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Friday, December 21, 2007

Clinton, Obama, Edwards Tied in Iowa

Iowa Caucus Analysis, Friday, December 21st
Is this really happening? Is the most anticipated primary in this country's history about to hit its stretch run with the American public having no idea who is going to be the nominee of either party?

This blog has devoted a lot of ink to the Republican primary of late and for good reason. Huckabee's surge has transformed the Republican primary from a two-man race (Giuliani and Romney) to a legitimate four-man race (Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain). Exactly how this has happened will be written about next week.

But I just have to address the Democratic primary today. It's too close. Too good. Too exciting.

So how important is the Iowa Caucus, anyway? Yesterday, CNN released its latest Iowa poll, which revealed that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are in a statistical tie for the country's opening caucus, which is now under two weeks away. It reaffirms what we already knew. Any of the three can win the Iowa Caucus. Interestingly, it's the closeness itself that places more weight on the Democratic Iowa Caucus than at any time in its history. The three contenders are pouring money into Iowa, and the state is abuzz with the campaigns' ground troops. Iowa should serve as a microcosm of the country. Any of the three can win the Democratic nomination, and any of the three can be the next President of the United States. And to think that the next President might be chosen by Iowa and their funny caucus rules is mind blowing.

Do not forget those Iowa rules, which give reason to believe that the least likely candidate to win the Iowa Caucus is the national poll leader, Senator Clinton. It's that second choice wrinkle of letting voters re-align their allegiance after the first round of voting. It seems that no one who is not planning on voting for Clinton will end voting for her with their second ballot on January third. Obama and Edwards, meanwhile, seem to duopolize that second choice constituency. It is not unreasonable to expect that at the conclusion of the Iowa Caucus, both of those candidates will shoot up into the 30's while Clinton remains in the 20's.

On top of that, you cannot underestimate the day-of undecided voter, either. Think of the voters who have not made up their mind yet and look forward to being convinced on caucus day. They step out of their car and are met by throngs of younger-to-middle-age Obama and Edwards supporters who seem much more passionate about their candidate and their cause than the middle-to-upper-age Democrats who are sticking with Clinton. For better or worse, candidates of change are sexier than candidates of experience. Which of these are more likely to sway an undecided voter?

Are these two factors - the second choice ballot and the undecided voter - not a confluence of events that should have Camp Clinton shaking in their shoes? It is becoming evident that Clinton is not going to win the Iowa Caucus, and of late she has been losing ground in New Hampshire to Obama. This makes an Obama victory in Iowa, which is the most likely scenario, a disaster for Clinton, as his momentum in New Hampshire will only get ratcheted up a notch with an Iowa win.

What's worse is that Clinton cannot possibly afford to pull resources out of Iowa to create a firewall in New Hampshire to slow Obamamania. To fall back into the teens in Iowa against the two men running against her would be embarrassing for a campaign that already seems to be teetering, even though it's really not. The perception, however, is that she is losing control of a primary fight that many thought was wrapped up last summer, even though the polls still have her up double digits nationally.

And of course there's John Edwards, who most acknowledge has a great shot in Iowa, but then don't seem to see the dominoes that fall into place after that. People don't seem to realize that an Edwards victory changes the dynamic of this race. If Edwards get up 1-0-0 against the fundraising machines, the money advantage all but disappears. Free media coverage and extra donors await him on caucus night and the week following. He has labor ties to Nevada and geographical ties to South Carolina, both of which he can concentrate on while Clinton and Obama battle it out in New Hampshire. Moreover, there are large constituencies across the country just waiting to see if he can win Iowa before making a decision the other two. In other words, his support can only go up after Iowa. Way up. Trust me on this: Democrats can get as excited about an Edwards nomination as they can with either of the other two. A good-looking, articulate, inspiring, southern, liberal Democrat who rails against special interests in Washington? That's a winning campaign in the Democratic party.

The problem is, he's on the cusp of viability. The perception is that he's the least likely viable candidate of either party. The potential energy is filled to the brim for a powerhouse campaign, and an Iowa victory converts potential into kinetic.

And then hold on to your seats.

So yeah, Iowa's pretty important.

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