By Skip Murphy
Well, we’ve now been through the warm up where the players assembled, a few that were desired by the fans declined to come out and play, and some of the would be players stayed home when the prelim lineup matchups didn’t play out as they wanted. We saw a wide range of nuances within a fairly narrow band stances which brought in either hoots or jeers from the stands with some flag waving, some huzzahs, and not a few raspberries thrown about. A couple more left after the general shoot around before the the Big Show started; a few of the lessors kept circling the court waiting to be asked to play (but never got the nod – and one finally went to another game).
Tuesday night, the opening buzzer to that Big Show sounded and it was a dash to the hoop – politicians looking to score big. Layups, gimmes, hooks, jump shots and three pointers. And yes, a couple of players got stuffed as they went for what they thought would have been a slam dunk on their home court. And like what happens in hockey, a game broke out during the fight. And when it was over, two winners, a tie, and a couple also rans. And one self-ejection.
OK, enough of the sports analysis and back to the Real Game that matters – politics in the form of the 2012 Presidential Primary, location Iowa! And indeed, it can be viewed as a game with differing strategies, players swapping positions, the rich teams, and the poor teams. However, unlike most sports that provide just entertainment (and yes, for some of us, this is pure entertainment), this game has serious implications – the path to the Ovvide that can change peoples’ behavior (for that is what Government does, unfortunately).
Iowa – home to the Ames Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucii with ramifications from both. And each has impinged on New Hampshire politically. Certainly, the big surprise of the night was not that Mitt Romney did well but that Rick Santorum earned (not bought) the moral victory, hands down. Ron Paul pulled his weight, but that’s all he did (perhaps because a large part of his base, college aged, were not in state). Gingrich found a home in fourth, and Rick Perry and home town gal Michelle Bachmann just went home (but Rick only for a brief visit).
New Hampshire – we’re next with the First in the Nation Primary. The old saying of “where ya going depends on where you’ve been” hold true as the Big Show moves to the Northeast and State that demands their game be played by Retail Politics rules and where politics is a State sport and obsession, be it Presidential Primary season or not. We expect politicians to follow our “rule in the form of a joke”: Who ya gonna vote fer, Earnest – this one? Don’t know yet; only met the feller three times so far! Shake the hand, hold the babies, and look us in the eye when you answer the question – even if it is the 16th time it’s been asked this hour.
Some have played by that rule – and some have not. Michelle Bachmann, for one, did not. She went “all in” for Iowa, spent her time, talent, and treasure in Iowa and won the Straw poll and then doubled down for the Caucus – and lost her credibility in NH. Most of us Conservatives and TEA Partiers had greeted her warmly when she first came to the State – who could forget her assembling a TEA Party event of tens of thousands (or more) in the Capital! Yet, after her single appearance, she basically ignored the State from there on in until her NH Staff (whom we all know personally – they were “one of us”) just threw in the towel on her as you can’t support someone who won’t show up. As the back stories came out, she was written off. No staff, no money, no credibility – even if she had done well, or even won in Iowa, she would have lost or done badly here in NH because friends don’t let friends get abused. The meme became that she simply thought she could take the Granite State for granted. Saying that she would go to South Carolina and skip NH even before the Caucii results were known sealed her fate. Six – love, baby; have a seat in the bob house at the Minnesota lakeside fishing hole.
Next up the Iowa ladder is Rick Perry. Not doing well here in NH with low poll number (even as his former main man, Dave Carney, is a NH native and his State director, Kerry Marsh, is a very bright and well connected lady), he had to win, place or show in Iowa to even consider a similar result here. Unfortunately, even though he speaks well on the stump, the MSM media played on his problems in the many debates that have driven this cycle. Once again, the conventional wisdom of “does retail well” (and I went to a few of his events just ‘to meet him more than three times) was foiled by this very strange cycle in which the retail politics that normally would have played well for him, and the rise of the social media that could have helped him, was trumped by the ever glaring televised debate. Also, I think, by talking so much about Texas and little about NH didn’t help (although he seemed to be enamoured with our “Live Free or Die” State motto and many, including yours truly, lapped up his line of “I promise to make Washington DC as inconsequential to your daily life as possible” spoke to the desire of many on the Right). The technology that should have been trumped by the ‘Net instead overruled the ‘Net, and in the end, like Nixon, fared poorly under the TV lights. Like Michelle, announcing he was going to skip NH (except for a couple more debates this weekend) told many NH politeranni that he knows he’s Texas toast here (and without the jam). Time to saddle up, pardner, and mosey up the trail.
Up to the next rung is the Idea VC (Venture Capitalist) dude – Newt. An idea a minute guy, he rode his wave quickly and unlike Perry, he basked under the kleig lights that created his wave. Of all the wannabees, he handled the debates well and showed that he was willing to play nice with the others but cut the MSM no slack at all. This played well, as there is little love for the MSM on the Right as they perpetually believe that the media is always antagonistic towards Conservatives and Conservative values. In skewering them, many here in NH thought “heh, this is what he will do to Obama” and loved it. Unfortunately, even as he had played nice earlier, the other candidates did not play well back and brought out their long knives. Then the old Newt reappeared and Gravity’s Law came into play – what goes up must come down. And Newt had been working without a net.
The conventional wisdom is that Iowa only grows three exit tickets to the next dance – I’m not sure that it holds true here this cycle and not for someone like Newt. Sure, his fourth place Iowa finish leaves him a bit rumpled and the negative ads by Romney have left him disheveled, but of all of the candidates mentioned thus far, he has the best chance to stage a comeback in using the remaining debates; his rise was due to his ability to be the smoothest speaker, best grounded in historical tidbits, spoke the right philosophy (even as he allowed his mistakes) and until recently, appeared to be the Happy Warrior. All of those are traits that play well in a debate format. And if he had little to no ground game in Iowa, fourth is not a bad place to end up. Given that debates have fashioned much of the cycle so far (for good or for bad), the podium he finds himself behind may well continue to be debate one (vs. being relegated to one in an academic lecture hall), perhaps giving him time to build a force down the road (maybe). Certainly, if he had done well in the Caucii, I think the Newtmentum would have continued and given Romney a good fight here in NH. Certainly, he thinks he can rekindle it, as his schedule has him ALL OVER NH this weekend and into next week. However, he’s got to beat the next guy, and that might be a hard trick shot to make, given the advantages he’ll have to go around.
And that would be the third placer in Iowa – Ron Paul. Here in NH, I think he’ll be third place again. This is the first candidate that will feel the effect of the virtual win by Rick Santorum. Absolutely, the Ron Paul supporters are as rabid here as they are anywhere else and there have been those predicting a win by their guy. Last cycle, they were dominate in the online game but had a very weak ground game. They learned the lesson and are much, much better while keeping the same intensity. However, the expectations rose and rose to the point where Ron Paul was being bandied about as winning the whole match in Iowa and at worst, coming in second. The fact that he came in third is far better than last cycle but when you don’t meet expectations – well, coming in a solid third was a moral loss when measured by those same winning expectations. Frankly, he has a good ground game here in NH and his followers are making sure his air game is second only to Romney – the overwhelming person to win NH before the Caucii with a 20 point lead in the polls and home court advantage (i.e., former Gov. of the adjoining state, a home in Wolfeboro NH, and a penchant for money seeding Republican organizations). But, Ron Paul’s been subjected to some negative info as well, and with Santorum’s showing, some that might have said “he’s the anti-Romney” won’t be saying that. Ron Paul will do far better than last cycle, but it won’t mean a win here. It may not even meet conventional wisdom of second.
And even if he does, his social mores will not play well in the next state, South Carolina.
Which brings us to both Mitt and Rick, and the results of Iowa may have completely flipped this race at the top of the ladder. Rick has become the wild card and showed that the Mitt, the Establishment / money guy, the safe bet, could be beat. Sure, Romney has been running for five years, has the money game down pat, great staff, and an IT outfit to die for (it will be interesting to see, if he gets the nod, how his IT team will stack up against Obama’s). Yet, the old fashioned retail politics carried the day in Iowa and generally is required here in NH (this cycle seemingly the exception), and Rick is the real deal in using it (having attended events where he has been, listened to him, and interviewed him). Plus, his campaign manager is Mike Buindo (like Perry’s Dave Carney, is another Granite Stater) and is a master of the grassroots / ground game and used to the frugal ways that NH campaigns are run – a plus given that Rick hasn’t had the resources Mitt has. And even if NH could be considered Mitt’s home court, Mike, from his long term activity in the State, knows the folks that don’t care for Romney and the Establishment Republicans that are associated with him and thus, would be willing to help out and vote for Rick if for nothing better than to stick a stick in the eye of the Establishment.
What makes it easier is for that to happen is Iowa. Face it, people love winners and want to be associated them. Also, folks in NH love people that take nothing for granted and are willing to work hard for the brass ring – and that, Rick has done. Tim Pawlenty might have beat Santorum into the State to run for President, but not by much. He’s invested himself into the State, and the politically oriented folks remember that – and will influence their friends because of it.
Romney, with all of his advantages, may still win the State but Santorum’s surprise result has shocked a number of important people here in the State. A number of folks, myself included, who were for Herman and found themselves “candidate-less” when he pulled the ripchord, are now reconsidering Rick vs Newt.
There’s a reason we play the game instead of looking at the stats on the paper: It will become interesting
Oh, I forgot one – Jon Huntsman. Dead last in Iowa, he finally hit double digits here in NH. Pulling the equivalent of a Michelle, he’s “all in” here in NH – if he doesn’t do better than fourth, he has no where to go afterwards. Sure, family money could help, but for the man who decided that he’s first choice was to independents and not Conservative Republicans, he alienated a lot of the folks that would actually go and vote for him. NOW saying he’s the “Consistent Conservative” doesn’t quite make it. Back to the locker room seems to be his fate.
Skip Murphy is the founder of GraniteGrok.com, a conservative blog that dominates the political bandwidth in New Hampshire.