Texas GOP Rep. Ron Paul has jumped to the top of polls for the Jan. 3 Iowa presidential caucuses, and the prospect of a Paul victory has the state's Republican heavyweights and conservatives quite worried, Politico
The fears are two-fold. First, people are concerned that a victory by Paul would lessen Iowa’s importance as the nation’s first primary/caucus state. That’s because with many of his policy views outside the Republican mainstream, the libertarian Paul has little chance of winning the nomination.
So he could represent the second straight Iowa winner to fail to receive the nomination. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the 2008 caucuses, while Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ultimate nominee, finished fourth, ignoring Iowa for most of his campaign.
The state’s first-in-the-nation status might even come under question, because Iowa will be seen as boosting candidates who are outside the party’s base. “It would make the caucuses mostly irrelevant if not entirely irrelevant,” Becky Beach, a longtime Iowa Republican who worked in the campaigns of both presidents George Bush, told Politico.
“It would have a very damaging effect, because I don’t think he could be elected president, and both Iowa and national Republicans wouldn’t think he represents the will of voters.”
Andy Cable, Republican Party co-chairman in Hardin County, told Politico, “My biggest fear is that the Republican Party nationally and a lot of states that want to be number one [in the nominating process] will simply point to his winning and say, ‘Iowa’s irrelevant'.”
Another big concern is that Democrats and Independents, who are allowed to change their registration to vote in Iowa’s caucuses, will provide the fuel for a Paul victory, attracted by his libertarian views.
Recent surveys show those non-Republicans are indeed responsible for much of Paul’s strength. But these voters would be unlikely to support the GOP nominee in the general election. “They’ll all go back and vote for Obama,” Beach said.
And that would undermine the Iowa caucuses’ integrity, many believe. “I don’t think any candidate perverting the process in that fashion helps [the caucuses] in any way,” Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Politico.
And it could get even worse. Assuming Paul fails to win the nomination, he could opt for a third-party run at the White House, emboldened partly by a victory in Iowa. Such a bid would probably seal a victory for President Barack Obama.
“If we empower somebody who turns around and elects Obama, then that’s a major problem for the caucuses,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told Politico.
The Republican establishment already is plotting how to deal with a Paul victory – ignore it.
“People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third,” Gov. Terry Branstad told Politico. “If [Mitt] Romney comes in a strong second, it definitely helps him going into New Hampshire and the other states.”
The caucuses’ exalted status already is under siege. So far, the candidate debates and news coverage of the candidates on cable TV have had more impact than the on-the-ground campaigning that has determined the contest’s outcome in the past.
Ironically, though, Paul has run a potent retail campaign in the state, benefiting from the best campaign organization of any candidate.
But many Iowa Republicans, convinced that Paul’s views are well out of step from those of most others in the party, believe that rewarding such an effort would risk the very process itself in elections to come.
“I think a Paul win would be devastating for the state of Iowa and the caucus process,” Sam Clovis, an influential talk radio host in Northwest Iowa who backs Rick Santorum, told Politico.
To be sure, there’s no guarantee Paul will actually win Iowa. Polls can change in a hurry. A couple weeks ago former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a commanding lead in the state, but now he has fallen back – to third place in at least one poll. Back in August Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll, and she’s a non-factor now.
Gingrich slipped as his rivals have jumped to attack him since he became a front-runner. Now Paul is likely to face strong broadsides himself, and it will be interesting to see if he is able to maintain his support in the face of withering criticism.
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