Since The POLITICO Caucus launched in February, insiders in the states where voters will cast the first ballots of 2016 have delivered more predictive hits than misses on a presidential cycle that has sometimes defied explanation.
These influential activists, elected officials, operatives and strategists haven’t gotten it all right: Like many, they’ve underestimated the staying power of GOP poll leader Donald Trump (“Insiders: Trump has peaked,” we wrote in July). But mostly they’ve had their collective finger on the pulse of the campaign — from documenting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collapse to correctly anticipating Ben Carson’s slide, even as the doctor’s poll numbers reached their apex.
Overall, the Caucus has provided valuable, real-time play-by-play and color commentary throughout 2015. Here’s a timeline of our most important findings this year, along with some of the best quotes from our Caucus insiders.
Feb. 13: The POLITICO Caucus debuts. The majority of Iowa Republicans say Walker would win the caucuses if they were held that day, while New Hampshire Republicans say former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would win the first-in-the-nation primary. But insiders in both states cautioned it was still very early. “This is the most wide open contest I have ever seen,” an Iowa Republican said.
Feb. 20: 62 percent of GOP insiders say a candidate who supports legal status for undocumented immigrants can win their state. “Folks here are practical,” said a New Hampshire Republican. “They are not for deporting millions of people. They know that will not happen.”
March 20: Less than a quarter of Democratic insiders say there’s a Democrat who can beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Iowa or New Hampshire. “Martin O’Malley caused a bit of a stir during his last visit,” noted a New Hampshire Democrat, “but the only people excited about him are the people who get excited very easily.”
March 27: After Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s entry into the race, nearly two-thirds of Iowa GOP insiders say he can win the caucuses. But only 14 percent of New Hampshire Republicans think he can win there. “He really needs to live in the state of Iowa,” said an Iowa Republican, “so much that he knows that the chicken is way better than the pizza at Pizza Ranch.”
April 24: 87 percent of GOP insiders say Bush’s support for Common Core will hurt him in their state. Key quote from an Iowa Republican: “Selling Iowa Republicans on supporting Common Core is like getting your local church to have Satan as a special guest at their next soup supper.”
May 1: Half of Democratic insiders say protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray would hurt former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s fledgling presidential campaign. “The renaissance of Baltimore has been such a huge part of his biography when he speaks to Democrats, so when your TV shows Baltimore on fire, riot police on the streets and baseball at an empty Camden Yards, one can only wonder what kind of lasting progress he made there,” said a New Hampshire Democrat.
June 5: 50 percent of Democratic insiders say they are concerned about Clinton after polls showed a spike in the percentage of Americans who view her unfavorably. And the vast majority of Democrats say Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders represents the biggest threat to Clinton’s campaign.
June 19: After Trump entered the race for president, the vast majority of Republicans say there was at least a 50-50 chance he would appear at the first debate in August. “We are all part of the biggest reality show in history now with Trump regrettably on center stage,” said a New Hampshire Republican. “Even he is curious as to where this magical mystery tour ends.”
July 17: Trump’s rise hurts Cruz and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie most, GOP insiders say. “Trump is sucking all the oxygen out of the room,” one Iowa Republican said.
July 24: The majority of Republican insiders say they thought Trump had peaked and would soon begin to lose support — though many acknowledge that is perhaps wishful thinking. “The [John] McCain smear and giving out [Lindsey] Graham’s cellphone? What an a–hole,” one New Hampshire Republican vented.
Aug. 7: A plurality of GOP insiders call Trump the loser of the first debate, held the night before in Cleveland. “What was his worst response: third party, chauvinism, single-payer or bankruptcies?” asked a New Hampshire Republican. “His limited number of supporters can’t look the other way on this stuff forever.”
Aug. 28: Roughly 80 percent of Democratic insiders say they don’t think Vice President Joe Biden would enter the race — and three-quarters say he shouldn’t. “There isn’t a real path here for him to the White House this late in the game,” a New Hampshire Democrat said.
Sept. 4: Insiders call Walker, the struggling Wisconsin governor, the loser of the summer. “He’s been on all three sides of every two-sided issue,” said an Iowa Republican. “For the last two months [Walker] hasn’t made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn’t had to clarify or clear up within two hours.”
Sept. 11: GOP insiders say that, though Trump would win Iowa and New Hampshire if the vote were that day, they thought chances were low he would ultimately prevail. “He will implode at some point,” an Iowa Republican said. “It might take months, but it is a certitude.”
Sept. 17: The majority of Republican insiders call former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina as the winner of the second primary debate the night before at the Reagan Library — and say Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were both losers. “The nation finally got a chance to see what we in New Hampshire have been intrigued and impressed by: a political outsider with some real policy chops and the demeanor to be considered a serious contender,” a New Hampshire Republican said of Fiorina.
Sept. 25: Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say there should be more than the six primary debates scheduled by the Democratic National Committee. “The only person less popular with Granite State Democrats right now than Donald Trump is Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” said a New Hampshire Democrat.
Oct. 2: The POLITICO Caucus expands to include insiders in South Carolina and Nevada.
Oct. 14: The vast majority of insiders say Clinton won the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas the evening before. “I’m a reluctant Clinton supporter, but I thought she killed it tonight,” a South Carolina Democrat said. “She was in a league of her own. Prepared, confident, funny. And she genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself up there.”
Oct. 23: Roughly four-in-five insiders acknowledge that the odds of Trump winning the GOP nomination are higher than they were a month prior. “I can’t even describe the lunacy of him as our nominee,” lamented an Iowa Republican. “But reason has not applied to date in this race, and my hopes are fleeting that it will ever surface.”
Oct. 29: GOP insiders say Rubio won the previous night’s debate — and Bush lost. “[Bush] looked opportunistic and desperate when he went after Sen. Rubio on missing votes and after he walked straight into a crushing right hook,” said an Iowa Republican. “He also looked weak and ineffective. The exchange diminished an already failing candidacy.”
Nov. 6: Despite his high standing in the polls, more than 80 percent of Republican insiders say retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson can’t win the Republican nomination. “Questions are going to get tougher and tougher, which should hopefully expose his lack of depth,” said a South Carolina Republican.
Nov. 11: Rubio wins another debate, GOP insiders say, with one Iowa Republican crediting his energy the evening before. “He wants the job,” the Iowan said.
Nov. 15: Sanders had the weakest performance in the previous evening’s second Democratic debate, insiders say, as national security dominated the discussion following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. “He was clearly not comfortable discussing detail on foreign policy matters,” a New Hampshire Democrat said.
Dec. 4: For the first time, a majority of Iowa GOP insiders say Cruz would win the caucuses if they were held that day. “He’s moving in the polls, building his organization, and is peaking at the right time,” one Republican said of Cruz. “Love him or loathe him, he’s run a tactically smart race and will surpass Trump to win Iowa.”
Dec. 16: GOP insiders say Rubio eclipsed Cruz when the two senators went head-to-head the evening before in the fifth televised primary debate. “Rubio was bruised by some of the immigration attacks and he didn’t score a knockout,” a South Carolina Republican said, “but he kept fighting and ultimately won the bout over Cruz by judge’s scorecards.”
Dec. 20: Insiders dismissed the controversy over the Sanders campaign accessing voter-file data from the Clinton camp, with the majority of those who watched the previous night’s debate saying it wouldn’t have an impact on the campaign. “Average Americans don’t give two [plural expletive] about voter files,” said a South Carolina Democrat.
These are the members of the POLITICO Caucus:
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Sara Craig, Jerry Crawford, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Garth Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
South Carolina: Andrew Collins, Antjuan Seawright, Barry Wynn, Bob McAlister, Boyd Brown, Brady Quirk-Garvan, Bruce Haynes, Catherine Templeton, Chad Connelly, Chip Felkel, Cindy Costa, Clay Middleton, David Wilkins, Dick Harpootlian, Donna Hicks, Drea Byars, Ed McMullen, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Ellen Weaver, Erin McKee, Glenn McCall, Inez Tenenbaum, Isaiah Nelson, Jaime R. Harrison, James Smith, Jason Perkey, Jay W. Ragley, Jim Hodges, Jimmy Williams, Joe Erwin, Joel Sawyer, John Brisini, Kevin Bishop, Kim Wellman, Laurin Manning, Le Frye, Luke Byars, Matt Moore, Mikee Johnson, Morgan Allison, Nse’ Ekpo, Phil Noble, Scott Farmer, Tony Denny, Trey Walker, Tyler Jones, Walter Whetsell, Warren Tompkins, Will Folks
Nevada: Adam Khan, Andres Ramirez, Andrew Diss, Barbara Buckley, Bob Cavazos, Brendan Summers, Chip Evans, Chuck Muth, Dan Hart, Daniel Stewart, Ed Williams, Emmy Ruiz, Erven T. Nelson, Greg Bailor, Heidi Wixom, Jack St. Martin, James Smack, Jay Gertsema, Jeremy Hughes, Jim DeGraffenreid, Jon Ralston, Kristen Orthman, Laura Martin, Linda Cavazos, Lindsey Jydstrup, Mac Abrams, Mari St. Martin, Marla Turner, Megan Jones, Michael McDonald, Michelle White, Mike Slanker, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Oscar Goodman, Pat Hickey, Paul Smith, Pete Ernaut, Peter Koltak, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Roberta Lange, Ryan Erwin, Ryan Hamilton, Sam Lieberman, Scott Scheid, Yvanna Cancela, Zach Hudson
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