The Other McCain: Desperate Hours in the Hawkeye State

by Mike

One more cross post from our friend Robert Stacy ‘TheOther’ McCain, as the clock ticks down to the caucuses (caucii?) themselves:
Republican voters are getting bombarded with robocalls all over Iowa. Last night, I talked to the night clerk at my hotel here. She’s a mother of three and a Republican, an undecided voter who isn’t even sure she’ll attend her precinct caucus tonight in Grimes. She told me she’s getting calls at home nearly every 30 minutes.

Some of these robocalls are nothing but flat-out lies. There are calls claiming that Rick Santorum isn’t pro-life and isn’t pro-Second Amendment when, in fact, he’s a famously staunch pro-lifer and has an A+ career rating from the National Rifle Association.

Of course, I suspect that Rick Perry’s campaign is behind this. And whether my suspicion is right or wrong, the Perry campaign is a lamentable joke here in Iowa. I’ve been talking to experienced Iowa Republicans during my travels the past week, and experienced observers are united in the opinion that Perry has wasted millions of dollars on a campaign that has done him more harm than good.

The campaign I dubbed “The Phantom Menace” in August has been an even more wretched disaster than I predicted. According to Nate Silver’s final pre-caucus poll analysis, Perry will be lucky to get 10 percent in the Hawkeye State. A fourth- or fifth-place finish here would, by the normal calculus of politics, cause Perry to quit. But if he did quit, his campaign advisers and consultants would be out of work, so they have convinced him to keep going. And even though they have apparently come to grips with the fact that they’re going to get their asses handed to them in Iowa tonight, they’re still flooding the airwaves with TV ads and pestering people with robocalls.

As I’ve said, if desperation was a cologne fragrance, they’d reek of it.

Those who have supported Perry should be furious at how they’ve been humiliated, outraged by the arrogant incompetence of Perry’s staff and (ridiculously overpaid) campaign consultants.

And isn’t it time that some people started re-assessing the potential for Rick Santorum to turn a strong showing in Iowa into a campaign that can defeat Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination?

In this regard, I notice that Nate Silver repeats the myth that Santorum “has little financial or organizational strength beyond Iowa,” which is just wrong. Last night in Altoona, I was talking to another reporter who noted the presence of Santorum’s South Carolina team, who’ve come up to Iowa to help out in the final push here, and he said he thinks Santorum may have a stronger ground game in South Carolina than Newt Gingrich. As I was the first to report Friday, Santorum will be sending his Iowa ground-game guy, Jake Braunger, straight to South Carolina and it will be interesting to see what his team can accomplish there.

Remember that Perry has made the tactical decision to skip New Hampshire and instead focus his efforts on South Carolina. What that means, of course, is that Santorum will have extra “running room” to grab up social-conservative voters in New Hampshire, while Perry will likely once again finish out of the money in the Granite State. While I have cautioned against getting too far ahead with predictions like this — to the irritation of Lisa Graas — let’s make a few assumptions and fast-forward to next Wednesday, Jan. 11.

Assume for the sake of argument that Santorum places at least third in Iowa, while Perry finishes fifth. Now, with a burst of publicity, Santorum jacks up his game in New Hampshire, where Perry and Michele Bachmann are likely to be non-factors in the fight for the social-conservative vote. There are fewer social conservatives in New Hampshire than there are in Iowa, but Santorum could expect to get a much larger share of them after doing well in the Hawkeye State. So . . .

Santorum places third  or maybe fourth in New Hampshire, behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, and maybe Newt Gingrich, while Perry is down in the single digits. On Wednesday, Jan. 11, you see, Rick Perry will be looking like a sure-fire loser, 0-for-2, with everything bet on South Carolina, which doesn’t vote until ten days later on Jan. 21.

Will the “Anybody But Romney” vote in South Carolina go for Perry? Can Perry win a Gingrich-vs.-Perry fight there? Or will the Santorum “ground-game” in South Carolina be able to score the kind of surprising success there that they’ve scored in Iowa? Remember that Santorum’s fundraising has been off-the-hook for the past week, and he may be able to fund a much stronger “air war” in South Carolina to boost his ground game with classy positive ads like this:

OK, take the supposition forward to Sunday morning, Jan. 22., the day after the South Carolina primary. With nine days to go before the Florida primary on Jan. 31, which candidate — Perry or Santorum — will be best positioned to take the fight to Mitt Romney in the Sunshine State? If Perry can’t win South Carolina, which is supposed to be his “firewall” state, doesn’t that destroy his claim to be the best of the “Not Mitt” candidates?

These are questions, not answers, and I once more caution that my war-gaming is based on hypothetical assumptions. But if Santorum finishes a strong third place here in Iowa — and he may do better than that — it becomes possible to speak about what the Smart Guy pundits call a “path to the nomination” for Santorum.

And however faint it may be, that path is a lot more plausible than any hypothetical scenario for Perry to get the nomination. It would be nice if some of the people who are now trying to prop up the doomstruck Perry campaign would wake up and smell the desperation.

It isn’t an attractive fragrance.

Read this post and other recent articles by ‘Stacy’ in their native habitat:

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