Can a nice guy finish first?
There’s a theory in political science that illustrates the last few weeks of any national electoral contest with an inverted cone shape. The timeline starts wide and narrows to a single point, that being Election Day. The argument being illustrated is (like much of social science) a common sense one. As an election nears, the electorate begins to focus on the campaign and the candidates, feeding their decision-making with pieces of information they get from the media as the final weeks tick by until they make their final choice and cast their votes.
The current shake-up in the GOP presidential race is a pretty good example of how the theory works. As more GOP voters in Iowa have begun to face the fact that they are going to have to choose from among the current slate of contenders, they appear to be drifting toward former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
The fact that he has taken the lead in the latest Des Moines Register poll [gaining 17 points since October] is due partly to circumstance and partly to his own abilities as a candidate. The GOP base has spent the past year bemoaning the fact that there was no “true conservative” among the front runners. Huckabee is filling that slot (at least in Iowa) because he rose to the occasion when the free media spotlight turned his way.
The former governor is well liked among the political press corps. They portray him as a “nice guy” with a lot of personality, self-deprecating wit and several interesting stories to tell. For his part, Huckabee has so far managed to catch the media wave and not fall off his board. Considering the fact that his campaign has no money and next to no organization, this is quite an accomplishment.
While a Huckabee win in Iowa may not necessarily translate to a win in any other state, momentum is a very funny and unpredictable element in national politics.
As for nice guys finishing first, there are several cases to illustrate the point that being in the right place at the right time can be everything in politics. Take the South Dakota GOP gubernatorial primary back in 2002. There were two party heavyweights in the primary. They had records of accomplishment, money, organization and high name recognition. But in the closing months of the campaign a strange thing happened. The competition became so tight that both campaigns went negative in a big way.
After weeks of mudslinging television spots, the electorate turned their attention to a little known businessman candidate who also happened to be running. While the two frontrunners canceled each other out, Mike Rounds ran up the middle as the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He had no money, his campaign was run by his family, and he went on to win the GOP nomination and the governor’s office. In 2006 he was reelected to his second term with 62% of the vote.
Some food for thought, not only for Huckabee, but more importantly for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the Iowa clock ticks down to January 3rd.
Political Observations of the Week:
“They think we have control of the Senate while we merely have custody. They think that we can control the Senate when in fact we are nine votes short of having the 60 votes that you need to actually run the Senate. So the Senate is a choke point on everything.”
Rep. David Obey (D., Wisconsin), explaining what he termed the biggest misunderstanding Americans have about current Democratic control of Congress.
“The challenge is that [open seats] spread thin resources even more thinly. Places you’d like to play offense, you might not play because you have to play defense [somewhere else]”.
Glen Bolger, veteran GOP pollster, on his party’s 2008 open seat challenge.
“There’s a growing sense, a growing probability, that the next administration could be Democratic. Corporate executives, trade associations and lobbying firms have begun to recalibrate their strategies.”
Craig Fuller, Executive Vice President of Apco Worldwide, and a veteran of the Reagan White House, on the current outlook among Washington lobbyists.
“People are moving around, going to parties, getting together with family. They aren’t going to be hot to pick up the phone, whether for a pollster or an advocacy call. There are going to be a lot of campaigns flying blind.”
Veteran GOP pollster John McLaughlin, currently working for the presidential campaign of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, on the challenges of campaigning in Iowa over the holiday season.
“The Senate is predicated on the ability of people being able to work together. I’m not throwing rocks at anybody, but there’s just been a lot less of that.”
Former Sen. Don Nickles, (R., Oklahoma)
“It started so early this year that we have pictures of some of the candidates wearing shorts. In the past, we’ve only seen them in parkas.”
Paul Manuel, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anslem College, on the early presidential campaign.
“I can’t wait for it to be over.”
Ernie Kelly, aged 71, Iowa resident.