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Friday, January 04, 2008

Cleaning Up Iowa

Now that the Iowa caucuses are over, we find ourselves -- one day after -- pretty much in the middle of a highly accelerated primary season. Already, the surviving candidates are in New Hampshire, preparing for another race tuesday.

Breaking down the results can be a little confusing. If you look at the vote count, Barack Obama wins with 940 votes and Mike Huckabee wins with 39,814. What gives?

The Iowa Democratic Party reports results in terms of total delegates to the state convention each candidate earned, as opposed to the number of individual votes each candidate got. If you're looking for a Republican v. Democrat breakdown, you're out of luck. The caucus system is completely insane.

Iowa Public Television:

If a precinct is assigned one delegate, then everybody votes for their choice. There's no viability test. Now, the math test. If there are two delegates, 25 percent of attendees must support a candidate. Three delegates, the number of caucus attendees divided by six must support a candidate. If a precinct is to choose four or more delegates, 15 percent of the attendees must support the candidate.

So then, to compete at a precinct, a candidate must have enough chips to receive votes for delegates. This precinct here, we'll say it's allocated two delegates. We've got our six preference groups with a total of sixty participating. Clinton and Obama with 17 and 15 are viable. But the Edwards, Richardson, Biden, and Dodd groups, with 13, 9, 4, and 2, can't vote for their candidate because they're too small. Because they're less than 25 percent of the total at the caucus, their only option is to move to another group that comprises at least 25 percent.

You know what you call this situation? The caucus blues. It's a bad rap.

If that made close to zero sense to you, welcome to the club. It's easier to do long division with roman numerals than to figure out who got how many votes.

What we do know is that the long time media picks for frontrunner got whacked. Hillary Clinton came in third, behind John Edwards, and nearly 10% lower than Obama. Giuliani's been saving his powder for other races -- namely Florida and New Hampshire -- so his extremely poor showing wasn't much of a surprise. Rudy knows that midwestern conservatives, who tend to be "government off our backs" types, aren't going to go for his proposal of America as an authoritarian police state.

The field for Democrats seems to be a lot more competitive at this point. It was Obama -- 37.6%, Edwards -- 29.7%, and Clinton -- 29.5%. The good news for Clinton fans is that Edwards barely edged her out. If this were a public opinion poll and not an actual election, Clinton could easily claim a statistical tie for second.

But, like they say about the Olympics, you don't win the Silver, you lose the Gold. Second place earns you jack. Luckily for the former frontrunners, it's not over. Iowa isn't going to decide this -- at least, not for the Democrats. And Huckabee now has to compete with a candidate he hasn't competed with before, Rudy Giuliani.

For Republicans, however, the field looks a lot less competitive now. That side went Huckabee -- 34.3%, Romney -- 25.3%, Thompson and McCain pretty much tie for third with 13.4% and 13.1% respectively. Ron Paul can claim a victory over Giuliani, getting 10% even to Rudy's 3.5%. But Paul basically wins by default -- he showed up for the game and Giuliani didn't.

If you look at those numbers, though, Huckabee's percentage is smaller than Obama's, even though his lead is bigger. This means that there were a lot more people looking at third-tier candidate among Republicans. This reflects their dissatisfaction with their candidates. Besides, not every state has a big Evangelical voting base -- which put Huckabee over the top. He may find himself struggling in more secular New Hampshire against the more secular Giuliani or McCain.

A thought crossed my mind about Thompson -- it's a weird idea and I'm not sure how much time it's worth spending on -- but former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson practically lived in Iowa before his disastrous campaign finally fell apart. Are some people confusing Fred Thompson for Tommy Thompson? Maybe, but the caucuses are so involved that only people who are really into politics are likely to participate -- you'd assume they'd have a good idea what was going on. But confusion reigns and there was only a couple hundred votes and some change between Thompson and McCain, so I guess you never know. Either way, confused or not, the similarity in names didn't help him much in the end.

The media's saying that all the second and third placers have to win New Hampshire now. Frankly, I don't see why. The math really doesn't add up. I point you to Giuliani's strategy of saving his money for later races. There are plenty of chances for electoral redemption left yet. Getting totally screwed on Super-Duper Tuesday next month will be the killer. Two states aren't going to decide anything, although we're already seeing candidates -- Biden and Dodd -- drop out. Neither broke double digits. Although he denies it, Thompson's rumored to be on the verge of quitting, sending his support to John McCain. Neither Dodd nor Biden have issued endorsements as of this writing.

With New Hampshire coming up next week, we've basically got a weekend before the media hypes up that primary as a the "do or die" test. It's not. Just as Iowa wasn't. It's just one primary race out of fifty and you have to win a lot of the fifty, not all of them -- in fact, not even most of them.

If your candidate didn't do as well as you might've liked, cheer up -- unless it was Biden or Dodd -- this is far from over.


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