Monday, January 28, 2013

Dispatch from Iowa

Though this is hardly breaking news, it does speak to the critical function that some elected officials play in the invisible primary, but as the events pre-dated the establishment of the blog I'll take this topic on now.  It would seem that my governor, Terry Branstad, seems to have some unease with the whole endorsement bit.

As we know, the winning of endorsements is a critical indicator of a candidate's likelihood of winning the nomination.  Given Iowa's privileged position in the nomination calendar, it's clear that our governor's nod would be quite the prize for a Republican hopeful.  However, the governor delayed making his endorsement of Gov. Romney until early April, a full three months after the caucus.  In his regular youtube yack session following his endorsement, he mentioned that part of his reason for not endorsing was to be a "good host" (let's call it Iowa nice) and in a press conference he claimed that he wanted his endorsement to "focus on uniting" the party at a time when the party needed to quickly land on a nominee.

In late November following the election, Branstad drew a bit of attention when he was speculating on the utility of the Iowa Straw Poll.  The straw poll, to put it diplomatically, is a spectacle bordering on the ridiculous that has drawn increasing media attention as a test of viability for the Republican field half a year in advance of the Iowa caucus.  Why this is, is a mystery to most careful observers.  It is terrible at identifying the eventual nominee (over the years a nominee or two have opted out entirely and the winner of the straw poll rarely takes the nomination) and it is in no way representative of Republican caucus goers.  Contestants literally pay participants to cast votes their way.  Branstad rightly diagnoses these maladies and proposes other fundraisers to draw candidates to Iowa during the summer.  He pointed squarely at Rep. Michele Bachmann's victory as a sure sign that the affair is promoting the precisely wrong kind of candidates that the party should be considering.

While I have no problem at all with the scrapping of the event (though it's the party's, not the governor's to scrap), I think Gov. Branstad is missing a key role that he could have played that would be far more influential than the straw poll in shaping the outcome of the caucus: making a timely endorsement.  If he is so concerned that candidates at the margins are taking center stage, the last thing he should do is abdicate his political powers by endorsing after the caucus is long over.  For his own good and the good of the party, I'd humbly suggest to the governor that he ought to embrace his role in the invisible primary.

No comments:

Post a Comment