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Monday, June 08, 2015

A Huge Field of Republican Candidates: Good or Bad?

June 6, 2015 | 10:00 am 
Cedar Rapids Gazette
My friend Andrej Matisak senior reporter for the daily newspaper Pravda in Slovakia asked me this week why the field of Republicans is so big and whether that’s bad or good.

My analysis is that a very big field is the result of:

1. An “open” election with no incumbent so many different contenders want a chance to sell their ideas.
2. The wide-ranging diversity of Republican voters — The latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Iowa Poll shows that Republican likely caucus goers are almost equally divided on some issues:
* Subsidies for ethanol or wind power: For 45 percent, Against 46 percent (and this is a HUGE issue in Iowa the leading ethanol and second wind state)
* Protecting Americans from terrorism more important than privacy 49 percent agree but 42 percent disagree.
* The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) infringes on rights of landowners Agree 44 percent Disagree 51 percent.
The other Register/Bloomberg poll question asked if candidates should spend a lot of time talking about the following. I’ve chose a few interesting examples.
* Cost of college 50 percent No, 50 percent Yes
* Abortion Yes 48 percent No 51 percent
* The candidate’s religious beliefs Yes 42 percent, No 58 percent
* Same Sex marriage Yes 38 percent, No 60 percent. This was the big surprise since Republican candidates have been vigorously pushing this issue.
There is obviously room for many different positions by Republican candidates on these issues. That’s why each of the 10 and soon 15 Republicans running has some percentage of GOP caucus voter support. It’s good that there is so much diversity in the GOP field because it engages voters and encourages them to participate. It’s like the cereal isle at the grocery — there is a cereal (candidate) for every taste. 

However, it is obviously impossible to have an orderly campaign with this many candidates because they need to accumulate enough delegates state by state to get nominated and if each has 10 percent of delegates no one will achieve the magic number. 

Some such as Jeb Bush, may not do well in Iowa or New Hampshire but he probably can win the Florida primary election so this primary season could drag on. As you know, there are supporters for Rand Paul the Libertarian Republican, all the way to the most extreme candidate such as Pyush "Bobby" Jindal of Louisiana who is campaigning primarily as a Christian on the primacy of God in America.

The Fox debate of 10 top contenders will be interesting to watch but I wonder if each debate will feature a different mix of Republicans since they plan to only invite the “top 10.” It’s not clear if it’s the top 10 in the Fox poll. 

The great danger is that NO ONE candidate will have enough delegates to get the nomination at the national convention in July 2016. Then it will be a “brokered convention,” a bloody fight on TV among the candidates to get delegates. Many “deals” will be made as in the past. That will be interesting for the reporters and pundits and it will be fun for the public to watch. BUT it will be stressful and disruptive for the Republican Party as a whole. 

Iowa plays the role of letting many contenders compete. It’s role is also to narrow the field before they scatter to the rest of the primaries and caucuses. We’ve accomplished the first. Then, hopefully, before caucus night the field will be winnowed down to a more realistic number. 

To explore these and other caucus issues in more detail, please join my free Internet course on the caucuses that starts Sept 1. To reserve a place, visit

• Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University. Comments:

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