Good morning Austin:
I’m in Iowa.
It’s very cold and the ground is covered with snow and ice.
I arrived here Saturday and I will be spending six days, beginning Monday, following Ted Cruz as he barnstorms across the state with stops in 26 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
Right now Cruz is the man to beat in Iowa and, while Donald Trump is ostensibly his prime opponent, he must also contend with the ghosts of caucuses past, by whom I mean former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, each of whom won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and 2012 respectively on the strength of their support with evangelical Christian voters – the key to Cruz’s success here – and went on to become the runners-up in the nomination contests those years.
Neither Huckabee nor Santorum are doing too well in the polls right now, but that does not mean they aren’t working it.
From Kathy Bolten in the Des Moines Register on Sunday.
PELLA, Ia. — Mike Huckabee on Saturday began a grueling January campaign schedule that will include 150 events scattered across Iowa, a state he describes as “ground zero” in his bid to become president.
“We know that the key to winning it is grinding it out the old-fashioned way, county after county,” the Republican said after his third stop of the day.
Twenty-five campaign events are planned through Thursday. The first six-day blitz includes a stop in Keokuk County, the 99th Iowa county the former Arkansas governor will have visited since announcing in May his bid to seek the Republican presidential nomination.
“We’re not just driving through and waving,” Huckabee told the 35 people gathered at Pella Christian High School on Saturday afternoon. “We actually did events in all 99 counties. And, we’ve done all 99 counties since the middle of May.”
A few Republican presidential candidates had said they planned to complete the “full Grassley,” a campaign strategy named after Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who annually visits each of the state’s counties. Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, completed the milestone in September. He began logging his visits in 2012, according to a Des Moines Register article.
National polls consistently show Huckabee trailing the now 11 people vying to become the Republican presidential nominee. Those same polls also show Huckabee getting among the highest favorability ratings of those in the race.
Precisely eight years ago to the day – Jan. 3, 2008 – Huckabee won a stunning victory in the Iowa caucuses in what had to be among the best, most exhilarating days of his life.
From the Washington Post on Jan. 4, 2008.
DES MOINES, Jan. 3 — Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee rode a wave of evangelical fervor to victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa’s Republican caucuses Thursday, an outcome that hardly seemed possible two months ago.
Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics,” Huckabee told supporters at the Embassy Suites here. “And tonight it starts here in Iowa, but it doesn’t end here. It goes all the way through the other states and ends at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
After spending nine months near the bottom of the pack, Huckabee surged to become the front-runner in Iowa in December and never relinquished the position, despite a barrage of negative ads from Romney’s methodically built and well-financed operation.
But Huckabee now heads to New Hampshire, where voting takes place Tuesday, with little support in the polls and only a ragtag organization to mount a second come-from-behind victory. To succeed, he will have to broaden his message, which has largely been designed to appeal to the Christian conservatives who helped him win Thursday night. New Hampshire voters tend to be less focused on social issues and more concerned with lowering taxes and reducing the size of government.
Thursday’s turnout shattered the previous record of about 87,000 voters, with more than 125,000 projected to have caucused. Sixty percent of Republican caucusgoers described themselves as evangelicals, according to entrance polls. Those voters went for Huckabee over Romney by more than 2 to 1.
With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Huckabee had won 34 percent of the delegates awarded, Romney held 25 percent, and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) were tied for third, with about 13 percent each.
For Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, the defeat is a devastating blow to his “kindling strategy,” conceived in Boston years ago, to spark a fire in the early-voting states by outspending and out-organizing his rivals. He spent millions in Iowa alone, in part by tapping his personal fortune, in the hope of building an insurmountable lead.
Of course, McCain, with his 13 percent in Iowa, went on to win the nomination that year. Romney would win the nomination four years later.
And Huckabee – he’s back at it.
Yesterday afternoon, Huckabee was at a the Machine Shed restaurant in Urbandale, just outside Des Moines, where a crowd of 100 – plus about 15 media types – filled the room the room to capacity, as part of his “grueling” itinerary. It was a good crowd, a warm crowd, but, as the Register story indicated, just because Iowans like Huckabee a lot, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will caucus for him for president this year.
Right now, Huckabee is down there in Paul/Christie/Fiorina/Kasich territory in recent Iowa polls, though a notch up from Santorum, who, in an even more spectacular out-of-nowhere performance, won the caucuses in in 2012, albeit in a virtual tie with Romney.
On Meet the Press Sunday, Rand Paul complained about the polls.
SEN. RAND PAUL:
Yeah, the interesting thing is, is that I think the polls are not scientific. A lot of people who follow polls never had any math classes. They don’t understand anything about standard error, standard deviation.
You are right about that.
Standard deviation, huh? There he goes showing off his fancy Baylor University education.
But I thought Huckabee did a better job of challenging the meaningfulness of Iowa polls at the Machine Shed.
Huckabee said that, “we polled 5,000 voters in Iowa just before Christmas. Seventy-five percent had not made up their minds and 58 percent weren’t even leaning toward one candidate or another. It’s that wide open.”
“Nobody can predict how it’s going to turn out,” Huckabee said, noting that was the case in 2008, “when I won and I got more votes than anyone in the history of the Iowa caucuses. I didn’t kow that until a few months ago ,but now I tell everyone because I think it’s pretty cool.”
So, the question of why Huckabee and, for that matter, Santorum, are running again may have something to do with the fact that they defied the odds before and their low standing in the polls, far from being daunting, puts them right where they need to be to defy the odds again.
But there is a more nefarious story line afoot on why Huckabee is trying to hard in Iowa again.
From the Bolten story in Sunday’s Register.
At two campaign stops on Saturday, Huckabee mentioned an article in a national publication that stated he was only in Iowa to ensure U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas didn’t win the state’s caucuses. The article said Huckabee was encouraging people to support Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Huckabee didn’t mention either candidate by name.
Huckabee described the story as “dumb” and “ludicrous.”
“Let me give you’re a little hint,” he said in Pella. “If I wasn’t serious about winning Iowa, do you think I’d be fighting snow and single-degree temperatures for a month, doing five and six campaign events a day just to help another candidate?
“Folks, I’m barely willing to work this hard for myself. I’m not going to do it for someone else,” he said.
That seems a very compelling response.
Also, watching Huckabee up close, it’s easier to see why he persists.
People here like him.
“You’d have to have a hole in your soul not to like him,” said Gary Updergraff at the Machine Shed.
And, there is the useful example of Joe Biden, who didn’t even get one percent in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses in 2008 – the year Huckabee won on the Republican side – but did make a sufficiently positive impression on Barack Obama, whose win in Iowa was instrumental in his ultimate victory, to become Obama’s choice of a running-mate.
From Politico a couple of days ago.
Donald Trump will win the GOP presidential nomination and pick Mike Huckabee as his running mate. The FBI will file criminal charges related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a home-brew email server as secretary of state. A Ted Cruz-Nikki Haley GOP ticket will defeat a Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine Democratic ticket to claim the White House.
These are just a handful of 2016 predictions from members of The POLITICO Caucus — a collection of the top activists, strategists and operatives in the first four states that will cast ballots next year.
TRUMPHUCK definitely has possibilities. Say it quietly. A couple of times. To yourself.
Updergraff, who formerly owned a chain of golf shops and restaurants, thinks Trump has the dynamism to reverse America’s trajectory and to run the nation more like a business. I mentioned to Updergraff the Politico prediction.
No, said Updergraff shaking his head. Ted Cruz is his choice for vice president. He said he wants it to be Trump-Cruz, which sounds like a Caribbean casino tour.
Why Cruz, I asked.
Updergraff said Cruz is very smart, and that Trump would only serve one term, followed by two terms for Cruz, followed by two terms for Secretary of State Marco Rubio – a 20-year golden age of Republican hegemony.
Much is made of the beauty of the democratic process in Iowa, and it is well-deserved.
Iowa enables one to appreciate how people, in their political predilections, are like snowflakes – each perfect and distinct.
Meet John Strong.
Strong approached me.
Strong is focused on veterans’ issue.
He is also intent on making sure Hillary Clinton is not elected president because, he said, she is part of the whole Clinton-Gary Hart-George McGovern-Jane Fonda cabal. The Clintons ran Texas for McGovern. Hart was McGovern’s campaign manager. (He notes that Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor who is competing in the Democratic caucuses this year, cut his teeth as an organizer for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign). And jane Fonda, well he said, many veterans believe that Hanoi Jane should have been tried for treason.
Strong has been seeking commitments from candidates that he if they are elected, they will never invite Jane Fonda to sleep over at the White House.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal promised, as did South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. But they have both since dropped out of the race.As we were talking, Huckabee entered the room, and I nudged Strong to let him know so he could seize the moment.
He thanked me and went to work.
After first talking about veterans, Strong pressed Huckabee on the Fonda sleepover issue.
Huckabee readily agreed that he would never invite Jane Fonda to stay at the White House. And, he said, even if he did, which he wouldn’t, he is sure that Jane Fonda would never accept an invitation from him.
Later, during the Q-and-A after Huckabee’s remarks, Strong asked Huckabee whether he thought Putin was rooting for Hillary to be elected so he could push her around.
And Strong asked about Fonda sleepovers, just to get in on the public record.
Strong has shown up at Clinton events in Iowa with signs that say, “Hillary invited Hanoi Jane to the White House,” and “Hillary crapped on veterans.”
He also deploys a half life-size effigy of Hillary as a witch, labeled, “Hillary’s House of Horrors.”
He carries a small replica of that latter in his pocket.
Like Updergraff, Strong likes Huckabee, but he is not backing Huck.
Strong prefers Jeb! or Chris Christie.
He is not a fan of either Trump or Cruz.
“I say dump Trump and lose Cruz.”
He explains that he is more moderate than they are, and that they are too far right and not particularly electable.
If elected, he predicted, Cruz will be a “Cruz missile,” blowing up any chance of getting anything done in Washington.
And Trump, he said, would instill in folks the fear that he would blow up the whole world. Strong said he would foresee Democrats reprising the Daisy attack ad that LBJ used against Goldwater in 1964.
As it happens – and I didn’t know this until after I talked with Strong – but Huckabee’s audience Sunday included a group of LSU students led by their journalism professor, Robert Mann, who is with the university’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and is the author of an acclaimed book about the Daisy ad.
From the description of the book from LSU Press:
The grainy black-and-white television ad shows a young girl in a flower-filled meadow, holding a daisy and plucking its petals, which she counts one by one. As the camera slowly zooms in on her eye, a man’s solemn countdown replaces hers. At zero the little girl’s eye is engulfed by an atomic mushroom cloud. As the inferno roils in the background, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s voice intones, “These are the stakes—to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”
“I want to tell everyone to get ready, strap on the full armor of God, get ready for the attacks that are coming,” Cruz said. “Come the month of January we ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Note to Team Cruz. “Ted” is a great name for embedding in political slogans. You’ve already used TrusTed.
So how about BravehearTed. Maybe a little face paint at the caucus night victory party. Think about it. Evangelicals. Mel Gibson.
Of the Huckabee “attacks,” here is Amanda Carpenter, forrmerly communications director in Cruz’s Senate office.
Back in 2008 on the day of the Iowa caucus, when I was reporting on my first election for Townhall.com, I happened to be grabbing lunch in the same hole-in-the-wall restaurant as then-Huckabee National Campaign Advisor Ed Rollins.
He sat in the cafe loudly trash talking the Romney campaign to any reporter he could call on his cell phone. Expletives and insults flew. Anyone sitting in the eatery could hear him. I, stunned any known operative would be so foolish to speak in such a way in a public place, wrote it up as an item.
Huckabee’s SuperPAC is aggressively exploiting a report in Politico that falsely claimed Cruz spoke differently about gay marriage at behind-closed-doors New York fundraisers than in public. In reality, Cruz has made the same federalist argument about gay marriage many times in very public venues.
The anti-Cruz effort may not be limited to ad campaigns. Sources familiar with the discussions say there are proposals to pool resources that can be used for voter outreach and education as well. A primary target of such a campaign would be Iowa’s churches, where Cruz’s opponents believe parishioners have been misled about the Texas senator’s record on the issue of same-sex marriage. After assuring voters that opposing gay marriage would be “front and center” in his campaign, Cruz told attendees at a Manhattan fundraiser earlier this month that it would not be a “top-three priority,” according to a recording leaked to Politico.
Let me ask you one more question about Ted Cruz. Do you think he deserves this reputation in the Senate that he’s difficult to work with?
SEN. RAND PAUL:
You know, I think people have different strategies and approaches to how they deal with people. I’ve had many disagreements with those in leadership. But I could try to keep it on a professional basis. I don’t go to the floor and call people liars, because I don’t think that one, that meets the rules of the Senate. The rules of the Senate say you’re not supposed to attack someone’s character.
And I think you can call them out, and I’ve given ten-hour speeches, 13-hour speeches, without calling anybody names. But talking about the history of our country, the importance of the Bill of Rights, the importance of the Fourth Amendment and privacy. But I tend not to have the same strategy of attacking people personally. It hasn’t done well for them in Washington. It may be rousing people, but ultimately, I don’t think that personality would allow him to be the nominee.
And here was what Trump, who just unveiled his first TV ad, had to say on Cruz on Face the Nation.
JOHN DICKERSON: You said that Senator Cruz appeared to be kind of copying your immigration plan. Your plan, as I understand it, is deportations, and then you will let the good ones back in once they have left the country. His plan…
TRUMP: Yes. Well, they have to go through a process.
DICKERSON: They go through a process.
His plan is just deportation.
DICKERSON: So, is he stricter on undocumented…
TRUMP: No. Well, first of all, his plan just happened, OK?
In fact, I was watching the other day, and I was watching Ted talk, and he said, we will build a wall, the first time I have ever heard him say it.
And my wife, who was sitting next to me, said, “Oh, look, he’s copying what you have been saying for a long period of time.”
No, no. I’m talking about deportation. And people can come back into the country, not just that group, but other people can come back. But everybody has to come into our country legally. And I want a strong border. And I’m the one that came up with it.
Look, when I announced that I was running, I brought up illegal immigration. It wasn’t even a subject that would have been discussed in this debate. And now it’s one of the very big subjects.
Ted Cruz is trying to step up his whole game on amnesty and on illegal immigration, because it was actually quite weak. And you listen to him and Marco Rubio, they’re trying to solve the problems that they have had in the past, because they were both weak on it. And I have been very strong on it. So they’re trying to get stronger.
But, look, nobody has that position like I have that position. I want the wall. I want strong borders. I want everybody out. Now people are coming to me. But nobody has that issue like me. And nobody is going to be able to do it like me.
Nobody — as an example, on the wall, nobody is getting Mexico to pay for the wall, the cost of the wall, but me. They don’t even know about that. They — it’s not even in their vocabulary.
DICKERSON: But nobody thinks you’re going to get Mexico to pay for the wall.
TRUMP: Oh, I will. You know why? They make a fortune with us, so much more money than what you’re talking about.
They’re making a fortune. We have trade deficits. We have — if you look at the kind of numbers that Mexico makes with us, the wall is peanuts. Only a businessperson would say that. The politicians don’t understand it. They’re all talk and no action.
DICKERSON: You said that the good ones would come back on an expedited basis. Wouldn’t Senator Cruz say, well, that’s amnesty?
TRUMP: I think that the good ones will be coming back. And I would say that we want to have them back. But we want to have lot of other people.
We have one problem. We have millions of people waiting on lists that have gone through a legal process and they can’t get into the country. We have to take care of them. I want people to come in. They just have to come back legally.
DICKERSON: When you say about Senator Cruz not too many evangelicals come out of the Cuba, what does that mean?
TRUMP: Well, it just means that Cuba, generally speaking, is a Catholic country. And you don’t equate evangelicals with Cuba. I don’t.
I think of evangelicals, and I have a — I guess I am. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Protestant. But I don’t see it as coming out of Cuba.
DICKERSON: But you’re not questioning whether — as far as you know, he could be more devout than you are.
TRUMP: It’s possible. Certainly, it’s possible. I’m not questioning. And I say it in a somewhat smiling manner, but there’s a little truth to it.
To date, Cruz and his campaign, have not taken umbrage at anything Trump has had to say.
After arriving in Iowa Saturday, I went over to Fort Des Moines Church of Christ to talk with pastor Michael Demastus.
I watched the first Republican presidential debate in August at a debate watch at the church. I checked back in with Demastus in the fall during Cruz’s campaign in D.C. to defund Planned Parenthood. Demastus is the Polk County chair – Des Moines is the county seat – for the Cruz campaign. And, each Monday morning he goes over Cruz headquarters in Urbandale to pray with the Cruz campaign staff and volunteers.
“For evangelicals in Iowa, Ted Cruz has become the guy we have coalesced behind,” said Demastus, who caucused for Huckabee in 2008 and Santorum in 2012. He thinks both of them are great and wonderful people, but this time the evangelical stars were aligned for Cruz.
He has no problem with others – including his 19-year-old son, who choose to stick with Huckabee or, in his son’s case, Santorum.
“My son is ardently behind Rick Santorum.”
But, he said, he was dismayed that thd coalescing around Cruz had brought out the worst in some Huckabee supporters, who had grown churlish and petulant in their sniping at Cruz. He said, the caucuses can cause Iowans to deify their candidates in unhealthy ways.
“The way that people swoon over some of their candidates is really insanely ridiculous. Once Feb. 2 comes, they’re not going to be back until we get down to the general election after the nomination and, even then, it will be very limited what they come back to Iowa for.”
And, Demastus said of Iowa evangelicals, “Once Feb. 2nd comes, we are going to be here fighting for life, marriage, religious liberty,” and need to get along.
“They are important people,” he said of the presidential candidates, “but they look at iowans through a very utilitarian lense.”
“Ted Cruz is no different. I haven’t made myself think that just because the jock needs his homework done and he lets me sit at his table, it doesn’t mean that he thinks that I’m all that. I’m not stupid and I think it’s important that we keep that in perspective. We’re still nerds.”
Meanwhile, we’ll close out with Martin O’Malley.
On Sunday, This Week in Iowa, devoted its full half hour to O’Malley, who talked about his campaign,, and, as is his wont, sang and played guitar. His choice of music – Greg Brown’s The Iowa Waltz.
Here is another O’Malley performance of The Iowa Waltz.
OK. Fine. but a very safe choice, and, well, a little boring.
Here are the lyrics:
Home in the midst of the corn, The middle of the U.S.A. Here’s where I was born, And here’s where I’m goin’ to stay. [chorus:] Iowa, Iowa, Winter, spring, summer and fall. Come and see, come dance with me, To the beautiful Iowa Waltz. We take care of our own, take care of our young, Make hay while the sun shines. Growing our crops, singing our songs, And planting until harvest time. [repeat chorus twice]
You wanna be president Marty? Live a little. Take some musical risks.
My suggestion, get a female vocalist like Greg Brown’s wife, the incomparable Iris Dement, and try a rendition of the duet, In Spite of Ourselves.