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Iowa 2012 GOP Presidential Power Rankings: Michele Bachmann gaining momentum

In this third edition of The Iowa Independent’s 2012 Presidential Power Rankings, the panelists take note of international and national headlines, and summarily tossing most of them all out the window in favor of their views of a somewhat more insulated and currently emotion-based Iowa ground game.

“What it really comes down to, at least for now, is that national news is probably going to do more to hurt you than it is help you in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said one panelist. “On the other hand, when you are trying to get national attention maybe even bad attention will do — so long as you can keep enough buzz in the early states to survive those contests.”

Such perspectives have been culled from our staff members, additional state political reporters, party activists, academics, elected officials, political consultants and other insiders to create these rankings. While unscientific, the ranks provide insights that cannot be garnered in traditional polling or from any one pundit as to a candidate’s organizational strength in the Hawkeye State.

All those invited to participate are asked to answer one question: “If the Iowa caucus was held tonight, what would be the results?”

The rankings below provide a snapshot in time based on educated guesses and “gut instincts.” Campaigns were evaluated based on personal perceptions and input from others as to the quality of shoe-leather activity, ability to motivate possible caucus attendees and second-choice support. Panelists aren’t provided a specific ballot of potential candidates, and are free to choose from any Republican candidate — rumored or actual.

With all of that in mind, if the caucus was held tonight, this is how we think it would end.

  • Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/1bab041a2ann_125.jpg.jpgTopping our Rankings for the first time is U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from neighboring Minnesota who has spent a great deal of time reminding Iowans that she was born locally. Bachmann, who is back in Iowa Monday as a guest of the social conservative Family Leader organization, continues to be viewed as a candidate that can unite tea party activists and religious conservatives in Iowa. While she didn’t top the fundraising charts for the past month, panelists took note of the fact that she did better than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who continues to be as missing in action from our rankings as he is from the Hawkeye State.

Although the Minnesota Congresswoman hasn’t always said the right things in relation to national discussions, and wasn’t a key figure in the ongoing federal budget battles, but she has “galvanized a base” that seems out of reach to other candidates at this point. That aspect of her campaign alone “seems to market her as a smarter, more serious [Sarah] Palin.”

  • Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/fd41fb5842ee_125.jpg.jpgThe biggest boost to Mike Huckabee 2012 has long been Mike Huckabee 2008. And, as our panelists predicted last week, the longer Huckabee delays in taking some sort of formal action toward the next presidential contest, the more his value will drop in Iowa. “Huckabee fans seem to suddenly be getting frustrated at their candidate’s inaction and are beginning to jump ship,” notes a panelist. “Some caucus-goers will wait until closer to the end of the year to pledge allegiance to a candidate, but the party players a candidate needs if he wants to win aren’t going to wait around much longer.”

Another panelist also points to Huckabee’s continued name recognition as the victor of the 2008 GOP caucuses, and shares an observation that some Huck supporters are now trying to organize on their own. “Of course, such organizing helps if you actually have a candidate.”

  • Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/5d95c7c91faw_125.jpg.jpgSlipping for the third consecutive week is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the candidate that likely spent the most amount of time in Iowa since our last power rankings published. Our panelists noted and then dismissed national chatter that Pawlenty’s recent remarks to Iowa College Republicans and other groups were out-of-character or perhaps over-the-top. News of a Pawlenty staffer having a run-in with Iowa law enforcement, however, were not as easily brushed aside, and seem to be the key reason our panelists believe that, if the caucuses were held tonight, Pawlenty would do a bit more poorly. That being said, the incident is viewed overall as more of a momentary embarrassment than a long-standing campaign stain — but only if it is proven to be an isolated incident.

“Pawlenty, to me, seems like he could be the nominee overall, but I’m not sure his Christian conservative values show through as much as the others above him,” wrote a panelist.

While acknowledging that one would be hard-pressed to find a Republican that doesn’t like Pawlenty, another panelist notes that “you don’t win a Republican caucus if you’re everyone’s second choice.”

  • Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/1a65457d6dch_125.jpg.jpgAlthough more of our panelists noted former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in their rankings for this edition, he still manages to drop a slot. This is because some who had previously been ranking him higher in mostly a nod to his high national profile believed that Gingrich couldn’t escape his past connection to a previous government shutdown. “Although he was not a participant in the process, Gingrich was probably hurt a bit by all the shutdown discussion given that he was essentially blamed for the ones that occurred in 1995 and 1996 and they were discussed as length as well.”

The narrowly averted shutdown was the one piece of national news that panelists felt played at least a minor role in the upcoming Republican caucuses, both due to the invisibility of most GOP hopefuls as part of the negotiation process and because of the ill light it provided to more long-standing party members like Gingrich. All who noted the situation, however, felt that it would eventually play against President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election.

“Obama didn’t do himself any favors in the eyes of Republicans and Independents, and even some Democrats are not happy with the President’s concessions. The result of that may be that several of the potential candidates will see Obama as vulnerable and that could be an additional factor in the decision to get in the race.”

Since so much of Iowa politics, especially in social conservative circles, has been consumed by discussions of marriage, it follows that some of our most staunch social conservatives (but not all) have a distasteful view of Gingrich due to his three unions. “The money that Gingrich found to jump-start the fight against the Iowa Supreme Court justices that allowed same-sex marriage feels like a dirty pay-off — like something he did so we would look the other way.”

  • Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/6b7eb1ab2dul_125.jpg.jpgAlthough U.S. Rep. Ron Paul received more widespread support from our panelists this time around, it still wasn’t enough to push him beyond the fifth slot. Paul’s higher name recognition this week likely came at Gingrich’s expense, given that many of our panelists associated him with the tea party movement’s push for less spending in government and the national news of a possible government shutdown. Ironically, what seems to be holding Paul back in Iowa is the favor being shown to his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.).

“Some Republicans are much more enthusiastic about Rand than his father, but he has said he won’t run if his father does and Ron Paul seems to be leaning in that direction. … It’s unlikely he would win the caucuses, but his presence would certainly influence the race.”

Another panelist notes that while Paul’s recent wooing of Iowa social conservatives may be a double-edged sword that allows former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson to push into the caucus fray — especially if “a decent number of anti-war leftists come out to caucus Republican.”

While not garnering enough support to rank among our top five, the following candidates were noted by our panelists:

  • Herman Cain — “Cain’s time as a radio hosts has clearly taught him how to communicate effectively and package a conservative message. If he can put his CEO experience and corporate connections to work and raise some money, he could move up.”
  • Donald Trump — “There’s a better chance he runs in Iowa than Huckabee,” and, from a different panelist, “his placement in a poll or two is mostly based on name recognition and those who might want an ‘interesting’ candidate.” The overall consensus of our panel is that Trump isn’t serious.
  • Fred Karger — “He made news with the St. Anselm poll, but a student poll in Massachusetts does more to diminish Romney than raise up Karger.”
  • Haley Barbour — “The former lobbyist and party chair from a safe state is the only one who can raise the needed funds to compete with Obama.”
  • Sarah Palin — “I don’t see her running and, if she did, I don’t see even [U.S. Sen. John] McCain publicly supporting her at a caucus. The only role she could play in Iowa is spoiler by splitting the influence of the uber-conservatives.”

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