Why Iowa Is Important

The Politico reports that the fundamental character of the top two Democratic campaigns in Iowa have experienced something of a role reversal with Barack Obama displaying the ease and confidence of the frontrunner while Hillary Clinton’s campaign appears backed in a corner.

Welcome to the home stretch.

The tip off to how the campaigns have changed is centered around the fact that Hillary has gone negative, and not just against the Bush administration.  Mrs. Clinton, whose early primary campaign could best be characterized as a Democratic consensus campaign, soared through the early months of the contest without hardly a glance towards her opponents.  If she had to acknowledge their existence, typically something that happened during the debates, it was to dismiss any attacks leveled at her, and to unify the response, to remind everyone that all Democrats were against what Bush and the Republicans have done to our federal government.

But now, even though she enjoys a vast national lead, as well as significant leads in nearly all of the early voting primaries, Hillary Clinton is focusing on Iowa, and doing it not as the inevitable frontrunner, but as the underdog, struggling to play catch up.

Explaining this to a point is a recent poll that put Obama at the top of a statistical dead heat, with underlying attributes showing him heavily favored to pick up more support in the final weeks.  But even at this, it is interesting that Hillary would put forth so much effort in the Iowa Caucus.  At a glance, it would appear that she would be better served by shoring up her support in other early states and take Iowa as a hit.

The problem is that Iowa is absolutely necessary, and losing there could capsize the entire campaign.

It is important to understand what exactly it is about the Clinton campaign that keeps it afloat.  Pin point political accuracy plays a role, and the nostalgia effect created by Democratic voters remembering the last Democrat to make a successful bid for the White House does as well.  But the “inevitability” aspect of the Clinton campaign is perhaps the largest factor.

Primary campaigning is something like a mix of wooing the base and wooing the machine, and electability plays a major role.  Democrats want someone who is going to win the general election; the conventional wisdom being that the worst person from our side will still be better than the best person from the Republicans.  Entering into this contest, this was also the largest question mark surrounding Mrs. Clinton’s run for the White House.

But as the primary season progressed, Clinton took the biggest negative of her campaign, and turned it into a positive.  She effectively manipulated the electability issue around such that the candidate with highest negatives was seen not only as an inevitable nominee, but an inevitable winner of the General Election.

And Iowa may very well just upend the whole thing.  Thus far, the inevitability factor has been buoyed by staggering leads in nationwide and early state polls everywhere, however as we get closer to the wire, Iowa, the early state black sheep, has a current of momentum running towards Obama, and if he manages to win on Jan. 3, the inevitability argument is going to suffer a significant blow.

It is also important to note that a recent poll also has Hillary’s lead in the following state, New Hampshire, cut in half, putting Obama in striking distance of her.  A win in Iowa for Obama will flood the news cycles for the week between the first caucus, and when New Hampshire primary voters head to the polls, and I think it not unreasonable to predict that Obama will make up the ground there delivering him either his second state in a row, or at least putting him in a close second in the state that made Bill Clinton the “comeback kid” even after he didn’t win it.

In other words, a loss for Hillary in Iowa sets up a second consecutive loss in New Hampshire, and the greatest tool she used to woo the Democratic machine will have been rendered faulty at best.

Which brings us to what she has else to rely upon.  Hillary Clinton’s wooing of the base has always been cursory at best, and that not even much backed up by even her recent voting record.  Further, there is nothing particularly revolutionary, fleshed out, or even leading in her platform.  As the frontrunner, Clinton has made a point of making her opponents show their hands first, resulting in both Obama and Edwards revealing in depth plans on any number of issues.

As a result, when you remove the cloak of inevitability, one will find that there just isn’t much else left to the Clinton candidacy.  The narrative that this primary contest is about the corronation of Clinton has been the one leg this campaign has stood on the entire time, and a loss in Iowa is going to sweep that leg right out from under her.

2 Responses to “Why Iowa Is Important”

  1. Laura says:

    I went to a Hillary book signing a few years back. She really does have a whole lot of Presidential personality. If I liked any of her sales pitch, I think she’d really make a great first woman president for the country. She’s made of steel. But I disagree with pretty much anything she says.

  2. julie says:

    “A nation healed, a world repaired”——Barack Obama.

    “A world where we can all attain our highest possibilities for the goodness of all human kind through president Barack Obama——-By a critical thinker.

    President barack Obama ’09


  1. What Was That About Being Inevitable? » Comments from Left Field - [...] a kind of update to this post I wrote earlier, a Zoby poll released today delivers yet another crippling…

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