Iowa saw numerous front-runners leading up to the 2012 Iowa Caucus. Michelle Bachmann was the front-runner in June and July, but on Caucus night she finished second to last with 5 percent. Rick Perry led the pack throughout August. He finished fifth. Herman Cain started to take off in the fall and led most polls in Iowa in September and October. He didn’t even make it to caucus night.
Then Newt Gingrich soared to the lead with strong debate performances and led polling in in November into early December even holding a double digit lead according to some polls. He finished fourth. Ron Paul led a string of December polls. He finished third on caucus night, but kudos to his campaign: they won the delegates at Iowa State Convention with a caucus to convention strategy.
Mitt Romney led five of the last six polls leading up to caucus and finished second. Rick Santorum, who never polled higher than third place and didn’t even break into double digits until mid-December, won the Iowa Caucus.
My point? You can own polling in Iowa and still see your campaign tank if you don’t have the organization to back it up.
Santorum peaked late, but he also built an organization of grassroots activists who would get out to vote, and not only that would bring their friends and families out as well.
Leading up to the 2008 Iowa Caucus, while we didn’t see musical front-runners, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was consistently behind in the polls. Mitt Romney led polling until late November. Huckabee didn’t break into double digits until after he won the Iowa Straw Poll in August of 2007.
Why did Huckabee win in 2008? He had the organization that Romney didn’t.
When I say organization, I don’t mean a long list of names but, rather, people who will actually work for you. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had a long list of names, but he didn’t have an organization, and now he’s out. Who are the work horses in Iowa?
Santorum finished his 99-county tour and is quietly building an organization. According to the Des Moines Register’s candidate tracker, since 2012 he has spent 55 days in the state attending 148 events. Huckabee is also committed to hitting every county in Iowa. He has a group of grassroots activists who are active. He is currently third as far as having a presence in Iowa. He has attended 83 events over 38 days.
Jindal trails Santorum in terms of time in the state. He has spent 49 days in Iowa and has participated in 85 events. Where Jindal stands in terms of organization is unclear.
Ben Carson has spent 21 days in the state participating in 45 events. Unlike Trump and Fiorina, he has significant grassroots organization in the state even though he lacks presence.
Marco Rubio also hasn’t spent much time in the state with 32 events over 18 days. His organization doesn’t appear to be as strong as Huckabee’s, even though he leads the 2008 Iowa Caucus winner in the polls.
Ted Cruz has an active organization and has been in the state more than Rubio, but he trails Huckabee, Jindal and Santorum in terms of time in the state. Cruz has attended 44 events over 27 days. Carly Fiorina has attend 60 events in Iowa over 28 days but doesn’t appear to be as organized as Cruz, Huckabee, Carson, and Santorum.
Rand Paul doesn’t appear to have been able to duplicate what his father did in the state. He has made inroads with the liberty wing of the party, but so has Cruz. Paul is in fourth place among Republicans in terms of time in the state with 61 events over 22 days.
In terms of polling, presence and organization don’t matter as much as name ID. However, as the field winnows down, those with better organization and presence in the state are better equipped to take in voters who are looking for a new candidate.
I think we’ll be surprised when February rolls around.