DES MOINES, Iowa — From the vantage point of the president’s reelection campaign headquarters across the state line in Chicago, tonight’s Iowa Caucuses already have a clear winner: Barack Obama.
Iowans’ endless whining about the weakness of their field has put the lie to the notion that Republican are more passionate than Democrats about the coming election, Obama’s top pollster, Joel Benenson, argued in an interview with BuzzFeed. And, he said, their “self-inflicted wounds” will continue to haunt their nominee through 2012.
“The reality is that there’s a lot less enthusiasm for this field than people may have touted,” Benenson said. “This is a field where every candidate comes with significant flaws in terms of the general election, in terms of their economic values, in terms of their extreme positions, in terms being under the influence of the Tea Party.”
“They’ve created problems for themselves,” he said.
One of the biggest problems: Immigration. Mitt Romney, who had succeeded in skirting some of the details of an issue that sharply divides conservative Republicans from Hispanic voters, was pulled late last month into promising that he would veto the Dream Act – legislation that would give exemplary illegal immigrants who arrived as children a path to citizenship.
“I don’t think that most American people believe that teenagers and young kids who are finishing school, who are in college or working for a college degree, willing to serve in the military, that because their parents brought them here, America should turn their backs on those people and turn them out,” Benenson said “But now it’s just become another litmus test for the influence on the Tea Party and these guys have decided they’re going to meat the litmus test.”
Democrats will also look back to the months before Iowa to make their case that Romney is a man with no core, Benenson said.
“What he continues to reinforce is how completely out of touch he is with working and middle class people in America,” Benenson said. “This isn’t just playacting – campaigns show who you are to people – and you can’t continually say things that put you at odds and out of touch with folks, whether you’re calling their $1,500 payroll tax cut a ‘bandaid’ or whether you’re saying, ‘Let them foreclose on their houses.”
“There’s a real weakness on the economic values side for Romney,” he said.
Benenson also predicted a long primary, in which Romney is forced to campaign through the Spring.
“It think it’s going to come out a little more muddled than people think,” he speculated.
The White House and its allies hope that perceptions and storylines set here in Iowa will prove defining.
“The debates have been so damaging for their brand,” the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who advises a SuperPAC allied with Obama, told BuzzFeed. The result, he said: Democratic voters “will be motivated by fear.”
Certainly, primary season can’t go on long enough for the Democrats.
“The Republican primary has turned into a circus,” said another Democratic consultant, Jamal Simmons. “And anyone who emerges from the circus still has the whiff of a clown.”