Thursday, January 3, 2008

What to Make of Tonight: Who's Alive, Who's Dead

We now know that Huckabee destroyed Romney by I think a larger margin than just about anyone predicted. Obama's deals with Biden and Richardson appear to have paid off handsomely as he will have won by a surprisingly comfortable margin, though by no means a landslide. We also now that each of the candidates in the GOP's race for third acquitted themselves quite well, each apparently reaching the double digits in support. While Ron Paul appears to have finished fifth, his support level was greater than most of the polls predicted, which shows that his campaign is able to get a pretty respectable turnout. But the biggest loser of the night - on both sides - was the party establishment. Overall, clearly defined ideology appears to be the big winner over pu-pu platter partisanship, and that is the most encouraging thing about the evening, even if it means that the GOP victor's clearly defined ideology is an unapologetic theo-conservatism.

Given the amount of time and money Edwards and Romney pumped into the state over the last few years and months, it might be worth noting that Iowa voters did a pretty good job of seeing through fakery.

It also looks like the long-term strength of the Democratic party is formidable as they nearly doubled their 2004 turnout; this certainly suggests that Obama (and for that matter the embarassment that is the Bush administration) has excited an awful lot of people into throwing their lot in with the Democrats.

My full analysis:

The Dems:

Obama: Obviously the big winner of the night, winning by a more comfortable margin I think than most had expected. He appears to have in part rode the wave created by his last-minute deals with the second-tier candidates. He dominated among independent voters, but perhaps not as much as expected, winning less than half of both the independent vote and the Republican cross-over vote. More surprisingly, and more importantly for his campaign's sustainability, he appears to have won a plurality of registered Democrats' votes in CNN's entrance polls. Indeed, it appears his victory was across-the-board- except for one particular group: conservatives, who broke for Edwards and to a lesser extent Hillary. What was that I kept hearing from the Democrats' netroots about how Edwards was the true Progressive and Obama the conservatives' wolf in sheeps' clothing?

I don't know if this result makes him the favorite going forward, but it comes pretty damn close.

Edwards: It looks as of this moment like he will have squeaked out a second place finish over Hillary by at best half a percentage point in terms of delegates. The fact that he will owe that to his support from conservatives has got to set Paul Krugman's head on fire. That support combined with Huckabee's win shows just how little difference there really is between the evangelical populists in both parties. If Huckabee falters (which I think he will), does this raise the possibility of an evangelical populist third party run? Probably not, but worth keeping in mind. In any event, given the amount of time and money Edwards has poured into the state the last five years, this result has got to be pretty close to crushing, given Obama's margin of victory and how close Edwards came to third. I think his campaign is pretty much dead in the water after tonight, but I could be wrong- I'm less in-tune with the Dems than I am with the Republicans.

*UPDATE, 12:15 AM* On Larry King, Edwards doesn't sound crushed and points out that both Obama and Clinton outspent him. Maybe I should downgrade my statement about Edwards' result from near-crushing defeat to acceptable outcome that he prefers was better. In any event, I don't really see Edwards' campaign gaining enough national traction for him to remain competitive if this becomes a long campaign. Though he might be the Dems' equivalent to McCain- the "change" candidate that the party establishment finds at least palatable; certainly if Hillary continues to struggle down the line and drops out, Edwards would be her "Plan B"- she and Obama aren't exactly buddies.

Clinton: It's safe to say her apparent third place finish does my black heart good. I decided this morning that her stump speech sounds an awful lot like the campaign speech given by Summer (the popular girl) in Napoleon Dynamite: just a litany of goodies for everyone that she has no intention or ability to deliver on. In fact, I think that's what Hillary's campaign most reminds me of: the popular girl running for student council president in high school who everyone votes for because she's dating the quarterback.

In any event, this result probably doesn't kill her campaign: she's too strong nationally and has too much of a spin machine behind her. She'll be able to point to the fact that she just about tied Obama amongst Democrat voters and destroyed Edwards amongst that obviously most-important of groups. Plus she finished close enough to Edwards and for that matter Obama that she can spin the results as not being overly indicative of the national race. But she now absolutely needs to win in New Hampshire and probably South Carolina for that matter. She may still be the favorite, but tonight is clearly quite the blow.

The rest of the Dems: I don't know that it's worth figuring out what this means for the rest of the Dem field. Clearly Dodd is done, which is a shame because he was an important voice of principle in the race. Kucinich probably doesn't care one iota about the results. I would imagine that Biden and Richardson are just about done as well, but again the second-tier Dems aren't really my forte.

The Republicans:

Mike Huckabee: Obviously the big winner of the night. I don't know how much his support will translate outside of the Bible Belt areas, but he laid down a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to Mitt Romney's face tonight. And as far as I'm concerned that alone means that Huckabee has performed an important service to his country. Tonight the evangelicals that the GOP establishment has nursed for 30 years have finally broken loose. For some reason, the phrase "you reap what you sow" comes to mind. Still, Huckabee deserves plenty of congratulating for actually standing for some kind of principle, even if that principle is one I find deeply unnerving.

Mitt Romney: Just an embarassing night for the Robot-King. To have barely gotten a quarter of the GOP vote in a state where he has pumped millions and millions of his personal fortune and lose by about 10 points in the process- wow! It's going to be tough for him to come back against McCain next week in NH, but if he doesn't, it's tough to see how he can run a successful national campaign. He's not quite crippled, but he's definitely walking on crutches after tonight.

Fred Thompson: It's unclear still whether he or McCain will take third. But he most definitely did well enough to hold his head up high and push forward to South Carolina. It may be that he'll be able to peel off some Romney supporters in the interim and stick around longer than I thought. He just about tied Romney amongst the very conservative caucus-goers, which gives credence to his relatively touted conservative credentials. He's probably the closest thing the GOP has had to Calvin Coolidge since, well, Calvin Coolidge. It also seems from the entry polls that he did exceedingly well amongst voters who made up their minds most recently, suggesting he may have stolen a lot from Romney's base in the last week. Ditto McCain.

John McCain: Any decent showing in Iowa was going to be gravy for him given his abandonment of the state ages ago. This most definitely qualifies as a decent showing, and he now may lay claim to the mantle of favorite for NH next week. I increasingly view him as the favorite to win the nomination, for reasons I laid out last week.

Ron Paul: His support materialized. It didn't materialize perhaps enough to give him third, but it did well enough to show that it was real and substantial. Even though Giuliani long ago abandoned Iowa, his margin of more than 2:1 over Giuliani is something to be proud of for a guy no one outside libertarian circles knew about a year ago. Also worth noting is that his support appears to have been fairly consistent throughout the state, suggesting he very well could mount an extremely respectable third party bid this summer and fall.

Giuliani: Even though he never really tried too hard in Iowa, this result has to be embarassing. For the self-styled national security candidate to get beaten more than 2:1 by the supposedly lunatic peace candidate isolationist is just not a good sign. Since Iowa wasn't in his strategy, he doesn't need to fold up shop right now, but his Florida firewall strategy is looking increasingly foolish. I think he desperately needs to mount a comeback in the coming days in either South Carolina or New Hampshire to give himself a shot; at the very least, he needs a top three finish in one or both of those two states. I don't know that he can pull that off.