Con­tenders with enough cash can last un­til Iowa, N.H.

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KELLY RIDDELL

As en­ter­tain­ing as the pres­i­den­tial de­bates may be, they are not likely to win­now the GOP field of any of the ma­jor can­di­dates, say cam­paign strate­gists and an­a­lysts who say as long as the top-tier con­tenders have enough money, they’ll be able to last at least un­til the first votes are cast in Iowa’s cau­cuses and New Hamp­shire’s pri­maries.

And even though Don­ald Trump leads in both na­tional polling and sur­veys in those two early-vot­ing states, the can­di­dates are still bank­ing on him fad­ing by next year, leav­ing the race wideopen again.

“The race is right now be­ing in­flu­enced by celebrity,” Sen. Rand Paul, whose poll num­bers have taken a nose­dive, said on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” pro­gram Tues­day. “Two-thirds of the peo­ple in each of the polls is un­de­cided, and the poll­ster says, ‘Oh no, give us who you’re kinda lean­ing to­wards,’ so this is a leaner poll of un­de­cided vot­ers who may or may not be vot­ers. So we’re not dis­heart­ened — in fact, we’re work­ing even harder.”

Fickle vot­ers also change, and many won’t de­cide on their picks un­til next year. That makes polling right now “mean­ing­less,” said An­drew Smith, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and poll­ster at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire.

“Ac­cord­ing to the exit polls, well more than half of the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally vote make up their minds in the last few weeks,” Mr. Smith said. “The stuff that’s go­ing on right now is more about name recog­ni­tion and what’s be­ing talked about in the press — what the buzz is.”

In 2012, polls of Iowa GOP vot­ers showed ev­ery sin­gle ma­jor can­di­date held a lead at some point, ex­cept for for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum, who ac­tu­ally ended up win­ning the cau­cuses.

Can­di­dates are bank­ing on the polls be­ing a bad pre­dic­tor once again, fig­ur­ing if they can wait out the Trump ef­fect, they may be the one to emerge in Fe­bru­ary, Mr. Smith said.

Re­cent polling in­di­cates there are rea­sons for their op­ti­mism.

In the latest Washington PostABC News poll, 6 in 10 Amer­i­cans said they don’t think Mr. Trump is qual­i­fied to be pres­i­dent, and more than four in 10 Repub­li­cans say they don’t think Mr. Trump has the tem­per­a­ment and per­son­al­ity needed to serve ef­fec­tively as pres­i­dent. More­over, a CBS poll re­leased Tues­day shows that only a slim ma­jor­ity of vot­ers who sup­port Mr. Trump say they have locked in their votes, while 46 per­cent are open to switch­ing can­di­dates.

If the field re­mains large though, Mr. Trump could emerge as the leader while cap­tur­ing plu­ral­i­ties of the vote in the early states, as the rest of the vot­ers split on a dozen other can­di­dates.

“The thing about hav­ing this many can­di­dates in the race is that the smaller per­cent­age can lead,” said David Win­ston, a Repub­li­can poll­ster. “There’s two el­e­ments to the race right now: One is clearly [that] there’s a dis­sat­is­fac­tion with po­lit­i­cal dis­course. Peo­ple see some of these can­di­dates and hope to re­spond, but is the place they’re park­ing them­selves at the mo­ment go­ing to be where they fi­nally de­cide to be? Sec­ond, is 30 per­cent now 50 per­cent? Do you have to put to­gether a ma­jor­ity coali­tion to win?”

Mr. Win­ston said the race won’t be clearly de­cided un­til mid-March. Be­fore then, the pri­maries and cau­cuses award nom­i­na­tion con­ven­tion del­e­gates pro­por­tion­ally, mean­ing even those who don’t win can still walk away with some­thing to show for their ef­forts in each state. In March, how­ever, win­ner-take-all con­tests will help front-run­ners quickly pile up del­e­gates.

“The ex­pec­ta­tion for the first cou­ple pri­maries is peo­ple will be split­ting up these del­e­gates, and so, with that, you’re go­ing to have can­di­dates hang in longer,” he said.

Su­per po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees will also help elon­gate the life span of can­di­dates like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and for­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who won’t nec­es­sar­ily have to win the first states to cre­ate the money or mo­men­tum they need to com­pete later on. That’s all bar­ring an in­dict­ment or ma­jor gaffe that could end a cam­paign pre­ma­turely.

Some of the lower-tier can­di­dates may not make it all the way. For­mer Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the first causal­ity of the GOP pri­mary sea­son, drop­ping out of the race last week af­ter he was un­able to raise money or gain at­ten­tion.

Mr. Paul said that was the push Repub­li­cans needed to help de­feat Mr. Trump.

“I re­ally think, iron­i­cally, Gov. Perry leav­ing the race was a wakeup call to ev­ery­body that, good­ness, we’re los­ing can­di­dates that were three- or four-term gover­nors of large Repub­li­can states, and yet a re­al­ity-TV star who’s most fa­mous for in­sult­ing peo­ple is some­how lead­ing the pack,” Mr. Paul said on Fox.

Mr. Trump’s dom­i­nance will dis­si­pate when he be­gins to face at­tack ads from other can­di­dates or ad­vo­cacy groups and when ca­ble news net­works cut back on their cov­er­age of him, said Katie Packer Gage, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant who was Mitt Rom­ney’s deputy cam­paign man­ager in 2012.

“He’s go­ing to en­joy that fron­trun­ner sta­tus for a while be­cause peo­ple are just so an­gry at the es­tab­lish­ment,” Ms. Gage said. “But he’s sit­ting there at 27 per­cent, with 73 per­cent of Repub­li­cans not want­ing to be with a guy that they al­ready know ev­ery­thing about.”

The Club for Growth, a con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy group that has suc­cess­fully de­railed a num­ber of Repub­li­cans’ con­gres­sional cam­paigns through its at­tacks, an­nounced this week it will run $1 mil­lion worth of ads against Mr. Trump in Iowa. They will ac­cuse him of be­ing a closet lib­eral and will high­light his sup­port for us­ing em­i­nent do­main pow­ers to sur­mount pri­vate prop­erty rights.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates take the stage dur­ing the CNN Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bate at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and Mu­seum on Sept. 16 in Simi Val­ley, Calif. The de­bates are un­likely to win­now the GOP field of any ma­jor can­di­dates, cam­paign strate­gists and an­a­lysts say.

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