Wes Enos is a contributing writer on Wheels Down Politics – Iowa. This article is the second in a series on the GOP Presidential candidates. It was adjusted after Cruz’s rollout.
As the race for the Republican presidential nomination takes off, one of the burning questions was about the ability of Senator Ted Cruz to translate his firebrand conservative persona and national celebrity into political gold. Early numbers did not indicate that the Freshman Senator from Texas was catching fire immediately. Overshadowed early by larger poling numbers and national supporter bases for big name contenders on the right of the Republican spectrum like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Cruz hovered around 5% in most polling samples.
Those numbers exploded late last month as Cruz officially announced his 2016 Presidential bid. Almost overnight, the junior Senator from Texas “Cruzed” past both Huckabee and Paul to capture 3rd place in a poll released by Public Policy Polling group that was conducted between March 25th and March 31st. Those findings seem to be supported by the massive outpouring of support for Cruz as he embarked on his first solo campaign tour into Iowa.
Cruz drew large crowds across Iowa on a trip into the state widely heralded as a success. In Des Moines, Cruz packed a ballroom at the Airport Holliday Inn with a crowd of over 250 people, ranging from enthusiastic supporters to detractors looking to trip Cruz during the question and answer period of his program. Most attendees that I spoke to however were more curious and committed at this point. However, the quazi-celebrity of Cruz seems to be a major draw, bringing people in from all across the Republican spectrum to hear the message that Cruz has to offer.
While the crowds are impressive and a great sign of the momentum that Cruz currently enjoys in Iowa, a point of caution should be offered. In 2007, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani drew large crowds in his early visits to Iowa as well. Those large early crowds and surging early poll numbers ultimately translated into a distant 6th out of 7 candidates with a paltry 4% in the 2008 Iowa Caucus. In 2011, former Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann surged to a lead in early polls in Iowa and also drew massive crowds at all of her stops across the Hawkeye state throughout the caucus cycle. What did these big crowds and curious on-lookers yield for Bachmann? Like Guiliani, Bachmann’s campaign also finished 6th out of 7 candidates with 5% of the vote on caucus night.
The hard lesson to be learned from Bachmann and Guiliani’s example is that media hype and big crowds alone will not carry a campaign to political success. The trick is to transform those curious on-lookers who take enough interest to attend an event into enthusiastic supporters. The key is substance, careful organization and care. These three pillars of a successful caucus campaign we absolutely essential to former Governor Mike Huckabee and former Senator Rick Santorum’s successful campaigns, and early signs indicate that Cruz is ready to adhere to them as well.
In one pointed question from a young woman in the audience gave voice to a central criticism against Cruz, attacking the role that the Senator played in the government shutdown of 2013. It was obvious that Cruz is polished and far more ready to answer tough questions than Bachmann ever was. Without a moment’s hesitation, Cruz fired back that the government shutdown was a mistake and proceeded to blame that mistake of the inability of President Obama to lead the nation.
Following the event key organization figures, legislators, party leaders, religious leaders and activists from across Central Iowa gathered in the hall outside of the ballroom to mingle together while they awaited their pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings with Cruz after the events. This kind of care is an indication that Cruz appears to understand how the process works, and is prepared to do what is necessary to win. For now, it would seem that Cruz has permanently broken through the barrier to enter the first tier of 2016 Republican Presidential contenders …. But it is a long road to the Iowa caucus.