So the McClatchey newspapers and the web site The Iowa Republican held a focus group of conservative activists in the First In the Nation Caucus state and came away with some findings that won’t make headlines, but could greatly influence funders and other movers and shakers in national GOP politics. Its big conclusion: Palin and Romney are all but being written off already:
The group was unanimous, or near unanimous, on several topics. The most interesting conclusion is that most of them believe Sarah Palin is unelectable.
All but one of the focus group member felt Palin could not beat President Obama. That is a key factor in determining who they will support in the Iowa Caucus. The group concurred that Palin stepping down as Alaska’s governor midway through her term represents a major problem. Although Palin certainly had solid reasons for doing so, explaining that to voters will not be easy. The field appears it will be stacked with governors who finished more than one term, so Palin will have a difficult time matching her leadership abilities with theirs. Although most members of the focus group like Sarah Palin, they do not view her as “presidential”.
The attendees, including a diehard Mitt Romney supporter, also agreed that healthcare could doom Romney’s candidacy. He must come up with a credible explanation for his support and implementation of statewide healthcare mandates in Massachusetts. Romney has avoided talking about the issue so far. The group loathes Obamacare and feels Romney will have little chance of winning the GOP nomination unless he is able to capably distance himself from the similar plan he installed in Massachusetts. “Until he man’s up on healthcare, he moves way down the list,” said Ryan Frederick, 25, of Orient.
Beyond their less than positive views about Palin and Romney, this conservative focus group offered some additional thoughts on the 2012 field:
-Mike Huckabee will be the odds-on favorite to win the Iowa Caucus if he runs
-None of the likely 2012 candidates that did not run last time have made much headway. However, two members of the group have Mitch Daniels at or near the top of their list.
-Despite numerous visits to Iowa, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is not connecting with voters so far. Two of the attendees who have seen Pawlenty speak more than once feel he lacks the charisma necessary to win.
-Rick Santorum stands little chance of emerging victorious. “He is the Sam Brownback of the 2012 election,” said one attendee. “He will be everywhere, all over Iowa, visiting 300 times, and wind up having 12 people in Decatur County caucus for him.”
I’m drawing attention to this focus group because it appeared at a site most readers would probably never look at, and because it rather strikingly contrasts with the conventional wisdom that the folk who will have so much to say about the 2012 GOP presidential nomination are patiently waiting on the DC Establishment to present them with a savior like Haley Barbour or Chris Christie. Political activists in a place like Iowa view themselves as at least as sophisticated as the people who whisper to Politico every day, and more to the point, they are in a position to make their preferences matter.