Saturday, January 5, 2008




As much as I love Iowa, I caution everyone this year, as I would any year, against reading too much into the results of the Hawkeye State’s presidential caucuses. There are a number of reasons for this, many of which have been repeated ad nauseam in the press.

Demographically, Iowa is not very representative of the nation as a whole. It is 97% white. While more of its people live in cities than live on farms (which is probably the case in any state, if you think about it), Iowa is more rural than the nation as a whole. Politically, while the state is more or less centrist in its politics, the liberals in Iowa tend to be very liberal and the conservatives tend to be very conservative. Further, people in Iowa tend to be very sensible and, given the strength of public and private education in Iowa, from kindergarten through graduate school, well read and thoughtful, factors that clearly distinguish the Hawkeye state from most of the country.

The nature of caucuses also cautions one against reading too much into them, whether they are conducted in Iowa or anywhere else. On the Democratic side, caucusing can take two hours or longer, and requires one to declare one’s candidate to one’s neighbors. While the process is quicker and easier on the Republican side, it is still more involved and less private than a secret ballot. So while it is said, correctly, that the true believers decide who wins the primaries in both parties, the same could be said to a greater degree, and with more certainty, in a caucus situation. Admittedly, this tendency for party stalwarts to control caucuses was less pronounced this year due to the surge in turnout and the large numbers of first time caucus attendees (caucusers?) at this year’s caucuses, but one can be assured that the casual voter, who will decide the outcome of this year’s presidential contest, was not present at this year’s Iowa caucuses.

The spotty, at best, record, of winners of past Iowa caucuses in securing their parties’ nominations also tends to counsel caution in extrapolating last Thursday’s results into later state primaries and caucuses.

There are also factors unique to this year’s contests, and this year’s candidates, that dilute the impact of the Iowa caucuses. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama’s big victory has served to make the primary season more interesting than most of us thought it would be, but will probably ultimately do little else. As I have said before, money and organization win primaries. This is especially the case this year with the tightly compressed primary season. In all likelihood, we shall know the nominees of both parties by the evening of February 5, when the votes from Super Tuesday are counted. There is no time this year to “build momentum” or to raise substantial funds for use in the upcoming Niagara of primaries and caucuses. The money that will decide the nominations has been raised and, highly likely, spent. Hillary Clinton has more money and better organization than Obama. Iowa has not changed that.

Further, Clinton maintains a nearly 20% nationwide lead. Also note that she leads in New Hampshire, leads big in Nevada and Florida, and is in a statistical tie with Obama in South Carolina. Then we move into the big states on February 5, where, in most cases, her lead is even stronger and her money and organization even more crucial.
While Obama is an articulate, exciting, and inspiring candidate who has really struck a chord with the young, the smart money should still be on Clinton.

On the Republican side, who knows? About the only thing Iowa decided is that Mitt Romney will not get the nomination. It looks as though his campaign will prove to have been as financially futile as that of John Connelly in 1980. This is indeed ironic because Mr. Romney made his fortune consulting on matters financial. The supposedly big story, Mike Huckabee’s victory, is diluted by the characteristics of both Iowa and the caucuses. Given the utter bereftness of the Republican field, Huckabee might have a shot at the nomination, but it won’t be because of Iowa and it really won’t matter. (See the last paragraph of this entry.)

Two of the most interesting results of the caucuses barely got a mention from the press. First, Ron Paul, having spent almost nothing in Iowa, captured 10% of the Republican vote. Remember, he wasn’t supposed to break out of single digits in Iowa; his only chance at catching people’s notice lay in New Hampshire, the experts told us. So how well will Dr. Paul do in New Hampshire? If Iowa is any indication (and it probably isn’t, in line with the general theme of this entry), Dr. Paul could really shake things up on Tuesday.

Second, twice as many Iowans participated in the Democratic caucuses as participated in the Republican caucuses. Given the mess Mr. Bush has made of the presidency, the nation’s disenchantment with the war (Even if the war is “going better,” the disenchantment will not disappear or even dissipate to a significant degree. People are angry that we are in Iraq at all, not that Iraq is, or, if you insist, was going poorly for us or for Bush’s puppet government there.), the disillusioning effect he has had on the Republican base, and the very high probability that the nation will be in dire economic straits on election day, the Republican nomination was never going to be worth much this year. If Iowa is any indication, people are even angrier with the GOP than I had supposed, making the Republican nomination about as desirable as the position of goalie on a darts team. This election has the look of a 1972 or a 1980 landslide…with the parties reversed.

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