Friday, January 04, 2008

Living With the Iowa Caucus Results

Obama and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses hands down last night (see AP article). Obama won 38% of the 220,558 Democratic voters that turned out, to garner 16 delegates. Edwards won 30% for 15 delegates, and Clinton won 29% for 14 delegates.

The story is more lopsided on the Republican side, with Huckabee winning 34% of the 114,000 GOP voters that turned out, for 30 delegates. Romney picked up only 25% for 7 delegates. Democrats turned out almost 2 to 1 as many voters as Republicans.

The Clinton campaign shrugs Sen. Clinton’s third place finish off, saying that their strategy is focused in larger states that come later in the primary cycle. (This is also the Giuliani approach. He mounted almost no effort in Iowa at all, preferring to apply his resources to larger states that have many more delegates. Incidentally, Giluliani’s got to be loving the Huckabee win in Iowa. It will make his job of running against Romney easier in the later states.)

The Romney campaign, which spent over a year making Iowa the first major battle it must win in order to leverage competitiveness in later states is also soft pedaling its loss to Huckabee, saying that Romney will be far more competitive in all of the other early states than Huckabee.

Both the Clinton and Romney campaigns are probably right about their chances in later states, but man, their Iowa losses have got to sting. You spend over a year pouring millions of dollars into building a strong campaign machine in the state. You practically live part-time in the state. And yet you find that you can’t overcome the personality issue — the fact that Iowa voters don’t get warm fuzzies about your personality, which is something that is pretty ingrained by this point in your life. Instead, they go for the candidates that have the warmest personalities. It’s got to gall you.

For Romney, the question of religion did turn out to be important. 80% of Huckabee’s Iowa voters were Evangelical Christians, like Huckabee himself (see AP report). 60% of Huckabee’s Iowa voters felt “it was very important to share their candidate's religious beliefs.” If Huckabee has to rely mostly on fellow Evangelicals, he won’t find much support in New Hampshire, or anywhere in the Northeast. He might find more support in the Bible Belt, but that alone won’t win him the nomination. He’s going to have to find ways to reach out to non-Evangelicals. At any rate, it appears that Romney had no chance to win the support of most Huckabee voters chiefly on the basis of religion.

Ron Paul came in with 10% of the GOP vote, only slightly behind Thompson and McCain, who each garnered 13%. (It should be noted that McCain won this support without even campaigning much in Iowa.) Some analysts are saying that New Hampshire’s culture and primary process favors independently-minded candidates, so that Paul could turn a much higher result in the Granite State, like McCain did in 2000. McCain is surging in New Hampshire as well. However, Paul will likely suffer the same fate in South Carolina that McCain did in 2000, since that state’s culture and primary process does not favor mavericks.

Is it any wonder that Americans are tired of Iowa and New Hampshire having such an outsized impact on our presidential selection process? Iowa is notoriously populist leaning and is generally indifferent about military issues and foreign policy. This made candidates like Huckabee and Edwards far more competitive there than they would be in most other states. New Hampshire tends to be independent minded to the point of seeming nutty to the rest of the nation. How would the nation like Utah or Idaho to have as much sway in selecting presidents as Iowa and New Hampshire?

Iowa does not actually have a very good track record of selecting eventual party nominees or presidents, but its caucuses do tend to narrow the field. New Hampshire has a better record than Iowa, but it’s not that great. Once again, it tends to narrow the field a bit. Michigan and South Carolina have better records, but it is possible that this is somewhat due to what has already occurred in Iowa and New Hampshire by the time these later primaries occur.

This year we have Wyoming (tomorrow), Nevada (Jan. 19), and Florida (Jan. 29) added into the mix of early states before most of the rest of us vote on Feb. 5. The idea is that this combination of early states, taken as a whole, provides some kind of balanced approach. But to most Americans, it still looks pretty screwy.

Wikipedia lists five proposals for changing the presidential primary system to be fairer. Some of them strangely keep Iowa and New Hampshire up front in the name of tradition. Others would assign states primary/caucus dates by lottery or rotation. Iowans and Granite Staters have made it clear that they will strongly oppose any plan that does not let them keep their overgrown power. In practice, the setting of primary dates is left up to each individual state, with the major political parties’ national committees working to exert some power over the process.

With all the bickering and ambiguity over who actually has the power to change the process, politicians have found little motivation to get serious about fixing our current presidential primary system. But this year’s messed up process may generate the necessary oomph to get the politicians going on it.

8 comments:

oussan said...

Nice analysis. I'm always encouraged to hear other people griping about Iowa's disproportionate influence over the presidential election process.

By the way, if the process were re-engineered I think it would be stupid to keep Iowa and New Hampshire up front in the name of "tradition." The origin of the early Iowa caucus is largely accidental, and then partially maneuvering, and does not merit sustaining in a restructured process (I blogged about this yesterday).

Anyway, I'm pretty bugged by IA/NH this year, but maybe that's just because, like in college football, I come from a mid-major conference. ;)

Silver Lining said...

Good analysis. It looks like the voters themselves may make Iowa and New Hampshire's self-inflated importance dwindle. The question is whether the candidates can hang in there long enough to see how things shift as more states vote. Wyoming just handed us a very different picture than Iowa, and Wyoming is not traditionally populist.

Reach Upward said...

Huckabee didn't have the money to campaign in WY. McCain skipped it, just like he skipped IA. (Many IA GOP voters picked him anyway.) McCain is betting on NH, and it looks like he's surging there. Giuliani skipped WY, just as he skipped Iowa and will skip NH. He's betting on the later states.

Romney now has a total of 15delegates to Huckabee's 30, but the RNC has said that it will strip away half of WY's delegates because it violated the rule not to hold its primary/caucus prior to Feb. 5. (A rule from which IA and NH are exempted.) So Romney really only has 11 certain delegates. It also appears that some of WY's delegates haven't yet been decided, so Romney could pick up more.

With all the focus on NH, it is interesting to note that on the GOP side, WY has 14 delegates, while NH has only 12. But there has been little media coverage of WY.

I think there are at least two reasons for this. 1) NH is much more easily accessible and knowable to a NY-DC based news media. 2) The RNC has promised to strip away half of WY's delegates, so it really has only 7 to NH's 12. I think, however, that this second point is only secondary. If today's caucuses had been held in a small Northeastern state with few delegates, say DE or even RI, the media would have been all over it.

A possible third reason is that the media is stuck in the traditional IA -> NH mold and doesn't readily think outside the box.

A possible fourth reason is that WY is heavily Republican, so the Demo-centric MSM has little interest covering anything happening there unless it reflects badly on conservatives.

Reach Upward said...

I stand corrected on my supposition that IA and NH were exempted from the rule stripping states voting before Feb. 5 of half of their delegates. See this NY Times guide to GOP primaries for details on when states vote, how many delegates they have, and which states are being penalized.

So, my #2 point was based on a faulty assumption. Thus, I think the other three reasons I listed are at the root of why the MSM has barely covered WY.

Reach Upward said...

One other point to consider is eminent political analyst Michael Barone's suggestion (see WSJ article) that we may be at a point in a regular generational cycle where voters are more willing to toss aside experience and elect less experienced people. He admits that his theory is not perfect, but he thinks that as each new generation of voters comes to age, they are disgusted with what the experienced folks are doing in Washington and are willing to opt for replacing them with inexperienced folks. It's a thought.

Silver Lining said...

Wyoming's 14 delegates are after it was stripped of delegates. It used to have over 20.

Silver Lining said...

Here is a link for a scorecard of delegates that is kept current

http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/primaries/results/scorecard/#R

Reach Upward said...

Thanks for the link