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Beyond Iowa: The GOP and Media Expectations

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With five Republican candidates polling at 10 or more percent in the Iowa caucuses (Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Ron Paul), as well as in national polls (substituting Rudy Giuliani for Ron Paul), the GOP race certainly appears to be the horserace to end all horseraces.

In the last three decades, five candidates have never reached double-digits in the GOP Iowa caucus, although it almost happened in 1996 (Bob Dole (26%), Pat Buchanan (23%), Lamar Alexander (18%), Steve Forbes (10%), Phil Gramm (9%)) and in 1988 (Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H. W. Bush (19%), Jack Kemp (11%), and Pete DuPont (7%)).

As outlined in a Smart Politics blog yesterday, the role expectations play cannot be overstated in how the media frames candidate performances in these early caucus and primary states: at least 3 commentators on MSNBC and Fox News (including Tom Brokaw) compared Huckabee's win with "Pat Robertson's victory" in Iowa in 1988. As mentioned several times here at Smart Politics this campaign season, it was Bob Dole who won in 1988, not Robertson. But, to suit their frame, the media does not let these facts get in the way when they play the expectations game. You see, Robertson's performance in 1988 was so strong relative to expectations (defeating then Vice-President George H. W. Bush for second place), that he became the story. So much so, that his strong finish has now apparently turned into a 'victory' according to prominent broadcasters and pundits.

As with Robertson (who also relied heavily on the evangelical Christian vote in Iowa), the media is rightfully pointing out some potential demographic pitfalls for Huckabee in the short-term (e.g. New Hampshire) and in larger and more industrialized states down the road (California, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio etc.). However, Huckabee would be wise to squash this convenient media frame, and his image thus far in the campaign has been portrayed as different than Robertson's. Huckabee (an ex-minister) is viewed as more of a folksy, truth-teller than Robertson, who was still an active preacher. Huckabee is also viewed as a lot less divisive and controversial. So look for the former Arkansas Governor to perform much, much better than did Robertson both in New Hampshire and beyond.

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Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


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