The big news in Iowa was the strong showing of Bernie Sanders and the defeat of Donald Trump. Now the question is how much the results matter.
For Republicans, Mike Huckabee’s Iowa victory in 2008 and Rick Santorum’s in 2012 proved entirely irrelevant to slowing John McCain and Mitt Romney’s momentum to winning the presidential nomination. Yet Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa victory over Hillary Clinton played a crucial role in his securing the nomination over his favored opponent.
Clinton needed to win Iowa and she did. While the pundits on CNN and MSNBC interpreted her razor thin victory as more of a defeat (and Sanders backers see the races as a tie), I see it differently.
Iowa is a small, nearly all white state perfectly made for outsider candidacies. Clinton’s campaign faced not only opposition from Sanders, but from a dozen Republican candidates who spent many of the debates bashing her while ignoring Sanders.
The best news for Sanders and the Democratic Party is that his Iowa finish ensures a long, competitive race.
When people talk of how Sanders does better than Clinton in head to head match ups with Republicans, this reflects the $15 million the GOP has spent on attack ads against her while spending $0 against him. Republicans ignored Sanders in Iowa, and the progressive champion benefited from that.
Clinton didn’t need to win Iowa but a narrow win prevents Sanders from claiming he swept the first two races (he is a sure thing in New Hampshire). So Clinton came out much stronger from Iowa than she did in 2008.
Sanders on a Roll
Politics is an expectations game and Bernie Sanders did better than expected in Iowa. How much better? The media felt that the Des Moines Register poll foresaw a 3% defeat, so Sanders was given credit for exceeding expectations. Yet based on Facebook posts that I saw on Election Day, many Sanders backers expected to win Iowa.
I thought it most significant that in their post-election speeches both Rubio and Trump referenced Sanders as a potential general election opponent.
The best news for Sanders and the Democratic Party is that his Iowa finish ensures a long, competitive race. That’s good for Hillary Clinton, who has enough problems with those who think she has been handed the nomination.
A more competitive race increases Democratic turnout. It also highlights the vast differences between either Democratic candidate and their GOP opponents.
Why Cruz Won
Despite polls and pundits predicting a Donald Trump victory in Iowa, Ted Cruz prevailed. I was not surprised. As I posted on Facebook on the morning of Election Day, Cruz’s superior ground game made a difference in a caucus state. It’s one thing to go to a Trump rally and quite another to be committed enough to Trump to go to an evening caucus without being prodded by a campaign volunteer to do so.
Cruz always had a chance where evangelical voters picked Huckabee and Santorum in the last two presidential election cycles. Add the ground game and his victory is understandable.
Trump proved a victim of his own arrogance. He wrongfully assumed that large public crowds translated into caucus attendees. While the media kept talking about the breadth of Trump’s base—which allegedly included union members, Democrats, and other non-traditional GOP constituencies—-his supporters lacked the passion of those backing Cruz.
Marco Rubio is said to have done better than expected. That’s only true if you count expectations from two weeks ago, rather than three months ago when Rubio was considered a frontrunner. Rubio’s enforced low expectations explains why his post-election speech sounded as if he had won Iowa instead of finishing third.
If Trump beats Rubio in New Hampshire, his second place finish in Iowa will be forgotten. But if Trump under performs again next week, his decision to forego traditional voter outreach strategies could well cost him the nomination.
The GOP base will not accept an “Establishment” candidate this year. So if Trump falls short in New Hampshire, Cruz becomes the clear favorite.