There are many of you around the country wondering, “Why Iowa?” One of the main reasons is that in Iowa people can actually meet the candidates and interact with them on issues. Candidates come to speak to relatively small gatherings and share their views on topics on topics much more specific than they would do in a larger context. Iowans take the responsibility of vetting the candidates very seriously. Whether or not the caucus results follow the eventual nomination, the caucus winner has won the nomination about half of the time, the process helps those around the nation get to know the candidates much better.
This year in the Jewish community, with only a Republican caucus, not everyone is involved. That said, I am sure that many would be surprised by the number of Reform and Conservative Jews who are. One need not pledge to vote Republican to participate in the caucus and many moderate Democrats will change their affiliation for one day so as to participate in the Republican caucus, so there are a few Democrats who will be attending and participating in the caucus.
Overall, the winner of the caucus doesn’t mean as much as being in the top three or four. Constituent groups make themselves known in Iowa and support their group’s candidate. The religious right in Iowa has been debating among Santorum, Bachman, Perry and Gingrich. Santorum seems to be the clear favorite of that group. Ron Paul has his own following of Libertarian, isolationist, and small government supporters. Gingrich is a favorite of Reaganites and Orthodox Jews. Romney seems to be the favorite among most Republican Conservative and Reform Jews, mostly because of his more moderate social views.
On Israel, all but Paul support a strong US-Israel relationship though each has a slightly different view of it. Support for Israel will not be a problem from this group. In fact, many of the candidates seem to almost be tripping over their feet to offer public support for Israel. Paul’s position is discussed by Shmuel Rosner in his recent article, but one should also look at the interview that Paul did with Iran’s Press TV in 2009 which is problematic.
At this point, it seems fairly clear that the winners of the caucus will be in no particular order: Romney, Santorum, and Paul with Gingrich likely pulling up in fourth place.
Paul would lose to most other Republican candidates by a wide margin. Iowa’s caucus system gives him and his following a voice. Santorum will mostly likely be the Mike Huckabee of 2012, the overwhelming favorite of one third of those committed to the caucus process, the socially conservative right. Romney and Gingrich have been competing for support from those whose primary concern is economic with Romney getting about two-thirds of that support at this point.
Democrats are active here as well during the caucus process and have their own event on Tuesday night. As accusations fly against the administration, Democrat activists constantly have to offer their side of issues being presented. Pundits are everywhere as are television cameras.
So here we are with the Iowa Republican Caucus tomorrow. Friday night, we hosted Shmuel Rosner, who is in town for the Caucus and spoke about the Arab Spring at my congregation. Yesterday, I was among about forty Jews, hosted by the Chabad rabbi and a Conservative Jewish supporter of Gingrich, who met with Newt for a little over a half an hour. Tonight, I will hear from Mitt Romney at a larger gathering, hosted by another Conservative Jew at his local business. Tomorrow, I will meet in a small private gathering with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Chair of the DNC, in town for the bigger Democratic Party event in the evening.
Is this political heaven? No…well, Yes! It’s Iowa at caucus time!