IOWA: A TFM-STYLE RECAP
Big Winner #1: John Kerry.
A week ago, did anybody think this could happen? Kerry probably didn't. I sure as heck didn't. A few weeks ago, Kerry was dead in the water, and the question wasn't if he would pack it in, but when.
Kerry's apparent victory
in the Iowa Caucuses is a startling development, and is a signal that the pre-existing Conventional Wisdom on Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as the Democratic race in general, can be thrown out the window. How did Kerry do it? I think it all had to do with the tone of his campaign. For a long time I despised Kerry's campaign, mostly because it lacked any real soul or weight. All he would do, particularly in the debates, was to agree with Gephardt whenever he attacked Howard Dean. Then he made a change (though it only showed somewhat in the debates), focusing more on his biography in his Iowa campaign stops, particularly his war-hero history. Certainly this plays into the perplexing issue of "electability" (we'll get to that), as well as into a generally optimistic campaign.
And what of the CW on Kerry? We who have followed the campaign know what it has been: "Kerry has to finish respectably in Iowa and win New Hampshire, or else he's out". Well, you can forget about that line. Now, Kerry doesn't have to win New Hampshire. In fact, it's not even clear that he has to finish second. (though it's likely that his Iowa win will bump him past Clark in NH for the time being.) He can now set his sights on South Carolina too: If Kerry's playing up his military experience worked in Iowa, it can work in SC too, with it's even larger veteran population that may go to bat for him. On the other hand, because Clark sat out Iowa, Kerry had the vet vote all to himself this time around, and the story could be different in a week.
Big Winner #2: James Carville.
Yeah, the Ragin' Cajun. Lots of people scoffed when he picked John Kerry as the candidate with the second-best chance
of getting nominated, behind Dean. Us Dems oughtta be rubbin his shiny head for good luck instead!
Almost-As-Big Winner: John Edwards.
From first glance, the tortoise-hare strategy worked. At 32% with most of the precincts in, he's got some serious numbers. Like Kerry, he ran a positive campaign down the stretch, and wasn't very attack-oriented.
Big Loser #1: Dick Gephardt.
Time to pack it in. When you finish a distant fourth in a state you won 16 years ago, that's not a good sign. The media will be happy about this, as they like the cost-cutting involved with narrowing the field. So will the set-designers for the debates.
We need you in the house, Dick. You're a good guy who, unfortunately, ran a *glulgh* campaign.
Big Loser #2: Howard Dean.
His third-place finish in Iowa will be viewed as more of a defeat than it actually was. Dean never had a commanding lead in Iowa (Gephardt even held the lead at times), but his perceived national frontrunner status made it look like Dean's to lose. Unlike Gephardt, however, Dean has a chance to turn it around in New Hampshire. Let's face it, Iowa ain't that significant, the amount of delegates it offers are meager compared to those of subsequent state primaries.
Some pundits, including MSNBC's Howard Fineman (who's been on Dean's case like no other pundit for months now), attribute Dean's 3rd-place finish to the Doctor/Governor being a victim of his own frontrunnerhood, in two respects: 1) He was attacked on all sides, including Kerry, Gep, Lieberman, the Club for Growth, the RNC, etc, and 2) His campaign, at least in terms of his message, was overcome by a bout of complacence. Both of these are probably fair assessments, and this could give Dean's campaign the kick in the rear it might need.
Almost-As-Big Loser: Wesley Clark.
The two candidates he needed to do poorly --Kerry and Edwards-- rocked the house. This spells trouble for the General in New Hampshire and the early February states. Kerry will now seriously cut into his military support types, and Edwards will cramp his southern accent appeal. A lot can happen in a week though, so we'll see.
Interesting Tidbit #1
: Okay, I'm annoyed by this "entrance polling" ran by the networks, where caucusers were polled as they were arriving at the precinct. Nevertheless, the networks have been throwing around one really interesting statistic. It seems that they asked the ingoing caucusers whether they supported the decision to invade Iraq, and a whopping 75% did not support it, compared to 24% who did. But then they looked at the candidate distribution among the 75% who opposed war in Iraq, and the numbers were very interesting, something like this:
Gephardt (some lower number)
Other (some other lower number)
So the question is, since opposition to the war has been Howard Dean's bread-and-butter issue in the campaign so far, the one position which gave him the most attention, why didn't it help him when three-quarters of the electorate were on his side of the issue?
One possibility is that Iowans punished Gephardt and Dean for running negative campaigns (against eachother) while they rewarded Kerry and Edwards for running positive ones. This seems too simplistic for me. I think voters are looking for a candidate with backbone, and enough energy to go after an opponent, cuz they'll need that against Bush. At first glance, this would explain Kerry's victory, though. But it wasn't that Kerry had been attacking Dean. It was that he'd being doing so in a lame, sniveling, pathetic way, often taking the bait of RNC press releases and using them against Dean. Or simply by saying "I agree!" when Gep attacked him.
There may have been a positive/negative dynamic in the election. The more likely possibility, though, is that something else was in the mix:
Interesting Tidbit #2: "Electability".
Note the quote marks. First of all, let me say this, absolutely loud and clear: The big 5 candidates -- Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards and Clark -- are all electable
! All of them, if place in the ring with George W Bush, would give the little legacy deserter the fight of his life. I don't support Dean because I take it on faith that he's more electable than Clark or Kerry, and I'm in the opinion that the reverse should be the case as well.
With that out of the way, I think that the mock-issue of electability played a big part in John Kerry's victory in Iowa, as well as John Edwards' strong showing. The triple-threat of the mainstream media, Republican pundits and unnamed Democratic sources in articles (usually from rival campaigns) have combined to make the mythical concept of electability a real campaign issue. Kerry and Edwards rode the conventional wisdom on electability to strong showings tonight, because they fostered a perception
It's still true, however, that any candidate who secures the nomination will have been put through his paces in the primaries, and will be battle-tested, and thus, highly capable of being competitive in the general election. Nevertheless, if we are merely to scratch the surface, a candidate with strong military credentials like Kerry could be perceived as more "electable". Further into a campaign, however, this disparity between Kerry and, say, Dean, wouldn't matter as much, in my opinion.
But Brendan, you're a vocal Dean supporter, shouldn't you be upset about tonight's results?
No, I'm not upset at all. In fact, the best approximation of my reaction to Iowa would be that I find the results [data] intriguing [/data]. First of all, if Howard Dean is to be the nominee, he will have to show that he can overcome adversity during the campaign itself, moreso than just being relatively unknown a year ago. Secondly, I am very enthused that John Kerry's campaign has sprung back to life in smashing fashion. The more strong candidates in a campaign, the better. Thirdly -- and I like this the most -- tonight's shocking Kerry victory will send the right wing into panic mode, or at least confusion mode. The Bushies and the RNC have been preparing for (or drooling at, whatever) the possibility of a Dean candidacy in the general election, and even if Dean eventually wins the nomination, this development will still complicate things for the Republicans until then.
Of course, after the New Hampshire Primary next week, everything could be completely different. Stay tuned...