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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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Political Crumbs

No 100-Year Curse for Roberts

Defeating his Tea Party primary challenger Milton Wolf with just 48.1 percent of the vote, Pat Roberts narrowly escaped becoming the first elected U.S. Senator from Kansas to lose a renomination bid in 100 years. The last - and so far only - elected U.S. Senator to lose a Kansas primary was one-term Republican Joseph Bristow in 1914. Bristow was defeated by former U.S. Senator Charles Curtis who went on to win three terms before becoming Herbert Hoover's running mate in 1928. Only one other U.S. Senator from the Sunflower State has lost a primary since the passage of the 17th Amendment: Sheila Frahm in 1996. Frahm was appointed to fill Bob Dole's seat earlier that year and finished 13.2 points behind Sam Brownback in the three-candidate primary field. Overall, incumbent senators from Kansas have won 29 times against two defeats in the direct vote era. (Curtis also lost a primary in 1912 to Walter Stubbs, one year before the nation moved to direct elections).


The Second Time Around

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez became the seventh major party or second place gubernatorial candidate in Colorado to get a second chance at the office when he narrowly won his party's nomination last month. Two of the previous six candidates were successful. Democrat Alva Adams lost his first gubernatorial bid to Benjamin Eaton in 1884, but was victorious two years later against William Meyer. Democrat Charles Johnson placed third in 1894 behind Republican Albert McIntyre and Populist incumbent Governor David Waite but returned as the Fusion (Democrat/Populist) nominee in 1898 and defeated GOPer Henry Wolcott. Gubernatorial candidates who received a second chance but lost both general elections include Democrat Thomas Patterson (1888, 1914), Progressive Edward Costigan (1912, 1914), Republican Donald Brotzman (1954, 1956), and Republican David Strickland (1978, 1986).


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