The Iowa caucus results are in. A rational person may, of course, be tempted to say—would be justified to say, even—“So what? A couple of hundred thousand Iowans have had their say. Let’s get on with life.” But politics, like other, more worthwhile things in life, is occurs largely between the ears. And in American politics Iowa does matter to some degree, rationality be damned.
So what does a reading of the corn husks tell us? On the Republican side, John McCain may turn out to be the bigger winner. Mike Huckabee can win the rural heartland vote but before he returns to those fertile, evangelical fields, he has to face more secular New Hampshire where he will probably still, despite Iowa, come in third behind McCain and Romney. Huckabee might survive a bronze in NH and go on to silver or gold in South Carolina but doesn’t have the legs or pockets to carry both the home of the Confederacy and the home of old northeasterners (that would be Florida) within twenty four hours of each other.
Romney, meanwhile, may have taken the biggest hit yesterday having outspent Huckabee decisively only to come in second. While McCain’s finishing fourth behind Thompson wasn’t stellar, a) he didn’t contest the state heavily; and b) He’s more popular in NH. Thompson and the rest of the GOP crowd–except for Rudy—meanwhile, may limp through NH but will be gone before the first votes are cast in Dixie. If McCain can pull out a first or second in New Hampshire and South Carolina and a win in Florida, he’ll be well established for a decisive upset win on Super Tuesday. Move over Bill Clinton. Meet the new comeback kid.
A McCain falter, however, will give Rudy G. his best shot to win the nomination. McCain will be hurt by the fact Hillary didn’t crush Obama in Iowa. Independent voters, who gave McCain New Hampshire in 2000, may well vote in the Democratic primary for Obama this time. If they do so Hillary and McCain may both come in second. This would give Rudy a shot in the South as Romney probably won’t play well there. My bet is, however, that Giuliani’s decision to focus on Florida and Super Tuesday will backfire: by then the mighty Mo of momentum will be behind someone else. Though probably not Mike Huckabee whom, having done well with the children of the corn will go on to become yet another candidate who did so only to melt away in the New Hampshire snow. Nor Mitt who, despite possibly winning New Hampshire next week, will sour as he heads south.
On the Democratic side it is the Obama moment. And it probably won’t last. So cherish it Barack fans and nuture it until 2012 or 2016. Hillary may well be set to follow directly in her hubby’s footsteps (except for that intern thing): Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire and then a sweep of Super Tuesday clinching the nomination. She still has the money, the establishment support and the name to go on. And, according to the latest Pew Research survey, she enjoys a twenty point lead over Obama with national Democrats. Once the non—representative firstees of corn and granite have finished having their say (and, once again, America, how long are we going to let those fine folks monopolize said first say?) national trends will probably win out.
Probably, Maybe. But, by golly, this is the most dynamic election season at least since the Republican ’96 race, so don’t go betting the farm or SUV on anyone just yet.
Though I wouldn’t bet a farthing (should I be able to find one) on John Edwards, whose second second place finish in Iowa spells the real end of his run. As usual, the Iowa caucus was good for culling the herd but not for selecting the dominant bull (or top cow, in Hillary’s case…). Biden and Dodd are gone with more to follow. Hunter is a dead man walking. The GOP race is down to four and the Dems are really down to two: Clinton and Obama.
Exciting, isn’t it.