UPDATED: CEDAR RAPIDS – As promised. Sen. Chuck Grassley has made a decision about endorsing a 2012 Republican presidential hopeful.
His decision is that he won’t endorse any candidate, Grassley said Oct. 19.
“We’ve got several good candidates, and I think I’m willing to let the system go,” said Grassley, who did not endorse a candidate ahead of Iowa’s 2008 first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses.
Grassley doubted his involvement would make a significant difference in the caucus campaign “because our Republicans are divided among so many different candidates.”
His decision “reflects his traditionally cautious approach in endorsing candidates,” said Chris Larimer, University of Northern Iowa associate professor of political science
Given that the GOP base is fractured between so many candidates, it would have been unlikely for Grassley to determine the outcome of the caucus process, said Bruce Nesmith, who teaches political science at Coe College
“I don’t see Grassley as a mix-it-up type of local hero,” Nesmith said. “He’s more godlike, above it all.”
Few Iowa political observers were surprised by Grassley’s non-endorsement decision.
Officeholders like to endorse someone who has a pretty good shot at winning “so they don’t look bad by having backed a loser,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science.
Picking the winning horse in the 2012 caucus race is difficult not only because the party’s base is so divided, Hagle said, but also because the candidates who are leading in Iowa polls tend to be candidates who, like Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, don’t have strong Iowa organizations or, like Cain, don’t have strong financing.
“Some with a good ground game and money are low in the polls,” Hagle said, specifically citing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, “so it’s pretty hard to say who has the best chance at any given moment.”
Larimer suspects the rise of Cain in Iowa and national polls threw a wrench into Grassley’s thinking. Not endorsing reflects uncertainty about Cain’s candidacy “and the general uncertainty still observed among likely caucus voters.”
“Cain certainly has the momentum, but is this a candidate that will sustain momentum or soon start to fall like Bachmann and Perry?” Larimer said.
Given the current status of the candidates and the race in Iowa and nationally, “it’s difficult to see how making an endorsement could provide any benefit to Grassley,” Drake University Professor of Politics Dennis Goldford, because
The picture may become clearer closer to the Jan. 3 caucus, but “it’s probably better for Grassley to get this off the table now rather than being coy about it,” Hagle said.
Hagle thinks Grassley may be “too humble” about the potential impact of his endorsement. Any candidate could use a Grassley endorsement to help sway Iowa Republicans who like Grassley, he said.
However, Hagle acknowledged a Grassley endorsement would have limits. If he tapped someone “down in the polls right now it might not produce enough of a boost to get the person in contention.”
Grassley’s non-endorsement might be his effort to encourage all candidates to compete in Iowa, Hagle said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania sought his endorsement, Grassley said. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Perry and Iowa native Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota did not ask for his backing, Grassley said.
If there is a loser in Grassley’s decision, Nesmith speculated it is Perry, who headlined a fundraiser the senator’s grandson, Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who is facing a primary challenge from Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden.
However, a Perry spokesman said candidates don’t do those events expecting an endorsement. It’s mutually beneficial, he said.
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