In the Arena

15 Days Till Iowa: Travel Day

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Two weeks out, and Iowa is doing its Iowa thing–anyone, and I mean anyone, can win these caucuses. We’ve seen late surges before–Obama and Huckabee in 2008, Kerry in 2004 and so forth–but this is a case where multiple candidates are neck and neck, something I haven’t seen since the Democratic race in 1988.

That year, Dick Gephardt led, then collapsed, then put a very effective ad on the air right after Christmas, then surged again. Illinois Senator Paul Simon was that year’s Gingrich, surging in November and December, then fading at the end. And Michael Dukakis was, appropriately enough, that year’s Romney–solid, solid, but not inspiring and a close third.

A couple of thoughts about what’s happening:

1. the power of television advertising is reasserting itself. Gingrich is getting killed on the air, ruining the prevailing media narrative–that this campaign was all about debates. It was, when no one was advertising. Now, it’s about debates and paid media…and soon, it’ll be about organization.

2. Iowa Republicans are not neoconservatives. Ron Paul has gained ground after a debate in which his refusal to join the Iran warhawks was front and center. Indeed, in my travels around the country, I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.

3. The evangelical vote is not congealing, it’s atomizing. Suddenly, Bachmann, Perry, Paul and Santorum each have a piece. None of the also-rans are fading. It’s only front-runners who fade in Iowa.

4. What’s up in Eastern Iowa? It seems everyone, except Romney, will be campaigning there the next few days…and I’ll be there, too.