In just 15 days Iowa will lead the rest of the nation in selecting its preferences for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are running a tight race in the Hawkeye State, with Sanders showing a slight lead in some polls. And bearing in mind that Iowa has predicted the Democratic presidential nominee since 1996 (!!!), a win on Feb. 1 could set a dramatic precedent for the remaining nominating contests.
The Republican contest in Iowa is more competitive, but arguably less meaningful. There are currently 12 GOP candidates vying for a win in Iowa. But in a state that’s over 90 percent white and increasingly evangelical, its Republican candidate preferences have begun to look less representative of those of the national party.
In the last two election cycles, Iowa selected candidates who saw diminished support in successive contests. Mike Huckabee (2008) and Rick Santorum (2012) both appealed to the state’s religious conservatives only to be stamped out in New Hampshire and the SEC.
NPR Political Reporter Sarah McCammon notes that one of the reasons both candidates gleaned disproportionate success in the state was their domination of the social conservative faction (or “lane”) of the Republican base. She described lanes as the different groups within a party that are important in early voting—particularly in the GOP.
After hanging in this eternally sub-twenty-degree state for just ten days, I feel it’s obvious that Iowans are some of the most patriotic people in our country. Their commitment to the electoral process is unwavering, so they expect candidates that stand their ground, as well. For Republican candidates to win in Iowa, they must shine within their faction of the party—and then that faction must prove to be the most dominant on caucus night.
Rallying the support of your faction is all about perception. Because most candidates within the GOP have policies that are more or less the same, personal branding is used to differentiate among others in the field. There’s a reason Ted Cruz refers to the very act of eating as “breaking bread,” or why “liberty” is probably Rand Paul’s most-used word. Winning a particular genre of voter requires commitment to image.
Rachel Caufield, director of the Iowa Caucus Project, sites three main GOP factions in the early voting process: traditional, big liberty and social conservatives. Of course you can sub-divide each of these categories, but the strongest candidate on caucus night will be the one who appeals to the near entirety of their faction and beyond.* Here’s where these factions are currently standing in Iowa.
Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Jim Gilmore (?)
Including fiscal conservatives and “moderates,” this is a faction to watch for, as there is possibility for resurgence in the 2016 caucuses. With the reelection of Gov. Terry Branstead during the 2014 mid-term caucuses, political power in the state is shifting back toward the party’s “traditional” mainstream.
Ted Cruz*, Rand Paul
In 2012, Ron Paul (father of Rand), with his Tea Party dogma, brought change to Iowa’s political landscape. Though Santorum eventually won the caucus, Paul’s supporters—lauded for being some of the most organized in the election cycle—were able to snag the majority of the party’s national delegates, prolonging his liberty movement.
This same type of grassroots organization is evident in the Cruz campaign. The senator, who apparently does not have many friends in Washington, has the muscle of the Cruz Strike Force (I can’t make this stuff up) behind his campaign efforts.
Rand, on the other hand, is just really happy to have secured 1,007 precinct captains.
Ted Cruz*, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum
Appealing to the party’s evangelical base, this group is poised for enduring success in the state. Evangelical Christians regard the words of the Bible as literal, supreme truth, which influences their policy decisions in regards to social issues. Huckabee (2008) and Santorum (2012) both won the caucus while playing into the hands of the state’s socially conservative.
This trend of picking a candidate who runs on the premise of religious conviction is becoming part of the Republican caucus identity, and Cruz is looking to utilize this group as well in order to secure a win.
Donald Trump (Sorry—he breaks the mold)
Iowa strategy: whine, complain, repeat.
At a rally at in Clear Lake last Saturday, Trump spent nearly an hour telling a standing room only crowd how great he was by way of saying how much everyone else sucked—and his thoughts were pretty well received.
“I love Twitter,” Trump exclaimed. “I have so many followers [on social media]. It’s like owning the New York Times without the losses.” This comment comes after Trump points directly at the press area and tells the audience that “those are some of the most dishonest people on the planet.” Within forty-five minutes, Trump also managed to insult multiple other Republican candidates, establishment politicians, a few countries and U.S. military leaders.
We’ve obviously got quite an array of candidates to choose from. I mean, 12 is a lot. Right? Nah, we’ll let the Iowans narrow it down for us. By next month, we’ll not only know what candidate is the most popular in the state, but also which lane of the GOP is attracting the most early-voters. Stay tuned, America.
By Avery Woodard