Sen. Chuck Grassley will pick a horse in the 2012 GOP presidential primary but told Roll Call on Tuesday that the candidate he backs must meet very specific criteria: win beyond Iowa.
The Iowa Republican said during a brief interview that he has laid out his condition to those potential GOP presidential candidates who have sought his counsel about running in a campaign that kicks off with the quadrennial Hawkeye State presidential nominating caucuses next year. Grassley did not endorse a GOP candidate in the 2008 primary.
“Here’s what I’ve been telling people that have come to me,” said Grassley, who was elected to a sixth term last November. “I’ve said, I’m not going to make up any mind until at least well into the summer, and what I’m looking at isn’t just the guy that I think is the most ideal candidate to be president, because I want to know that they’ve got the resources, if they win Iowa, to go beyond Iowa.
“Too often you get people in Iowa that are just the ideal candidate, but then they can’t go anyplace beyond Iowa. I want somebody that’s going to be able to challenge in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada,” Grassley added. “I want to know that they’re going to be a live candidate then. So, I’m going to look at it from two perspectives: One — obviously I’m going to pick the one that I think will make the best president, but it’s going to be the one that can make the best president of those who can see the campaign through.”
The presidential campaign schedule traditionally begins with Iowa’s unique caucus system for choosing who wins the state’s delegates to the Democratic and Republican parties’ summer nominating conventions. That process is followed by contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Grassley conceded that his desire to support a candidate with staying power beyond Iowa is based partly on a concern that victory in his home state caucuses not be devalued. The winner of the Iowa GOP presidential nominating caucus in 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, ultimately flamed out and never seriously threatened Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who banked his candidacy on winning in New Hampshire and ultimately won his party’s nomination.
In fact, in the five instances since 1980 in which the Republican presidential primary was an open contest, the winner of Iowa’s GOP caucuses has gone on to win his party’s nomination only twice. Neither Ronald Reagan in 1980 nor then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988 won the Iowa caucuses.
However, victory in the Democratic caucus in 2008 helped propel then-Sen. Barack Obama to his party’s nomination, as Grassley was quick to point out. Iowa’s Democratic caucuses also launched the candidacy of unknown former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, who was elected president in 1976.
“You’ve got to also remember that Iowa caucuses made at least two presidents,” Grassley said. “They wouldn’t be presidents if they hadn’t won Iowa and become known in Iowa.”