Welcome back to Starting Line’s Power Ranking series! This week we take a look at the very crowded Republican race (last week we did the Democrats). This one is obviously a lot tougher, especially figuring out how to rank 2 – 5. You could easily make the case that any of them are in 2nd place right now. Here’s how we currently think the Republicans will do in the Iowa Caucus:
1. Scott Walker
The Wisconsin Governor hasn’t relinquished his early lead in many polls taken in Iowa. Walker continues to perform well at events around the state, heavily emphasizing the childhood years he lived in Iowa. But his speech at the recent Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner wasn’t as well-received as previous ones at multi-candidate events. Walker might be cooling off, but he still enjoys a cushion between him and the other contenders. His after-party at the Lincoln Dinner was the night’s best, with a Harley motorcycle and free beer and cheese. He has a big decision coming up: to compete in the Iowa Straw Poll or not?
2. Ted Cruz
The Tea Party super-star continues to draw huge crowds around the Hawkeye state and gets standing ovations for his red meat-filled speeches. For all the enthusiasm, he hasn’t rocketed to the top of the polls, stuck in the five or six-candidate traffic jam at 8-12%. He is, though, the most exciting to the right-wing base right now. That’s giving him the leg-up on the still-developing primary.
Rubio gained in the polls following his entrance into the race earlier this month. He’s the most inspiring orator of the 2016 field, leaving everyone who sees him speaks extremely impressed. Yet most people in Iowa haven’t gotten that chance, as his travel schedule here has been light. He doesn’t have much of an infrastructure here yet, and risks losing ground if he waits too long to campaign heavily.
4. Rand Paul
The Kentucky Senator is sticking to his libertarian platform, even in front of audiences not interested in it. That’s both helpful and not to Paul. It ensures he keeps his libertarian base solidified, which may be his path to victory in Iowa – with all the other blocs split, Paul could win with a 15-20% share of the Republican caucus vote. But it also makes him an easy target for the rest of the playing-it-safe field. Lindsey Graham took a good shot at Paul at the Lincoln Dinner after Paul blasted the NSA’s surveillance methods.
The 2008 caucus winner is back again, with many of his supporters from that campaign still excited for the Governor-turned-Fox-News-celebrity. He faces much more competition for the evangelical crowd this time, but expect him to be the right’s security blanket candidate if others falter. He decided to skip the Straw Poll, and oddly decided to announce that decision in a Des Moines Register op-ed, taking shots at the event many Iowa activists love. What’s really damaging, however, is his bizarre and unnecessary defense of the Duggar family amidst their child molestation scandal. He’ll be bleeding support from that idiotic decision for months.
6. Jeb Bush
Bush is missing a big opportunity if he decides to skip the lead-off caucus state. He has real support here, as evidenced by the warm reception he got at the Lincoln Dinner. His after-party was one of the best-attended, with a long line to greet him for two hours. Bush might worry that the more-conservative Iowa Caucus attendees won’t be interested in someone who’s backed immigration reform and Common Core. But the evangelical crowd is getting split this cycle between a multitude of attractive right-wing candidates. Bush has a large enough base here he could easily place in the top three, maybe even first, if he fully commits to campaigning here.
The good doctor squandered his chance to take advantage of the excitement surrounding his potential candidacy earlier this year. Still, he has a fervent base of supporters in Iowa. Every major Republican event Starting Line has attended, the Carson volunteers have out-numbered all others. But do they have a competent campaign to organize them? Carson’s announcement was bizarre. Maybe he’ll catch fire again, but his recent speeches haven’t been anything too special.
Here’s the big question for Carly Fiorina: are they clapping for her to be president, or are they clapping for her attacks on Hillary Clinton? Because Fiorina’s recent speeches in Iowa have easily out-shined the rest of the field. Part of that is because she rips into Clinton like no other. Fiorina will likely continue to climb the ranks with more impressive outings. If she gets to the point where she’s in the top tier or just outside, expect an outpouring of support from conservative women eager to make history on their own side.
9. Rick Perry
Something’s not right here. Perry has been wowing conservative crowds in his frequent trips around the state with his enthusiasm and optimistic vision for America. And yet he’s often way down in the early state polls, usually in the 3% and 4% area. He’s working the 2016 trail hard, so expect him to move up – it’s just peculiar that his work hasn’t registered much in the polls yet.
10. Rick Santorum
How quickly your fans forget about you. Santorum may have come from nowhere to win the 2012 caucus, but he is frustratingly starting right back at nowhere in his second attempt. The quality and freshness of other candidates seeking the evangelical vote is hurting Santorum’s appeal. His blue-collar conservatism message also hasn’t caught on yet. He’ll still work harder than anyone else, so look for him to over-perform his polling numbers in the end.
The Louisiana Governor is starting to come on as of late, but he’s still a long-shot in the Iowa Caucus. His speech at the April Faith and Freedom forum was one of the night’s best, and his after-party at the Lincoln Dinner was decently attended, better than Santorum and Graham. He’s still below Santorum in this ranking because he hasn’t spent nearly as much time in the state – he’ll have a lot of work to do to build up grass-root supporters. But despite earlier indications that he might be an also-ran in 2016, Jindal’s shown some real promise recently. Don’t be surprised if he gets hot and earns a one-month surge in the polls.
12. Donald Trump
He may get laughs from the crowd, a long line of selfie-seeking Republicans afterwards and attention on cable news, but Trump is not a serious candidate. The self-ballyhooed builder of things has put together some actual campaign staff this time around, including Chuck Laudner, a well-respected operative who guided Santorum to victory in 2012. Still, doesn’t matter. Trump won’t spend much time amongst the simple farming folk of Iowa, nor will his speeches ever contain anything beside imbecilic bluster. The guy with the most expensive suit is also the emptiest.
Maybe he could have a John McCain-like resurrection after a horrendous start, but it’s doubtful. Too many scandals, too much hate from conservatives, not enough campaigning yet. Christie is toast.
14. Lindsey Graham
The foreign policy maven from South Carolina brings a much-welcomed bit of levity to Republican events with his great jokes and southern charm. The audience loves hearing his quips, but they don’t seem interested in backing him for the nomination yet. Graham’s Lincoln Dinner after-party suite had the smallest attendance.
15. George Pataki
by Pat Rynard