With less than a week to go until the crucial Iowa caucuses, Dan Hamilton, a Runnymede Borough Councillor, previews the race. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of BritainAndAmerica.
For most of 2007, it appeared as if Mitt Romney was a shoo-in for victory in the Iowa caucuses. Following an impressive victory at the influential Ames Strawpoll in the summer, many political commentators openly speculated that it may be wise for his opponents to “roll over” and concentrate their fire upon later primary states, such was the “inevitability” of an Iowa Romney victory. With less than a week left until primary day, this is no longer the case, chiefly as a result of a late surge in support for former Arkansas Governor and Baptist Pastor Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee’s rapid rise in the opinion polls in the six weeks leading up to polling day - he was polling an average of 9% on October 3rd, as compared to 35% on December 4th – could well, perversely, be his undoing. Despite the likelihood of Huckabee polling a greater number of votes than he or his supporters would have dreamed possible only three months ago, his recent lead in the opinion polls has led to a capabilities/ expectations gap that may well have the ability to derail his candidacy. He simply does not possess the vast resources – human or financial – of his leading opponents, particularly Mitt Romney and must rely greatly upon the power of his message and appeal to religious voters.
Almost as soon as he was sworn in as Governor of Massachusetts in early 2003, Mitt Romney began his campaign for the 2008 Republican nomination for President. Long before he officially announced his intention to seek the nomination, Romney’s team had already established a strong network of ‘precinct captains’ across the state, not to mention his almost weekly appearances in the state. In terms of the ‘money race’, at the end of the third quarter fundraising period, Romney had $9,216,517 cash on hand as compared to Huckabee’s $651,301.
Undoubtedly, the people of Iowa know far more about Romney than they do about Mike Huckabee. This may well be part of Romney’s problem. You see, whilst the Mitt Romney seeking the 2008 Republican nomination has painted himself as a staunch social conservative in favour of slashing government spending, he is only a recent convert to these causes. To offer but two examples; during his 2002 campaign for Governor of Massachusetts he described abortion rights as “non negotiable” and during his 1994 race for US Senate against Teddy Kennedy, the standard-bearer of America’s far-left, he loftily declared his opposition to the ‘Contract with America’ stating that he was an “independent voter during the time of Reagan… and didn’t want a return to Reagan/Bush”. His opponents, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson in particular, have been relentless in highlighting his past record.
The attacks on Romney’s social conservative credentials have propelled Huckabee into a powerful 57% to 19% lead in the latest ABC poll over the former Massachusetts Governor amongst evangelical voters in the state. Aside from the evangelical voters one would expect to rally around a Baptist Pastor, Huckabee also leads 51% to 23% amongst other regular churchgoers and 4 to 1 amongst opponents of abortion. With history showing religious voters as reliable attendees on caucus night, they would likely be the lynchpin of any Huckabee victory.
Romney has, however, done a good job in pulling the wool over the eyes of many socially conservative voters sceptical about both his past policy positions and Mormon faith. Whilst Huckabee’s first television commercial in Iowa, an amusing spot featuring film tough-man Chuck Norris, aired on November 18th, Romney began saturating the airwaves with TV spots dedicated to his supposed record of lowering taxes, cracking down on illegal immigration and hard-line on social issues.
Romney, however, has not been the only candidate to feel the heat of media scrutiny. With Mike Huckabee’s firmly viewed as a “second tier” candidate until very recently, recent attacks on his record on taxes and government spending as Governor of Arkansas from Republican columnists such as Ann Coulter (“Liberals Sing ‘Huckelujah’”) have forced both fiscal and economic conservative voters to give other candidates such as Fred Thompson another look.
A former US Senator and lawyer turned actor, Fred Thompson’s late entry into the Republican race in September was greeted with wild enthusiasm by many Republican voters unhappy with the perceived “liberalism” of Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain. His campaign has been a huge disappointment, with even his closest supporters decrying him for running a lazy and uninspiring race. In some ways, his perceived laziness allowed Mike Huckabee, then a political non-entity, to fill the vacuum created by the ‘Rudy-McRomney’ axis. A spate of recent polls have estimated his support in the state to be at around 10%, well down from a national peak of 23% in September.
All, however, may not be lost. His recent endorsements from Iowa Congressman Steve King, a hero of the Republican Party’s conservative wing and the National Right to Life Committee, coupled with a dramatic last-minute swing through each of Iowa’s 99 counties may translate into a surprisingly strong finish in the state.
Iowa Republicans could well be forgiven for viewing John McCain with a significant amount of cynicism. During the 2000 Presidential election in which McCain finished second to George W Bush in the race for the Republican nomination, he offended Iowa voters by opting to entirely skip the caucuses in order to focus his campaign on victory in New Hampshire, a strategy which led him to a 60%/40% upset victory over Bush in the state. Going into the 2008 race as a strong front-runner, McCain publicly pledged to fight both Iowa on January 3rd and New Hampshire on January 8th, only to see his national poll numbers collapse during the course of this summer in light of stiff competition from Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani.
If John McCain’s team could turn back time, they would follow exactly the strategy that proved so fruitful in 2000. In effect, they are. Whilst McCain’s name will be on the ballot paper in Iowa and it is likely he will achieve a respectable finish, the make or break test for his campaign and the majority of his efforts will be focussed on New Hampshire on January 8th (where, in a clear vindication of his strategy, his polling numbers have risen from 12% in October to 25% on December 13th).
Despite his present, yet declining lead in national polls, Rudy Giuliani will not perform strongly in the Iowa caucuses. In an almost unprecedented step, his campaign appears to be focussed upon the later primaries in larger, delegate-rich states such Michigan (January 15th) and Florida (January 29th). According to the Boston Globe, his lackadaisical attitude towards victory in Iowa is such that on December 17th, just over two weeks from the caucuses, his public schedule for the week included “no events on Tuesday, three events on Wednesday in Missouri [whose primary is on February 5th], and no events on Thursday”.
Despite setting a record in Republican Presidential politics by raising $4.3 million in a one-day online fundraiser, it is difficult to take anti-war, anti-government Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s campaign seriously. In the past days alone, Paul has endeared himself to Republican voter by attacking Abe Lincoln, describing Ronald Reagan’s term in office as a “failure” and stating that whilst the US is “not moving toward a Hitler-type fascism, [they are still] towards fascism”. Whilst it is not inconceivable that Ron Paul’s hugely earnest (yet completely bonkers) band of supporters could lead to him polling as much as 15% in the Iowa caucuses, his campaign will have little forward traction beyond the early primary states.
The outcome of the Democratic caucus in Iowa, as I shall later explain, may well be determined by the ‘second preferences’ of supporters of minority candidates as a result of the Party’s complex rules requiring candidates to satisfy quotas in order to be awarded ‘delegates’ for their nomination process. The Republican caucuses are a much simpler affair. After hearing a series of set-piece speeches by representatives of each of the candidate, participants are issued with a ballot paper upon which they indicate their sole preference for the nomination. Following the end of the balloting, the results are counted up across the state with the Iowa Republican Party ultimately granting each candidate delegates to the nominating convention in proportion to the number of votes they have received. There is only one round of voting at each voting precinct. For this reason, the analysis of ‘second preference’ voters I offer for the Democratic race is unnecessary when one is examining the outcome of the Republican caucus in Iowa. .
Despite the dramatic Huckabee surge over the past two months, the majority of recent opinion polls – many conducted following a barrage of negative attacks on Huckabee’s record on taxes and immigration by Mitt Romney’s campaign – show the race to be tightening. Whilst Huckabee can draw satisfaction from the 19th December ABC poll which shows 60% of his supporters claim to have “definitely made up their minds” to support him as compared to 49% for Romney, that still leaves 40% of his voters and 51% of Romney’s effectively “up for grabs”.
It appears that Iowa Republicans are set for an exciting photo finish between Mitt Romney, the flip-flopper from Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee, the big-government preacher from Arkansas.
For the past year the Democratic race has, unsurprisingly, been dominated by US Senator Hillary Clinton. Predictably, given Iowa’s historical penchant for supporting the underdog, Clinton’s unhealthily high negative ratings amongst voters and an excellent campaign on the part of Barack Obama, has seen her front-runner status wane in the past weeks. The mainstream media has decided that Iowa is a straight fight between Obama and Clinton, an impression supported by the latest opinion polls which show the two in an extremely close race.
I would argue, however, that the polls are overly simplistic in that they take no account of the organisational strength in the state of John Edwards, the former North Carolina Senator and John Kerry’s Vice-Presidential running mate in 2004. Edwards’ campaign appears to be fairly open about their strategy, his Iowa State Director Jennifer O’Malley admitting that the bulk of his support lies in “small and medium counties” such as 2,189-person Sac City. In addition to his many visits to each of the state’s 99 counties, O’Malley claims to have trained campaign ‘captains’ in 90% of Iowa’s 1800 voting precincts. He will also be able to tap into a great deal of residual support left over from his surprise second place finish in the state in 2004. Whilst opinion polls show Edwards lagging behind Obama and Clinton, even a strong second placed finish in the state would be a significant (possibly even deadly) blow to whichever of the two better-known challengers fell to third place. Given the nature of the Iowa caucuses, this cannot be ruled out.
According to a University of Iowa poll conducted on October 29th, Obama enjoys a lead of 41.2% to 19.1% over Hillary Clinton amongst voters aged 18 to 44. On the other hand, Clinton holds a solid and growing lead amongst the 44+ age-group and female voters (who comprised 54% of voters in the 2004 primary).
Despite his strength in opinion polls, Obama’s strength amongst young voters may prove problematic in terms of media expectations for his campaign. According to an Exit Poll conducted following the 2004 Democratic caucus, the 18-44 age-group accounted for only 32% of total participants. Further examining subsets of this age group, one will see that Obama has even stronger support amongst University students who will, problematically, still be on holiday at the time of the caucus on January 3rd. The electoral intransigence of this crucial age group for Obama has led Bob Novak, the leading US political commentator, to openly speculate about the possibility of the Illinois Senator ending up as the “Howard Dean of 2008”, another candidate who attracted strong support from young people in opinion polls, yet failed to make an impact at the caucuses.
Despite his hugely impressive CV, including spells as a Congressman, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Energy Secretary and his more recent successes as Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson’s campaign has never really been taken seriously by the media. In many ways, this is a great shame, as Richardson is clearly the best qualified candidate in the Democratic race and the only one with the varied legislative and executive experience one associates with the Presidency. People have failed to take Richardson seriously for the simple reason that nobody believes he is really running to win. A close friend of Bill Clinton, it is widely speculated that he is angling to be Hillary Clinton’s Vice-Presidential running-mate. Given that he is polling at around 3% in New Hampshire and 2% in South Carolina, anything less than an astonishingly strong, momentum-building Iowa result will end Richardson’s campaign.
In a cruel turn of fate, it is also likely that veteran Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, first elected to Congress in 1972 and 1974 respectively, will see their long-harboured Presidential ambitions crash and burn on the snow-swept Iowa prairies. Despite the two candidates putting in consistently solid debate performances and possessing combined congressional service of 67 years as compared to Clinton and Obama's total of 10 years, their campaigns have never seriously gained traction.
As I have already mentioned, the mechanics of the Democratic primary are significantly more complicated than that of their Republican rivals. Following the initial speeches by the precinct ‘captains’ of each contender, caucus-goers are asked to vote for the candidate of their choice with candidates only reaching the status of a “viable” candidate if their poll a minimum of between 15% and 25% (the percentage being higher in more sparsely populated counties) of the delegates present. It is likely that Richardson, Dodd and Biden will therefore fall at this hurdle in the vast majority of precincts, leading to their supporters either being forced to support one of the “big three” (Clinton, Obama and Edwards) or coalesce around one of the eliminated candidates in order to achieve the quota. Second preferences, therefore, are hugely important. According to polling conducted by the Washington Post on 19th December, 41% of Richardson, Dodd and Biden supporters described John Edwards as their second choice, with 29% supporting Obama and only 16% backing Clinton. With RealClearPolitics.com assessing Richardson and Biden’s combined average support in the most recent opinion polls to be nearly 12% in the first round (Chris Dodd’s average support was not calculated), the behaviour of their voters in the second round could be crucial in determining the outcome in a very close race.
Hillary Clinton claimed on Tuesday to have “no idea what is going to happen on January 3rd” and that “nobody does”. She’s correct.
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