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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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Remains of the Data

No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

Political Crumbs

Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


An Idaho Six Pack

Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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