Friday, January 04, 2008

Thoughts on Iowa

To nobody's surprise, Mike Huckabee won on the Republican side (though the margin of his win was larger than expected). I'm not sure if this really means much. The Iowa Caucus have a terrible record when it comes to predicting who will be the next president-just ask Bob Dole or Dick Gebhardt. It's also worth remembering that the format of the caucuses favors candidates with a small committed cadre of supporters as opposed to those with broad appeal. Never the less Governor Huckabee should be congratulated for what can only be seen as an amazing political accomplishment. He came from nowhere in the polls to crush Romney in a state where Mitt had spent millions looking for an early win. With Romney trailing McCain in New Hampshire, the Mormon from Massachusetts may be headed for a quick exit.

Huckabee is a strange bird in the GOP. He's essentially a Christian Socialist advocating a conservative social agenda while holding economic and foreign policy views that are to the left of Mrs. Clinton (and possibly Obama and Edwards as well). The only historical figure who strikes me as similar is William Jennings Bryan who was of course a Democrat. If Huckabee were to be the nominee it would almost certainly split the party and result in a landslide victory for the Democrats.

McCain and Thompson both did well enough to keep their campains going in hopes of becoming the "Anybody but Huckabee" candidate. Giuliani did not contest the caucuses. Ron Paul got 10% (and no delegates) in what I predict will be his best showing this primary season. He, like Huckabee benefits from the structure of the caucus system.

On the Democrat's side of things the picture is perhaps even murkier. For a couple of weeks now the Clinton folks have been trying to lower expectations in Iowa as it became clear she was headed for defeat there. Interestingly even while her numbers in Iowa were collapsing, her national numbers remained strong. I've argued that the more people get to know Hillary the less they like her. She has all of Bill's bad qualities and none of the good. Perhaps as polls loom closer in other states we'll see her numbers collapse there as well. She may be one of those candidates who is attractive only in the abstract.

For Edwards, last night kept his campaign alive. He remains very much in the contest to be the anti-Clinton and can plausibly claim that he's more qualified than Obama to be President. Had he finished third, much of his support might well have shifted to the junior Senator from Illinois. Which brings us to Obama. Obviously it was his night. It might even be fair at this point to call him the Democratic front runner, an amazing accomplishment for a guy with a couple of terms in the Illinois State legislature and who has only been a U.S. Senator since January of 2005. That of course is the problem. With the exception of generals (U.S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower and the like) who presumably demonstrated competence in other ways, Barack Obama has the least political experience of any major Democratic or Republican candidate for President ever. Perhaps I'm missing someone but I don't think so. Defenders of Obama will point out that Clinton and Edwards don't have a lot of experience by historical standards either. They're right of course but I don't see how arguing that your opponents are just as unqualified as you are helps. The Democrats who do have experience (Richardson, Dodd and Biden) have gotten nowhere.

I will say this about Obama; he's clearly a decent person, which is more than I can say about Edwards and Clinton. In the end that may be enough.

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