- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For those tired of front-runners picked by the liberal media and the ruling class, we present the 2012 Iowa caucuses. With recent announcements by Chris Christie and Sarah Palin that they’re not running, the field is set for the first-in-the-nation Republican presidential contest. However, with no presumptive favorite, plus an ornery and fickle electorate, the field is as fluid as is the date the Iowa caucuses actually will be held.

States such as Arizona and Florida are jockeying for priority positioning in the nominating process, so Iowans could be forced to cast their votes immediately after New Year’s Day. That means the clock is ticking for someone to emerge, with fewer than 90 days until Iowa applies the first winnowing fork to the Republican presidential field. Iowa doesn’t always determine who will win the nomination, but it usually decides who won’t.

It’s anybody’s ballgame at this point. Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry each has taken a turn as the state’s flavor of the month. None of them had the staying power necessary to go the distance, and Mr. Pawlenty didn’t even survive the straw poll.

The one constant has been Mitt Romney, garnering about 20 percent to 25 percent in state polls. But if Mr. Romney truly were the one to beat, he’d be spending more time in Iowa marking his territory. Instead, he’s avoiding Iowa the way President Obama avoids mentioning “Creator” when referencing the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Romney is damaged goods in the state. After Iowans’ thorough vetting of his Massachusetts record four years ago, they considered him to be just another flip-flopping opportunist who conveniently converts to conservatism when he’s about to seek higher office.

That leaves plenty of work for each candidate to do between now and early January.

Michele Bachmann

She has done everything wrong since impressively winning the Iowa straw poll with the highest turnout in the event’s history. She essentially needs to start all over again and convince Iowans she is a stable enough leader to handle the job of president. That means hiring the right staff and retaining them, staying on message, showing up on time to events and standing up to opposition rather than wilting away. It’s been stunning to watch her self-inflicted implosion, but the race is still open enough for her to re-emerge, though she has a minuscule margin for error.

Herman Cain

Very few prominent Iowa activists believe Mr. Cain is actually running for president. Most think he has ulterior motives, like gaining a spot on the ticket or selling his book. This is why he has burned through two campaign staffs in Iowa already and doesn’t have a viable organization in the state. Iowans like Mr. Cain, but he lacks credibility with them. He needs to spend time re-connecting with them to show them he’s serious.

Newt Gingrich

On Friday he gave a major policy speech on the runaway judiciary branch. After the state’s historic judicial retention election last year, which cost three state Supreme Court justices their jobs after they redefined marriage, it’s an important issue to Iowa conservatives. Iowa has one of the oldest populations in the nation, and with more substantive speeches like this, Mr. Gingrich still has time to prove he’s the grown-up in the room.

Ron Paul

He’s the only candidate in the race with an exemplary organization and a base of supporters who are enthusiastic about voting for him no matter what. However, his unorthodox foreign-policy and social-issue views limit his ability to expand his base. Nonetheless, if Iowa’s ample social-conservative demographic fails to coalesce around anybody else, Mr. Paul could take advantage of that splintering and win a war of attrition.

Rick Perry

He needs a game-changer and to start playing offense by forcing Mr. Romney to defend his record while giving Iowans a more complete look at his own. Most Iowa conservatives only know about his controversial Gardasil executive order, his backing of taxpayer-funded college tuition for illegal aliens and his brutal debate performances. Surely there’s more to his record as governor of a conservative state than that. Iowans expect Mr. Perry, as the governor of Texas and not Delaware, to be a larger-than-life alpha male. So far, he’s been more dud than stud.

Mitt Romney

No Republican of substance in Iowa who is interested in a future in state politics is willing to align with him. For example, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad backed Mr. Romney in 2008, and one of his sons even worked for his campaign. However, shortly after Mr. Romney endorsed Mr. Branstad in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, the Branstad campaign literally scrubbed any reference to it from its website because of how little regard Iowa’s grass-roots conservative voters have for Mr. Romney. Still, it’s conceivable that if the field remains this unstable, he could swoop in with a media blitz toward the end and capture between 15 percent and 20 percent of the vote.

Rick Santorum

He’s working harder in Iowa than any other candidate, and more and more of Mike Huckabee’s former supporters are giving him a long look. He needs resources to raise his profile and also needs to remind Iowa conservatives that he was their standard-bearer in the U.S. Senate long before he backed Republicans in name only such as Arlen Specter and Christine Todd Whitman, much to the chagrin of conservatives.

The clock is ticking, and Iowa Republicans - just like Republicans everywhere - remain skeptical of the field as a whole. That leaves the outcome unpredictable, and it means the process is working the way it’s supposed to, with the emphasis on the voters and what they’re looking for - not the liberal media trying to pick the next John McCain on our behalf.

Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated radio host based in Iowa, where he worked at 1040-WHO in Des Moines, birthplace of Ronald Reagan’s broadcasting career.

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