After finishing in fifth place in the Iowa caucus, Rick Perry delivered perhaps the finest speech of the night. At the end, he said that he was going home to Texas to “reassess” his campaign and try to find a way forward. That is not quite as dire as “suspending” one’s campaign, but that is not a good sign for those of us who support his candidacy.
I hope that Perry decides to continue, and not just because he’s my favorite candidate. I also don’t think that Michelle Bachmann should drop out. No candidate should drop out after last night, and for one simple reason: it is simply time to stop making one small caucus and one small state so important in the grand scheme of a campaign.
Tim Pawlenty dropped out after merely losing a non-binding straw poll in Ames. Pawlenty’s premature exit from the campaign is a decision that he must be ruing considering all that has transpired over the past five months. Perhaps Pawlenty would have dropped back into Jon Hunstman territory, or perhaps Pawlenty would have become the candidate that conservatives rallied around in order to defeat Mitt Romney. We simply don’t know because Pawlenty let the decision of a handful of voters in what is basically a glorified clambake take him out of the race.
You know how many delegates Santorum and Romney, the winners of the Iowa caucus, each won? Six. Six delegates out of 1,144 needed to win the nomination. Iowa’s population is roughly one percent of the total US population. It is a state that is over 90% white, and has an unemployment rate that is 5.7 percent, almost three full points below the national average. In other words, it is not a state that is exactly representative of the nation as a whole.
The first four state in the presidential primary season represent a decent cross-section of the population, or at least of the Republican electorate. Iowa is a populist, midwest, rural white state. New Hampshire is a small New England state that is typically more libertarian. South Carolina is a growing, southern state that has typically been more predictive of the eventual nominee than the first two states. Finally there is the populous swing state of Florida. We will have a much better idea of the state of the race after the Florida primary has been completed, and all the candidates owe it to the electorate to at least tough it out until that point or else we will continue to allow Iowa to have a ridiculously over-sized influence on the nomination process.
Now there are legitimate reasons for Perry (and for Bachmann) to see the writing on the wall and drop out. Perry concentrated his efforts on Iowa and spent north of $5 million there. After all that he only received 11 percent of the vote. Perry had already written off New Hampshire, and he is struggling to get even in the top three in South Carolina. He may see the rise of another respectable conservative in Santorum as a sign that he has no path to victory, and his continued presence in the race is only muddying the field. That’s an understandable strategic decision, and I respect that. But I hate to see Iowa continuing to play a more glorified role in the selection process than is merited.
Update: Evidently Rick Perry has listened to me. Who says I don’t have influence?