Iowa Governor Warns Democrats May Sabotage Caucuses

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/5554760565/">Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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This morning, less than a week away from the state’s GOP Straw Poll, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad advanced an interesting theory about his state’s presidential caucuses. Branstad, a Republican, warned reporters that Democrats might try to sabotage his party’s nomination process by registering as Republicans en masse to vote for the weakest contender.

“That’s been tried from time to time and you know what happened four years ago?” Branstad asked. “A lot of independents and even some Republicans actually got involved and that actually helped Obama beat Hillary Clinton and guess what? They actually got Obama for president. Now some of those people are having second thoughts about it.”

That’s something you might expect to hear out of the mouth of a jilted Hillary ’08 voter. But while it’s true that Barack Obama received a lot of independent and cross-party support, he was hardly a weak candidate, crushing John McCain by nearly 200 electoral votes.

That said, Branstad isn’t totally off-base. Ed Fallon, a lefty former state representative who’s now a local radio-show host, is encouraging Democrats to do just what Branstad warned, only for the opposite outcome. Fallon’s rationale? Dems would vote for a more electable Republican, in the process restoring Iowa’s leadoff caucus state reputation by helping select someone outside the social conservative fringe.*

For a Democrat, encouraging the opposition to put up the best fight against Obama in the name of Iowa seems counterintuitive. And in the unlikely event that Democrats pull off the tactic to noticeable effect, it’s more likely to help Ron Paul, who’s poised to surpass his 2007 fifth-place finish in the Ames Straw Poll this Saturday. Already, at least one state libertarian endorsed the plan, figuring that Dems would reward Paul for his anti-war positions.

The disproportionate influence of the religious right in Iowa primary politics is nothing new, of course. In 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson finished second to eventual 1996 nominee Bob Dole after winning the state’s straw poll. More recently, Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential bid quickly fizzled out after his Cinderella-story victory in Iowa.

With the Republican National Committee rejecting sanctions against other states that are breaking the rules to try scheduling their caucuses ahead of Iowa’s, some state pundits worry that if Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann wins Iowa, then falters like Huckabee, Iowa’s presidential kingmaker role will be further called into question.

 

*Full disclosure: Before getting into journalism, I volunteered on Fallon’s unsuccessful 2006 campaign for governor.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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