The just-concluded Iowa Agriculture Summit didn’t produce nearly the crowd and buzz of Congressman Steve King’s candidate cattle call held six weeks ago. Nor will it prove to be as impactful as upcoming events like the allegedly still-happening Iowa Straw Poll.
Nonetheless, it did give us an opportunity to see most of the Republican 2016 presidential field assembled together and vying for votes. That means it’s time to update my odds for who will win next year’s first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz & Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 2-1
Most Iowa Caucus voters are looking for new blood, and the top two names in that regard are Messrs. Cruz and Walker. Looking at the way each of them handled the Iowa Ag Summit, it appears these rising stars have decided to emulate separate successful paradigms from the GOP’s past.
Mr. Cruz is putting together his variation of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. He is running as the paradigm shifter. He was the one candidate who refused to play the pander game whatsoever to “King Corn,” which doesn’t have nearly the clout in Iowa politics it used to. He’s going to run as the candidate who can replicate Reagan’s three-legged stool of conservatism (social, fiscal and national defense), and then hope coupling that principled ideology with an optimistic persona will woo voters who will see him as the happy warrior like Reagan. That’s easier to rally behind than the bearer of bad news, like Barry Goldwater, even though “in your heart you know he’s right.”
On the other hand, Mr. Walker is going to run his version of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. By flipping his previous opposition to ethanol and coming out in favor of the renewable fuel standard, as well as abandoning his previous pro-amnesty stance, Mr. Walker is positioning himself to be the guy that puts Humpty Dumpty back together again. He’s determined to prove that his resume makes it possible to forge a coalition between warring conservatives and establishment Republicans, who he hopes will set aside their deep divisions on his behalf because they’re desperate to win again.
It will be fascinating to see these templates battle it out on the campaign trail the next few months.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: 5-1
Mr. Huckabee’s bold and blunt messaging last week about the congressional Republicans caving on Mr. Obama’s illegal amnesty was not only spot-on but exactly what the base is thinking. If he can sustain that connection, then he has a chance to reclaim the position of caucus favorite he held last year. The biggest problem he has is convincing frustrated conservatives that he still has the fire in the belly. He also has to replace some key players from his victorious 2008 campaign, who are either with other candidates this time or waiting for further confirmation before jumping back on his bandwagon.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: 15-1
Team Jeb would like you to believe he’s doing the Iowa safety dance Mitt Romney performed four years ago — successfully lowering expectations so that any finish in the top three seems like a resounding victory. Except Jeb has already put in more ground work in Iowa than Mr. Romney did the entire 2012 cycle, so it’s clear he’s in it to win it. And with Mr. Walker obviously targeting at least some of his support, it can no longer be said Jeb has exclusive dibs on Mr. Romney’s Iowa base. Plus, he’s got the persistent and more-liked Marco Rubio coming up on his right flank as well.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: 20-1
Mr. Rand still retains a credible organizational presence in Iowa, but it’s not as potent as the one his father, Ron, had in 2012. For example, one of his dad’s most respected organizers is sitting this one out so far, and several other prominent Paul supporters are openly flirting with bolting to Mr. Cruz. Rand is also struggling to find a pathway to broaden his base of support, which he must do if he’s going to win here. Frankly, his campaign seems stuck in neutral.
Dr. Ben Carson: 25-1
In his first official week as a candidate, Mr. Carson’s inexperience shone through. That’s why he’s the biggest tumbler in my latest odds. Mr. Carson committed the cardinal blunder of turning a one-day mistake into a multiple-day mistake. Mr. Carson’s error wasn’t saying homosexuality is a choice. That’s something a majority of GOP primary voters and non-whites who bristle at it being compared to race already believe. It was the unforced error of using prison sex as his example, because it made him sound sophomoric and opened him up to ridicule. The tawdriness of prison subculture compels lots of people to do things they wouldn’t elsewhere, so that wasn’t the ideal anecdote to cite. But then Mr. Carson made it worse with an “apology” the next day that managed to offend all sides of the marriage and sexuality debate.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: 30-1
Mr. Rubio moves up the board, even though he didn’t attend the Iowa Ag Summit, because I’ve heard from several national people about how impressed they were with him at CPAC. I even had one presidential campaign staffer tell me recently that Mr. Rubio was the candidate they feared the most because of how well he connects with voters. While his advocacy for the “gang of 8” amnesty scam continues to make him a non-starter for most Iowa conservatives, he could see Mr. Bush as a weak enough establishment front-runner to decide to play for votes in that sandbox.
Businessman Donald Trump: 35-1
He’s made the best hire of the caucus cycle by reeling in Chuck Laudner, the top conservative organizer in Iowa. Mr. Laudner going to Mr. Trump tells me he’s serious about doing what it takes to run for president. Word on the street is that Mr. Trump is prepared to spend $300 million to win the nomination as well. If that’s true, then you have to take him seriously. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a lot of friends in politics.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: 40-1
Iowans still like him, but he’s behind the curve organizationally. He’s also probably going to need both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Huckabee to falter in order to move into the top tier.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: 50-1
The reigning caucus champion has already lost several vital pieces to his upset win here in 2012, including the aforementioned Mr. Laudner. The presence of Mr. Huckabee is most problematic for Mr. Santorum.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 100-1
His window seems to be closing. Mr. Perry has become the guy who isn’t the cool jock, future mogul nerd, or exciting bad boy. Since he’s a nice guy, girls don’t mind having him around, but once he tries to make a move they tell him “let’s just be friends.”
Businesswoman Carly Fiorina: 500-1
She was a surprise hit during her Iowa debut back in January, and it’s easy to see enough Republican donors wanting to keep a woman with her impressive resume viable enough for her to stick around and play Hillary attack-dog. But she’s not a serious threat to win.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: 750-1
He’d have better odds challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democrat caucus. Seriously.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 1,000-1
Dead. Man. Walking. Mr. Christie is the guy at the poker table who tried to buy the pot early, but after a few more cards were played it was obvious he had a weak hand. All of us, him included, know he’s going to fold now that the price for staying in has gone up. He just has to make it look like it’s a tough call for a while before he folds in order to save face.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.