August 8, 2011


Iowa vs. New Hampshire (David Shribman, 8/07/11, RCP)

The Iowa Straw Poll, held on the baking plains in the oven-heat of summer, is even less democratic than the Iowa caucuses, which usually occur on the coldest night of the year. It is an event where issues are barely spoken but displays of political power -- none of which has anything to do with the budget deficit, the debate about taxes, the future of entitlements, the role of American power in the world or the fate of democracy around the globe -- are rewarded.

If you doubt the lack of soundness and sense inherent in this event, let me remind you that the Rev. Pat Robertson won this spectacle in 1987 and that Sen. Phil Gramm tied for the lead in 1995. Such worthy figures as Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Elizabeth H. Dole dropped out of the GOP race after poor showings in this event, which is a tractor pull for policy wonks. [...]

But the gulf between the Iowa and New Hampshire contests has never been as great as it is this time.

Iowa is about abortion and fealty to a new Republican ideal of conservatism that melds social issues with ferocious fiscal discipline. New Hampshire, days later, reacts to Iowa -- and so it is about whether the tea party impulses that are so strong in Iowa will resonate here and whether the verities of old New England conservatism (thrift, rectitude, even such nonpolitical elements as modesty and character) still have a place in a state that is swiftly becoming suburbanized and in a country that seems determined to remain polarized.

As Washington burned last week, Republicans here in New Hampshire were conferring quietly by telephone with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas -- he was 40 minutes on the horn with freshman U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, according to one account -- and debating whether former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts was a wiz or a dud as a job creator during his years as governor between 2003 and 2007.

This tells us that as Iowa leans toward its Saturday appointment with pointlessness, the race in New Hampshire has yet to take shape. The principles are there -- Obama is a disaster and the national economy is still in the doldrums, despite a state unemployment rate that is unusually low, around 5 percent -- but the principals are not.

It's not that anyone here is pining for former Gov. Sarah Palin -- she attracts remarkably little interest in New Hampshire -- or even that desperate for Perry, who as a Texan is the very definition of an alien to these parts, to join the fray. It's simply that it will likely boil down to a struggle between Romney, who owns a vacation home here, and whoever is selected by Iowa.

And there's nothing more appealing about Mitt Romney for New Englanders than the fact that he's keeping his own counsel.

Posted by at August 8, 2011 6:35 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus