All paths go through Iowa…

…or do they? Jennifer Rubin, in the Washington Post, seems to think so. Michael Barone agrees, in a piece for the San Francisco Examiner:

…seven putative candidates would have to contest the Iowa caucuses:

  • Haley Barbour, presumably because he’s a cultural conservative.
  • Newt Gingrich: “as a national figure, he can’t very well avoid Iowa.”
  • Mike Huckabee, because he won in Iowa in 2008.
  • Sarah Palin, because she’s a national figure (and because, although Rubin doesn’t mention it, she endorsed Governor Terry Branstad over his arguably more conservative opposition, in the 2010 governor primary, presumably with an eye on the caucuses).
  • Tim Pawlenty, because he’s from next-door Minnesota and has a conservative record on cultural issues.
  • Mike Pence, if he runs (as Rubin notes, he’s been looking lately more like a candidate for governor of Indiana next year), because he’s a cultural conservative.
  • John Thune, because he’s from next-door South Dakota.

the Iowa caucuses are likely to be dominated by religious conservatives, and therefore candidates with appeal to that group who bypass Iowa will be making a confession of weakness likely to be fatal to their candidacies

…three putative candidates [are] likely to skip Iowa in favor of concentrating on the New Hampshire primary, with its much more libertarian, economically conservative electorate.

  • Mitch Daniels, whom she sees as having a tough time in Iowa “given skeptics about his social issues’ ‘truce.’”
  • Mitt Romney, because “the risk of competing seriously and failing is high”; I think in retrospect Romney would have been much better off in 2008 skipping Iowa, where he spent months arguing that he was a strong cultural conservative despite some past statements which indicated the contrary, and concentrating on New Hampshire.
  • And Paul Ryan, who she says “might well become the consensus candidate” if he dominates the policy discussion on the budget and health care.

That’s true – and furthermore, as almost all of the attention in the early stages of the 2008 race was directed towards Iowa, anyone who doesn’t compete there will be portrayed in the media as scared of the base, and will be excoriated in the right wing blogosphere.

At the same time, though, Iowa has done a better job at predicting the Democratic nominee in recent years (the winner of the Iowa Democratic Caucus ended up winning the nomination in ’96, 2000, 2004 and 2008) than the Republican – remember, Mike Huckabee won in 2008! If anything, I think that Iowa, with its sizeable evangelical population, does a better job at elevating insurgent hard right candidates that eventually get beaten by the establishment GOP pick. There was Huckabee in ’08, of course, but there was also Pat Robertson in ’88 and Pat Buchanan in ’92, both of whom came in a very strong second and scared the bejeezus out of the Republican party elders, before both going on to lose in subsequent contests.

My feeling right now? The undoubtedly more moderate winner of the New Hampshire primary will be the eventual nominee. Unless things change, that person looks to be Mitt Romney, though someone like Mitch Daniels or Mike Pence could also do very well there.

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