The Corner

Iowa: Land of the Unknowns

A couple of observations from here in Iowa:

‐As a general matter, no one knows anything. No one knows whether the Trump voters are going to show up. No one knows what the effect of the ongoing debate drama will be. No even knows if Trump will actually stay away from the debate or not — I wouldn’t be shocked if he finds a way to show up. Reporters who have been on the ground all month have no idea what’s going to happen and neither do the operatives on the campaigns.

‐I saw Jeb Bush at an event yesterday for employees of Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines. He was earnest, well-meaning, sincere, and well-informed. You have to give extra wonk credit to any candidate who goes out of his way to make a plea for civil service reform days before the caucuses. But Bush is just not the political athlete at this point that the top candidates in the race are, and it’s hard to see how he can overcome that. He was most animated and got the most reaction, by the way, when he went after Trump.

‐Later in the day, I went to a Rubio event at a bar/restaurant in West Des Moines. I don’t have a lot of context to judge by, but it seemed a pretty good crowd. Maybe 250. I wouldn’t say that it had the feel that Rubio is catching fire, but he made a good impression. It seems that he’s been fairly adept at taking some themes that Trump and Cruz have made signatures — stalwartness on security and immigration, intense opposition to Obama’s executive orders and Obamacare, etc. — and integrating them into a Rubioesque message of uplift. As David mentioned, the last couple of polls show Rubio on an upswing here. That’s notable because momentum is so important in the final days and it’s happening even while Rubio has been enduring a full-scale ad assault from Bush’s SuperPAC. Incredibly enough, the Monmouth poll had Rubio with the highest favorable/unfavorable rating of anyone in Iowa. If you believe Monmouth and the NBC poll, it’s possible to see Rubio finishing above 20 here.

‐Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, things are very fluid. I’ve run into a bunch of people who are still deciding, which is one reason why Trump’s debate gambit is so risky. Sure, many of his supporters will accept and applaud almost anything, but there are still a lot of persuadables who may be turned off by the spectacle. Certainly, the safer move would have been just to show up for the debate and keep his head down. My gut is that the Trump voters are showing up on Monday, maybe not in tsunami numbers, but the turn-out will be elevated. The Cruz team is very confident that its ground game is going to perform and if the roof isn’t blown off the joint by new Trump voters, they can weather the storm. But we still don’t know if Cruz has recovered from his downdraft beginning two weeks ago (Branstad diss, Palin endorsement), or — of course — what’s going to happen tonight at the debate. 

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