Amid all of the talk of his impending doom, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a great month in Iowa. It’s why he’s going to win the Iowa caucus.
That prediction goes against the conventional wisdom. The Real Clear Politics polling average has former President Donald Trump beating DeSantis by almost 50 points. In Iowa, Trump is ahead of DeSantis by almost 30 points.
Plus, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is surging toward second, especially in New Hampshire. She has attracted support from major donors, including an endorsement Tuesday from Americans for Prosperity Action.
But no one had a better past few weeks in Iowa than DeSantis. Start with who left the race. Former Vice President Mike Pence dropped out in October. Sen. Tim Scott suspended his campaign this month. Both of them were polling in the single digits, but they were directly competing with DeSantis for evangelical voters. That’s the most important voting bloc in Iowa. DeSantis now has a better chance of consolidating them.
For almost three decades, Iowa governors haven’t endorsed in the caucus. Current Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave DeSantis her full backing in early November. She just won re-election by almost 20 points last year, showing her popularity and political pull. She has been campaigning for him, too. DeSantis would be smart to do 15 town hall events with her before the caucus.
The most influential Iowa endorser is Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, a key evangelical organization. Vander Plaats endorsed Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012 and Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016. All went on to win the Iowa caucus, propelled in part by his endorsement and the network of supporters it unlocked. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Vander Plaats endorsed DeSantis.
There has been a major disconnect between Iowa polling and caucus results. Before the 2016 caucus, Trump led Cruz in the last 13 polls of Iowa. Didn’t matter. Cruz won. At this point in 2011 Iowa polling, Santorum was in seventh place with just 3.8 percent. He ended up winning with nearly a quarter of the vote.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, an approaching election causes people to pay more attention. Many end up moving their support to another candidate.
Perhaps more importantly is that the Iowa caucus is a low-turnout event. In February 2016, Iowa had 616,000 active registered Republicans. Turnout for the caucus was around 30 percent of that total. Around 52,000 Republicans caucused for Cruz, which means he won with support from fewer than 9 percent of active Republicans. A disorganized campaign’s polling lead is unlikely to fully translate during the caucus. DeSantis has the best ground game.
If DeSantis can win, it will pierce Trump’s aura of invincibility. That would cause more voters to give other candidates a second — or even first — look. If Trump wins Iowa, he’ll have a smooth path to the nomination.
I could be wrong. It’s happened before — just ask my wife or my kids. But if you look past the polls, you’ll see why DeSantis is poised to win in Iowa.