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Moderate may win caucuses, Yepsen says
DES MOINES — A moderate Republican candidate may end up winning the Iowa Caucuses, a long-time political observer says, despite the state’s strong social conservative base of voters.
David Yepsen, a former political reporter who spent 34 years at The Des Moines Register, said there’s a very possible scenario in which Mitt Romney wins the caucuses, the New Hampshire primary and the Republican nomination.
A similar scenario played out in 1980, Yepsen said, when George H.W. Bush beat a field of much more conservative candidates in Iowa. Ronald Reagan eventually won the nomination after coming in a close second in those caucuses.
“That’s a different era but the same thing could happen,” Yepsen said. “Romney could win Iowa with a plurality because you have some other candidates carving up that conservative vote.”
President Obama is vulnerable, Yepsen said, but Republicans won’t win if they nominate a candidate that offends women or drives away young voters, who are generally supportive of LGBT rights.
He warned candidates and the Republican Party in general against moving too far to the right, saying it’s important to appeal to the base but they need to leave themselves room to maneuver back to the center for the General Election.
“I have a lot of respect for social conservatives but if you drive the Republican Party so far to the right on social issues at a time when Americans care about jobs and economic development issues you’re going to lose,” he said.
Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Herman Cain appear to have the “three tickets” out of Iowa this time, Yepsen said, and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul could also do well. But he noted the caucuses broke that mold in 2008, when U.S. Sen. John McCain did poorly in Iowa but won the nomination.
Yepsen was the keynote speaker Thursday evening for a series at the State Historical Museum, where an updated exhibit on the Iowa Caucuses is on display. He is now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Yepsen also weighed in on the national jockeying between states hoping to be the first or at least an early contest for presidential hopefuls. He said that jockeying actually makes Iowa more important because it compresses the schedule.
“Candidates who do poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire have no chance of wining in Florida,” Yepsen said. “Candidates who do well in Iowa and New Hampshire can raise money, they have media momentum for big states like Florida.”
Yepsen expects the caucuses to be held in early January, but he said to “keep that week between Christmas and New Year’s open.”