Last weekend CPAC; the annual Conservative Political Action Conference gathering of conservative activists, consultants, and politico fan boys, came and went with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finishing a close second to perennial CPAC straw poll winner Rand Paul. Walker is receiving heightened scrutiny as the Governor has surged to “front runner” status in Iowa, at least two out of three polling firms tell us so.
Before elaborating on why it’s far to early to proclaim Walker, or anyone else for that matter, a front runner, let me say I’m a big Scott Walker fan. Not necessarily a supporter yet, but certainly a fan. However, I started following the Wisconsin Governor when he had a throw down with the state employees unions, and his state Capitol building was almost paralyzed by protesters trying to stop the legislature from acting on his proposals. As someone who had just gone through my own bruising legislative battle with Governor Culver and the Democrats over their attempts to expand the scope of public employee collective bargaining here in Iowa, well, to paraphrase Renee Zellwanger’s character Dorthy in the movie Jery McGuire – he had me at ‘hello’. I’ve watched him closely ever since, from the attempts to recall him from office to his third statewide victory in just four years. I even had the opportunity to listen to him last summer while attending the Republican Lt. Governors annual meeting in Milwaukee, and I found him to be impressive, down to earth and relatable.
I did not, however, catch his speech at the Steve King, er, I mean Freedom Summit in Des Moines last month. Yet it is that speech, and the accompanying gushing by the media proclaiming him the big winner, that has catapulted him to the top of the polls. That newly minted front runner status brings with it increased scrutiny and a whole new level of expectations and questioning. For that Walker was unprepared as evidenced by his poor response to questions about foreign policy while in the United Kingdom two weeks ago. Memo to candidates: when traveling abroad to burnish your foreign policy credentials expect to be asked about your foreign policy positions.
That is the trouble with horse race journalism, and declared front runner status by follow up poll. What one speech can make, a poor response to a question can bring down.
Last presidential cycle it seemed as though every candidate had their turn atop the polls and was proclaimed front runner. It was absurd. This time around we Republicans have a much stronger and deeper field of candidates from which to choose. Some would say too many, but that is a self correcting problem. They are serious candidates who’ve tackled serious issues, with impressive backgrounds – the Donald’s quadrennial sideshow notwithstanding.
But it is only the first week of March. For most Iowans, what they know or have seen of the candidates has largely been what they’ve gotten though the media. We’ve been told So and So gave the best speech, or This Candidate said That. Oh yes, they’ve been to Des Moines and metro area, but the voters in Sioux City are a long way from a speech at the Machine Shed, and Sibley is even farther from Urbandale. This will come as a shock to some, but just because something makes news in Des Moines doesn’t mean it’s water cooler talk in Keokuk. This is just my way of saying candidates have barley begun engaging Iowa caucus goers. An appearance on Fox News may informer a primary voter, but in our caucuses candidates have to mobilize supporters; that is after answering voters’ questions on topics the candidate wasn’t briefed about, and persuading said voter to trust them…
Yes, the Register’s poll may give Governor Walker a “two to one lead over his nearest rival at 13%” but to me it’s more amazing that people are speaking seriously about being ahead when candidates are barely breaking single digits.
Welcome to Iowa Governor Walker. Don’t just stop in Dubuque or Des Moines next time, but come all the way across Highway 20 to where the highway is just two lanes. It’s a big state, and we’re happy to meet you in the western parts of it. Can’t make it this trip? No problem, we have plenty of time.