by Jason Johnson, Chief Political Correspondent
Who’s on First?
Iowa Republicans want to get rid of Obama so badly they’re willing to disrupt 40-plus years of history and tradition to do it. The Iowa party just announced they are moving their Presidential Caucus up to January 3rd, placing them way ahead of every other primary contest – and likely forcing the New Hampshire GOP, which is salty about it, into moving their primary into December.
What is the practical impact of all of these moves and counter moves? If Iowa stays first in January then candidates like Perry and Bachman will be able to gauge their chances in the race that much sooner. A poor showing in Iowa for either of them pretty much means they’re out of the game (although historically only two times from 1987 to 2007 did the winner of the Iowa straw poll fail to win the Iowa caucus – Good luck, Michelle!)
More importantly: if this great leap forward means that New Hampshire moves their primary up into December then the coronation of Mitt Romney begins that much sooner because he has an almost insurmountable lead in that state.
All of this simply reinforces my belief that the entire process needs to be scrapped into something that is more competitive for all candidates and less driven by tradition. How about establishing the primary order by a lottery a year before the election? That way a national nomination contest isn’t beholden to two incredibly non-representative states. Unless, of course, the GOP prefers it that way.
Does the Black Steve Forbes have a Second Act?
It’s official: Herman Cain (the Black Steve Forbes, according to a colleague of mine) is a legitimate part of the Republican presidential primary race.
Up until now I simply saw him as the beneficiary of the implosion of Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michelle Bachmann. Simply put, conservatives wanted someone they can vote for. All along though, I never thought he had a legitimate chance of winning the nomination, and I still don’t. However, if a recent CNN poll of likely Republican voters is to be believed, or is reinforced by other polls, he has managed to change the race on the most important issue of them all: the economy.
A recent CNN poll shows that Republican voters now trust Herman Cain more than Mitt Romney to fix the economy. This is a serious problem for Romney, maybe not so much in the nomination but in the general election. A closer look at the poll shows the former Massachusetts governor still hovering around 27-30% in every category, including likability, and whether or not his views are similar to theirs.
In fact, the only area where he is scoring in front-runner numbers (51%) is the question of who do voters think will win the nomination. However the most damning figure is on the economy, where now a majority of Republican voters (34%) believe that Herman Cain would do a better job of getting the economy moving than Mitt Romney. It’s already a given that a Romney nomination would be the second choice of many Republicans when it comes to values, passion or issue discipline, but the one thing Romney had going for him was his perceived strength on the economy. If he leaves the primary looking like the second choice in that area, with his own base, I don’t see how he’ll be able to make a credible charge with independents in the general.
If a Huntsman Falls in the Woods
John Huntsman will skip the Nevada Debates tonight in protest of the Nevada GOP’s decision to move their primary date up to January 14th, throwing the whole primary schedule out of whack. Maybe he can get away with this because 1.) No one cares what John Huntsman is doing and 2.) He led all other candidates in fundraising in Nevada in the last quarter and might feel he’s done about as good as he can in that state.
Of course the story tonight won’t be that Huntsman won’t be there or that his GOP mandated four-minutes of actual air-time will now be split between Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachman. The big story for tonight’s CNN debate will be whether or not other candidates will change their strategy in the wake of Herman Cain’s improved numbers. It’s a truism in politics that you aren’t the frontrunner until someone else is trying to take you down, and while a couple of people took swipes at Cain’s 9-9-9 plan in the last debate, the majority of the critiques were still focused on Romney. If the second tier folks start throwing tomatoes at Romney and Cain on a 60 / 40 basis then we might have a real race going on after tonight.