What the Iowa Results Really Mean

by on January 4th, 2008

Now that the Iowa Caucuses are over, what do the results really mean anyway?

For the Democrats, Barack Obama’s big win takes away Hillary Clinton’s air of inevitability and gives him a head of steam going into New Hampshire. More than likely, he will shoot to the top of the polls in New Hampshire over the weekend and Clinton might not have a chance to stem the tide before Tuesday’s primary. If Obama could get a win in New Hampshire, another overwhelmingly-white state, it would almost certainly lead to a win in South Carolina, where African-Americans make up approximately half of Democratic primary voters. This is a scenario that Clinton has feared for months.

Hillary Clinton’s third-place finish is certainly a blow to her campaign, but hardly a mortal one. Finishing third in Iowa is not a deathblow. Twenty years ago, both George H. W. Bush and Mike Dukakis recovered from third-place Iowa finishes to win their respective party’s nomination. History could well repeat itself for Clinton and John McCain this year. In addition, Clinton still has a big lead nationally and in many of the large Super Tuesday states. However, those leads will evaporate if she continues to allow Obama to beat her in the early primaries and caucuses. At some point before Super Tuesday, she’s going to have to stop him and regain her footing — and the sooner the better for her. Look for her to put up a knock-down-drag-out battle with him in New Hampshire to try to nip his momentum in the bud. If she fails, her campaign could start to prematurely unravel.

John Edwards didn’t get the win he desperately needed in Iowa, but he did manage to finish ahead of Clinton. He will stay around to compete in New Hampshire, although he is running low on resources after spending most of them in Iowa. However, as was the case four years (when he also finished second in Iowa), he will not likely do well in New Hampshire. If that ultimately proves to be the case, he’ll probably be forced to drop out shortly thereafter.

Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Mike Gravel have already seen the handwriting on the wall and have dropped out. Look for Bill Richardson to soon follow suit. Dennis Kucinich will likely stay around indefinitely, but he’s just along for the ride.

For the Republicans, Mike Huckabee’s win legitimizes his heretofore-shoestring campaign and will likely start bringing him the money he’s deperately needed. Whether the new influx of cash will come quickly enough to allow him to compete in the larger states down the road remains to be seen. Huckabee overcame a barrage of negative ads by Mitt Romey, who outspent him nearly 15 to one. He will get a bounce in New Hampshire but will not likely win it. New Hampshire seems a bit too libertarian for the likes of an evangelical like Huckabee. However, he has a decent shot at a respectable third-place finish. Look for him to zero in on South Carolina, a place that appears to be fertile ground for what he hopes to be his next big win and where his Iowa victory will solidify the already substantial lead he enjoys in the polls.

Mitt Romney’s less-than-impressive second-place finish deals a devastating blow to his campaign, despite all his spin about getting the “silver medal.” He had spent far more time and money in Iowa than any other GOP candidate but got little to show for it. He will now have five days to fight for his political life in New Hampshire. If he loses there, he’s done. Look for Romney to pull out all the stops to try to bring John McCain down. Even if he is successful, it may backfire on him and ultimately benefit someone else — like Huckabee.

McCain wanted three things last night and got two of them. What he wanted more than anything else was the Huckabee victory over Romney. Another thing he wanted was a third-place finish for himself and he pretty much got that, albeit a virtual tie with Fred Thompson. What he didn’t get was an Obama loss. Obama’s win means that he, along with Ron Paul, will be able to siphon independent voters away from McCain in New Hampshire. McCain relied heavily on independent voters for his 2000 victory there over George W. Bush. However, because of Romney’s loss in Iowa, McCain will now likely be a heavy favorite to win New Hampshire.

Fred Thompson needed two things last night and got neither of them. First, he really needed a Huckabee loss. Huckabee is his main rival for southern, socially-conservative voters. Huckabee’s victory now deprives Thompson of a chance to use the southern primaries as a means of making a comeback. The other thing he needed was a solid third-place finish. A tie with McCain won’t cut it. Look for Thompson to pull out soon after New Hampshire.

Ron Paul, with his impressive 10% showing, will continue on indefinitely while Rudy Giuliani will compete in New Hampshire but still mainly focus on Florida’s January 29th primary. Giuliani’s fate will likely not be decided until then, unless Huckabee or McCain were to become unstoppable beforehand. Duncan Hunter will probably drop out soon.

Terry Mitchell