Walker Wins Iowa; Christie Second

Originally published December 20, 2014

Date: January 2016

(Des Moines, Iowa) Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) won the Iowa caucuses today with 27.48% of the caucus vote, totaling 37,027 votes. Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) came in second with 23.84% and 32,122 votes. Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took a close third place, with 22.13% and 29,818 while Gov. Bobby Jindal took a distant fourth place with 11.49% and 15,482 votes. Other candidates took the remainder. Turnout was up from 2012, with roughly 135,000 caucus goers casting votes.

Mr. Walker hailed from neighboring Wisconsin, but that was not his only appeal. Conservative audiences appreciated his litany of anti-union efforts, tax cuts, and other legislative items he had achieved in Wisconsin. Indeed, the Governor appeared as a consensus conservative candidate, winning both very conservative and conservative caucus goers (36% of very conservative caucus goers backed him while 28% of the conservative voters backed him). These two groups were key to his victory, totaling some 81% of the Republican electorate in Iowa. Mr. Walker also checked off socially conservative priorities, like the 20 week abortion ban that was debated in the U.S. Senate last year. Gay marriage was opposed by Mr. Walker, but many social conservatives did not press that point among the major candidates, choosing to focus their criteria on abortion, religious freedom, and prayer.

Mr. Christie, for his part, was warmly greeted, but his apostasies hung over him and may have denied him victory in Iowa. Activists remembered his embrace of the President one week before the 2012 General election, his expansion of Medicare, and even the fact he failed to appoint a strong Republican candidate to the U.S. Senate in New Jersey, who could have held the seat. Mr. Christie attempted to portray himself as an aggressive go getter who had played the loyal Republican foot soldier in 2014, but many in Iowa felt that the New Jersey Governor was still too much of a party of one. Naturally, Mr. Christie protested this. He pointed to his work in New Jersey with pension reform, reminded audiences that he was elected as a pro-life governor twice in a blue state, and had vetoed same-sex marriage legalization. Mr. Christie took a surprisingly strong 39% among moderates and 44% among the scant few liberal Republican caucus goers.

Mr. Paul came in third, and surprised election watchers with his relatively poor performance. Despite his vaunted organization, Mr. Paul had made a number of gaffes that had undercut his candidacy. His derogatory references to the war on drugs, his embrace of some of the rhetoric of his father, and other assorted minor gaffes had made him seem not a serious candidate, despite his policy stances. Ultimately, Mr. Paul could not expand his reach beyond libertarian and libertarian-leaning Republicans. Many conservative activists expressed concern about a Paul presidency, in terms of the direction of where he would steer the party. Despite all this, Mr. Paul pounded the nostrums of smaller government, deficit reduction, and a commitment to pro-life leanings on the stump, in his attempt to woo Iowa voters.

The big surprise was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. The two term governor had emerged as a candidate on fire in the last weeks of the campaign, breaking out into double digits. He indeed received 11.49% of the vote. His candidacy won the second most votes from the most conservative voters, but failed to catch with other demographics. Promoting tax reform and health care reform, the conservative governor won fourth place.

Of these four, it remains to be seen what New Hampshire brings.

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