- - Monday, August 11, 2014

Between Sen. Rand Paul barnstorming the state and the state’s most prominent conservative organization hosting a summit that attracted a who’s who of potential 2016 GOP candidates, it can now be said Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are unofficially officially underway.

Why so early? I believe there are two reasons for this.

The first is being organically driven by the environment. I believe 2014 shapes up for Democrats the way 2006 shaped up for Republicans. Every metric of that environment was against the GOP to the point there was no way it could win. It was just a matter of how bad the defeat would be. The same can be said of Democrats this year. There is a light at the end of their tunnel, and it is an oncoming train driven by an American people either disillusioned or disgusted (or both) with the current Democrat president. The Democrats cannot win this year, they can only hope to mitigate their losses.

The Democrat tsunami of 2006 energized the leftists in their party to stand up to the Clinton-Establishment Machine during the 2008 primary cycle and champion Barack Obama instead, a true believer in the left’s Marxist ideology. If Republicans win big in 2014 as expected, you will similarly see the conservative base of the GOP energized to no longer accept another Republican corporatist hand-picked by the Beltway elites come 2016.

Especially since those candidates never win anyway. Just ask President Mitt McDole.

Sensing this, you’re seeing 2016 candidates acting now to try and get out in front of this looming tidal wave in order to position themselves as the base’s surfboard. For example, when you combine the total visits to Iowa and New Hampshire (the first primary state) so far by potential 2016 GOP candidates, the top four visitors are all candidates who will make their case for the nomination primarily to the grassroots — Texas Gov. Rick Perry (22), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (15), Mr. Paul (13) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (12). On the other hand, establishment favorite Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, has yet to make any visits.

The second reason the process is already well ahead of normal is being driven by external forces. From the moment Mr. Romney conceded I have heard from countless conservatives “we can never allow another establishment nominee to blow an election ever again.” The consistent remedy suggested for stopping this cycle of defeat is to find a candidate who has broad enough support amongst the entirety of the conservative grassroots that people can coalesce behind him. As opposed to the factional splintering we’ve seen the past two cycles between small government and social conservatives that allowed the GOP establishment to divide and conquer the grassroots.

No matter who I talked to in Iowa last week, whether it be an “insider” or an everyday activist, the coalescing conversation consistently came up. There is a great desire to learn from past defeats. Throw in the likelihood of the Republican convention being pushed up to late June or early July, and that puts even more emphasis on organizing and capturing momentum in the key early states like Iowa.

Thus you end up with a torrid week of candidate activity in Iowa you wouldn’t normally see until next spring.

Here’s where things currently stand in Iowa:

Stock Up (alphabetical order)

The most action at the Family Leader’s “Family Leadership Summit” could be found at the “Draft Ben Carson for president” table. Iowans ask me more about Mr. Carson’s potential candidacy than any other. There is a lot of enthusiasm and intrigue surrounding his potential presidential run.

If any Beltway elites were still holding out hope Mr. Cruz wasn’t running for president in 2016, sales of heart palpitation monitors in the 202 area code are about to escalate. Mr. Cruz met privately with about 30 key activists from all over the state of Iowa. There’s only one reason a U.S. senator from Texas does that. It was an impressive group that included current/former GOP office holders/candidates, as well as those prominent in tea party, social conservative and libertarian circles. These are the kind of people any conservative candidate in Iowa wants on their caucus team.

I witnessed this meeting myself, and stuck around to talk to many of these folks afterward. With a couple of exceptions the group was overall very impressed with Mr. Cruz’s “I’m the guy that has proven I’ll fight for you” pitch. One former GOP county chairman even told Mr. Cruz, “I would normally never consider committing this early to a candidate but in your case I’m seriously thinking about it.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been fighting the stigma of his panned performance giving the GOP’s first State of the Union response to Mr. Obama for five years now. But he showed up confident and articulate in Iowa last week, and continued to unabashedly defend religious liberty — which will be a key vetting issue in an Iowa caucus dominated by Christians. Mr. Jindal also gave his conversion testimony for why he turned from Hinduism to Christianity at a Des Moines evangelical church.

Pardon the pun, but it seems as if Mr. Perry has been “born again” as a presidential candidate. It’s amazing what not being on powerful painkillers following back surgery does to improve one’s performance on the campaign trail. One key Iowa activist told me Mr. Perry “gave the best speech I’ve ever heard him give.” And the personable and likable Mr. Perry also made himself approachable to grassroots Iowans. For the first time, it seems Iowans can actually see Mr. Perry as presidential material.

Stock Steady (alphabetical order)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is still well-liked by Iowans, but many people I talk to want to see more. Questions about his past support for the original concept of what later became known as Common Core continue to dog him, and he’s going to need to convince Iowans he’s a fighter without losing that winsomeness that makes him such a strong candidate. “Huckabee needs something unique about him,” one former Huckabee supporter told me. “Jindal gives me conservative reform governing experience. Cruz gives me a fighter. Perry gives me the testimony of Texas. Paul gives me the liberty stuff. Huckabee needs to figure out what his niche is.”

Mr. Paul’s whirlwind tour of the state generated mixed reviews. Those already in his camp swooned, but the social conservatives he still needs to make inroads with the most definitely did not. I heard from several involved in his private meetings with social conservatives that while they appreciated his willingness to reach out, they still had severe doubts he was with them on the issues they care most about. Mr. Paul was also caught on camera running away from illegal aliens who confronted Rep. Steve King (he later claimed he had another interview to get to). Because of the organizational presence he inherits from his father’s past two caucus runs, Mr. Paul has the highest floor in Iowa. No matter what he does he probably has at least 10 percent locked up come caucus night. But if he can’t branch out from there his ceiling will come down, and he will struggle to finish much higher than that.

Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated talk show host and the author of “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.

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