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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

And Then There Were Three

Purveyors of the Heartland Hegemony of Iowa can breathe easier now. The state GOP Straw Poll in Ames was not made irrelevant via a victory by Ron Paul, who cannot be nominated thanks to his foreign policy views (his fringe economic and fiscal doctrines, alas, have become almost entirely acceptable in today’s GOP). The event succeeded in elevating a candidate, Michele Bachmann, to the top tier, and “winnowed the field” by disposing of the one-time smart money favorite for the nomination, Tim Pawlenty. And even the new candidate who skipped Ames and vaulted to the top tier even before his Saturday announcement, Rick Perry, bent his knee to Iowa by racing there the next day, and promising to spend plenty of time catching up in his consumption of potluck dinners.
Yes, aside from Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich will hang around the campaign trail as formal candidates though not serious contenders, helping keep rightward pressure on the field just in case anyone starts thinking about the general electorate a bit early. But barring some highly irrational last-minute bid by Sarah Palin, the GOP field is down to three candidates. And with no “bankable” events between now and the actual Iowa Caucuses (currently scheduled for February, but quite likely to slip back to early January if not earlier), it’s likely to stay that way, with the polls and fundraising numbers offering the only grounds for objective comparison.
You can expect a big, big boom for Perry over the next few weeks, accompanied by the sort of scrutiny his long record of erratic and sometimes outrageous statements and positions invites. Some political observers are already predicting he will brush aside Bachmann to create a one-on-one battle with Mitt Romney, mainly on grounds that he will be able to contrast his record as governor with her brief career in congressional bloviating in a way that T-Paw tried but failed to do.
Many Republicans and chattering-class denizens seem mesmerized by Texas’ alleged sensational economic success story under Perry (which Paul Krugman nicely punctured in a column yesterday). Many southerners of a certain age will shake their heads in wonder that Perry’s version of the ancient race-to-the-bottom prescription for EZ economic growth in the region is being treated like a new, cool, “substantive” path ahead for the country. And many students of political communications will examine Perry’s stump speech closely to assess the earthy appeal of the man who Texan Paul Begala called “a good candidate if you thought George Bush was just a little too cerebral for you.”
If Perry attracts a quasi-unanimous rush of Christian Right and Tea Party endorsements, and starts badly beating Bachmann in polls of likely Iowa Caucus-goers, then maybe it will be time to call this essentially a two-candidate race. But until then, there are three viable candidates, two representing some of the more extreme forces in conservative ideology and another being pulled constantly in the same direction on pain of defeat.

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