What a tumultuous time the Republican field has experienced in just the path month. Nearly every candidate’s standing has changed considerably from the last time we ranked the Republican White House hopefuls back in June. It was an incredibly busy weekend for Starting Line, so this isn’t as extensive as I’d like, but here we go:
1. Donald Trump – Trump! Trump! Trump! Everyone (including me) predicted his downfall after his many questionable and incendiary statements. But he’s survived it all and I’m really not sure what could damage him at this point. Maybe a debate where they just ask him wonky policy questions and he fails badly to answer any (Fox News’ idea to attack him was so stupid – he does his best on the defensive). Republican voters are fed up and they like someone who sounds as angry as them, even if there’s next to no substance behind Trump’s words. I’m a little hesitant to put him at #1, because I wonder if all these people excited about him are really going to show up on caucus night. But when he’s so far ahead of the rest of the pack in the polls, and you see the turnout and enthusiasm for him, it’s hard not to. True, he’s still only in the 20-25% range in the polls, with a significant part of the party wanting nothing to do with him, but in this fractured field that’s all you need.
2. Ben Carson – The soft-spoken, non-politician surgeon has quietly been impressing Iowa caucus-goers with his unique campaigning style, and the polls are finally starting to pick up on it. In a Republican field where Trump and everyone else is sniping at each other, Carson stands out as the “nice,” different candidate. He got a great turnout for his State Fair speech, and everyone he passed at the Fair knew who he was and had nice things to say about him. The question will be whether he can stand up under the media spotlight that’s about to be directed at him.
3. Scott Walker – The man who held the presumed front-runner spot for the Iowa Caucus has cooled off a lot lately. He also hasn’t been in Iowa a lot since his solid announcement tour, and was very flat in the debate. His persona of a dull, regular-guy Midwesterner that works on the trail didn’t translate too well onto TV. He’s at the Fair today, so I’m holding off too much judgement until I see what kind of reaction he gets.
4. Jeb Bush – He may be down in a lot of polls, likely in part due to Trump’s non-stop attacks on his immigration stances, but Bush stays near the top because he’s doing Iowa right. He has a real organization in the state, recently released a list of county leaders (exactly the type of thing good Iowa Caucus operations do) and spent over four hours at the State Fair despite the massive press scrum around him. His debate performance left something to be desired, as he came off as just kind of “meh.”
5. Ted Cruz – The Texas Senator is back on the move up in the polls, which finally fits with what I see on the ground. Oddly, he started rising after a so-so debate, but as more people pay attention to the campaign, the more Republican voters see him as the conservative firebrand in the field. The Tea Party folks love him. However, he has very few staffers in Iowa, and appears to be focusing on a southern state strategy. So he could be missing a chance to do better on caucus night here.
6. Carly Fiorina – She’s the talk of town following her impressive performance in the “happy hour” debate. Fiorina has been rising in every poll, even if it’s still just to the 6% or 8% type of level. We’ve been predicting for a while that her dogged campaigning style would finally get her some attention. At some point, you’d think she’d start getting enthusiasm from Republican women – perhaps now that’s she seen as a more viable candidate, she will. Now she needs to capitalize it, unless she risk being a one-month boom-then-bust candidate.
7. Mike Huckabee – He’s still sticking around in the Iowa Caucus conversation, doing multi-day trips through his old 2008 stomping grounds rather often. The turnouts to his events have been good, not great. The eventual caucus night attendance may be too high, however, for him to replicate his past win here. Still, he’s doing ok.
8. Marco Rubio – Where’d you go, Marco? He’s not around Iowa a lot, and the luster he had around his campaign launch has started to wear off. I was impressed by his local organization at first, but I may have been wrong. His national campaign really doesn’t seem to be doing a very smart job with their clearly-talented candidate.
10. John Kasich – A bunch of media and Democrats (including me) thought Kasich did really well in the first debate. Unfortunately for him, those people don’t typically go to the Republican caucus. Right now, Kasich just needs to keep his name in the conversation, and he is certainly doing that. He’s focused much more on New Hampshire, however.
11. Rand Paul – The Paul campaign is in the midst of an all-out implosion. Following the indictments of several key staffers in the Kent Sorenson 2011/2012 Bachmann/Ron Paul bribery case, his poll numbers have plummeted, and he now risks not making the next debate if the polling criteria stays the same. Many Iowans are rightly pissed at the Paul clan for nearly badly damaging the Iowa Caucus’ credibility with the ridiculous alleged bribery deal. And how on earth were the guys who were under investigation – with all signs for a while now indicating that Sorenson was going to implicate others – in charge of Paul’s main Super PAC? I mean, come on. It goes to show how utterly incompetent these Paulites are thanks to their bizarre cult-like actions. Craig Robinson of TheIowaRepublican.com said recently he’s impressed with what he’s seen on the ground with Paul in Iowa, so I do offer that one caveat here. But overall, Paul’s campaign is on life support. He may want to consider dropping this presidential bid and running for reelection to the Senate.
12. Rick Santorum – He did pretty well in the debate, but still needs some sort of break-out moment, and I’m not sure where that would come from.
13. Rick Perry – The Perry campaign is so strapped for cash they’ve stopped paying nearly all of their staff. That’s always a terrible sign. If it weren’t for the $10 million in his Super PAC, he’d be done for. He’s been a better campaigner this time around, but he’s getting squeezed out by all the new faces.
14. Chris Christie – Nothing really new to say about Christie. I personally thought he did well in the debate. He hasn’t been back to Iowa much. It’s too bad – if he really wanted to get attention, he should have spoken on the Soapbox in the evening of the State Fair’s East Side Night. Starting Line might have given him an early endorsement as thanks for the pure entertainment value alone.
15. Lindsey Graham – Everyone loves to hear what Graham has to say, but no one seems too interested in caucusing for him yet. He earns a ton of free press, however, for where he is in the polls.
16. George Pataki – He actually had a decent speech on the Soapbox yesterday, but he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
by Pat Rynard