The decision won't be final until the Republican National Committee's summer meeting in August, but it appears likely that the Iowa caucuses will remain the first presidential nominating contest in 2012. This week the RNC's Temporary Delegate Selection Committee recommended adopting a rule that would allow only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold primaries or caucuses before March 6, 2012. Click here to read the rule, which would also require all states that hold nominating contests before April 2010 to award their delegates proportionally, rather than through a winner-take-all system that is typical for the Republican Party.
So, Iowa will continue to be a frequent travel stop for Republicans considering a presidential bid. It's been six months since I last discussed the prospects of likely challengers to President Obama in Iowa. New speculation is after the jump.
Last October I guessed that only three Republicans had strong chances in Iowa: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and soon-to-be former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Huckabee put together a strong campaign organization in 2007, but I believe his future prospects took a huge hit when a man whose sentence Huckabee commuted as governor killed four police officers last year. Bob Vander Plaats was Huckabee's Iowa campaign chairman before the 2008 caucuses, but he has become a more controversial figure in the Iowa GOP since then.
My opinion on Romney hasn't changed; if he couldn't win Iowa as a prohibitive favorite last time around, he won't win in 2012. The only question is whether he seriously competes here or stakes everything on New Hampshire. The strong resemblance between "Romneycare" and "Obamacare" will be a continuing problem for him, as Republicans across the country rail against the health insurance reform law.
Pawlenty strikes me as a potential winner in Iowa, especially if Romney does not invest much in building a campaign here. His abysmal record on fiscal issues should destroy his credibility, but I don't expect that will be held against him as long as he says, "blah blah blah tax cuts blah blah blah stop out of control spending." Pawlenty adheres to social conservative orthodoxy but doesn't talk about those issues as much as some other Republicans. For that reason, I see him picking up support from members of the Iowa business elite who backed Romney during the last cycle. Pawlenty may also benefit if the social conservative wing is divided among several active candidates.
Sarah Palin can't be counted out in Iowa. She has many passionate followers and high visibility even after resigning the Alaska governorship last summer. Funding won't be a problem for her campaign (though Republican donors should think twice, given how SarahPAC spends most of the money it raises). Her biggest problem here, as elsewhere, will be convincing people she is qualified to be president when she hasn't completed even one term as governor. While we're on the subject of Palin, I again implore Democrats not to use sexist insults to belittle her.
Competition for socially conservative caucus-goers may come from former Senator Rick Santorum. He is scheduled to be the the featured speaker at a Scott County GOP event in June, which would be his fourth trip to Iowa since September 2009. I can't understand why anyone would consider running for president after losing re-election in a purple state by 17 points, but Santorum presumably has his reasons. Someone in Iowa must feel threatened by him, because he's been anonymously attacked as a "pro-life fraud" and an opponent of "right to work" laws. He responded to that criticism while speaking to the Iowa Christian Alliance two months ago. Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican has noted that Santorum "will likely have the most foreign policy experience" among the 2012 presidential candidates.
Representative Ron Paul will be in Des Moines this weekend, attending a regional conference of the Campaign for Liberty. Although I doubt he could win the Iowa caucuses, he may substantially improve on his 2008 showing (fifth place with 10 percent of the vote). Four members of the Campaign for Liberty were recently elected to the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee at district conventions. They include Drew Ivers, who managed Paul's presidential campaign in Iowa last time around. I've always felt that Paul's opposition to the war in Iraq was the biggest obstacle for him with the Republican base. The more George W. Bush recedes into memory and Iraq becomes Barack Obama's war, the less Paul's stance on Middle East policy will hurt him with Iowa caucus-goers. Paul's positions on taxes and the Federal Reserve strike a chord with many conservatives.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has scheduled stops in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines later this month. I don't consider him a serious presidential candidate, however. I suspect he likes staying in the public eye mostly because it helps him raise money for American Solutions. He's got a nice gig going with that outfit.
Final note about the 2012 Republican presidential campaign: this week the RNC's site selection committee selected Tampa, Florida for its nominating convention in August 2012:
Representatives of Tampa, Salt Lake City and Phoenix made elaborate pitches to members of the Republican National Committee, who are meeting outside Washington this week. Tampa was declared the winner after an afternoon vote by members of the site selection committee.
Florida is a perennial - and critical - presidential battleground state. Officials said the Phoenix bid was complicated by the high temperatures in August and the recent debate over the state's new immigration law. Having the convention in Salt Lake City was seen as doing little to build the party, officials said, considering that Utah is a solidly Republican state.
For all we know, courts may strike down that Arizona law before it is fully implemented, but if I were an RNC member, I wouldn't want to be associated too closely with Arizona either. The political backlash from Latino voters may be bad enough as it is.
Bleeding Heartland readers, the floor is yours. Speculate away about the next Republican campaign for president.
UPDATE: RF pointed out that I forgot Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and ghbraves pointed out that I forgot Senator John Thune of South Dakota. I think Thune could do well in Iowa; for some reason I sense less potential for Barbour here, but given his background as a lobbyist, he will raise boatloads of money if he does run for president.