President George W. Bush in Iowa (won 2000 Iowa Caucus)Photo credit: Dave Davidson - Prezography.com
President George W. Bush in Iowa in 2004 (won 2000 Iowa Caucus)
Photo credit: Dave Davidson – Prezography.com

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said there could be more than three tickets out of Iowa for Republican candidates in 2016 due to a crowded field.  “It could be. There are a lot more candidates and a strong field of candidates; better than I have ever seen before. That could well be the case,” Branstad said when asked about that possibility.

It’s entirely possible, especially without events like the Iowa Straw Poll that has always helped winnow down the field.  There are 11 candidates so far.  Donald Trump is making an announcement on Tuesday night at the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines, IA so there will be 12 candidates after today (there are actually more candidates than that… 26, but I’m only referring to those who show up in polling).  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will also announce his decision in New Orleans on June 24th which would make 13.  Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are expected to announce sometime this summer which would round the field at 16 major candidates.

I would only hold this out as a possibility if there isn’t that much space between the top three and the rest of the field.  I can’t help but think Branstad is saying this to provide cover for Jeb Bush since a number of folks involved in his campaign apparatus have jumped on the Jeb! train.  I still believe there will be a candidate or two whom grassroots conservatives will coalesce around.  While this may be possible I don’t think it’s very probable because history is riding against that.

Let’s look at past Iowa Caucus:

  • 2012 – Rick Santorum (25%), Mitt Romney (25%), Ron Paul (21%), Newt Gingrich (13%), Rick Perry (10%), Michele Bachmann (5%), and Jon Huntsman (0.6%)
  • 2008 – Mike Huckabee (34%), Mitt Romney (25%), Fred Thompson (13%), John McCain (13%), Ron Paul (10%), Rudy Giuliani (4%), and Duncan Hunter (1%)
  • 2004 – George W. Bush (unopposed)
  • 2000 – George W. Bush (41%), Steve Forbes (31%), Alan Keyes (14%), Gary Bauer (9%), John McCain (5%), and Orrin Hatch (1%)
  • 1996 – Bob Dole (26%), Pat Buchanan (23%), Lamar Alexander (18%), Steve Forbes (10%), Phil Gramm (9%), Alan Keyes (7%), Richard Lugar (4%), and Morry Taylor (1%)
  • 1992 – George H. W. Bush (unopposed)
  • 1988 – Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H. W. Bush (19%), Jack Kemp (11%), and Pete DuPont (7%)
  • 1984 – Ronald Reagan (unopposed)
  • 1980 – George H. W. Bush (32%), Ronald Reagan (30%), Howard Baker (15%), John Connally (9%), Phil Crane (7%), John B. Anderson (4%), and Bob Dole (2%)
  • 1976 – Gerald Ford (45%) and Ronald Reagan (43%)

Before you say… “hey what about 2008” – McCain practically tied for 3rd, considering most thought his campaign was dead the summer prior that was pretty remarkable.  If he didn’t upset Romney in New Hampshire he would have been toast.  One of the things Iowa is very good at is winnowing down the field.

Polling indicates that Branstad could be right however.  Granted it’s only June, but Scott Walker leads Iowa by 8.5 points in an Real Clear Politics average of polls.  There is 1.3 points separating 2nd from 6th place.  Jeb Bush holds a 3.8 point lead in New Hampshire polling with 3.2 points between 2nd and 5th place.  The polls in South Carolina have been too spread out to really consider an average, but in the latest poll, Lindsey Graham holds a 2 point lead.

Every thing is still fluid however.  Right now Jeb Bush is polling 5th in Iowa.  Scott Walker is nipping at his heels in New Hampshire.  Should Bush bomb in Iowa and lose convincingly to others who are polling well in New Hampshire that could definitely put his campaign at risk in the Granite State as well.

If the Iowa Caucus results are close, and early state polling stays close, there may be plenty of incentives for more candidates to stay in the race longer.

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