Iowa Caucus Results – Signs and Portents
Mike Huckabee won the Republican vote by a much wider margin than expected and Ron Paul came in a distant fifth place — but ahead of ostensible national frontrunner Rudy Giuliani. Barack Obama won on the Democratic side but one could argue that it was essentially a three way tie, since he got only one more delegate than Clinton, who got one more than Edwards.
So, what does it all mean?
Andrew Sullivan sounds the most optimistic note:
Look at their names: Huckabee and Obama. Both came from nowhere – from Arkansas and Hawaii. Both campaigned as human beings, not programmed campaign robots with messages honed in focus groups. Both faced powerful and monied establishments in both parties. And both are running two variants on the same message: change, uniting America again, saying goodbye to the bitterness of the polarized past, representing ordinary voters against the professionals.
It is about America. America’s ability to move forward, to unite, to get past the bitter red-and-blue past. That’s what the next generation wants. And they now seem motivated enough to get it.
So, it’s Morning in America. But, as his co-blogger Andrew Sullivan noted just minutes earlier, it’s a dark day for the Republican Party.
Tonight was in many ways devastating news for the GOP. Twice as many people turned out for the Democrats than the Republicans. Clearly independents prefer the Dems.
Now look at how the caucus-goers defined themselves in the entrance polls. Among the Dems: Very Liberal: 18 percent; Somewhat Liberal: 36 percent; Moderate: 40 percent; Conservative: 6 percent. Now check out the Republicans: Very Conservative: 45 percent; Somewhat Conservative: 43 percent; Moderate: 11 percent; Liberal: 1 percent.
One is a national party; the other is on its way to being an ideological church. The damage Bush and Rove have done – revealed in 2006 – is now inescapable.
Somewhere in between lies the truth.
The Immediate Fallout: Democrats
Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have dropped out of the race. Mike Gravel should. Presumably, Bill Richardson needs to do well in New Hampshire to justify staying in the race.
John Edwards missed his best chance to catapult himself into contention. He’s unlikely to do well in New Hampshire and it’s not even clear he’ll take South Carolina despite favorite son status.
While Hillary Clinton isn’t seriously wounded by her finish — she played the expectations game well enough — she needs to come back and win in New Hampshire. If Obama beats her there, she’s in trouble. Charles Hurt reads a bit too much into Iowa but he makes a strong point:
More than 70 percent of Iowa Democrats rejected her bid to get back into the White House. And so, after 15 years of domination, the Clinton dynasty has finally lost its grip on the Democratic Party
The Immediate Fallout: Republicans
Mike Huckabee is a legitimate frontrunner now. Despite a serious of stumbles over the last two weeks, he managed to not only hold off Mitt Romney but beat him by a much wider than expected margin. Still, he’s got a long way to go.
John F. Harris and Jonathan Martin of The Politico are a bit over the top in their overall analysis of the race but they nail this:
Huckabee … must now try to turn what has been a mostly personality-based campaign into an effective national organization with appeal beyond the religious conservatives who formed the basis of his victory here.
That’s going to be hard to accomplish in the four days between now and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, as WSJ’s Susan Davis notes, this could be the Beginning of the End for Romney. If he doesn’t bounce back and take Michigan or New Hampshire — if not both — it’s hard to map out a plausible path to his nomination.
Fred Thompson edged out John McCain in a photo finish for third. That defied expectations. Still, as Matt Yglesias notes, the press seem to be treating McCain as the one with momentum.
Ron Paul finished in fifth place with double digit support. That’s much better than any of us would have predicted a year ago but far short of the ridiculously high expectations set by his enthusiasts. He’s got the money and fiscal restraint to remain in the race so long as he pleases but a third place finish might have brought him out of the realm of curiosity and gotten the media to frame him as a legitimate candidate. New Hampshire is likely his last shot at that; after that, most people will start to vote strategically.
What it Means for the Parties
The Democrats have three candidates that the base could ultimately rally around, two of whom could well attract strong support from moderates. The third, Hillary Clinton, remains the favorite, I should think, to take the nomination. If any sense of “inevitability” still attached to her prior to last night’s vote, however, it’s now gone. Obama is easily the bigger obstacle in her path.
A Huckabee nomination could conceivably destroy the party. Not only would he be lucky to break 40 percent in the general election against any of the plausible Democratic nominees but many fiscal conservatives and Chamber of Commerce Republicans would bolt. When Ronald Reagan and others mobilized rural Christian conservatives in the 1980s, they never expected that they would take such a prominent role in the party. Gradually, though, they took it over at the grass roots level in much of rural America.
Huckabee’s mobilization of fervent evangelicals, many of whom doubtless had never shown up for a caucus prior to last night, scares the hell out of mainstream Republicans. My strong hunch is that they’ll rally around someone else — probably McCain but possibly Romney or Giuliani — in Michigan and New Hampshire.
What it Means for the Country
Ultimately, I side with Optimistic Sullivan on this one. Democracy is a frustrating thing for elites, who have always feared mob rule. Still, it’s a remarkable thing that a big city black man with a Muslim name managed to beat out the Establishment-backed wife of a former president in one of the whitest, rural states in the country. Adam Nagourney:
Mr. Obama’s victory in this overwhelmingly white state was a powerful answer to the question of whether America was prepared to vote for a black person for president. What was remarkable was the extent to which race was not a factor in this contest.
That Obama was able to do this partly on the basis of inspiring young people, traditionally one of the weakest voting blocks, is also a positive sign.
The elite disappointment with Huckabee’s easy win is palpable. Iowa’s format allows a fervent few to dominate; that structure isn’t in place in most of the states that follow. Still, the fact that a guy that was off the radar screen of even most political junkies a few months ago can stand next to much more famous and better financed men, state his case to the voters, and earn their support is the very ideal of our system.
Further, while the press attention on Huckabee, reasonably enough, focuses on his religiosity, there’s more to his appeal than that, as David Brooks explains at great length. An excerpt:
Huckabee understands how middle-class anxiety is really lived. Democrats talk about wages. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person’s lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has.
In that sense, Huckabee’s victory is not a step into the past. It opens up the way for a new coalition.
A conservatism that recognizes stable families as the foundation of economic growth is not hard to imagine. A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine either. Adam Smith felt this way. A conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year is the only conservatism worth defending.
We have a presidential, not a parliamentary, system in this country. Whereas the latter rewards political experience and working one’s way through the ranks, the former gives more weight to personality and an ability to connect with the people. There’s still a long, long way to go, though, before we face the prospect of a President Huckabee or President Obama.
- Steven Taylor does quick hits on all the candidates including: “Rudy Giuliani: 4% sucks, even if you are a guy who didn’t campaign in Iowa if you are, in fact, America’s Mayor.”
- Jim Henley: “[Ron Paul] raised a ridiculous amount of money last year and owns the internet; he inspired an army of volunteers in a caucus system where being able to concentrate bodies is almost uniquely useful and he still couldn’t beat ten lousy percent. Hell, Fred Thompson barely showed up and he beat Paul.”
- Mark Kleiman: “[A]fter Obama’s performance, I’d expect Granite State independents to be flocking to his banner, not McCain’s. And if the Republican primary is left almost entirely to Republican voters, I’m not sure McCain can beat Romney.”
- Barbara O’Brien: “[T]he unprecedented turnout of younger and first-time caucus goers tonight ought to be taken very seriously by both parties.”
- Bruce McQuain: “The first theme, at least for Iowans, was their vote wasn’t for sale. The best financed campaigns didn’t take the win.”
- Ed Morrissey: “Hillary has reaped the harvest of two months of self-inflicted wounds . . . she’s no Bill Clinton.”
- Libby Spencer: “[T]he race is still wide open and we may well have to go all the way to Super Tuesday before we see a definitive frontrunner on either side and that would be good.”
- Vox Day: “I’ve long had the impression that WND reached more Republicans than NRO, the fact that the Chuck Norris-endorsed candidate absolutely trounced the National Review-approved one despite being heavily outspent tends to support this notion, at least for one week.”
- Damian Penny: “Huckabee vs. Obama? I’ll take the Senator from Illinois, and I bet many conservatives – even registered Republicans – feel the same way.”
- Ron Chusid: “Edwards’ populism won’t sell in many states outside of Iowa, and having lost her aura of inevitability, support for Clinton is likely to hemorrhage.”
- Betsy Newmark: “[T]his is a rejection of Bill Clinton just as much. He couldn’t cast his aura over his unlikable wife and usher her to her own coronation. And I predict that it won’t be pretty to watch her flailing away at the new golden boy of the Democratic party.”
- Dean Barker: “Check out the total vote percentages – if Iowa is a slice of America, then America just utterly rejected the Republican party.”
- Anonymous Liberal: “After tonight, I really don’t understand how anyone could fail to see Obama’s superior virtues as a general election candidate.”