In 372 days Iowans will trudge through snow to vote in Iowa’s presidential caucuses. The campaigns have started in earnest and 2015 will be make or break for some candidates.
There are a more than a dozen Republicans (you aren’t reading this column for any insight on Democrats) running – or laying the ground work to run. Let’s check in on three of them.
Rand Paul: The Front Runner
At least he is in Iowa. His father’s previous finish, and built in apparatus is both a blessing and a curse. Paul the elder received 26,036 votes or 21.4% in what was essentially a three person race. Santorum and Romney, split by 34 votes, garnered 24.5% each. If Paul can hold those numbers in a field with half a dozen or more candidates he’ll be pretty formidable come January 18th. Paul’s built in advantage are the legions of libertarians who love his father. His challenge is to hold that coalition together and add some traditional GOPers to it. Iowa is an expectations game, and Paul will be expected to equal or beat his father’s results.
The question is whether traditional Republicans will embrace Paul. I find him to be one of the most interesting Republicans in DC right now. More than anyone he talks and acts upon the need to grow the party. His efforts to reach voters of diverse ethnicity are refreshing. His positions on sentencing reform, government surveillance and privacy all have the potential to bring new voters into the tent. If the caucuses were held tonight, only Rand Paul has the operation to identify and turn those people out.
Mike Huckabee: The Evangelist
The recently retired Fox News commentator and former governor trounced Mitt Romney back in 2008. But Huckabee had the social conservative and evangelical wing of the party all to himself. His showing at the Ames straw poll ended Sam Brownback’s campaign; and Ruddy Giuliani wasn’t exactly catering to the same kind of voter. Huckabee is an almost reverential figure in Iowa presidential politics. People love him. I don’t mean support him, I mean they will cross hot coals for the guy. He’s stayed connected to Iowa activists since 2008, and there are many waiting for his return.
But Huckabee will find he no longer has a monopoly on the “values voter”. Therein lies his challenge. Assume there are 50,000 potential “values voters” in the Republican caucus universe. Huckabee got 41,000 of them in 08; Buchanan and Keys combined for 30,000 in ’96; Santorum got almost 30,000 in 2012. Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and Ben Carson are all going to compete for those folks. Texas Senator Ted Cruz shows up every time Bob VanderPlaats has an open microphone. It’s easy to see how that coalition fragments allowing an “establishment” candidate to triumph.
Carly Fiorina: the Brain
The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard may be the least known name to Iowans on this list, but that just means she has only one direction to go, and that’s up. Having heard her speak I think Fiorina has a fascinating story to tell – a journey from typing and filing in a real estate office to being the first woman to run a Fortune 20 company – and all the ups and downs along the way. As I listened to her address a group of Republican Lt. Governors I wished my daughters were with me to hear her. I don’t typically subject my kids to political speeches but I’d make this exception because Fiorina has the ability to translate a vision of conservative values into concrete examples of why they matter and impact everyday life – something our candidates often fail to do.
Fiorina started to lay the ground work last fall with her Unlocking Potential super PAC helping Senator Joni Ernst. Fiorina and UP invested in boots on the ground, a smart move as they still have key staffers in place.
Fiorina will stand out in a crowd of candidates when it comes to demonstrating real world experience, and articulating how to grow the economy and compete globally. She’ll take some expected knocks for losing her one previous attempt at elected office – running for US Senate in California. But frankly, Iowans may appreciate that she didn’t find favor with California voters. Keep an eye on Fiorina – she has a long way to go, but has potential to surprise.
Check back next month for three more candidates. It’s going to be a wild ride to the caucuses. The good news is Republicans have more than just one candidate from which to choose.