Steve Pope/Getty Images
Potential GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, former Godfather's Pizza head, at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event, March 7, 2011 in Waukee.
Potential GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, former Godfather's Pizza head, at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event, March 7, 2011 in Waukee. Steve Pope/Getty Images
When Iowa holds its Republican presidential caucuses early next year, it will be the first time the nominee-selection process will include the Tea Party movement which only took shape a few months into President Obama tenure.
Thus, the Tea Party will be something of an X factor alongside more long-standing influences in Iowa Republican circles such as conservatives of the social and fiscal varieties. ( Of course, the Tea Party includes some of both.)
That promises to make the process leading up to the caucuses more interesting than it might otherwise be with a field of potential candidates that, so far at least, has failed to create much excitement.
And we'll have to rely on Republicans for all our Iowa primary season excitement since, as matters stand now, Democrats won't be having a nomination contest.
NPR's Don Gonyea was out in Iowa trying to sense how things are shaping up, even at this early stage.
Not surprisingly, he found a Christian conservative who thought GOP voters who stress social issues would be decisive, a fiscal conservative who thought his group was likely to be pivotal, and a Tea Party activist who said it would be members of his new movement who would dictate the outcome.
From Don's All Things Considered report:
DON: Christian conservatives are perhaps the single most dominant group within the Iowa GOP. In 2008, 60% of those who took part in the Republican caucuses called themselves evangelicals.
Chuck Hurley of the Iowa Family Policy Center says he's never seen this much enthusiasm this far in advance of the caucuses and wants to put it to use.
HURLEY: The Bible says, "the diligent shall rule." Doesn't say the godly, and it doesn't say the ungodly. It says the diligent.
DON: And Hurley says while polls rank the economy as the top concern, that doesn't mean Iowa Republicans should settle for anyone who isn't strongly opposed to abortion and same sex marriage.
Just last November Iowa voters removed three state supreme court justices over a ruling that legalized gay marriage in Iowa.
Chuck hurley says that issue is a motivator.
HURLEY: Those who caught the bug in '09 or '10, I think are going to stick around for this cycle, certainly in Iowa, because the cycle is already hot and I just don't see that dissipating.
DON: Another group that could be a force in Iowa in the coming year has its focus entirely on fiscal matters. Ed Failor, the President of Iowans for Tax Relief, says talk of divisions between social and fiscal conservatives is overblown.
He says a lot of his members put themselves in both camps. Still, he says:
FAILOR: The folks who need you to be extremely right-wing conservative on all the social issues, they aren't going to determine who the winner of the caucuses are at the end of the day,
DON: Failor then adds...
FAILOR: Look, it's kind of Maslow's hierarchy of needs right now, and we're dealing with people out of work, and who are figuring out how to put food on their tables and roofs over their familiy's heads.
DON: Then there's the new kid on the block, The Tea Party. Many organizations have sprung up across the state that associate themselves with that name.
Ryan Rhodes is the founder of one called, simply, The Iowa Tea Party.
Sitting down for an interview at the Iowa Capitol building, Rhodes says the Iowa Tea Party has already begun work to organize and train Tea Party activists, many of whom have never been to a caucus before.
RHODES: Yep, you got to teach them the caucus processes. There's always change from year to year.
DON: But he predicts the next wave of change will be a Tea Party wave. And it will change the conversation both before and after the caucuses themselves.
RHODES: No matter who wins, you're going to see a different debate than you've ever seen. You're going to see people walking up and asking, "Where is this in the Constitution? What are you going to do?"