An Iowa Identity Crisis?
First Read links to an interesting piece in yesterday’s Des Moines Register, which floats the idea that the Iowa Caucus could play a diminished role in selecting the next Republican presidential nominee due to the increasing dominance of religious conservatives among the state’s caucus-goers. The author takes the fact that repeat visits to the state by Republican presidential hopefuls are running at a pace behind that experienced in the last election cycle as a potential sign that more Republican hopefuls may find the state’s caucus environment too conservative for their liking, and (like John McCain) look elsewhere to establish a campaign beachhead.
I think the slowed pace of visits actually has more to do with the unusual wide-open nature of the 2008 contest (as the author acknowledges), and the fact that it will take some time for the Republican Party and its key political elites to get back into the rhythm of an electoral cycle, after its losses in the last election and the resultant party regime change in Washington. Some element of campaign fatigue is to be expected on all sides, after the multiyear electoral grind just completed 11 months ago.
My sense is that the Iowa Caucus will continue to be the critical starting point for anyone seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for president. I say this because, if anything, the party’s shrinking base has become more socially and religiously conservative than ever in the wake of its losses in the last election cycle. This makes it less likely that the party would nominate another John McCain-style candidate, and should actually increase the importance of a place like Iowa for vetting a candidate’s social and religious conservatism bona fides.

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