Monday, January 7, 2008

Second Guess

Oops, I did it again.
No wait, that was for my Britney Spears blog.

Okay, so I was wrong about Iowa. As I wrote last week, it was a tough one to call. Actually, if I had just waited until Wednesday to write it, I would have predicted a Barack Obama victory. That's not 20-20 hindsight; all the tracking polls I read were clearly trending Obama's way by Wednesday, and even more so by Thursday morning. It was becoming apparent that the undecideds and the independents were breaking for Obama. But I had already made my call, two days before, and it didn't seem fair to log back on and change it. I stuck to my guns, and now I pay the price, absorbing the derision of my siblings, who ridicule my faulty prognostication abilities mercilessly. Hey, I never said I was Nostradamus.

So what really happened in Iowa? Well, in case our recent storms trapped you under a tree and you missed last Thursday's caucus, here are the final numbers:

Barack Obama 38%
John Edwards 30%
Hillary Clinton 29%
(five other people who did really badly, 2% or less)

Mike Huckabee 34%
Mitt Romney 25%
Fred Thompson 13%
John McCain 13%
Ron Paul 10%
Rudy Giuliani 3%
Duncan Hunter 0%
(and five people actually voted for Tom Tancredo. Not five percent; five PEOPLE).

According to all the entrance and exit polls, Obama won on the strength of a surge of young, first-time caucusgoers, benefiting from a record turnout. Fifty percent of the Democrats surveyed said they want change; only 20% are looking for experience. Obviously, that benefits a rookie Senator who's new and different, and hurts a veteran who's most associated with the politics of the last millennium (Remember Bill Clinton wanting to build "a bridge to the 21st century"? Note to Hillary: the bridge is out).

Only ten percent told the pollsters they care most about nominating someone who can beat the Republicans in November - and most of those people voted for John Edwards. Which I find interesting, because the Edwards voters often cite him as the most palatable candidate for middle America - a white, Southern male, just like the last THREE Democratic presidents (LBJ, Carter, Clinton). But the buzz I get from the Republican inner circle is that they view Edwards as eminently beatable, but are truly afraid of an Obama candidacy that galvanizes Americans across party lines and crushes the GOP in November like a pile of Barry Goldwater bobblehead dolls.

Iowa Republicans who were looking for a November winner voted mostly for Mitt Romney - but those who were looking for someone honest and trustworthy, who says what he really believes, and shares their values - voted for Mike Huckabee. I've been writing for months about Huckabee's likeability factor, and it showed up big in Iowa. It's playing well in New Hampshire too, though he doesn't have a big base of evangelicals to draw upon there. It may wear thin, though, if voters tire of Huckabee's affable-but-occasionally-lightweight shtick, and look a little more closely at some of the more controversial skeletons in his gubernatorial closet.

Hillary Clinton is still trying to mobilize female voters to help her come from behind in New Hampshire and rally in the next few states. Bad news, Senator: Obama beat you among women in Iowa, 35% to 30%. That's a shocker for the Clinton campaign. Obama even beat Johnny Labor (John Edwards) among union voters.

And Obama attracted vast numbers of independents and crossover Republicans like a human voter magnet, which also bodes very badly for the GOP if he wins the Democratic nomination. Yes, I know he's black; I've noticed. Yes, I know some of us think America is still too racist to actually elect a black president. Yes, I've heard the conspiracy theorists who say corporate America and the Powers That Be will never allow a young progressive of color to occupy the White House. Yes, I know only two U.S. Senators have ever been elected president. Yes, I know he's a northerner, and his middle name is Hussein, and (gasp!) he was raised abroad, in the world's largest Muslim nation, no less. This all means Obama will have even more to overcome than the typical Democratic nominee, but it doesn't mean he can't do it. Not if there's really a generational shift taking place in American politics, a true people's groundswell not seen since the likes of Bobby Kennedy.

Now let's see if Obama can handle the frontrunner's mantle (I think he can), if he can sustain his momentum (I think he will), and if he can roll from Iowa to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August without a few stumbles and faux-pas (I doubt it; everyone falters at some point). Another note to Hillary: if you don't win in New Hampshire, You Gone, Girl. Hmm, maybe that's the name of my next post.

I'm sticking with my original New Hampshire prediction from last week: that John McCain wins the Republican primary there tomorrow. But yeah, I'm switching my forecast on the Democratic side. I think Obama beats Hillary in New Hampshire now. She'll have a better shot at beating him in Nevada next week, and we'll be reporting from there, covering the caucus in Las Vegas.

Given my recent track record, I'd better not place any bets while I'm there.


Anonymous said...

Did you notice how close the final Des Moines newspaper poll was to the final result in Iowa. Right on. Let's see how the pre-vote polls do in NH.

Anonymous said...

Please explain to me how Hilary finishes 3rd in a small state like Iowa and now all of the sudden there is talk that she may not even make it to the end? While I like all the excitement that these two small states present, there is still something so wrong about a caucus victory being the determining fact of who the next president may be!

Doug Sovern said...

Answer to Anonymous #1:
Now we know: the pre-polls did terribly. They were way off on how many people would vote for Hillary...though they were actually pretty accurate on what Obama would get.

Answer to Anonymous #2:
It's all about buzz and momentum. The number of delegates involved is miniscule. But when someone who is expected to win, loses...or vice versa...there's an enormous amount of media attention, and voter attention too, and that can completely change the dynamics of a race.

Anonymous said...

Hence the problem, the media shapes the images based on what a small state does. The media helps decide the race long before it gets to the bigger more dominate states. At least this year is close enough that Californians should have an option of two democrats and three or four republicans.

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