Can Moderates Find a Winning Strategy in Iowa?

Iowa has long coveted their “first-in-the-nation” status by holding the first caucuses of the presidential election season, and in many cases, holding the future of aspiring presidents in their hands.

Some candidates invest heavily in the Iowa caucuses, essentially, putting all their “eggs in one basket.” Others try to by-pass the Hawkeye state in hopes of winning big in New Hampshire on the way to South Carolina.

That strategy has yet to produce a primary winner.

In 2008, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided to bypass Iowa and other states in hopes of winning big in Florida. His strategy failed for many reasons, most important was by the time the Florida primaries were held, the election was for the most part, over.

Donna Hoffman, associate professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa, says it is possible for a moderate to win in Iowa, but it’s “not likely in the current environment.”

“It’s not a case of there being no moderates in Iowa – there are plenty of moderates here. It’s just they’re not as committed to the caucus process as conservatives,” Hoffman said. “You’ve got to recognize the Iowa caucuses are unique. It’s imperative candidates have a great ground game here and that their supporters are not only committed, but excited.”

2008 was not a typical year in Iowa politics, as both Democrats and Republicans broke attendance records with more Democrats showing up to the caucuses than Republicans. The point that most people who understand the Iowa caucus makes is the average caucus attendee is truly engaged in the political process because it is not only about voting for candidates, but also a necessary step attendees must take to engage in state and national conventions.

The 1980 caucuses demonstrated a moderate could win in Iowa. George H.W. Bush, perceived as more moderate than Ronald Reagan, was able to win with just over 30 percent of the vote by splitting the conservative vote. The same held true in 1988 when Bob Dole defeated conservative pastor Pat Robertson, who forced George Bush into the third place spot.

Yet most pundits feel 2012 is different. Neither the eighties nor the nineties saw the influence of Tea Party activists, although according to Dr. Hoffman, the Tea party vote was not a factor in 2008.

Iowa State Representative Josh Byrnes (R-Mitchell County) had a definite opinion on whether any candidate should campaign in Iowa.

“Vacating Iowa is a dangerous strategy,” said Byrnes. “When a candidate chooses to ignore Iowa, it’s taken as an insult. We know our neighbors and we want the candidates to know us.”

Byrnes also agrees a moderate can win Iowa.

“Iowans are looking for a moderate candidate. People are sick or what is going on in our country and we want someone to unite us – not divide us as a party or as a nation,” said Byrnes. “I think the Tea party in Iowa has lost its zip. Independents are so valuable here. Never have I seen so many people on the fence.”