GOP race enters homestretch

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, January 12, 2016

 

With less than 3 weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, the race for the presidential nomination in the Republican Party is heating up. Though the primary season ends on June 7th, the results of the first few primaries will likely anticipate the name of the most probably Republican nominee for the November election.  

 

All predictions about the eventual decline of populist demagogue Donald Trump have failed to materialize. 

 

The multibillionaire candidate, who has climbed his way to first place by bullying other candidates and attacking different minority constituencies, is poised to do well in the Iowa caucus (an election restricted to registered members of each party) on February 1st.  Though recent polls have shown him neck-and-neck with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Trump has consistently shown a solid support around 35% of likely Republican voters, while other Republican aspirants have move up and down in polls in the past months.  Even if Trump does not win Iowa, he will still walk away with some of the 30 delegates to be elected that day for the Republican national convention to be held on July 18-21 in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Republican presidential nominee will be selected at the convention by the 2,472 delegates. Most delegates will be elected in the state level primaries held between February 1st (in Iowa) and June 7th (in California and other states), but a few hundred will be high level Republican elected officials at the national and state levels. 

 

Nationally, Iowa does not carry much weight in the delegate count, but since that caucus is the first in the 4-month long primary season, a victory in Iowa offers an enormous momentous to the winner. In fact, the Iowa Republican caucus winner has gone on to win the nomination in the last 10 presidential elections (though in 2012, Mitt Romney barely won it).  That might not mean much this year. The 2016 presidential campaign in the Republican Party has so far defied conventional wisdom and all precedent.  To begin with, there are 16 republican candidates in contention. Though only four of them are polling at 10% or higher, the fact that so many voters are still undecided means that no candidate can be easily ruled out.  Moreover, particularly if a candidate who is polling in the single digits ends up with a surprisingly two-digit figure on February 1st, the news media might end up focusing on that surprise good showing, not just on the winner of the contest.

 

In addition to Trump and Cruz—both polling at around 25%--senator Marco Rubio and neurosurgeon Ben Carson are also polling above 10%.  The Latino senator from Florida has seen a surge in recent weeks, but has yet to climb passed the 20% mark.  Carson has seen his numbers decline since late October, when he was polling ahead of Trump in Iowa.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush cannot be ruled out. As the early favorite and the candidate with the largest campaign war chest, Bush has struggled as a candidate, but has consistently polled in fifth place for several months.  If Bush manages to get more than 10% of the vote, he will also gain some momentum ahead of the February 9th New Hampshire primaries (where 20 seats will be proportionally distributed among the top vote getters). 

 

The primary calendar will bring candidates to South Carolina (50 delegates), Washington (41) and Nevada (30) during the rest of February. By March 1, in the Super Tuesday primaries, when 14 states will elect 653 delegates. By late March, more than half of the elected delegates will have been chosen.  By then, the field of candidates should have narrowed to two or three—though the race might also be over by then.  Because of the tight primary calendar, strong showings in the first few primaries is essential to stay alive in the race. As a reality television show, where each chapter results in the elimination of some contestants, presidential primaries in the U.S. requires some strategic planning by each candidate so to optimize the chances of staying alive until the states with the most favorable voting demographics come into play.  For everyone other than Trump, that means surviving Iowa and New Hampshire and hope that as the number of states that hold primaries increases, so will their chances of getting their message out to voters—who so far seem more interested in Trump’s fiery rhetoric than on the actual policy proposals put forth by other candidates.

 

With the winter storms hitting Iowa hard in recent weeks, the candidates are reaching deep into their contributors’ pockets to improve their support ahead of the caucuses.  Polls now predict that it is unlikely that Iowa produces a clear winner on February 1st, but we do know for sure that there will be some unquestionable losers and the long list of 16 presidential hopefuls will shrink significantly before voters in New Hampshire get to participate in the second chapter of this quickly evolving race for the Republican presidential nomination.