Friday, January 04, 2008

Winners & Losers From Iowa

By Stuart Rothenberg

After months of speculation about who’ll win Iowa, we finally have winners and losers. Some of them are obvious, while others may not be. One thing for sure is that a rousing speech on caucus night doesn’t mean a candidate has won. In some cases, losers seemed to yell even louder than winners.

Iowa Winners

1. Barack Obama.
The easiest pick of the night, Obama’s win means that he goes to New Hampshire as a winner. No, the Democratic contest is not over, but if he wins in the Granite State, he’ll be hard to stop in South Carolina. And if he sweeps those three, he may never look back.

Entrance polling showed Iowa Democrats responded strongly to Obama’s message of change – half of Democrats said that the top quality they were looking for in a candidate was his or her ability to bring about change, and of those respondents, 51 percent voted for Obama. The Illinois Democrat’s campaign also clearly benefited from the surge in Democratic turnout and from the participation of Iowans who had never before caucused.

Obama won among caucus-goers who said the war was the top issue, as well as among those who identified the economy or health care as the most important issue. He won “very liberal” and “somewhat liberal” Democratic caucus attendees handily, and nosed out Clinton among self-described moderates. All in all, an impressive performance.

2. Mike Huckabee.
In May, Huckabee wasn’t even on the radar screen in Iowa. At the end of the day, he was outspent, and he won what is always regarded as an “organizational race” without much of an organization.

Huckabee clobbered the rest of the GOP field on two key candidate qualities: “shares my values” and “says what he believes.” That’s a good place to start when you are running for your party’s Presidential nomination.

But Huckabee did as well as he did on Thursday only because of the make-up of Thursday’s Republican caucus-goers. The former Arkansas Governor won the caucuses because he cleaned up among the most conservative and most religious attendees. Six out of ten GOP caucus-goes were evangelicals, and he won them 46 percent to 19 percent over Mitt Romney.

Among the 36 percent of GOP attendees who said that the religious beliefs of the candidates matter “a great deal,” Huckabee won 56 percent – five times more than Romney, McCain or Thompson. But New Hampshire doesn’t look like natural Huckabee territory, and the Arkansas Republican’s long-term prospects in the race are not as bright as they may look today.

3. John McCain.
Sure, McCain finished essentially tied for third with Fred Thompson, but Romney’s less than sterling showing could dry up some of the former Massachusetts governor’s support in New Hampshire, and that could boost McCain’s prospects on Tuesday. The only problem for the Arizona Republican: If the Obama bandwagon draws even more Granite State Independents into the Democratic primary, depriving McCain of potential supporters.

4. Rudy Giuliani.
The win by Huckabee means that the GOP race is as confused as ever, and that’s a plus for the former New York City mayor, who benefits from confusion in the early contests. Giuliani’s chances for the Republican nomination don’t look all that bright, but he would have been much worse off if Romney had won in Iowa.

Iowa Losers.

1. John Edwards.
Anyone who listened to Edwards’s caucus night speech had to be asking, “What’s he smoking?”

After drawing 32 percent in the 2004 caucuses and spending the next four years camped out in the state, Edwards finished essentially tied for second on Thursday. To make matters worse, the other “change” candidate in the contest, Barack Obama, finished first. And, Obama’s optimistic change message trumped Edwards’s angry, populist message.

Edwards, who railed against corporate greed, focused on jobs and trade and aimed his message at the “little guy,” lost union households to both Clinton and Obama.

Edwards will now have major resource problems, and he isn’t likely to do well in New Hampshire. If his comments last night are any indication, he isn’t likely to go quietly. But the former North Carolina senator is in serious trouble. He needed to win in Iowa, and he didn’t. It’s just that simple.

2. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton’s problem isn’t that Edwards nosed her out for second; it’s that caucus attendees preferred change over experience, raising questions about her fundamental appeal. The calendar isn’t her friend over the next month, and she’ll be peppered with process questions when she’d rather talk about things that voters want to hear.

Nobody should count the New York senator out. Iowa, after all, is just a single state, and Clinton and Obama ran virtually even among self-described Democrats in Iowa, which offers her hope in true closed primary states. But Clinton no longer is in the driver’s seat, as indicated by the fact that she lost women, 35 percent to 30 percent, to Obama in the caucuses.

3. Mitt Romney.
How do you go from a prohibitive favorite in the Iowa caucuses to a surprisingly distant runner-up to Mike Huckabee? Ask Romney. He did it.

Romney won with upscale Republicans, more moderate and urban GOP caucus-goers and those for whom the religious beliefs of the candidate didn’t matter a lot. But he got swamped by conservative evangelicals who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon. He won’t have that problem in New Hampshire, but he has a different one there: John McCain.

Romney needs a win in the Granite State or in Michigan to stay in the hunt. One of his biggest problems is that caucus attendees didn’t think that “he says what he believes.”