From Iowa to New Hampshire. What to look for and what it means. (Updated)

We’ll get to the big picture in just a moment, but first a fair well to our home-girl, Michele. Today’s headline could have been Bachmann Moves Ahead “Full Steam” after Iowa Victory … … by the other guy” but in the end, she appears to have dropped out.

It is … difficult to see such a path for Bachmann, given her last-place finish and the fact that her campaign strategy had been premised on a strong launch in Iowa, the state where she was born and where she won the GOP straw poll in Ames in August.

At first her campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, said Bachmann is going ahead “full steam.”*

But hours later she dropped out of the race. And speaking of the race, let’s have a quick look at the final tallies:

Mitt Romney 30,015 (25%)
Rick Santorum 30,007 (25%)
Ron Paul 26,219 (21%)
Newt Gingrich 16,251 (13%)
Rick Perry 12,604 (10%)
Michele Bachmann 6,073 (5%)

John Huntsman also relieved a few votes, so technically, he came in last behind Michele. (See this insightful analysis of the numbers by Pharngula’s PZ Myers.)

And now, the meaning of it all…

Mitt Romney won about the same percentage in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, though he was beaten by Mike Huckabee (34%), and fourth place John McCain (13%) won the nomination. As I’ve mentioned before, the main pattern seen in this political contest since 1976 has been that the higher up you are in the count, the more likely you are to win the nomination, which is probably a simple matter of correlation between major factors such as money, political experience, and what the people of that party are currently looking for.

But there is another factor that may play out in the Iowa Caucuses: Negative effects related to electability, generally produced by the candidate, have had a higher effect on certain people as the race progresses. For example, last time around, Huckabee and Fred Thompson both became less electable over the course of the election cycle because of their increasingly apparent adherence to narrow doctrine which became more clear as time went on. In 1988, the previous time that a non front-runner gained the nomination in the Republican party, those leading the eventual nominee coming out of Iowa were Dole and Robertson. Robertson is now widely understood to be a nut case, and Dole was … well, he was Bob Dole. Dole eventually gained the nomination (two rounds later) but was widely seen by people in both parties as a throwaway, running against Clinton, then a sitting president. Democrats who came out ahead of the eventual nominee in Iowa include Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas, Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon, and Ed Muskie. This is quite a diverse group but among them are some who were either too Eastern, too Libral, or otherwise, perhaps, definable (by the other candidates later in the race) as too narrow in some way or another, or were not culturally well matched with the broader electorate.

So what does this mean for Mitt and Rick, who essentially share the lead? Possibly nothing, because whatever tendency had existed in previous years to define a set of issues for all party members (except Huntsman and Paul) to follow in lockstep has become de jure de facto, and Mitt and Rick are already on message. But there is a difference between the two. Mitt Romney comes to the race as one of the only non-Senators to run for the nomination who has spectacularly well documented, shall we say, variation over time in his policy record. Senators have a hard time running in these races because procedural votes create a history of flip flopping for them (falsely and fallaciously but us-ably in electiony ways). Romney, who did in fact come to politics as a grown-up from the business world (several years ago) and who is, after all, a New England Republican running in the most conservative times ever for that party, has it worse than John Kerry ever had it. Remember that advertisement with John Kerry tacking back and forth (changing directions with the wind) on a cartoon sailboard (which was lost on the entire middle of the country because we don’t have them here)? I hope they didn’t throw it out, because it can be revived, Kerry’s head replaced with Romney, and former Massachusetts Governor is done.

Which leaves Santorum, who fits ideologically with the current flow of the Tea Party and Republican electorate very well, making him very nominate-able and possibly even electable. (It remains to be seen if Santorum will have difficulties because of this.)

And now on to New Hampshire.

In a way, the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary are like a workable and possibly even good marriage; Two individuals who are fundamentally similar but with important differences each get their say on an important decision, but one usually goes first, and the other either goes along or modifies the initial decision, as part of their traditional process. New Hampshire and Iowa have had the conversation about what candidate to put forth, much like they might have talked about what movie to see or where to get dinner, many times. Now, we may ask, on which occasions has one or the other had the opportunity later in the evening to say “I told you so”?

In 1980, Iowa suggested Bush over Reagan (who finished close) and New Hampshire chose Reagan, and later, so did the party and so did the country. New Hampshire, the older half of this couple, was right. In 1988, Iowa picked Dole and gave George H. W. Bush the thumbs down, but Hew Hampshire, possibly for family reasons, picked the Vice President, as did the rest of the country. Years later, though, Iowa was heard to whisper “I told you he’d be a one-termer.”

In 1996, Iowa suggested Dole or Pat Buchanan and expressed a preference for Dole, but was not too happy about any of the choices. New Hampshire had the same feelings but went for Buchanan. The rest of the party picked Dole, and the rest of the country went to a totally different movie that year. Chagrin all around.

In 2000, Iowa went for George W. Bush but New Hampshire differed and suggested McCain. The party later picked Bush, and so did the country. Iowa was getting better at this.

In 2008, Iowa chose Huckabee, and New Hampshire strongly disagreed, choosing McCain instead. The rest of the party went with New Hampshire. They all should have stayed home that night.

Historically, New Hampshire has been pretty good at picking a winner. This could be because she is longer established, more contacted with the politics of the populous east, but perhaps simply because she always chooses second, having tricked the younger Iowa at the start of this relationship into thinking she should always prefer to go first. Relationships often work better if these sorts of things are established. Having said that, during the years it really mattered most, Iowa was increasingly right, preferring the candidate that won the party’s nomination in ’96 and picking the President in 2000. And that is why, when we consider the two of them, we may openly defer to New Hampshire but we never take their eyes off that younger and less traditional Midwestern girl, Iowa.

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4 Responses to From Iowa to New Hampshire. What to look for and what it means. (Updated)

  1. wholething says:

    Mitt Romney 30,015 (25%)
    Rick Santorum 30,007 (25%)
    Ron Paul 26,219 (21%)
    Newt Gingrich 16,251 (13%)
    Rick Perry 12,604 (10%)
    Michele Bachmann 60,073 (5%)

    Those totals show Bachmann doubling Romney and Santorum.

  2. Looks like an added zero in Bachmann’s numbers. Or a gross miscalculation of percentages.

  3. Greg Laden says:

    Yooz Guyz iz brilliant with numbers! Thanks for the correction. Bachmann did in fact not win last night.

  4. Great blog post, Greg.

    I just returned to my native state of Iowa since leaving in 1985, and have just experienced the long runup to the 2012 Iowa Caucus.

    I posted some thoughts on pre-caucus eve on my blog about Grand Junction for my friends back in New York and elsewhere:

    http://www.eyeongrandjunction.blogspot.com/p/iowa-caucus-commentary_02.html

    Alan Robinson