Iowa Passes the Buck and Re-writes the Rules of Engagement
The Iowa caucuses are a party affair, not run by the State of Iowa. Unlike elections, even primaries, where votes are secret, party caucuses require voters to publicly proclaim their preference for a candidate. Still, over 122,000 of the 531,658 registered Democrats attended the caucuses, for a turnout of about 24%. In addition, there are 583,889 registered Republicans, 116 registered Greens, 698,900 voters with No Preference, for a grand total of 1,814,563 registered voters. So, only about 7% of Iowa's voters participated in the caucuses.
Not surprisingly, then, the winner of the Iowa caucuses often fails to become the nominee of the party. This proves that there is often a big difference between what people really think about politics and what they are willing to say about it in public. Voters like secret ballots.
Winnowing the Field
Iowa basically passed the decision on to New Hampshire and the rest of the nation, but winnowing the field of 9 Democrats down to 7 by eliminating the two candidates from the abutting states of Illinois and Missouri: Carol Mosley-Braun and Richard Gephardt.
Carol Mosley-Braun failed to win a second term representing Illinois in the United States Senate and Richard Gephardt won re-election to the House of Representatives from Missouri by the smallest margin of any representative in his delegation, and this after 26 years in the House. If a candidate is weak in his or her home state, where voters know them best, then the likelihood of having political strength among voters who are even less familiar with his and her positions is unlikely in democratic politics. If a politician in Illinois or Missouri was really outstanding, a lot of people in the neighboring state of Iowa would know about it. especially because Iowa's population is concentrated in the east of the state which borders Illinois and is only a short trip up the Mississippi from Gephardt's congressional district.
Until John F. Kennedy's election 44 years ago, it was a staple of political campaigns to say that a candidate "had never lost a race." Beginning with Lyndon Baines Johnson, every president since then, except for Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford had lost a race prior to entering the White House.
Defeats are an important device whereby the electorate can guage the quality of a candidate and test them to see how they behave in adversity - what positions or behavior they will change in response to losing, and which ones they won't or can't alter.
Until the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean had never lost a race.
Dean's defeat was important for keeping the voter's options open and giving them a chance to examine all the seven remaining candidates. The voters still want to choose their nominee by secret ballot, not one of which has yet been cast in the nomination process.
It was also a good way to start to focus attention on the winners in Iowa: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. So far in the race, only Howard Dean has been subjected to months of really searching scrutiny by the media and negative attacks by his opponents. That should change in the wake of the Iowa caucuses.
Attack Ads Lose Big
Iowa also gave an emphatic thumbs down to negative campaigning. Dean and Gephardt, the two front runners for months, in the last weeks of the campaign attacked each other with gusto and turned off the electorate to the benefit of the bystander candidates.
Gephardt's ferocious attacks on Dean's integrity eliminated the attacker from the race. Dean's own negative defenses helped to cost him the front runner status.
The Emerging Democratic Administration
While each one of the seven remaining Democratic contenders looks weaker than George W. Bush, the whole crop taken together look like a viable alternative administration. Imagine Dean as President with Carol Mosley-Braun (the first African-American woman ever elected to the United States Senate) as Vice-President, Wesley Clark as Secretary of Defense, John Edwards as Attorney General, John Kerry as Secretary of State, Dick Gephardt as Secretary of Commerce and Trade negotiator and Joe Lieberman as United Nations Ambassador. It would be a first rate administration.
As a team, it is easy to imagine the Democrats defeating the Republicans in November. It is clear that the voters are looking for an alternative to the current administration, and that the job of Iowa was to eliminate the obvious losers, and keep the rest of the candidates in the field to fight on another day.
New Hampshire will probably do the same thing, produce a horse race that will propel the candidates on to the seven primaries a week later on February 3rd. Those primaries will probably split several ways, too.
In other words, the job of the voters in the early primaries this year is to handicap the candidates while keeping them in the race so that the decision on the Democratic nominee can be made by as many voters as possible. There will probably be three or four candidates with sizable chunks of delegates heading into the Democratic convention, but with the ultimate outcome still up in the air. There has not been a brokered nominating convention since conventions started being televised in 1948, so most people only know about them from books..
Everyone knows that as soon as there is a nominee, George W. Bush will take his $100 million war chest and blanket the country with negative ads about the prospective Democratic nominee, seeing as he has raised the most money, but has no opposition in the primaries. So, what is the money for?.
Therefore, it is in the best interest of democracy that everyone be kept guessing about the ultimate outcome of the Democratic nomination process until whoever it is can respond effectively to the smear campaign that is certain to emerge from Karl Rove. The Bushes are name callers, indeed, George W. Bush is incapable of calling people by their proper names, he has a nickname for everyone, like an emperor.
The only problem with this scenario is that it would require a non-partisan approach by the Democrats to their own nominating process. This is difficult when the media insists on covering elections as if they were winner-take-all sports contests, instead of a process to permit people to help determine government policies and programs.
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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf