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For the party establishments–Democratic and Republican–it was a bad night, as their favored candidates went down to severe defeat.
With Barrack Obama’s crushing victory over Hillary Clinton, the campaign scenario of the Democratic elite is now in the trash bin. Their calculation had been that Obama would never be able to match the Clintons’ fundraising. Wrong. Obama raised huge sums from small contributors, who can continue their support. A lot of Hillary’s big financial backers have already reached their legal limits. They thought Obama was another Howard Dean, headed for deflation as soon as the voters faced the moment of decision. Wrong again. Mrs. Clinton had the big feminist organizations in her corner and a good chunk of organized labor. They didn’t deliver, any more than the Democratic machine supervised by campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe and superpollster Mark Penn. They thought they could sink Obama with December’s slurs about drug use, Islamic heritage and color. They backfired.
The only age bracket Hillary scored well in was that of women 65 and up. Obama was able to expand the electorate, an unprecedented feat in the history of Iowa caucuses. Students currently on winter break went back to Ames, Iowa City and Desmoines to vote for him. Hillary won 11 per cent of college voters. Obama won 60 per cent. The three main issues on voters’ minds were, in descending order, the war, the economy and health care. Obama led in all three. Overall, he beat Hillary among both men and women. He took the five biggest cities and most of the counties in every quarter of the state. Young people simply don’t care for Hillary. In their cohort, Hillary’s “likeability” scored a desolate 17 per cent. Young voters see Obama as a break with the past, and he skillfully manages to avoid any substantive positioning that might disabuse them of this belief. As much as the press tried to say that the war is no longer an issue, it turned to be the top concern of the voters, and Obama’s record features opposition to the war in his Senate campaign in 2004. Clinton and Edwards both voted for the war. Edwards apologized for that vote. Clinton never did.
It’s hard to see any future for the Edwards campaign, unless as some kind of Hillary surrogate to siphon votes away from Obama in New Hampshire and South Carolina. There’s no evidence that economic populism doesn’t sell in Iowa. It’s simply that this time around Democrats and Independents didn’t see Edwards as a persuasive salesman.
Indeed, on the Republican side Mike Huckabee sank the hopes of Mitt Romney and the Republican establishment in part because of his far more persuasive version of economic populism. Of course, he did rally the evangelical Christians, but it’s foolish to see this as evidence only of Bible thumpers on the march. In Iowa, Huckabee’s votes came from the Republican underclass: formerly independent farmers and, more broadly, working class, church-going folks. The wisdom had been that a Republican candidate would ride to victory by swearing to seal the southern border, cut taxes, and go to war on Iran. Huckabee’s substantive record is one of tolerance toward immigrants, compassion toward convicted criminals, and straightforward abolition of the most hated agency in the United States–the IRS–with installation of a sales tax, whose regressive features would be balanced by rebates to the poor.
Romney is on the ropes, sustained only by diminishing hopes of victory in New Hampshire. Amidst chaos, the Republican establishment is regrouping round John McCain, never their favorite. Huckabee can detour New Hampshire and look for victory in South Carolina and Florida. Rudy Giuliani claims he will rise from the dead some time in February.
The press did its best to finish off Huckabee, but their brickbats bounced off the ebullient governor. The press also did its best to black out Ron Paul. Though CNN’s pie chart of the Democratic candidates dutifully recorded Bill Richardson’s fractional crumb of support, its pie chart of Republican candidates carefully shut out Paul’s 10 per cent, a respectable performance for an anti-war candidate running in a pro-war party. He can look for a good showing in New Hampshire among independents.
Overall, for those who have bewailed a dull political season, the Iowa results have brightened the landscape by overturning the official applecart. The race will get nasty. Both Obama and Huckabee have survived the first round of mudslinging. Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign is now fighting for survival, and Hillary and Bill will throw everything they have at Obama. The Republican establishment will give Huckabee the same treatment.