Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

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...

Bigfoot in Iowa

PELLA, IOWA —I closed out 2011 Saturday with a bit of good luck after stumbling upon a mythical creature: a undecided Republican caucus voter who had yet to be interviewed by one of the major news outlets. With 1,500 national and international reporters in the heartland for the Iowa caucuses, it's a coveted, rare find. In Marshalltown the previous night, I watched as The Washington Post 's Jason Horowitz rushed to intercept The Atlantic 's Molly Ball as she turned her tape recorder on a voter he had already selected for a profile. After a Mitt Romney event Thursday in Mason City, a reporter friend and I noted that we had both previously interviewed Beth, a high-school teacher from Clear Lake. We watched as yet another writer thrust a notepad forward to document how she was a committed Santorum voter while remaining intrigued by Romney. The room was packed with supporters when I slid along the back wall of the Pella Public Library (a slight old librarian warned no one to light a...

Lucky Number 3

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA —Rick Santorum has bounced up to third in recent Iowa polls and he'll have to hope that this is still the case next Tuesday. The winner of the GOP primary contest in the Iowa caucuses is often not the eventual nominee, but the vote helps weed out candidates who don't really have a shot. The infographics on TV screens next week will detail the top three finishers and discard the remainder as a footnote before they concede defeat on January 4. Campaigns themselves won't usually admit this, but a prominent Rick Santorum surrogate didn't mince words when I spoke with him outside a sports bar in Marshalltown. "Honestly, I'll say it, I know you want to diminish expectations, I understand that. But I think you finish in the top three or go home," said Chuck Laudner who had introduced Santorum at the preceding event. "Iowa traditionally punches three tickets, and with the very fluid race that we have you don't want to be fifth of sixth, I can guarantee that." Laudner—who...

They Really Love Me!

Patrick Caldwell The media crowds around Rick Santorum during a campaign stop in Ames, Iowa. MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA —Rick Santorum's campaign is on the upswing, which has totally blindsided his staffers. The latest polls have Santorum gaining steam toward a third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses just days before Iowans vote. The late-stage windfall comes at the right time for the candidate: Santorum won't have to endure the weeks of media scrutiny that have slowly sunk other candidates who've pulled ahead of the pack. Iowans are turning out in droves to hear him speak, but the campaign used to glad-handing a few retirees in a small-town coffee shops has yet to readjust. Two campaign stops yesterday made this evident. Santorum scheduled a midday visit to a Buffalo Wild Wings franchise in Ames to coincide with the Pinstripe Bowl. The Wild Wings franchise is a favorite for Iowans watching football games. The outlet was bound to be packed that day given that Iowa State University (the...

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