Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Branding the Old Party

DES MOINES, IOWA —The event was already running behind schedule when Chuck Laudner made his way to the front corner of the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Boone, Iowa. He struggled to kill time as Rick Santorum struggled to reach the podium. Over the past weeks, Laudner, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, had been introducing the onetime Pennsylvania senator across the state. At first it was at small gatherings little noticed by the media. But that transformed overnight. On Monday, a crowd filled every inch of floor space, forcing Santorum to slowly trudge to the front, handshake by handshake. Laudner reiterated his standard pitch. "Tomorrow night at about seven o'clock, Iowans are going to gather," he said. "They're going to take two votes. At the beginning of the night, they're going to take a vote and tell the world who they think the next president should be. By the end of the caucus, they're going to take votes on all of those platform planks that create all of...

The Most Informative Campaign?

Now that the actual primary campaign (with voting, I mean) has begun, it might be worth taking note of a real benefit this crazy campaign has had for the electorate. With no fewer than six national front-runners at various times (Romney, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich), we've had a chance to get a close look at more candidates than ever. Ordinarily, the press will find only one or two candidates worthy of a good sifting through their past. But this time, nearly all the candidates have been subject to close examination, and the harsh national spotlight reveals all flaws. If you're wondering what skeletons John Huntsman has in his closet, it's because he's the only candidate who hasn't been ahead (or nearly so). Everybody else has had their moment, so we've learned in detail about Perry's Texas record (not so impressive), Gingrich's entrepreneurial career (quite impressive in its way), Bachmann's religious beliefs (a little scary), Ron Paul's newsletters (both nutty and scary),...

Santorum Soars, Romney Scrapes By

Four years ago in Iowa, Barack Obama had a terrific night in the Democratic caucuses. Four years later, he had another one in the Republican caucuses. Mitt Romney had hoped to swoop into Iowa, fatally kneecap Newt Gingrich, initiate a clean sweep of the early Republican contests—and then start repositioning himself back toward the middle for a general-election battle with the president. To quote Rick Perry, who suspended his campaign after a fifth-place finish yesterday: “Oops.” Romney won Iowa, all right—by a grand total of eight votes. Rick Santorum, rising from the grave, led until most people fell asleep last night. Once it was done, Santorum delivered the most powerful and effective victory speech since Obama won Iowa in 2008. Blending family values with a passionate appeal to the working class, Santorum was frighteningly eloquent. He was gutty and real. He was speaking to the economic moment in America. He was, in other words, everything that Romney is not. Santorum’s...

Dude, Where's My Party?

Peterborough, New Hampshire —As the Republican Party continues its mad dash rightward, it’s good, if at times difficult, to remember that not every Republican has been swept along. Such Republicans haven’t been much in evidence in Iowa of late, but they were out in force in New Hampshire last night at a town hall for Jon Huntsman, whose platform makes clear he knows the radical right’s words but whose attitude is that of one who plainly refuses to learn the music. Speaking one hour before the Iowa caucuses commenced, Huntsman directed barbs at both Republicans and Democrats. What was notable was that the crowd—several hundred well-heeled and –coiffed GOPniks and independents—responded chiefly—actually, only—to the barbs directed at their own side. The country suffers, Huntsman argued, from two deficits, one fiscal, the other of trust. Huntsman isn’t much of an orator—he repeatedly sets up the basis for an attack, then can’t deliver the zinger—and his tales of the horrors that flow...

Bridge to Nowhere

Rick Perry’s energy has been known to flag on the campaign trail, but he was plenty fired up this morning. Visiting with volunteers in west Des Moines, the Texas governor gave 'em their marching orders—quite literally—for caucus day: “This is Concord,” he declared . “This is Omaha Beach. This is going up the hill, realizing that the battle is worthy. This is about sacrifice. Every man and woman has sacrificed your time, your treasure, your reputation." Of course, it’s Perry’s own political reputation—and his presidential aspirations—on the line tonight. While most of the focus has been on who will win the first Republican contest—Ron Paul? Mitt Romney? Rick Santorum?—what often matters most in Iowa isn’t the victor but the vanquished. Nobody wants to be the Howard Dean of 2012, scream or no. That means the contest to watch tonight might not be for first, but for a strong fourth-place finish. Perry and Newt Gingrich, seen by the Romney people as their toughest potential competitors for...

Most Bummer Pep Rally Ever

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Republican presidential candidate, Representative Ron Paul, R-Texas speaks during a campaign stop at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. WEST DES MOINES —On the final morning before the Iowa caucuses, a group of Republican presidential hopefuls went to one of the few places where they were guaranteed a large, captive audience: a high-school gymnasium, full of seniors who had been released from class. It was the first day back from winter break, and the room buzzed with excitement as friends caught up with one another. Things calmed down once the candidates took the stage. A high school might seem like an odd venue for a final voter push; after all, only a fraction of the students are of voting age. But the caucuses allow anyone who will have turned 18 by next fall's general election to vote, meaning most high-school seniors and many juniors can head to their local caucus tonight. Michele Bachmann, flanked by two of her daughters, spoke first. She...

Fair-Weather Voters

After an unusually warm December, winter has finally come to Iowa as the election season officially begins. The milder temperatures last month allowed candidates to hold their events outside—where they were overcrowded on sweltering 50 degree days—but now the temperature has dropped to the normal Midwestern chill. It is 12 degrees in Des Moines right now, and this morning, I needed to defrost my car for the first time in the three weeks that I have been here. I'm not mentioning the cold just to draw pity from our readers in Texas. In our insane political system—where 100,000 Iowans set the stage for the rest of the election season—small differences in turnout matter. The caucuses are already designed to discourage high turnout. You can't show up at a time during the day like in a normal general election. Instead, you must devote your entire evening to listening to each campaign's stump speech and then writing down your name on a piece of paper. Any...

Still in the Woods

If you look at the forecasts, Europe and the U.S. are starting 2012 off on different economic trajectories. Europe is heading for a near-inescapable second recession after manufacturing output dropped in December for the fifth straight month. The United States, on the other hand, seemed to be on the upswing in December—the job and housing markets improved, the payroll tax cut was extended (finally), and consumer spending rose. “There is a sense of decoupling,” Maury Harris, chief economist at UBS Securities, told Bloomberg Businessweek . “We can still have a decent year here in the U.S. even with the rest of the world slowing down.” However, the good news is not without qualification . Job growth has increased, but 40 percent of the new jobs have been in low-paying sectors. Growth is projected at 2 percent for the first half of the year—down from an estimated 3.6 percent in the last quarter of 2011. And consumer spending—which makes up 70 percent of the economy—is still in the...

Shiny Happy Romney

Since when did Mitt Romney turn into a jovial, wise-cracking sort? Well, ever since it became apparent that his chief rivals in the Iowa caucuses would almost surely be Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum, who probably stand about the same chance as Kim Kardashian or Dominique Strauss-Kahn of winning the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, the only two candidates Romney’s people have worried about, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, could be left in the shadows after tomorrow night, relegated to making their final stands in South Carolina on January 21. At least that’s what the latest polls from Iowa say . Santorum, with his final-week blast of momentum , could win tomorrow night, no matter how out-organized he may be by Perry, Romney and Paul. But he has little time to scare up a viable campaign in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Only the profoundest of upsets could prevent Romney from coming out of Iowa smelling like a rose. Which...

Play to Win

COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA —Mitt Romney seems on the inevitable path toward locking up the GOP nomination, even if he doesn't win tomorrow in Iowa. He is nearly assured victory next week in New Hampshire and he has the organization to last him through the long haul, something the rising Rick Santorum cannot claim. But interviews with Iowans who have attended his events suggest that Romney is struggling to draw in new supporters—not just those who supported him last time he ran for president. Romney was in an enviable position for all of 2011. He has been the steady leader of the field, securing around 25 percent support in national polls time after time as support for the other candidates goes up and down alongside him. Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry would surely trade their momentary leads for that kind of consistency. However, Romney has yet to show that he can break past this base level of support to bring in a larger group of backers. What's striking about Romney's poll numbers is how...

A Trip Down Memory Lane

As we watch Republicans give a collective "Meh" to their contenders for president, I thought it might be a good time for a trip down memory lane. Four years ago, Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus and delivered what may be his best speech ever. Take a quick gander and remember those heady days: Does it still give you shivers? I always felt that the most compelling thing about Obama's campaign rhetoric was how he brought the listener into his own epic story. Let me revisit what I wrote at the time: But if you were born in the '60s, '70s, or '80s, history probably isn't something you participated in, it's something you watched on television. You watched America's all-volunteer military invade a succession of small countries (Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq...) but never worried about you or your brother going to fight, unless it were by choice. The most significant event of the second half of the 20th century -- the breakup of the Soviet Empire -- happened on television...

The Man They Plan to Marry

Politico ’s Roger Simon makes a very smart point about tomorrow’s caucus in Iowa: If Mitt Romney wins the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican nomination is over. If Mitt Romney comes in second in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over. And if Mitt Romney comes in third in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over. If there is anything that you should keep in mind as we wait for Iowans to make their choice in the Republican nomination contest, it’s that Mitt Romney will be the nominee. The only question is how it happens, and that depends on tomorrow’s outcome in Iowa. Given the far-right conservatism of the GOP base, this doesn’t seem like it should be true. “We’re talking about a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard, who used to support abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, ”amnesty“ for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change,” writes Steve Benen for The Washington Monthly . If Republicans are judging their choices...

Boom!

OSKALOOSA, IOWA— Seemingly out of nowhere, Rick Santorum became the trendy pick to win the Iowa caucuses over the weekend. A CNN poll put Santorum slowly rising to third last Wednesday, but that was already old news when the Des Moines Register released its much-vaunted Iowa Poll on Saturday night. The top-line numbers showed the race everyone had foreseen over the past several weeks: a neck-and-neck campaign between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul for the top spot. Santorum finished in third with 15 percent—a significant rise since his last place showing in the previous month's poll but not within striking distance of the top two. But the trend lines in the poll told a different story; Santorum jumped to a strong second in the final two days of the poll (Thursday and Friday), and if he continued to rise at that pace he would easily surpass the rest of the field by Tuesday. That perception was backed up last night with the latest numbers from Public Policy Polling, which put Santorum, Paul...

Citizen Bopp

Art by John Ritter (Source Photo: Evan Vucci / AP) W edged up against the Illinois border on the banks of the Wabash River, Terre Haute, Indiana, has seen better days. Many factories have closed, and downtown has too many vacant storefronts. But there are signs of activity: Indiana State University has grown, the federal prison still provides reliable jobs—and the ten-lawyer litigation machine that occupies the offices of attorney James Bopp Jr. at the corner of 6th and Wabash is going full tilt. Bopp is best known as the lawyer behind a case involving a 90-minute film made in 2008 attacking then–presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Bopp’s suit ultimately resulted in the landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, in which the Supreme Court held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts such as the movie and its promotional ads were legitimate expressions of free speech and couldn’t be limited by campaign-finance laws. The ruling...

Mommy, What's a Caucus?

If you want to challenge your pedagogical skills, try explaining the Iowa caucuses to a child. "You see, Billy, in America, we get to choose our presidents, and every citizen gets to participate. So to start the process off, everyone who wants to be president spends months in the state of Iowa, personally meeting as many Iowans as they can. And then one Tuesday in January, those Iowans go to their local schools and community centers, hang around for an hour listening to boring speeches, then cast their votes. Then the media tell us that the candidates who didn't come in first or second are unworthy of any more attention from people in the other 49 states, so those candidates drop out of the race. And then somebody gets to be the party's nominee, and that person will run against President Barack Obama in the fall. Does that make sense, Billy?" Billy will quite reasonably reply: No. It makes no sense at all. But in case he has some follow-up questions, let's try to have some answers...

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