Sen. John McCain wins! At least that’s what you might think from the TV punditry in the immediate wake of McCain’s fourth-place finish in yesterday’s Iowa Republican caucus. The desperation of our media elite to elevate McCain into front-runner status is exceeded only by their lazily dismissive effort to brand Sen. John Edwards as “angry.” Gimme a break.
In fact there were winners and losers in yesterday’s caucus, and some of them not so obvious as you might think.
The Big Winners:
The Democratic Party:
The big news coming out of Iowa was not Obama’s or Huckabee’s somewhat comfortable wins (or McCain’s spectacular fourth-place victory) but the caucus itself, which saw record-busting turnout on the Democratic side and well, not so much for the Republicans. In 2000, the last time both parties caucused, the Republicans turned out 87,000 voters and the Democrats only 59,000. In 2004, the Democrats drew 125,000. Last night Republicans produced 115,000 voters, a modest increase from 2000, while a stunning 236,000 Iowans swarmed the Democratic caucuses. It doesn’t take a Beltway pundit to understand what this energized (and independent engorged) Democratic base could mean next November, up and down the ticket.
Obama and Huckabee:
Yeah, they both won, so I suppose that makes them both winners, though of the two I think Barack Obama goes into New Hampshire in the much stronger position. I came away from his June appearance in Seattle wondering if the polls might be underestimating Obama’s support. The audience was filled with new faces, somewhat younger, many of whom told me they’d never even voted before, let alone contributed to or volunteered for a political candidate, and if these folks actually turned out, the “likely voter” model on which pollsters rely would have to be tossed out the window. Well… they turned out. If that holds true throughout the primary season and into November, nothing short of an assassin’s bullet will keep Obama out of the White House. (I hope Obama has really tough security.)
Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden:
Yeah, they lost, and they lost big. But at least they had the common sense to get out and return to life as almost normal. And while Dodd came away from Iowa with only a single delegate, he’s gained the newfound respect of progressives nationwide, who are already mounting a grassroots campaign to have him replace Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader.
He’s rich, he’s famous, and he has a much younger, buxom wife, despite being rather ugly and shriveled himself. How can he lose?
The Big Losers:
The Republican Party:
Evangelical Christians turned out in large numbers to push Huckabee over the top in the Republican caucus, but other than that, what does the GOP have? Not much. This is a fractured party with an extremist base that independents are fleeing in droves. If I were a Republican running in a competitive race anywhere in the nation, I would be very, very nervous right now.
Two years and a kajillion dollars later, and a distant second-place finish behind a preacher from Arkansas is the best he can muster? For a guy whose biggest claim to the White House seems to be nondescript competency, losing Iowa runs counter to message. He’s not out of it, as both Huckabee and McCain are ripe for self-destruction, but even in this pathetic Republican field I’m not so sure Romney’s campaign theme of “I’m not one of the other guys” is enough to garner the nomination.
Again, not out of it, but this has to be a huge blow. I never bought in to the inevitability meme (or the Hillary can’t win meme either,) but a lot of folks did, and Clinton’s marginally third-place finish will have a lot of voters reevaluating their options. Obama didn’t just win, he won a comfortable majority of women voters, a core constituency Clinton had counted on. If she can come back from Iowa, she deserves to be president.
Sure, Guiliani didn’t even campaign in Iowa, but for the man who led in the polls for much of the year to come away with only 3% of the delegates, a distant sixth place behind Ron Paul for chrissakes, well, that’s just pathetic. Expect similar results in New Hampshire, where Guiliani has also declined to campaign, instead choosing to pin his hopes on winning Florida. Sure, I’d rather spend my winter in Florida than in Iowa or New Hampshire, but it’s not exactly an obvious path to White House.
Bill Richardson’s press release writer:
I got a lot of ridiculous spin emailed my way last night, but by far the winner for the most pathetically grasping was headlined: “Bill Richardson Makes Final Four”. Um, yeah… with 2% of the delegates. I like Richardson, and I feel bad for him that he hasn’t gained more traction, but somebody with a conscience had to write that headline, and it is he to whom I offer my deepest condolences.
Bill Richardson, Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter:
As expected, they lost, and they lost big. And yet they don’t seem to have the common sense to get out.
Not Quite So Big Losers:
Yes, I know even Edwards said he had to win Iowa, but he didn’t really, and beating Clinton I think gives him a little air. Edwards must now pin his hopes on Clinton imploding, while he picks up most of her support; not a likely scenario, but possible. The best spin one could possibly put on Edwards performance is that for most of the past year this was covered as a two-way race between Clinton and Obama, and now it is legitimately a three-way. (Assuming the pundits legitimize that spin.) On the bright side, Edwards has had a huge impact on the race as a whole, with Obama, Clinton and Huckabee increasingly picking up his economic populist message.
Sure, he came in fifth with only 10% of the vote, but my God… Ron Paul got 10% of the vote! Paul is a nutty candidate, but he’s running for the nomination of a nutty party, and thus I think he’ll pick up traction before he fades away. With his gobs of cash, his anti-war message, and his psychotically fervent base, Paul could end up picking up enough delegates to give convention handlers a fit next summer. I’m looking forward to it.
Gravel and Kuccinich:
They lost big, but then, neither one is really running to win, so what does it matter?
Sen. John McCain:
No, he wasn’t a big winner (unless he was actually shooting for fourth place) but with Huckabee trouncing Romney, he didn’t exactly lose either. McCain’s strategy must be to outlast Romney and Guiliani, becoming the only real alternative to Huckabee and his Christian soldiers, but it won’t be easy without much money, and well, being McCain. McCain had long counted on independent voters to carry him to a good finish in New Hampshire, but if Iowa is any measure, independents seem to be stampeding to the Democrats, and particularly Obama.
That’s my take on Iowa, and I stand by it, even the parts that are complete bullshit.