It's not too late for more GOP candidates

Iowa Republican caucuses scheduled for February

Republican Presidential candidates (from left) Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain and Michelle Bach
Republican Presidential candidates (from left) Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Thaddeus McCotter, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann at the Iowa Straw Poll on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, all the old deadlines seem to be passing, but more runners are expected to join the field.

It was thought that to be taken seriously, candidates had to get into the race before the Iowa GOP Straw Poll.

However, Texas Gov. Rick Perry thumbed his nose at that conventional wisdom when he jumped into the race the day of the straw poll — in South Carolina.

Now, the Iowa State Fair has come and gone, leaving any late-announcing candidate without a photo op with the biggest boar.

“Did you ever think you could get through the State Fair without eating something on a stick and still be able to run for president?” joked Diane Crookham-Johnson, a longtime Republican activist.

To their credit, Perry and potential candidate former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who skipped the straw poll, too, both made the rounds at the State Fair.

But what about Chris Christie? Marco Rubio? Paul Ryan? Jeb Bush?

Four years ago, Crookham-Johnson said, it would have been too late for candidates to get into the race for the GOP presidential nomination in August or September.

“It’s a weird year,” the Oskaloosa attorney said. “I would have told you, if you’re not in by Feb. 1 you’re done.

“It seems like we are finding ourselves in a unique situation not only in Iowa, but nationally, that people are still looking around,” said Crookham-Johnson. “As long as people are still looking around I think there is still an opportunity.”

“The electorate is very unsettled” and that means the race is still wide open, according to Peter Singleton, a California attorney who has been in Iowa organizing grass-roots support for Palin. He expects Republicans to continue to look around right up to the first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses scheduled for Feb. 6.

Kim Lehman, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa, expects the field to grow. President Barack Obama’s low approval ratings make the race attractive.

“We haven’t seen the end of people getting in,” Lehman predicted.

It’s more than Obama’s dismal numbers, said Lehman, who is supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. “This is a new type of election. Many people believe America is at breaking point. People who haven’t been involved before are getting involved.”

So while the traditional deadlines may be suspended, there are some facts of political life that can’t be ignored.

Candidates need volunteers and money.

“The mechanics of running for president are very complex,” said Sal Russo, co-founder of the Tea Party Express and a political consultant to a number of presidential campaigns in Iowa, including Ronald Reagan’s. “I don’t think it’s too late, but the later you start the more difficult it is.”

That’s especially true for anyone who hasn’t run before, he said. George W. Bush — “who shared his father’s name, which was a big asset” — was the rare Republican to win the nomination on his first attempt.

There’s a whole organizational side to a campaign that takes a lot of “mundane behind-the-scenes work that makes these things work.” Russo said. “You just don’t show and there’s a big crowd.”

Singleton has been hearing those warnings since January. Iowa activists and party officials told him if Palin waited too long the volunteer pool would be dry. He’s not worried.

If — Singleton prefers “when” — Palin enters the race, “she won’t be starting from nowhere,” he said. “Chris Christie, now he would start from ground zero.”

In addition to “latent support” and good will, he said, “she’ll have an army of grass-roots volunteers like we’ve never seen before.”

That’s important because candidates don’t file to be on the Iowa precinct caucus ballot. They need volunteers in place at each precinct to marshal their support. In 2008, there were 770 caucus sites.

Regardless of the calendar, he said, it’s still early in the process for most voters, including many activists.

Besides, Russo said, politics and campaigning are always changing. For example, social media has accelerated the pace.“Does that mean someone can show up who hasn’t run before and pull it off?” he said. “That’s what makes politics interesting.”

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