The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Desperate Hours in the Hawkeye State

Posted on | January 3, 2012 | 23 Comments

Republican voters are getting bombarded with robocalls all over Iowa. Last night, I talked to the night clerk at my hotel here. She’s a mother of three and a Republican, an undecided voter who isn’t even sure she’ll attend her precinct caucus tonight in Grimes. She told me she’s getting calls at home nearly every 30 minutes.

Some of these robocalls are nothing but flat-out lies. There are calls claiming that Rick Santorum isn’t pro-life and isn’t pro-Second Amendment when, in fact, he’s a famously staunch pro-lifer and has an A+ career rating from the National Rifle Association.

Of course, I suspect that Rick Perry’s campaign is behind this. And whether my suspicion is right or wrong, the Perry campaign is a lamentable joke here in Iowa. I’ve been talking to experienced Iowa Republicans during my travels the past week, and experienced observers are united in the opinion that Perry has wasted millions of dollars on a campaign that has done him more harm than good. 

The campaign I dubbed “The Phantom Menace” in August has been an even more wretched disaster than I predicted. According to Nate Silver’s final pre-caucus poll analysis, Perry will be lucky to get 10 percent in the Hawkeye State. A fourth- or fifth-place finish here would, by the normal calculus of politics, cause Perry to quit. But if he did quit, his campaign advisers and consultants would be out of work, so they have convinced him to keep going. And even though they have apparently come to grips with the fact that they’re going to get their asses handed to them in Iowa tonight, they’re still flooding the airwaves with TV ads and pestering people with robocalls.

As I’ve said, if desperation was a cologne fragrance, they’d reek of it. 

Those who have supported Perry should be furious at how they’ve been humiliated, outraged by the arrogant incompetence of Perry’s staff and (ridiculously overpaid) campaign consultants.

And isn’t it time that some people started re-assessing the potential for Rick Santorum to turn a strong showing in Iowa into a campaign that can defeat Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination?

In this regard, I notice that Nate Silver repeats the myth that Santorum “has little financial or organizational strength beyond Iowa,” which is just wrong. Last night in Altoona, I was talking to another reporter who noted the presence of Santorum’s South Carolina team, who’ve come up to Iowa to help out in the final push here, and he said he thinks Santorum may have a stronger ground game in South Carolina than Newt Gingrich. As I was the first to report Friday, Santorum will be sending his Iowa ground-game guy, Jake Braunger, straight to South Carolina and it will be interesting to see what his team can accomplish there.

Remember that Perry has made the tactical decision to skip New Hampshire and instead focus his efforts on South Carolina. What that means, of course, is that Santorum will have extra “running room” to grab up social-conservative voters in New Hampshire, while Perry will likely once again finish out of the money in the Granite State. While I have cautioned against getting too far ahead with predictions like this — to the irritation of Lisa Graas — let’s make a few assumptions and fast-forward to next Wednesday, Jan. 11.

Assume for the sake of argument that Santorum places at least third in Iowa, while Perry finishes fifth. Now, with a burst of publicity, Santorum jacks up his game in New Hampshire, where Perry and Michele Bachmann are likely to be non-factors in the fight for the social-conservative vote. There are fewer social conservatives in New Hampshire than there are in Iowa, but Santorum could expect to get a much larger share of them after doing well in the Hawkeye State. So . . .

Santorum places third  or maybe fourth in New Hampshire, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, and maybe Newt Gingrich, while Perry is down in the single digits. On Wednesday, Jan. 11, you see, Rick Perry will be looking like a sure-fire loser, 0-for-2, with everything bet on South Carolina, which doesn’t vote until ten days later on Jan. 21.

Will the “Anybody But Romney” vote in South Carolina go for Perry? Can Perry win a Gingrich-vs.-Perry fight there? Or will the Santorum “ground-game” in South Carolina be able to score the kind of surprising success there that they’ve scored in Iowa? Remember that Santorum’s fundraising has been off-the-hook for the past week, and he may be able to fund a much stronger “air war” in South Carolina to boost his ground game with classy positive ads like this:

OK, take the supposition forward to Sunday morning, Jan. 22., the day after the South Carolina primary. With nine days to go before the Florida primary on Jan. 31, which candidate — Perry or Santorum — will be best positioned to take the fight to Mitt Romney in the Sunshine State? If Perry can’t win South Carolina, which is supposed to be his “firewall” state, doesn’t that destroy his claim to be the best of the “Not Mitt” candidates?

These are questions, not answers, and I once more caution that my war-gaming is based on hypothetical assumptions. But if Santorum finishes a strong third place here in Iowa — and he may do better than that — it becomes possible to speak about what the Smart Guy pundits call a “path to the nomination” for Santorum.

And however faint it may be, that path is a lot more plausible than any hypothetical scenario for Perry to get the nomination. It would be nice if some of the people who are now trying to prop up the doomstruck Perry campaign would wake up and smell the desperation.

It isn’t an attractive fragrance.


23 Responses to “Desperate Hours in the Hawkeye State”

  1. richard mcenroe
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

    The Perry campaign is just validating my earlier warning: avoid “seasoned pros” who are available to newbie or second tier candidates.  There’s a reason they’re not working.

  2. EBL
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

    All hat, no cattle.  Trust me, I know.  

  3. Finrod Felagund
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

    I don’t see Perry supporters going to Santorum when Perry drops out, though; I see them more likely to go to Gingrich.  Even RedState, which had been being pretty vicious towards Gingrich, has had a couple ‘maybe Gingrich isn’t so bad after all’ front-page posts.

  4. Adjoran
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

    Having “a stronger ground game in SC than Newt Gingrich” isn’t exactly difficult.  It’s like having a stronger commitment to your marriage vows than Bill Clinton.  That bar is set reeeeeeeal low.

    Meanwhile, since before Thanksgiving SC has been treated to mailings, robo-calls, and media ads from Paul, Romney, and Perry (in that order).  Just had a call from a former state GOP chairman (never heard of the guy myself, so he wasn’t there long or very noticeable) inviting me to a meet-‘n’-greet Thursday afternoon at a local restaurant – for Perry.  I live in a Democratic, rural county that had a whistle-stop from McCain in 2000 and a handshaking, open-collared walk down the old main street by John Edwards in 2008. 

    Santorum has a core of support in the upstate area, the hotbed of fundamentalist Protestant mischief in the state, and a bit in the midlands, as far as I can tell.  But “ground game”?  Be serious.

  5. RSS Ronald Reagan
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    At this point, the Perry campaign is starting to look more and more like a scorched earth operation.  I can’t understand why he would think being a spoiler is a net positive for his future prospects.

  6. richard mcenroe
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    Talk about desperate! 
    Stacy McCain Returns the Black Mustang

  7. Raucous in the Caucus – Will Santorum Squeak Out a Win? « Nice Deb
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    […] More excellent on-the-ground gonzo-reporting from McCain, here: Desperate Hours in the Hawkeye State. […]

  8. Adjoran
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    Whew!  At last, the deer in Iowa can breathe easily again . . .

  9. M. Thompson
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    Being based on the Left Coast, I’m waiting for what the results of the Iowa Salvage Derby are.  Who will come up with the most loo-err, votes?

  10. Anonymous
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

    Right now, from where I sit, it looks impossible for Santorum to get the nomination, and even more impossible for him to win the general election.

    Of course, a month ago I was sitting in the same place, and it looked impossible for Santorum to finish in the top five in Iowa. Now I’m thinking he’ll probably finish second, and almost certainly in the top thee.

    It’s a weird damn political year.

  11. Bob Belvedere
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

    I gave up a few weeks ago trying to see into the future on this thing.

  12. Anonymous
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

     Palin predicted, “An unconventional election cycle”. 

  13. Anonymous
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    I dunno. Internally to the GOP, yes, it’s looking pretty unconventional.

    In general, though, it’s looking pretty much like a repeat of 1996 to me. Two years after big gains, the Republicans thinking all they have to do is keep repeating “most left-wing administration in history” to win, etc.

  14. Datechguy's Blog » Blog Archive » They ain’t laughing anymore » Datechguy's Blog
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

    […] McCain notes a set of robo calls hitting Santorum, and blames the Perry camp with a remark that is biting: if desperation was a cologne fragrance, they’d reek of […]

  15. Are The Primaries Over Yet (Part 3)? - The POH Diaries
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

    […] Gingrich can fully blame Mitt Romney for taking him out of the race (effectively). The day when Rick Santorum completes a surge that proves that Iowa voters are indeed driven in great part by social issues. […]

  16. Pre-Caucus Night Nap Time : The Other McCain
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 5:26 pm

    […] Loose Moose.”That seems somehow ironically appropriate, doesn’t it?PREVIOUSLY:Jan. 3: Desperate Hours in the Hawkeye StateJan. 3: Remember the Crying Girl?Jan. 2: Santorum, Duggars, And Fundraising As The Deadline […]

  17. Lloyd Albano
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

    Don’t forget, Romney, Gingrich, Paul, & whatshisname will be beating the hell out of each other in NH. As I’ve heard Stacy discuss, Santorum’s campaign manager is a respected NH Tea Partier. A 20% finish for Santorum there looks plenty plausible to me. A lot may depend on how much $ Perry actually now has in the bank for SC. But in terms of message, tho not accent, Santorum looks like a good fit for SC. I still like Perry but trust me I’m waivering.

  18. richard mcenroe
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

    I thought so, too, but sadly… 

  19. Tennwriter
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

    Who was that ran for President in 96?  Dole if I remember right.

    In other words….RINO.

    Put anyone but Romney up there, and that changes the prediction a good bit.

  20. Anonymous
    January 3rd, 2012 @ 10:27 pm

    Well, that’s just it … the closest thing to a conservative in the race is Paul, and Republicans have gone so hard-left on foreign policy in the last 10 years that he doesn’t fly with them on that.

  21. Tennwriter
    January 4th, 2012 @ 1:15 am

    Hard left on foreign policy is ‘we’re sorry for existing’ Apology Tour, and ‘here Arab thugocrats, have some help killing dem Jooos.’

    However this does support one of my minor theories: When Conservatives do well, Libertarians pretend to be Conservatives.

  22. Anonymous
    January 4th, 2012 @ 1:47 am

    Well, no, hard left on foreign policy is a mix of Wilsonian internationalism, Trotskyite “permanent revolution” doctrine, and “no, we won’t consider the possibility that being assholes for 60 years was likely to get us punched in the nose sooner or later and that maybe we should cut back on that.”

  23. Raucous in the Caucus – Will Santorum Squeak Out a Win? (News Round-up) | FavStocks
    January 4th, 2012 @ 3:29 am

    […] More excellent on-the-ground gonzo-reporting from McCain, here: Desperate Hours in the Hawkeye State. […]