The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Iowa Caucus – Did it really matter?

Posted by iusbvision on January 12, 2008

It is now the weekend after the Iowa caucus. After months of rhetoric, speculation, and polling, all which culminated last Thursday’s victory by the once long-shot Mike Huckabee, the dust has settled, the candidates have moved their entourages away from the bake shops and coffee houses in the Hawkeye state and set their aims at New Hampshire.

(By the way: if you were wondering about the Wyoming primary, it happened on Saturday the 5th. If you blinked, you missed it. And so did the majority of the candidates. Mitt Romney garnered 8 of the 12 delegates, Fred Thompson won 3, and the darkest of all horses in the contest, Duncan Hunter, won one. Romney, Thompson and Hunter were the only GOP candidates to even visit the state prior to the primary.)

So much was said and written about Iowa and just how much meaning one should bestow upon the results there. Candidates poured millions of dollars in campaign advertisements, criss-crossing the state hoping that their message would resonate with Iowans and would compel them to vote. 

The ensuing media circus that preceded the caucus is being called the largest one in the past four presidential election campaigns. Poll after poll, those of us who actually give a hoot about the entire election process were left in a state of complete anticipation and apprehension. After the votes were tallied, we were faced with even more speculation on the meaning behind the Huckabee and Obama victories, and what their successes meant to the Clinton and Romney camps. Both congratulated their respective party’s victors but downplayed the results as merely a first (mis)step, the first battle in the war for the White House. And before the luncheons and pies and late-night lattes even had a chance to cool off, some were even questioning the significance of the Iowa results, if one existed at all.

So, did they mean anything? And the answer is a definite maybe.

It really depends who you ask. For Huckabee, it was a tremendous victory, one that is as conclusive and determining as they come. A few months ago, only a handful of hopeful optimistic supporters gave him a shot at even a third place in Iowa.  The surge that accompanied the Huck-a-Boom grassroots movement translated into a colossal achievement, as his statesman-like oration and composure (qualities honed in his years as a Baptist minister and governor of the state of Arkansas) struck a chord with Iowans who yearn for a change in Washington. But how much of a stretch was it to win Iowa, a state where 80% of those who cast a vote for Huckabee counted themselves as evangelicals’?

That is precisely what critics point out as being Huckabee’s Achylles Heel: his ability to take his message across faith lines and into states considered more ‘secular’ than Iowa. Some pundits even consider him unelectable and called his victory a flash in the pan. But as more and more polls trickle in from South Carolina, Michigan, even California and beyond, the victory in Iowa seems to indicate a tremendous momentum for Huckabee.

However, in his first post-Iowa contest, he is struggling in New Hampshire, where he trails behind Romney and McCain and is tied with none other than Ron Paul in third place. His war chest is not as fat as the other proponents and he will need the endorsement of a major evangelical group in order to receive an injection of much-needed cash.

For Romney, the loss in Iowa is particularly disheartening because of his victory in last summer’s GOP Straw Poll. Two months ago, Romney was the candidate to beat according to all major polls. As McCain surges in New Hampshire, a back-to-back knockout could prove to be devastating to the former Massachusetts governor. He will have to concentrate his entire campaign machine to defeat McCain, and in a state that is night-and-day in comparison to Iowa in terms of welcoming mudslinging ads, his campaigning style might prove to be effective.

Both McCain and Giuliani made no secret that they would be putting all their chips on a New Hampshire victory. Giuliani didn’t even campaign in Iowa, and as of the weekend prior to New Hampshire, the polls show him in fifth place. Even in the event of yet another defeat, the former New York mayor shows no signs of hanging up his gloves, determined to fight until the end. McCain has the spotlight in New Hampshire, leading all the polls despite his poor showing in Iowa and will come out swinging at Romney, his closest rival in the state.

On the democratic side, there were significant lessons learned. If on the GOP side, Huckabee has to prove he can gain the ‘secular’ vote, Barack Obama was faced with an even more daunting task: winning the white vote. After Iowa, a state comprised of 95% whites, that uncertainty has all but dissipated. His victory in Iowa was historic and resonant for a candidate that has downplayed the ‘race card’ and who has instead stuck to discussing the issues. The populist John Edwards finished a respectable second place but was counting heavily on a victory in Iowa to give his money-starved campaign a financial boost. With New Hampshire polls showing Edwards trailing Obama and Clinton by double digits, it remains to be seen whether the second place finish in Iowa will do the job.

No other candidate was more deeply and negatively impacted by the results in Iowa than Hillary Rodham Clinton. The former first lady finished third behind Obama and Edwards and her campaign was left scrambling for answers. Once a virtual shoo-in in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and lauded as the inevitable winner of the dems’ nomination, the senator for New York and former first lady has seen her lead evaporate right before her eyes. She brought the entire Clinton electoral machine to Iowa and betted high on a victory there. Finishing a dismal third and now ceding the lead in the polls in New Hampshire, she could be 0-2 going into Michigan, leaving her campaign in utter disarray.

A poor showing in New Hampshire will leave her constituency wondering what went wrong and if the nomination would even be feasible. Could it be that the cult of personality that surrounds the Clinton name may not be enough after all? Or was it the fact that she arrived by helicopter at many of the events in Iowa – a move that could be interpreted as elitist and haughty rather than presidential by voters? But most important of all, if her message is ignored by middle-America, mostly blue-collar Iowa, and by the East-Coast-Ivy-League-Hamptons-bourgeois New Hampshire, who else is left to woo? The hardcore, crowd? It was proven highly ineffective in 2004 and I doubt it will work this time around.

Still, it is anybody’s game after Iowa. Trend lines seem to indicate it being the case. Ronald Reagan lost in Iowa and went on to win the nomination and consequently the election. Bill Clinton, a veteran of past Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries is the only candidate ever to lose both states and still win the presidency. So if you ask again if Iowa really means anything, I would suggest that it is all a matter of perception. Iowa is the place where the candidates have their first opportunity to showcase their ability to sway a small number of voters in a very specific part of the country. To the victor goes the spoils, like the campaign momentum to continue on to other, more prominent primaries, and the possibility of raising more funds. Iowa is a test of fire, a thermometer that indicates the fever pitch of any given presidential campaign. And if the 2007 caucus is any indication, we are in for an exciting ride.

Ed Lima

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