Beyond Beltway Politics

Washington pundits and MSM reporters hang on each twist and turn in the presidential race. Who won the clash over the line item veto? Who has more cash on hand after the Third Quarter? But out in America where real people vote and state party officials travel their states, talking to thousands of voters each month, these concerns barely register.

HUMAN EVENTS once again went beyond the Beltway to talk to Republican State Chairmen in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Illinois and Michigan — some of the most important primary and caucus states — to see what is happening on the ground, what issues voters care about and what the presidential contenders should focus on if they hope to win the nomination.

What are the candidates doing in each of these states?

In New Hampshire Chairman Fergus Cullen reports that Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have kept a steady pace of visits but Thompson has been noticeably absent since September 8. Cullen credits Romney with doing many town hall events which maximize his ability to connect with likely primary voters while Giuliani has done a mix of town halls and retail stops in coffee shops and other locales. Meanwhile in Nevada, Chairman Sue Lowden reports the GOP may move its caucus up seven days to January 12 and in any event are excited about giving Nevada “a voice” like never before.

As a result Romney and Duncan Hunter have made recent visits and Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani are expected in November. In Michigan Saul Anuzis says that the Romney and Giuliani are the ones at the top of the heap — sending direct mail, hiring staff and, in Romney’s case, making some retail stops after the last debate. The top contenders all appeared at the GOP Mackinac Conference in September and the recent Dearborn debate. (Meanwhile, Anuzis is spending time bashing the Democrats for boycotting their January 15 primary, a-shoot-themselves-in-the-foot move which could boost the GOP’s chances of carrying the state in November.)

Andy McKenna says in Illinois the Democrats move to set an early primary to boost Barack Obama has instead generated excitement for the Illinois GOP where candidates are drawing on volunteers and making more frequent retail campaign stops. And in first in the country Iowa Ray Hoffman reports that “Romney is still on top of the list” in terms of organization. He notes that Giuliani “has been far more active than Fred Thompson” who Hoffman says has “disappeared a little.” Hoffman also gives high marks to Huckabee who is spending time and is generally “well liked’ in the state.

How important is electability?

In New Hampshire, Cullen says that “electability is very much on voters’ minds –more so than usual” at this juncture of the campaign. Romney was recently quizzed at a town hall about whether he would be tough enough to take on the Clinton machine and according to Cullen shot back that his and his father’s experience in politics had taught him that it “ain’t beanbag.” Cullen says that voters have great “antipathy” toward Hillary Clinton and recognizing that Republicans are “running into the wind” in 2008 want to make sure the GOP has the best candidate. According to Anuzis, Michigan Republicans find “the prospect of a Hillary President pretty scary” and are taking electability seriously. However, Nevada and Illinois Chairmen report that voters are less concerned with electability than in finding the right person on the issues. Hoffman says Iowans are anxious to run against Clinton and he thinks that among the top contender “we’ve got the candidate to do the job.”

What domestic issues most concern voters?

Cullen, in the “live free or die” Granite state, readily answers that “taxes and spending” are key and that Republicans were guilty of “giving away their brand” in 2006 by profligate spending and need a credible advocate for “small government conservatism.” In Nevada, Lowden lists taxes, the second Amendment and “personal freedom and choices for education and for our health care” as uppermost in primary voters’ minds. In Michigan, in the midst of a “one state recession” Anuzis says that “jobs and the economy” are the overwhelming concerns of primary voters. In Illinois McKenna says that in a state where Democrats have passed every type of tax imaginable “fiscal issues are a big deal.” He also lists education, an issue many of the top contenders have yet to focus on. In Iowa, Hoffman says the number one issue is “Washington D.C.” and voters’ concern about “spending our tax dollars and slowing spending.” He says that social issues do rank high with some voters as does health care (“we need to move to the private sector”). However, immigration is still at the top of the list. On immigration Iowa voters are insistent that we must “fix our borders, control our borders” first and foremost.

Are Republican voters still focused on Iraq and the War on Terror?

New Hampshire’s Cullen says that Republican primary voters are looking for “a nuclear foreign policy” and are focused on the broader issue of “America’s place in the world more than the [Iraq] War itself.” He notes that GOP voters are painfully aware that the Democrats have become the party of “retreat and defeat” and are busy “outflanking each other to the Left.” Lowden notes that Nevada has sent many young men to Iraq and Afghanistan and although there are differences over the handling of the War most GOP voters “have faith in our generals” and are determined to “do nothing to demoralize our troops.” For Michigan voters “Iraq is still a concern…but the angst is not there” as it was a year ago. In Illinois McKenna says “voters are not against success” in Iraq and by staking so much on opposition to the War Democrats “will get more scrutiny” if in fact improvement continues. Iowans’ feelings about the war remain “mixed” but voters have not “given up on one day winning.”

What advice would the Chairmen give to GOP candidates?

From New Hampshire and Michigan: fiscal issues and taxes matter and showing how you can beat Hillary may be critical. From Illinois: “articulate a GOP economic message consistent with their record.” From Iowa: “stay focused, show up and make the rounds.”