Presidential Pensieve for July 6, 2015

Splash water drop

In politics, there are two ways to move up the food chain: money and power. Those with either will do well; those with both are in control.

In presidential politics, however, the commodities are money and votes.

In the run-up to the 2016 Iowa Caucus, conventional wisdom says there are only so much of each to be had. Then again, this election cycle is proving to be anything but conventional.

We waited until the first week of July to begin our prognosticating for two reasons. First, we wanted to see all of the candidates — or at least as many of them as we could — on the trail before we began weighing their strengths and weaknesses. Second, we wanted to get to Congress’ summer break to see if any bellwether issues came up.

And, as we expected, the timing couldn’t be better to take our first look.

These projections are based on the idea of “what the Iowa Republican Caucus presidential preference poll would look like if it happened tomorrow.” It factors the likely demographics of the GOP caucus-goers, as well as the candidates’ policy and position statements.

This week, with the first set of financial numbers still not yet available (and only rumors to go by for all but one candidate), we’re not going to let money play a role in this week’s projection. Instead, we’re basing our numbers on the voter commodity only, assuming turnout of 135,000 (due to wildcards Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson drawing nontraditional GOP caucus voters).

That number will likely change, up or down, based on the money commodity and other factors as the campaign season moves forward.

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 17. Mark Everson (0 votes) — the former IRS director who hates banksters has an impressive resume and an interesting take on the economy, but has been relegated to “no one cares” status by the media (despite being the first mainstream candidate to announce his bid). We’re not sure more media scrutiny would help, though, given his past marital infidelity issues — which do not score well with the average Iowa Caucus voter. We likely won’t mention him again in this series.


16. George Pataki (500 votes) — the former Governor of New York is going to have a very difficult time convincing Iowans to vote for him if he doesn’t actually campaign here. Iowans expect their presidential candidates to work for the votes they get. An email campaign to get GOP contenders to disavow Donald Trump (more on that later) for his statements about illegal immigration won’t sit well with a wide swath of the Iowa GOP base, which have enthusiastically supported U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Rep. Steve King, who have each made similar statements in the recent past.


15. John Kasich (750 votes) — the Governor of Ohio has at least made his presence known to more than the Polk County crowd, but has made it clear he has no intention of attempting a 99-county retail appeal that has worked for so many Iowa Caucus winners in the past. Public comments made after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision didn’t engender him with much of the Iowa GOP base, either. In a state that tossed out three activist judges on the issue of gay marriage, calling Obergefell “the law of the land” isn’t going to win over too many conservatives.


14. Lindsey Graham (1,000 votes) — the senator’s warhawk views on foreign policy and national security make for nice sound bites, but he’s largely out-of-touch with Iowa voters and doesn’t much seem to care, based on his “I’m not the candidate for you” reactions to voters’ questions while on the stump. He’s at least attempted to do some retail politicking in Iowa, which will get him a few hundred more votes than the others further down the rankings.


13. Carly Fiorina (1,250 votes) — the former Hewlett-Packard CEO can hammer away at Hillary without being called a misogynist, but she has yet to clearly define how she would lead the country back from the brink. The few positions she has taken on social issues have turned off a lot of Iowa conservatives.


12. Chris Christie (2,500 votes) — the New Jersey squandered any momentum he may have gained from a pretty good showing at Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit. Unanswered questions about shady politics (the norm in New Jersey, not in Iowa) and position statements in the wake of the SCOTUS opinions on Obamacare and Obergefell are going to be turn-offs for conservatives who make up much of the Iowa Caucus vote.


11. Rick Perry (4,000 votes) — the “tanned, rested, and ready” version of the former Texas governor looked good in his first few appearances, but he’s fallen flat on his face at a couple of key junctures of the campaign so far. He can recover, but only if he starts showing more Texas and less Beltway punditry.


10. Rick Santorum (4,500 votes) — if we had a field in 2012 like we have right now, it’s hard to imagine the 2012 Iowa Caucus winner would have finished in the top five. He’s still running his 2012 campaign, with a lot of the same 2012 staff. We call that stagnation. He’s only just announced his SuperPAC, so if money becomes an issue, he could be done well before Christmas.


9. Bobby Jindal (6,000 votes) — the Governor of Louisiana is a bit of a wildcard right now. He’s impressed Iowans with his stances on social issues, although his past rhetoric doesn’t seem to match what he’s saying now, so they want to see more clarity from him. Social issues will help, but Iowa Caucus voters aren’t single-issue voters, either. If he comes out with a robust message and remains strong on matters of faith, he will eat into other candidates’ numbers (Santorum, Rubio, Carson, Huckabee, and Cruz could all take a hit or two).


8. Ben Carson (8,500 votes) — the only word to describe the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign so far is implosion. The Draft Ben Carson crowd did a good job of hyping up the guy, but staffing chaos and the complete incompetence of his communications team have him hemorrhaging votes at a worrying pace. Without a substantial shakeup — right now — he could be done before the end of the year, even with substantial SuperPAC money in his corner.


7. Marco Rubio (10,000 votes) — the Florida senator’s campaign has attracted a lot of positive attention from young voters who are likely to show up on Caucus Night. And, he’s got a good message he’s trying to convey to the voters. His Gang of Eight experiment, and his coziness with Establishment Republicans, are hurting him with veteran Iowa Caucus voters.


6. Jeb Bush (12,000 votes) — the former Governor of Florida will set the benchmark by which all other candidates will be measured, for fundraising. Iowans, as a whole, however, have soured on dynastic politicians, despite handing Gov. Terry Branstad a sixth term in office. He will have broad support among Establishment Republicans, but even that will be hurt by the appearance of Rubio and Christie.


5. Rand Paul (13,500 votes) — the Paul Machine is always good for 10 percent of the vote. And while some of them have jumped ship for the Cruz campaign (more on that in a moment), there will always be “fresh meat” among the newly minted voters who are decidedly anti-establishment. Voting in the presidential preference poll is not like voting in a primary, however, which always hurts in the vote tally. As his father’s campaign showed four years ago, there are ways to overcome that problem, though (we’ll discuss that closer to Caucus Night 2016).


4. Donald Trump (15,000 votes) — right now, for better or worse, there isn’t a hotter GOP candidate than The Donald. His candor, his willingness to be ruthless toward the Establishment when necessary, and his ability to campaign without passing the hat out at every stop have endeared him with a base that definitely wants something new. If he wants to win, though, he needs to flex his muscles on more than just immigration, and he needs to give Iowans some specifics about what a President The Donald would do in office.


3. Mike Huckabee (17,500 votes) — the former Arkansas governor hits a lot of the sweet spots for the average Iowa Republican Caucus voter, but there is a disconnect between his record and his rhetoric he has failed to reconcile. Fresh off a fairly successful run on FOX News, he should be running away with this race. He can move to the front quickly with just a little more candor, or he can fall off completely if he fails to energize the conservative base.


2. Ted Cruz (18,000 votes) — the Texas senator got dinged pretty good for his dabbling with key provisions of Obamatrade, and he was a little slow in responding to the Obergefell decision, but he’s been able to stay on “Cruz Control” since his announcement with a very effective communications team and lots of retail politicking throughout the state. If he gets back on track and shows a backbone to the courts, he could run away with the Iowa Republican Caucus.


1. Scott Walker (20,000 votes) — a simple guy with a simple start in life, living in a neighboring state, having won three elections in four years in a state that hasn’t gone “red” in a presidential election in decades, should be the resume of the presumptive Iowa Caucus winner. If the caucus were held tomorrow night, it still would be, but it’s highly unlikely Walker will hold this spot much longer. Being lukewarm on recent judicial opinions and wishy-washy on Common Core, while hiring people who just completely turn Iowans off, will soon erase all memory of the guy who broke the backs of public unions in the state that gave birth to the organized labor movement, if something doesn’t change quickly.


Democrat Rankings

4. Martin O’Malley — the former Governor of Maryland is the Classic Democrat in the race, left holding the dirty diaper that is the blatant socialist bent of the Democratic Party. He appeals to the old, blue-collar wing of the party, which means he just doesn’t have the draw on the stump.

3. Elizabeth Warren — the Alinsky Lites would love to see Warren running instead of Clinton, but she’s held firm (so far) that she won’t be getting in.

2. Bernie Sanders — he’s drawing rock-star type crowds on the stump, and his socialist class warfare rhetoric is resonating with the socialist wing of the party. He has the ability to overcome Hillary, much like Obama did eight years ago, as long as there aren’t any skeletons hanging in the closet.

1. Hillary Clinton — the media will continue to play her up as the presumptive nominee until the polls decisively declare Sanders has taken over the lead. It’s hard to say how much that will sway Iowa Democratic Caucus voters, so this could change between now and Caucus Night.