from the other party in our binary party system. There is no satisfactory etymology of the word ‘caucas‘ but it is generally accepted to originate from the early American colonies. Unlike an election, a caucus requires that you show up at a given time and place to be counted. In the old days, prominent townsmen would gather to select nominees for office to compete against the candidate from the other party. A caucus these days consists of all citizens gathering in the town square setting to confess their allegiance to a particular person.
I ran a caucus once. I had volunteered to work on the Obama primary campaign in Nevada. The major candidates were Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. After days of canvassing, all of the Obama volunteers went down to a local high school in Henderson, Nevada where the caucus was to take place. People from that district began filling the room as is customary for a caucus. The person who was supposed to run the caucus had not shown up. Since I was from another state and could not legally participate in the caucus, I was asked to take charge. So I grabbed a chair and stood on it and yelled at the citizens to gather into groups according to their allegiance. After it was determined that the Edwards supporters were in the minority I asked them to choose between the Obama and Clinton (or none of the above) camps. Then we counted the participants. Our final tally was added to other districts to determine whom Nevada would choose to represent them in the general election.
Something similar will happen in Iowa on January 3rd. This is good for Ron Paul because if there is one thing certain that Ron Paul supporters have demonstrated in the previous straw polls, it’s that they will show up to be counted. And in a lackluster field of Republican candidates who may not even bother to show up, that could be critical. With several polls showing Paul in a statistical dead heat, the enthusiasm factor could put Paul over the top.
Does that mean Paul will win the nomination? Unlikely. While Paul has some interesting ideas, many of them (such as ending the Fed) are unrealistic and unsettling even to the most conservative of conservatives. Additionally, three of the other five January primary states hold elections. Nevada is also a caucus state but expect them to side with Romney due to the home team advantage. However, if Paul takes Iowa, look for that to influence the outcome in subsequent states. The Gingrich wave appears to have crested and like the Bachmann, Perry, Cain waves before them will likely subside before the Iowa caucuses. There isn’t enough time for another wave to rise for say, a Jon Huntsman who spent more of his energies on a New Hampshire strategy.
But the slow and steady strategy just might win the day for Ron Paul in Iowa. That may influence how he does in other contests. All that Ron Paul has to do is prove that he’s viable. Disenfranchised conservatives may finally quit kicking the tires of all the other candidate’s cars and buy into Ron Paul; the classic used slant six Dodge Dart: the car that never dies no matter how you abuse it. It ain’t flashy but it runs.
- Can Ron Paul Win It All? (usnews.com)
- FOX News Thinks If Ron Paul Wins Iowa It Means Iowa Is Irrelevant (businessinsider.com)
- Ron Paul: Poised For An Upset In Iowa? (huffingtonpost.com)
- What If Ron Paul wins Iowa? | Ana Marie Cox (guardian.co.uk)