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Rand Paul’s Toughest Sell Could Be Iowa

Rand Paul speaks in Iowa


The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses have become a strange institution in American presidential politics.

Invented by Democrats in 1972, the Iowa Caucuses have attained an outsized influence in presidential politics – especially on the Republican side – where neither the news media or most outside observers seem to recognize that they have absolutely no effect on the actual allocation of delegates to the Republican National Convention because presidential convention delegates are officially allocated by a vote at the Iowa State Republican Convention several months later.

In 2012 there were a series of what appeared to be gross improprieties regarding the tabulation of the caucus results which appeared to have been intended to make it look on caucus night like Mitt Romney won the vote and to suppress the fact that Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa caucuses.

It wasn’t until several days later that the final tally (minus several precincts that never were reported) was released showing a narrow win for Santorum.

Unfortunately for Santorum, by that time he had already been dismissed as the also ran by the media and deprived of the momentum that national media attention from such an improbable upset win would have generated.

So the first impediment to a Paul victory in Iowa is the potential for the Republican establishment to simply steal the election as they appear to have done in 2012.

The second impediment to a Rand Paul win in Iowa will no doubt also bedevil some of Paul’s conservative competitors, and that is the Prairie Populists’ strange addiction to Big Government, especially in the form of farm subsidies and other programs that pump cash into the state’s economy – and the pockets of its political establishment.

Senator Paul has yet to be pinned down on the ethanol issue, but a spokesman said last summer that “He does not support the government telling consumers or businesses what type of fuel they must use or sell.”

Paul may also have problems with another powerful force in Iowa politics not usually associated with the state’s GOP establishment; its evangelical voters.

Steve Deace, a syndicated radio host in Iowa who is influential with conservatives, said Paul needs to demonstrate appeal with evangelicals and gain ground on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is leading some early Iowa polls.

"It's not just about who says Jesus the most and it's not about a cult of personality," Deace said about winning the Iowa caucuses. "We need people who are willing to fight. I don't think that environment is going to change. Candidates will have to change to that environment."

Deace is right – and Santorum’s improbable 2012 Iowa upset was based in large measure on an army of young, married with children, evangelical voters who responded to his message about children, marriage and the family.

But there may be another pool of voters whose religious views will make them more open to Senator Paul’s skepticism of interventionism and the military – industrial complex, and that’s Iowa’s conservative voters whose religious roots are in the Anabaptist and other pacifist traditions.

And Senator Paul appears to be already targeting this pool of conservative voters long-alienated from the GOP because of the constant war-mongering by the likes of Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

"You're going to get a choice on who the nominee is for the Republican Party. You're going to have nine, 10, 15, 20 who are eager to go and want troops on the ground," Senator Paul said at an "Audit the Fed" rally Friday, which took place at a winery in Des Moines. "They want 100,000 troops on the ground. Right now. In all the countries."

"I can tell you there will be one loud voice in our party saying, think of the unintended consequence. Think about what we're going to accomplish and whether it will work before we go to war.' I promise you that will always be something I take very, very seriously."

With so many Republican candidates likely to echo each other's talking points in the next year, says Ashley Killough of CNN, Paul has tried to run in his own lane by shaping his libertarian foundation into a selling point that says he's best poised to expand the Republican base.

To stop the "dismantling of the country," Paul said it's going to take someone with a nontraditional approach.

Senator Paul may be right about that “nontraditional approach” as a winning formula for November 2016, but to defeat the GOP establishment in the Iowa Caucuses he will need a good ballot security effort and the technology to micro-target and turnout his “nontraditional” caucus-goers as well.

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