St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iowa predictions

The latest DesMoines Register poll gives Barack Obama a 7-point lead in the Democratic caucuses and Mike Huckabee a 6-point lead for the Republicans. But the winners will be Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney.

The primary reason in both cases is that the Iowa contest is caucuses, not a primary election. Even if there is a record turnout (as will probably occur), and even with all the students and other "new" participants being drawn to the process, the number of participants tomorrow night will be a small fraction of the number of Iowa voters that went to the polls to vote for president in 2004. Instead of just going to your neighborhood polling place, maybe waiting in line a while and then voting, participants (especially in the more complicated Democrat procedure) will need to devote their entire evening to the process. And if you can't make it then, too bad, you don't get to vote. There are lots of Iowans responding to pollsters who won't actually vote in a caucus.

The winners will be those who know what the rules are and who are best prepared to identify their supporters and get them to the caucuses in accordance with those rules.

The best organized (and best financed) Republican is Mitt Romney. He didn't invent the rules, but he put together an organization that is best equipped to cope with them. He has the best Republican "ground game," and it will propel him to victory. Poll leader Huckabee, in addition to peaking just a bit too soon, became a viable candidate far too late in the process to compete effectively in this environment. Huckabee points with pride to being competitive in spite of being outspent by Romney, 20-1, but chalk this one up for Gollaith. Huckabee's loyal evangelical following, though, will probably earn him second place and a trip to New Hampshire.

The disproportionate influence that intensely loyal followers have in small turnout numbers will produce the evening's biggest surprise: the solid third-place showing (perhaps even second) of libertarian (and anti-war) Republican Ron Paul.

Factors in the Democrat contest are much more complicated. For one thing, Clinton's spending has been matched by the equally well-funded Obama campaign. More important is the "viability" rule that applies only to the Democrat contest. At any particular gathering, supporters of a candidate who do not amount to at least 15% of the group are not allowed to form a caucus for that candidate, and are required to join a caucus of some other candidate. That's why the "second choices" of participants favoring candidates other than Clinton and Obama are so important. Many of the participants who aren't for Clinton really dislike her, and are likely to join caucuses for her major opponents. Notably, Dennis Kucinich has announced to his supporters that, if they are unable to form a Kucinich caucus, he would like them to join the Obama caucus as their second choice. (Kucinich did the same for John Edwards four years ago.)

But in the end of the night in Iowa, the same factors propelling Romney to victory in the Republican caucuses will do the same for Hillary Clinton among Democrats. Building on lists left over from her husband's two Iowa campaigns, Hillary has an excellent organization that knows how to get her supporters to caucus. In contrast, much of Obama's support has been spawned by Oprah Winfrey's whirlwind tour, which has predominantly drawn people who have never before taken part in a caucus. As the memories of Oprah's visitation fade and the reality of the evening-long commitment take hold, many of those votes will evaporate. The support of well-intentioned college students will suffer similar erosion. Edwards' labor-based support will fare better, and propel Edwards into second.

But there is another, more important factor that seals the deal. There is no such thing as a "secret ballot" in a caucus. You physically stand with the caucus you select, and the campaign leaders of that caucus -- and the other caucuses -- see where you stand, and take notes. Much of the public, and Democrats in particular, believe that this year's Democratic nominee will win and become the next president. Though struggling in a 3-way contest in Iowa, Hillary has a double-digit lead in national polls, and remains the odds-on favorite to win it all. With the presidency come the spoils of appointments and contracts. The Clintons are legendary in how they reward their friends and punish their enemies. Any Iowa Democrat who wants in on the goodies will want to be seen in Hillary's caucus. Hillary will win Thursday night, and it won't be all that close.


Anonymous Matt said...

What lists? In 1992, IA Senator Tom Harkin was running for President so every candidate gave up on campaigning in IA and went right to NH. In 1996 Clinton ran unopposed and didn't have to work the Caucus. NH is a different story but IA is a tough sell for Clinton. Edwards on the other hand does best with traditional caucus attendees and has great lists from the 7 years he has spent campaigning for the 04 and 08 nominations. In 04 20% of those attending caucus's were first timers. It will have to be a lot larger this year for either Clinton or Obama to win. My prediction is that the Register doesn't have the best respected poll for nothing. They uniquely know what is happening on the ground.

I was in IA last weekend and the energy was huge. The caucus is changing from an insiders only event to a relatively more mainstream one and this year it will see a dramatic new leap in participation. My prediction is that Obama will win it and will demonstrate the appeal to independents and republicans that will lead to a landslide election for him November.

January 2, 2008 at 5:23 PM  
Blogger St. Louis Oracle said...

Matt's 1992-96 recollections are points well taken, but Hillary still benefits from Iowa contacts made during the eight years of the Clinton presidency. I'm sticking with my prediction.

January 2, 2008 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Last night NPR had the co-chair of the Iowa Republican party on and he was uncommited at this point.

His main issue was family values, mainly the right to spank kids, and no candidate was sparking that interest.

Romney might get the most votes for a candidate, but I wouldnt be suprised if the a 20%-30% of the GOP votes are not commited to any candidate.

January 3, 2008 at 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Any Iowa Democrat who wants in on the goodies will want to be seen in Hillary's caucus."

So you're suggesting that tens of thousands of Iowa farmers, laborers, office workers and house wifes are expecting to be rewarded with ambassadorships, cabinet positions and other federal appointments?

Or maybe you're supposing that a future administration would reward and punish different communities based on the caucus numbers. "No federal funding for that dam in precinct 8 of Muscatine County. That was Biden Country!"

I have to admit that I'm struggling with your logic on this one.

January 3, 2008 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous obama/edwards said...

Wow, wayyyyyy off.

January 4, 2008 at 7:49 AM  

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