A couple politicians I have worked with call the summer before an election year the “silly season,” meaning the focus is all about fringe issues and groups, and there’s little meaningful back and forth among candidates. It’s mostly bio pieces and staged events. So it is with the Iowa Caucus process in the summer runup to Iowa’s own winter classic.
If you were there, I dont have to tell you Ames was about which candidate could purchase tickets for the most Iowans who were willing to have a good time listening to speakers pipe off about the horrors President Obama has visited on America while munching awesome state-fair-like food. It’s a show of intensity – mass marketed emotional manipulation, a release point for pent-up conserative frustrations. It’s what we oldtimers used to call a “mosh pit.”
And yes, intensity matters, especially in a caucus system that rewards people for getting out on a cold February night to go find out whether they agree with their neighbors about politics (we dont generally talk about it amongst ourselves any other time, as hard as that is for non-Iowans to believe about us.)
But intensity isnt everything, as Michele Bachmann is about to find out. Kudos to her campaign for the big win, edging out Ron Paul by a percentage point and just over 150 votes. Now let’s talk about the reasons she may want to replay straw poll day over and over again in her head between now and February. It’s all uphill from here, Michele.
1. Iowa Doesn’t Vote for Women – Hillary Clinton is the most recent candidate to discover Iowans’ preference for men in political leadership. We’ve never elected a woman to Congress or Governor (1 of only 2 states!) Even Bachmann buddy Steve King had to correct himself at the straw poll after saying, about the next President, ”when HE takes the oath . . .” When Iowans get serious about this race, they are going to have a hard time with a woman as President – I don’t like it, but its reality.
2. Her Base is Fiery but Narrow - Bachmann pulled in 4,800 straw poll votes from near-maniacal supporters. But the caucuses have been turning out north of 200K in recent years (both sides considered) and she will need to attract new supporters from across the GOP spectrum. Candidate attrition will help some, but its hard to see how she waters down her message to get the casual caucus-goer when part of her appeal is her uncompromising take-no-prisoners style.
3. It’s All About Her Now – Bachmann hasn’t faced the media glare of the “iron ring” of reporters digging into every aspect of her professional and personal life. Even the best crack or wither under it, including Clinton and Obama, and she is no exception. Query: has she built herself a trap by shrugging off attacks up to this point, meaning it will be harder for her to defend herself in the upcoming onslaught? Would she be better playing victim of the mainstream media as Sarah Palin does?
4. The Money Bomb – she may be doing well in fundraising, but to keep up with Romney (who will run ads in Iowa I predict) and Perry, not to mention any others who catch fire, she will need to step it up, and its hard to see how she doest that by continuing to be out campaigning full-tilt-boogie as she is this weekend with a stop in Waterloo tomorrow after the huge Ames day.
5. The Favorite Daughter Problem – just as Obama won IA in ’08, Edwards won SC in ’04 and Kerry NH in ’04, often the neighbor candidate with whom primary voters are familiar has an edge. And dont count out the geography issue – its cheaper to campaign 100 miles from home than 1,000. Bachmann isn’t shocking anyone by doing well here. Other candidates could see the advantage in ceding the state to her, instead choosing to assemble a Granite wall for her to run into in New Hampshire a week after the caucuses.
Welcome to the big leagues, Michele. Now have a seat. Silly season is over.