Friday, 4 January 2008

Iowa: what it all means

For everyone in London who is asking me - yes, I was as surprised by the Iowa primary result as you all were! For the past several days I’ve heard speculation that Hillary was going to come in third in the first US primary in Iowa but I didn’t believe it. After all, Hillary has been the natural front-runner for the entire contest up to this point, and the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto was only supposed to shore up her inevitability as she portrayed herself as the candidate of strength and experience.

But the result I woke up to this morning is truly shocking, and has to have sent the Clinton camp into a tail spin. But it isn’t there mere fact that she placed third that has to have them in a panic, it’s the sheer magnitude of the way she was beaten. In fact when you look at the exit polling, the numbers are truly astonishing.

Clinton Dethroned, Mitt Wounded

Obama beat Hillary among almost every group one could construe. He beat her among women voters by five percent. He beat her among Democrats, got a whopping 44 percent of independents versus Hilalry’s 17, and got 41 percent of Republicans who crossed over versus Hillary’s 10 percent. Among people making less than $15,000 he beat her by seven percent, laying waste to the argument that he doesn’t speak to working class voters (unsurprisingly, he beat her among people making more than $100,000 by 22 percent). He also beat her among those who felt health-care is the most important issue facing the country. It would appear there is little 'silver lining' here for the Clinton camp to grab on to.

But it wasn’t just the Democratic race that delivered some eye-popping numbers. Giuliani’s sixth-place finish was astonishing, even given the fact that Iowa wasn’t a focus in his campaign strategy. With just 4,013 votes, he had less than half the votes of extremist Libertarian candidate Ron Paul. It’s hard to see how Giuliani can recover from that. Huckabee’s trouncing of Romney was also the story of the evening. His populist, grass-roots campaign was outspent by Romney, the establishment candidate, 15 to 1. Yet he beat Romney by a margin similar to Obama’s trouncing of Clinton, owed in no small part to the huge evangelical turn-out. Though the religious right was expected to be disillusioned this election by the numerous scandals of the past two years and the factioning and split endorsements of the movement’s leaders, they appear to have rallied behind Huckabee’s cause. Sixty percent of Republican caucas-goers identified as born-again Christians, and the overwhelming majority of these voters voted for Huckabee. The evangelical vote in the Republican caucus is usually 40 percent.

Lastly, the other big number from the night was the turnout. An estimated 220,000 Democrats showed up at caucus sites, double the 114,000 Republicans who showed up. This is significant given that Iowa is a red state and voted for Bush in the past two elections. Significantly, the caucus had the largest young voter turnout ever, with as many people under 30 participating as people over 65, a truly remarkable feat. And those people under 30 mostly voted for Obama. Among those under 25, Obama won 60 percent. People will read these numbers as meaning Obama is the candidate that can not only bring in independents and Republicans but also first-time voters and the young, who have failed to materialize for the last two elections despite Puff Daddy threatening to kill them.

What's Next?

So what happens now? On the Democratic side, the New Hampshire primary in five days is Obama’s to lose. He’s not only managed to unseat Hillary’s ‘chosen’ status but he’s also established himself firmly as the “anti-Hillary candidate” given his sizable lead over John Edwards. In the meantime those voters still uncomfortable with Obama’s lack of experience may give Edwards a second look before the early February primaries, and he may be able to absorb a lot of Hillary votes. As for the former first lady, she needs a miracle in New Hampshire in order to stay viable. On the Republican side, it’s going to be an interesting few weeks, and that race will likely stay open much longer than the Democratic one. Huckabee may have trounced Romney in Iowa due to the record turnout of Evangelical voters, but that success will be impossible to replicate in New Hampshire. Not only is that state not particularly religious, it is also a Northern state likely to be made uncomfortable by Huckabee’s past as a Southern Baptist preacher. As the former Governor of Massachusetts Romney stands to do well, but at the same time so does John McCain, who won New Hampshire in the 2000 primary against George W. Bush and appeals to the state’s independent nature.

So based on all of this, here are my predictions for New Hampshire:


1) Barack Obama
2) Hillary Clinton
3) John Edwards


1) John McCain
2) Mitt Romney
3) Rudy Giuliani

Anyone care for a wager?

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