Like it or Not: IA+NH=Important
As a follow-up to my post about the zombification of the Perry, Santorum, and Gingrich campaigns, comes the question of whether, historically, the eventual nominees ever managed to ride a post-IA/NH strategy to the coronation of their party.
The answer is: since the beginning of the current rules for delegate allocations (1972) only twice has either party nominated someone who did not win either IA or NH. In the 1972 cycle the nominee was Senator George McGovern, but Senator Edmund Muskie came in second in Iowa (“uncommitted” came in first) and he won New Hampshire. In 1992 the eventual nominee was Bill Clinton, but Tom Harkin won Iowa and Paul Tsongas won New Hampshire. Every other nominee of both parties since 1972 has won either IA or NH. That is 18 of 20 nominees.
I would note, however, that no nominee of either party since 1972 has failed to at least come in second one of the two contests (McGovern was second in NH, as was Clinton). That is to say: the winner has always been competitive in either IA or NH. In other words: there is no example of an eventual nominees utterly failing in IA and NH (defined as third or worse in both) and then going on to success. Perry, Bachmann, and Gingrich all appear destined to achieve that level of failure in both contests. As such, focusing on SC is a longshot strategy.
It is worth noting that 1972 was the beginning of the current system of delegate allocation and therefore was before the current system was fully institutionalized (i.e., the beginning of the modern era of nomination process where the primaries selected convention delegates bounds to specific candidates). Further, the Iowa caucuses were not considered significant until after Jimmy Carter’s surprising second-place finish in 1976 (again, “uncommitted” came in first). As such, really only the Clinton example is useful for contemporary comparisons.
While Clinton failed to win either Iowa or New Hampshire, he was still competitive in New Hampshire, coming in second to New Englander Paul Tsongas. It is worth noting that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin won his home state with 76% of the vote in 1992. The fact that a popular Iowan ran in 1992 meant that the Iowa did not serve a narrowing function for the Democrats in that cycle.
Here’s the run-down of Iowa and New Hampshire from 1976 to 2008:
|Iowa||Dem Winner||Rep Winner|
|New Hampshire||Dem Winner||Rep Winner|
The bottom line, to back up my earlier point, is this: like it or not, candidates have to be competitive in Iowa and NH and, to date, no candidate has lost badly in both Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to a successful run at their party’s nomination. Even the one case of a post-1972 nominee who failed to win one of the two contests, Bill Clinton in 1992, underscores the point: it was his second place win in New Hampshire (after winning 3% in IA) that allowed him to declare himself the “Comeback Kid.” Had he lost badly in NH along with a single-digit showing in IA his momentum would have been crushed. 1992 was an odd year as well in terms of political geography: Harkin was a sitting Senator in Iowa and Tsongas had been a Senator from Massachusetts, which gave him an advantage in New Hampshire.
The bottom line is this: the winners/competitive candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire are going to get a lot of press and will find it easier to raise money than will the losers/noncompetitive candidates. As such, the notion that single-digit showings in IA and NH can be overcome later in the process is problematic, and if achieved will be historical in nature.
Note, too: the non-political junkies are only just now starting to pay attention, just as the labels “winner” and “loser” are starting to be applied to candidates.
This is, by the way, one of the reasons I find Iowa and New Hampshire’s special status to be problematic: it gives them too much significance.