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Iowa Hinges on Independents, Evangelicals

Iowa Hinges on Independents, Evangelicals

By Monday, 01 February 2016 07:34 AM Current | Bio | Archive

With hours to go before voters in the Iowa caucuses take the first step toward choosing the Republican nominee for president in 2016, signs are strong that the Hawkeye State’s large groups of evangelical and unaffiliated voters will be key to determining who the winner will be.

Veteran caucus participants I spoke to agreed that the ability of the campaigns of the two front-runners to turn out voters among these two groups would decide whether the candidate who tops the Monday caucuses is Trump or Cruz.

Although considerably much has been reported on the political punch of the evangelicals who comprise more than 60 percent of Iowa GOP caucus-goers, relatively little has been written on the unaffiliated voters,” who can vote attend caucuses of either major party.

“’No party designates,’ as we call unaffiliated voters here, comprise about 40 percent of the statewide electorate,” explained Pete Jeffries of West Des Moines, a onetime press secretary to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R.-Ill., who will preside over a caucus Monday night, “and their involvement in caucuses in a big way is a major reason we have had so many outcomes in the caucuses no one predicted.”

In 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee scored a big upset over Mitt Romney in Iowa. Four years later, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum edged long-presumed favorite Romney in a race that took weeks to count.

“I have said that there are growing signs in the last few days Donald Trump will win the caucus,” Polk County (GOP) Chairman Will Rogers told me without hesitation Friday night.

Rogers noted that the response to Trump’s boycott of the Thursday debate and the fervor among his backers may have tipped the contest to the billionaire candidate.

Because of his party position, Roger is neutral in the caucus contest. So is Eric Woolson, a seasoned operative in Hawkeye State politics, who told me that “in the last 12 hours I have decided that Trump could win.”

“Mr. Trump has an outstanding organization, especially among evangelicals and among many people who have not voted in caucuses before,” said Woolson, architect of Huckabee’s dramatic win in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and press secretary in then-Texas. Gov. George W. Bush’s winning race in the 2000 caucuses.

Woolson explained that “Trump has an excellent organization among the evangelical community under [campaign manager] Chuck Laudner, who ran [Iowa Rep.] Steve King’s re-election and Rick Santorum’s race [in the 2012 caucuses].

“Evangelicals who support Trump usually know about his background and past statements on issues such as abortion and marriage. They know he’s not one of them. But they’ve seen him stand up for other causes that are important to him and they believe he’ll fight for them.”

At an overflow Cruz rally in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, supporters of the Texas senator took pains to let me know they were confident their man would emerge triumphant in the caucus and that his support among evangelicals remained firm.

“In spite of all the attacks on Senator Cruz, his support is solid,” Bob Vander Plaats, a veteran operative among evangelical conservatives and Cruz backer told me, “Trump has had a bad week. He attacked me in social media and that says something.”

Vander Plaats believes evangelicals and other values voters “know Trump by his fruits and they don’t match up to his rhetoric — on choice, on marriage, and in his comment that he could shoot someone on the streets in New York and it wouldn’t hurt him.”

He added that he was “disappointed” fellow contenders Huckabee and Santorum appeared at a Trump rally last Thursday and called on the Republican National Committee to “sanction Trump or anyone who decides to be absent from a debate.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Veteran caucus participants I spoke to agreed that the ability of the campaigns of the two front-runners to turn out voters among these two groups would decide whether the candidate who tops the Monday caucuses is Trump or Cruz.
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Monday, 01 February 2016 07:34 AM
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