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Iowa Caucuses:

Really, why does anyone take them seriously, at least on the Republican side? Wasn't Pat Robertson's second-place finish with 25% of the vote in 1988 enough to discredit them permanently?

Christopher M (mail):
That's the great thing about blogs, you can complain about things you didn't really get a fair chance to complain to a large audience about back when they happened twenty years ago.
1.6.2008 12:24am
Truth Seeker:
Didn't only one winner of the Iowa caususes even become president? They are worthless. Time for a new system.
1.6.2008 12:27am
Jayhawk10:
David seems to be confusing "gives a result I like" with "gives a result people should take seriously." Of course, given his posts on a number of other subjects on the conspiracy, that doesn't really come as a surprise, does it?
1.6.2008 12:32am
DiversityHire:
Does anyone take Iowa seriously?

I'm happy for Obama, but worried that President Huckabee will try to pack the Supreme Court with cast members from Walker, Texas Ranger.
1.6.2008 12:39am
John Enright (mail) (www):
I think Iowa is important because the media is hungry for something to hype. The caucuses provide a dramatic contest in the absence of truly important results. The outcomes are trumpeted in news stories, thereby affecting perceptions, thereby increasing or decreasing supporters' morale and willingness to fund.
1.6.2008 12:45am
Pub Editor:
why does anyone take them seriously

Unfortunately, our compressed primary schedule (NH coming only a few days after Iowa, then Michigan and SC in rapid succession) means that a "win" in Iowa gives the winner a bigger boost going into the next primary than was the case in 1988 or other years past.

If the parties spaced the primaries out more (and put the conventions later in the summer), then an early win would mean less. If more days lapsed between, say, Iowa and New Hampshire, then the extra time would give the Iowa losers time to recover lost ground; the winner's momentum would diminish; and the NH voters would be less influenced by the Iowa results.

Currently, with only a few days between the Iowa results and the NH primary, the Iowa results will still dominate the news as the NH primary voters go to the polls.

(N.B. for simplicity, I've been using "primary" as a shorthand for both primaries and caucuses; I'm aware that there's a difference.)
1.6.2008 12:51am
Jayhawk10:
In Iowa, we saw the following:

(1) A historic turnout for the Democratic caucus, especially among supposedly apathetic under-30 voters.

(2) As a result of that historic turnout, a black (or mixed race) man was selected as the favorite candidate of Democrats in a 95% white state.

(3) An obscure Arkansas governor, outspent by just one of his rivals by a ratio of ten to one and vituperatively attacked by influential pundits like Limbaugh as a tax-and-spend pseudo-Democrat, win decisively among Republicans.

(4) This governor literally preached a message of faith and compassion for the downtrodden, had a massive turnout among evangelical Christians (clearly one of the most dominant voting groups among Republicans right now) and also attracted many non-evangelical Republicans as well.

Would any of the worldly-wise and oh-so sophisticated posting on this thread care to mention why these events aren't worthy of just a little bit of discussion?
1.6.2008 12:54am
Dave N (mail):
As this Jay Cost article notes, several have become President, George W. Bush being the most recent. Actually, 8 out of 12 Iowa caucus winners have ended up winning their party's nomination--which is the same number of New Hampshire primary winners who won their party's nomination (for whatever reason, Gerald Ford's victories over Ronald Reagan in 1976 in both races did not make Cost's table).

For those who don't want to click my link, Iowa did not select the eventual nominee on the Republican side in 1980 and 1988 (G.H.W. Bush won in 1980; Bob Dole won in 1988). Democrats Dick Gephardt (1988) and Tom Harkin (1992) won Iowa but lost the nomination race.

As for New Hampshire, Pat Buchanan (1996) and John McCain (2000) won the primary but lost the nomination. On the Democratic side, Gary Hart (1984) and Paul Tsongas (1988) won New Hampshire but not the nomination.
1.6.2008 12:55am
Dave N (mail):
I should have noted that the only candidate who lost BOTH the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary and ultimately became his party's nominee was Bill Clinton in 1992. So yes, regardless of what we think of the actual winner in either state, the victories are significant.
1.6.2008 1:01am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Wherever it is held, the idea of a longish start in a smallish state is a good one.

Can you imagine popping off in N.Y. or California, where TV commercials would constitute 99% of the activity?

'Retail politics' has done a pretty good job of exposing weaknesses in the candidates.

If Iowa (or NH) always delivered the eventual winner, we could do away witn those other 49 contests, couldn't we?
1.6.2008 1:07am
jim47:
DB: define "take seriously".

They may not predict the winner or reflect the sentiments of the national party, but the Iowa caucuses are a significant part of the elaborate dance that somehow spits out the party nominee. But in proper perspective, what happens there is serious.

If anything, Iowa sends the message that the campaign is real now. It is the wake up call that will cause people to make the real decisions — like who will now bear the anyone-but-Huckabee mantle that much of the party now feels a need to bestow.
1.6.2008 1:14am
ChrisIowa (mail):
The value of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary isn't in picking the winners, it is in weeding out the losers. That way the rest of the states don't have to deal with as many candidates taking campaign funds.

The effect of so many of the States setting their primaries early is that the effect will not have time to set in. There will not be enough time for reality to set in and for candidates to realize that their candidacy is not viable. This needs time for campaign contributions to dry up and market forces to take hold. Most Presidential candidates have some level of pigheadedness and delusions of grandeur that must be broken.

With so many states' events moved early in the year, marginal candidates will wait just a little bit longer to get to the big Feb 4 event. As a result more candidates will go further into the process when in fact they should face reality earlier in the process.
1.6.2008 1:14am
ChrisIowa (mail):

4) This governor literally preached a message of faith and compassion for the downtrodden, had a massive turnout among evangelical Christians (clearly one of the most dominant voting groups among Republicans right now) and also attracted many non-evangelical Republicans as well.


An exit poll the night of the caucus showed that 60 percent of the Republican caucus goers were evangelicals, yet Huckabee got only 34 per cent of the vote. It does not seem as thought he got many votes other than from Evangelicals, and about 58 percent of those.
1.6.2008 1:29am
ChrisIowa (mail):

(3) An obscure Arkansas governor, outspent by just one of his rivals by a ratio of ten to one and vituperatively attacked by influential pundits like Limbaugh as a tax-and-spend pseudo-Democrat, win decisively among Republicans.


Huckabee was vigorously supported for the past couple months by a local talk show host on WHO (Des Moines), the largest radio station in the state. He had had several appearances on that show: lots of free air time. I think it shows as he ran strongest in Central Iowa.
1.6.2008 1:36am
Syd Henderson (mail):
The Iowa Caucus seems more important on the Democratic side than the Republican. Obama seems poised to take the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, and if not for his Iowa victory, he would very likely lose New Hampshire.
1.6.2008 1:46am
Jayhawk10:
Chris, with regard to (3), the CNN entrance poll gave Huckabee's support among evangelicals as 46% and among non-evangelicals as 14%. The latter figure, while behind the support for Romney, was comparable to the support received by Thompson and John McCain among non-evangelicals. With regard to (4), I never claimed that Huckabee didn't receive plenty of free advertising via the media. Huckabee's been very skilled at attracting media attention and turning it to his advantage. But none of that makes it untrue that Romney has massively outspent Huckabee and one Republican pundit after another has furiously attacked him. And you still haven't answered my original question: why don't any of these events matter?
1.6.2008 1:47am
CrazyTrain (mail):
Um, David. 1988 is the exception on the Republican side in recent memory. In the last two Presidential cycles where there was a contested Republican race, the winner of Iowa went on to win the nomination despite losing fairly significantly in the next big test in New Hampshire (Dole in 96 and Bush in 00). So, sorry guys, but Huckabee winning means something about your party. . . . .
1.6.2008 1:56am
Dave N (mail):
Crazy Train,

I would bet lunch that Huckabee is not the Republican nominee. I would not make the same bet about Obama, btw. Actually, my take is that Iowa seriously wounded Romney--and the Republican in the best position to capitalize on all of this McCain, whom I expect to win in New Hampshire.
1.6.2008 2:42am
Dave N (mail):
As I read my last post, I realized I would also bet lunch that Obama is not the Republican nominee.

However, I would not bet lunch on who the Democratic nominee is, though I think at this point it favors Obama.
1.6.2008 2:45am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
translation of David Bernstein: "Wheaah, I don't like obviously Christian politicians. Wheahhh. <<< baby rattle noise.>>>"

But seriously, I don't know how much I like Huckabee. But I do know that I like the fact that he is making the Wall Street wing of the GOP that thinks that anything corporate America does is automatically conservative to crap in its pants. Maybe Republican leadership will recognize that just as concentration of power to government is not productive to freedom, conservation to corporate interests also diminishes the Republic. If that happens, I'd gladly buy this second man from Hope a drink, with or without alcohol as he prefers.
1.6.2008 3:32am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Translation of David Bernstein: "Wheaah, I don't like obviously Christian politicians. Wheahhh."

But seriously, I don't know how much I like Huckabee. But I do know that I like the fact that he is making the Wall Street wing of the GOP that thinks that anything corporate America does is automatically conservative to crap in its pants. Maybe Republican leadership will recognize that just as concentration of power to government is not productive to freedom, conservation to corporate interests also diminishes the Republic. If that happens, I'd gladly buy this second man from Hope a drink, with or without alcohol as he prefers.
1.6.2008 3:33am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Oops. Appears to be a double post. Please delete the second. And I make no baby noises about this!
1.6.2008 3:34am
one of many:
Chris has the gist of it, the pointis not so much to select the winner but to eliminate the losers. If you're not in the top 5 of Iowa, go home. If you're not in the top 3 in NH, go home. South Carolina usually brings it down to the final 2 for the nomination. The compressed primary season may have an effect on this, but still if a canidate cannot show a win in one of the first 3, then they are not gonna be a serious contender for the nomination, if a candate cannot win a small state in the NE, MW or South, hwat chance do they have in the actual election?
1.6.2008 4:14am
Hillary Clinton Cannot Be Stopped!!! (mail):
Iowa does not matter because a black man won!
1.6.2008 6:27am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Of course, I understand the dynamics of how Iowa becomes important, but it's only important because the media (and therefore the candidates) treat it that way, unlike, say, the recent Wyoming caucuses. One almost hopes that Giuliani winds up winning the GOP nomination so that the ridiculous Iowa/New Hampshire quadrennial song and dance can finally be deemphasized.
1.6.2008 8:08am
wb (mail):
Re: Take seriously.


Does the question "why" have any relevance to anything. It is not as if DB or any of us here can do anything at all about it.


As to the question "how much" The answer seems to be "a great deal" we can thank the Iowa caucuses for a very stupid energy policy regarding ethanol. Does anyone seriously believe that ethanol would be an "energy alternative" were it not for Iowa which represents? the politics of the corn belt
1.6.2008 8:40am
NI:
I'm not opposed in theory to retail politics but the problem with letting New Hampshire and Iowa go first every time is that it guarantees that the lunatic fringe in both parties chooses the nominee. Democrats are more liberal and Republicans are more conservative in both Iowa and New Hampshire than they are in the rest of the country. By the time the nominating process comes to more moderate states the only ones left standing are the very liberal and the very conservative. A moderate doesn't stand a chance, even though his views are likely more in synch with the country as a whole. Then come November the rest of the country has two extremists to pick from.

I also don't understand why the rest of the states and the parties pander to Iowa and New Hampshire. What would happen, for example, if 25 or 30 states passed primary laws that said "Our primary is on the same day as New Hampshire's?"
1.6.2008 9:05am
liberty (mail) (www):

Does the question "why" have any relevance to anything. It is not as if DB or any of us here can do anything at all about it.


You could say the same thing about who is going to be president, if you want. After all, a single vote isn't going to change anything!

However, since this is a free country, and since we have a free media and a participatory republican government, I personally care about whether this system is fair, and what can be done to make it fairer. And the "why" is crucial to that.

In fact, we probably have more potential influence on how much affect the early caucuses and primaries have than on the actual outcome of the elections. If the blogoshere makes the same kind of fuss about what the results mean as they do about issues that aren't getting enough attention (Dan Rather, Swift Boats, Ron Paul, etc) then "what the results mean" suddenly changes.

The media is much more open and malleable than ever before, and it is essentially the media - not the electoral system - that determines what these early primaries "mean" and the influence they have on later voting. Thats the "why."
1.6.2008 10:08am
Helen:
My candidate for the first primary state would be Missouri. It's neither East nor West, neither North nor South. The ethic composition closely parallels the country as a whole. It includes a major city and rural areas. It has a mixed economy including modern high technology, manufacturing and agricultural components. There's a research university of national reputation (Washington) and a major military base (Ft. Leonard Wood.)

For the record, I don't live there, and never have.
1.6.2008 10:26am
Roger Sweeny (mail):
Why does anyone take the Iowa caucuses seriously?

It's like Daniel Boorstin's definition of a celebrity: someone famous for being famous.

The media give a lot of coverage to the caucuses because people take them seriously; the caucuses have an effect. People take them seriously because the media give them a lot of coverage.

It's a stable equilibrium. So is "the media don't cover them and people don't take them seriously." But right now there's no way to get from here to there.
1.6.2008 10:37am
Roger Sweeny (mail):
I also don't understand why the rest of the states and the parties pander to Iowa and New Hampshire. What would happen, for example, if 25 or 30 states passed primary laws that said "Our primary is on the same day as New Hampshire's?"

Several states (e.g. Florida) tried to do something similar last year and were told by the party's national committee, "We won't allow any of the delegates you select then to attend the national nominating convention."

When the DNC told Michigan that the delegates it selects at its new January 15 primary would not go to the convention, Obama, Edwards, and Richardson withdrew from the primary so as not to offend the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Perhaps not surprisingly, the one major name not on that list did poorly in Iowa.

New Hampshire law actually requires that its primary be at least 7 days before anyone else's. All the way back in August (!), the NH primary was scheduled for Tuesday, January 21 and the Iowa caucuses for Tuesday, January 14. But then South Carolina moved its primary to Saturday, January 19, three days prior to NH. New Hampshire then moved its primary to Tuesday, January 8. Since one week previous to that was New Year's Day, Iowa had to decrease the usual one week window between it and NH, and switch to a non-Tuesday, Thursday January 3.

At least the parties are trying to keep the delegate selection in the same calendar year as the election.
1.6.2008 11:02am
NI:
Roger, that may partially explain (though not well) why more states don't stand up to Iowa and New Hampshire; it does not explain why the major parties (who presumably have an interest in getting candidates that are electable nationally) pander to two states with 10 electoral votes between them.

But it's a poor explanation even for the states. Sure, the major parties can bully one or two states, but 25 or 30? I think not. Especially if the rejoinder were "don't expect to raise funds here if you won't seat our delegates."

And I'm aware of New Hampshire's law, and it works only because nobody else has done the same thing. So California and New York pass laws declaring that they, too, will have the nation's earliest primary, what then? Do their respective election officials simply play a game of chicken to see who blinks first?
1.6.2008 11:45am
therut:
The MSM makes them a big thing cause they make big money yacking about them. All those highly paid talkers. Some go from .gov to lobbying or running a business to get .gov contracts and some get to yack from their money. I say they are overpaid and need their salaries capped. Why should they be paid millions while the little people are starving and dying of thirst and starvation in the USA. Yep.
1.6.2008 1:23pm
Curt Fischer:

New Hampshire law actually requires that its primary be at least 7 days before anyone else's.


So what happens if another state passes a law which requires the converse? Which court hears the case? Why aren't interested states pursuing the passage of such a law as a viable strategy to force the US Congress (or courts?) into injecting some sanity into the primary scheduling?
1.6.2008 2:23pm
Mr. Liberal:
Does Iowa matter?

I will tell you how you answer that question in an unemotional manner. You look at polls that you believe will be predictive as to the results in the NH primary. And the SC primary.

Obama seemed to get a boost in NH polls from Iowa. Huckabee did not. McCain got a boost as well.

Question: Do the Iowa caucuses matter?

Answer: Yes, to the extent that they boost they give a candidate matters.

We will see how Huckabee does in South Carolina. I haven't seen what affect Iowa had on polls there. (I obviously haven't been looking).
1.6.2008 4:08pm
John Neff:
I have been caucusing in Iowa since 1968 and the people who pay attention are the folks who contribute loads of money to the candidates, the MSM and now bloggers. If the media and bloggers want to come here and spent money we will take it.

In general the candidates are talented interesting people to talk to and we used to like having them come and talk to us every four years. This time they started too early and stayed too long and wasted huge amounts of money on mailings and phone calls.

Will Iowa will have the first-in-the-nation caucus in 2012? I think not, but I am not a good prognosticator.
1.6.2008 6:53pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
New Hampshire law actually requires that its primary be at least 7 days before anyone else's.


That's odd considering that Wyoming actually had their presidential primary yesterday which makes them the first State to do so.
1.6.2008 8:39pm
Jayhawk10:
Wyoming holds a caucus, not a primary, much like Iowa.
1.6.2008 8:56pm
Paul B:
NI, why do you say that Iowa and New Hampshire has more ideological Republican and Democratic parties than the rest of the country? If anything, they appear to be more moderate than average. It is true that a caucus system, like Iowa's, which requires much more commitment than simply going to the polls will encourage a more engaged, and probably more ideologically committed cohort than would be the case for a primary election. And remember, Iowa and NH were two of the three states (New Mexico being the other) that switched parties from 2000 to 2004, which indicates they are classic purple states.

As to Helen's suggestion that Missouri be used instead, Kate O'Beirne of National Review has suggested just that, along with Colorado (western state, lots of suburbs, Hispanic voters). Those two states would make an excellent combination, although the small size of IA and NH makes them excellent places for voters to size up candidates personally.
1.6.2008 10:03pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

NI, why do you say that Iowa and New Hampshire has more ideological Republican and Democratic parties than the rest of the country? If anything, they appear to be more moderate than average.


From my observation, the Iowa Democrats are significantly left of the National Democrat Party, and the Iowa Republicans are significantly to the Right of the National Republican party. There's a great mass in the middle that affiliates with no party, and they're the ones that make the state go one way or the other depending on which of the extreme candidates they can most tolerate.
1.6.2008 10:20pm
Paul B:
ChrisIowa, would you say that Democrats in Iowa are to the left of those in California or New York? That the Republicans there are to the right of those in the South or the Rockies?

Certainly if you look at the Republicans and Democrats that have represented the state in Congress, I don't see how it can be concluded that they are more liberal (for Dems) or more conservative (for Reps)than their fellow party members in the House and Senate.
1.7.2008 12:48am
Public_Defender (mail):
People handicap the results based on Iowa's demographics, so it's important, but not determinative:


Obama's win was an especially big deal because it shows his strong support among non-Black Democratic voters and because he tends to appeal to conservatives and Iowa Democrats tend to be more liberal. (Obama seems to appeal to conservatives the way Reagan did to liberals.)

Hillary's defeat was an especially big deal because the caucuses emphasize the value of organization, and she has a machine.

Huckabee's win was less of a big deal because of the disproportionate share of right-wing Christian voters who will vote for a right-wing (on social issues) preacher any chance they can get. If Romney didn't see that coming, he's an idiot. (I'm not saying that all right-wing Christians act the same way, but enough in Iowa do to give a disproportionate bump to Republican primary/caucus candidates.)
1.7.2008 4:52am
Dan Weber (www):
I also don't understand why the rest of the states and the parties pander to Iowa and New Hampshire.

No one wants to be the first to rush their kidnapper, even if it's obvious that you can take him if most people go along with you.

Michigan and Florida got smacked by the parties for their impudence, which serves as a good example of "here's what we will do to people whostates which ask too many questions!"

Iowa has power simply because it has power, and it knows that. If it were to go away, it wouldn't have the means to get it back. And so it works hard on protecting its patronage.

I'm hoping that we get a coalition of states ready to just announce that their primary is the same day as New Hampshire's. Move the primaries back two years if necessary, just to show how stupid the system is.
1.7.2008 12:25pm