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The elephant in the room

BY REBECCA MORIN | JUNE 17, 2015 5:00 AM

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More are coming.

On Tuesday, the Republican presidential field grew to 12 candidates after business mogul Donald Trump announced his candidacy — and others are expected to enter the race, including Iowa frontrunner Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and possibly New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The 2016 election has brought in one of the largest field of candidates, with all full-steam ahead to the Iowa caucuses. None have shown any signs of pulling out early.

But the question is: Will they all really last?

In previous election cycles with a GOP field of similar size — 2008 with 12 candidates and 2012, which also had 12 — several dropped out before the caucuses, whether because of low poll numbers or their financial pockets running dry.

This cycle, however, might be different.

There is less of a chance candidates will feel the pressure with the money-guzzling, media-focused Iowa Straw Poll out of the way. Also, fundraising for some candidates might not be an issue this year with Super PACs backing almost all of them.

The Straw Poll, which had undergone several changes including moving to a more affordable location from Ames to Boone and eliminating a bidding system for candidates to get the best location, ended up being canceled earlier this month.

“I’ve said since December that we would only hold a Straw Poll if the candidates wanted one, and this year, that is just not the case,” Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement following the poll’s cancellation.

Though some believe the Straw Poll was past its prime several years ago, it still served as a weeding-out process.

Michele Bachmann was named the winner of the Straw Poll in 2012, which led former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to drop out a day later.

The 36-year-old poll, however, was not an indicator on who would win the Iowa caucuses. Bachmann did not make it into the top three in the caucuses — Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul took the lead.

“The Straw Poll had outlived its usefulness,” said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, who noted that it threated Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status, which mirrored what Kaufmann said earlier this month.

Yepsen said it’s unlikely that in this cycle, candidates will drop out before the caucuses, which are scheduled for Feb. 4, 2016.

Steffen Schmidt, a political-science professor at Iowa State University, said it’s fairly easy to see who will and will not survive the election season, regardless of the polls.

“We knew Mitt Romney was probably going to do well in 2012,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t know Rick Santorum was going to do well … he went to all 99 counties, connecting a lot with a lot of voters. Those things you don’t really know until caucus night.”

Pockets will also not run dry — at least, they won’t as quickly this time around.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and the eventual winner of the caucuses last time around, suspended his campaign during the 2012 election after running out of cash. Newt Gingrich was able to outlast Santorum despite Gingrich being in the bottom and even coming in last in several primaries and caucuses.

Cary Covington, a UI associate professor of political science, said Gingrich was able to last because of Super PACs — political-action committees that cannot contribute directly to a campaign but can use political spending independently of the campaign.

“Nobody else had the money,” Covington said, noting that Gingrich had $10 million for his campaign. “That’s going to give a candidate legs.”

This election cycle, candidates such as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Santorum, and even Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton are just a few who have Super PACs, Covington said.

Though there is one fewer media-hyped event to worry about, in addition to having more cash flow, the candidates this time around also are all confident they will win.

“At this point and time, everyone is self-assured,” Covington said. “Nobody enters expecting to lose.”


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