An unusually strong 2016 Republican primary field is as unpredictable in the Midwest as it is nationally. The Mock Convention Midwest Region is comprised of 13 states: from Kentucky to Kansas and from North Dakota to Ohio. This region encompasses a wide array of Republicans with various stances on the major political issues of 2016. Any candidate wishing to win the nomination and the Presidency, will have to do so through the Midwest. Although 2016 field seems particularly unsettled, the campaign follows similar themes from past campaigns: candidates distancing themselves from the establishment and moving right while risking financial support and general election electability.
Iowa, the earliest voting state, provides a strong opportunity for non-establishment candidates. In recent polling, Trump leads in Iowa and is trailed next by other non-politicians Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina as well as anti-establishment Republicans Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. These candidates are able to take advantage of intensified rhetoric on immigration, Common Core, abortion, and American foreign policy strength. Although the angry, anti-Washington and ultra-conservative campaign plays well in Iowa and states with conservative voters like Kansas, Nebraska and Indiana, it remains unclear whether the strategy can translate into securing the nomination. The last two Iowa caucus winners Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee were unsuccessful but have both returned to the race in 2016.
Even though the establishment front runners of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have struggled in Iowa, these candidates could be well positioned for the long term in more moderate states, particularly in Midwest states such as Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. GOP voters in these states are generally more responsive to candidates on economic issues. Several candidates should also benefit from holding political office in the Midwest: Walker, Kasich, and Paul all have important bases to anchor their campaign. Paul, although struggling in the polls, recently received a boost from the Kentucky GOP approving a change to a caucus that would allow Paul to run for both Senate and President and also move up the date of the caucus, moving the Kentucky caucus into national relevance. In Ohio, Kasich was able to capitalize on the momentum of the debate in Cleveland with a more moderate crowd. It will be seen if any of the moderate or establishment candidates are able to overcome the early success of the far right and secure the nomination.
The Republican Primary in 2016 will continue the same pattern: a balancing act of candidates moving to the right at the potential cost of alienating mainstream donors and general election voters. There are a few items distinguishing 2016 to note: the field is exceptionally deep and the anti-establishment sentiment is particularly pronounced. Couple this with the second cycle of relaxed campaign finance where a few billionaire backers can sustain a campaign, the race will have familiar themes but with greater unpredictability and a longer election season. It appears that our political team at Mock Con will have our hands full leading up to the convention.
This post was written by Midwest Regional Chair Matt Kinderman, class of 2016.