The headline to a column by Charles Hurt in the Washington Times today, “Ted Cruz wins Iowa, but he won’t be the GOP nominee for president,” plays on the Hawkeye State’s less-than-stellar track record of picking GOP nominees, but a closer look at the Southern states due to choose in rapid succession after New Hampshire suggests the Texas Senator has done much of the groundwork to bring his precision-guided ground game to the southern states of the “SEC Primary,” which I prefer to call the “Waffle House Primary.”
Those of us in the Peach State, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp coined the concept of a Southern Super Tuesday he dubbed “SEC Primary,” have seen much of Ted Cruz since his bus tour that began in Savannah before the RedState Gathering in Atlanta and continued afterwards to head south toward Newnan and Columbus ,Georgia before heading West through Alabama and much of the rest of the SEC states.
He was also back in Georgia in December with wife Heidi and their two girls as part of a fly-around. In the meantime, he’s piled up significant endorsements and built the best grassroots presidential campaign I’ve seen in twenty years of Republican politics here.
What Iowa offered Cruz, more valuable than the one-delegate lead he now enjoys over Donald J. Trump and Marco Rubio, was much needed proof. Proof that Trump can be beaten despite a stranglehold on the mainstream media’s attention, and that the rules of politics still apply to the same extent that the law of gravity does.
Iowa provided the proof of concept that a well-executed ground game, buttressed by sufficient media buys and all the latest and greatest in targeting can still win elections, even against what Newt Gingrich calls “the Kardashian model of social media” in Presidential politics.
Many of the Cruz campaign’s trips across the South began in South Carolina, where voters go to the polls in 18 days, and where the electorate is likely to be closer to that of Iowa than of New Hampshire. Trump too has spent time in the Palmetto State, typically in-and-out, drawing huge crowds. Since at least August of last year, it’s been clear the Cruz campaign sees the bloc of Southern states that vote on March 1 as a firewall and has invested in boots on the ground in those states.
The lesson Cruz can draw from Iowa is to continue building-out and refining the ground game that landed him the top slot in Iowa, while Trump may be trying to figure out how to effectively build a get out the vote machine starting months later than his rival.
Some analysts see David Perdue’s “outsider” victory in the 2014 Georgia Senate race as the beginning of a trend that will be fully manifested in Trump’s campaign. Perdue himself sees the link. But having seen the 2014 Senate race up close in Georgia, I draw a different conclusion. For all the airtime afforded Perdue by his campaign warchest, and the outsider dynamics of his campaign, it remained a nearly-flawless integration of television advertising and new media with a relentless and well-organized ground component that was required for Perdue to eke out a runoff margin of less than two percentage points.
Whether Iowa has any predictive value for the identity of the eventual nominee remains to be seen, but the road to the GOP nomination goes through the SEC.