Two weeks before the Iowa GOP Straw Poll — a non-binding popularity contest for 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls — many of the party’s activists have yet to commit to any candidate.
For some, it’s a dilemma of too many good choices.
“We have a lot of good candidates,” says Cathy Grawe of Coralville. “We’re all struggling because they are good candidates with good positions.”
For others, it’s a problem of not enough choices.
“They are waiting on someone else,” Alice DeRycke, Iowa County GOP chairwoman, says about many of her Republican friends who wonder whether Sarah Palin or Texas Gov. Rick Perry will get into the race.
It might be a case of “consumers always want what they can’t have,” according to Jim Kirkpatrick, Fayette County GOP chairman and the first county chair to endorse Tim Pawlenty.
Or, suggests Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, it might be that the lack of commitment isn’t because Iowa Republicans don’t like the choices, “but rather that they just don’t want to decide before all the choices are known.”
The choices will have two chances to become better known when they meet for an Iowa GOP/Fox News debate at Iowa State University’s C.Y. Stephens Auditorium at 8 p.m. Aug. 11 and the straw poll starting at 10 a.m. in Hilton Coliseum Aug. 13.
However, there remains a sense of a passion deficiency that wasn’t the case in 2008.
“Four years ago, the political climate in Iowa seemed more charged as we had open presidential candidate races in both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as several individuals whose eventual nomination for president would be historically significant — first African-American, first woman, first Mormon,” says Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.
It’s not a lack of passion at all, says Loras Schulte of the Benton County GOP, but a “combination of Republicans becoming more savvy about the straw poll-to-caucus process and that no candidate has truly inspired the base of the party to action.”
“I believe Iowa’s activists have become a little more sophisticated with the process and are not committing nearly as early as they have in the past,” he says.
They may be more savvy and sophisticated than in the past, but Dennis Goldford, a Drake University political science professor, thinks grass root Republicans’ “anger and rage” make it difficult for any candidate to get commitment from activists.
“It’s hard to focus because they are angry at Barack Obama, health care reform, they think they are losing control of their country,” he says. “But it’s almost a contradiction in terms – to channel raw emotions. To channel means to discipline it and focus it. Finding a candidate who can do that is very difficult.”
There’s plenty of anger, DeRycke admits. Republicans have “disgust at gay marriage … dislike double talk, want real answers, real decisions, cut spending, cut up Washington’s credit card.”
It leaves them wonder whether “Can anyone come up to what we want?” she says.
It’s a classic case of the Republican hearts and heads pulling in opposite directions, according to Goldford.
“Republicans want somebody that is all heart because they are all emotion right now,” he says. “That’s one reason Michelle Bachmann is doing well — she channels a lot of that populist rage.”
At the same time, the GOP head is looking for that candidate who can win.
“But the person who can get elected may not rouse the passion,” Goldford says.
Despite that tension, Hagle believes many Republicans are “satisfied with the field to the extent that they can find at least one they would be willing to support.”
For many activists, it comes down to what Grawe calls the “overarching issue — who can beat Obama.” says Grawe. “That’s the hard part.”
Thornton doesn’t think Republicans are “waiting for a savior,” but says the race remains wide open. She thinks a lot of people will decide the day of the straw poll.
With 20 percent of Iowa Republicans “undecided,” that could happen, says Steffen Schmidt, ISU political science professor.
“It’s not clear if they will attend and thus produce a surprise or if they’ll stay home and harvest their summer vegetable garden,” Schmidt says.
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