Iowa Predictions (D)

I handicapped the Republicans in my last post. Now I will address the Democratic caucuses and offer my predictions (again, against my better judgment).

The Democratic race is particularly difficult to predict because the three leading candidates can easily place first or third. In addition to that, because of the uniqueness of the Democratic caucus rules, second choice preferences can further throw pundits' projections out of whack. Knowing this, there are three main questions:

1. Who will win?

This is the easy part. By most pundits' predictions, the winner of the caucuses will be Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards. If it's Clinton, the race for the Democratic nomination is likely over unless Obama places a very close second. If it's Edwards, that's great news for Clinton bad news for Obama and the so-called "second tier" candidates because that would prolong the notion that this is really only a race between the same three candidates. If it's Obama, while that would be terrible news for Clinton, that would be absolutely fatal for Edwards and good news for one of the "second tier" candidates who will fill the void left by Edwards, who must win the caucuses to remain viable.

Clinton has the best name recognition and is seen as the "experienced" candidate. As an added bonus, Democrats generally like Bill Clinton and long for the peace and prosperity of the 1990s, even if they grew weary of the scandals. Voters who like Richardson, Dodd, and Biden because of their experience, but fear they are not viable, will probably come back to Clinton. There are also a lot of female voters who are excited about the prospect of a woman president, so they may turn out in droves to "help make history." Obama and Edwards supporters may also grudgingly support Clinton because of fears those candidates are not quite ready for prime time against a Republican opponent in the general election.

Obama has been the media darling for months and has tapped into something the other candidates have been unable to do so far--the hunger for a new beginning. Clinton cannot credibly represent "change" unless she means a "change" from Bush. Edwards is a bit more credible when talking about "change," but his rhetoric is often as confrontational as the general state of our political dialogue at present. The other candidates further back in the pack are not running as "change" candidates. So this leaves Obama as the second coming of JFK in the minds of many voters. Obama has argued that "experience" is overrated, as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld would suggest. Reminding voters of Clinton's Iraq vote is also a sharp attack, although recent successes in Iraq may have diluted the potency of this attack somewhat. Then there are also a lot of White voters who view Obama as a vehicle through which they can make a statement about how far they have come regarding issues of racial prejudice. So Obama's message of "change" has many meanings.

Edwards performed strongly in the Iowa caucuses in 2004 and has campaigned heavily in the state since the Kerry-Edwards defeat in the general election. He has established numerous invaluable connections with local leaders and is a generally likable candidate. There is no doubt that his supporters will turn out for him. He can also portray himself as a hybrid of Clinton and Obama in that he wants to bring new voters into the process (by "fighting for working men and women" and "giving the other America a voice") and having a bit more experience than Obama at the federal level. There are also many voters who may not quite be ready just yet for a female or Black president. (That's an ugly truth that likely characterizes more Americans than we would like to think.) Edwards' message of being able to play in all 50 states because he won a Senate election in a red state may also have some appeal. And his populist message also has a lot of resonance among Democrats in light of the housing crisis, the price of oil, and the destruction of the middle class.

2. Who will disappoint?

This will also be Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards. They are all essentially tied for first place, and of course, the higher you are, the harder you fall. However, "disappointing" has different meanings for different candidates. For Edwards, "disappointing" means placing second to anyone or worse. For Obama, "disappointing" means placing second to Clinton or placing third overall. For Clinton, "disappointing" means placing second to Obama, placing third to Edwards, or placing fourth overall. In other words, Clinton is best able to survive a poor showing in Iowa. Edwards is the least able to do so.

This is not to say that Edwards will be the candidate whose bounce out of Iowa will be a resounding "thud." All three candidates are at risk of having this happen. Clinton, for example, may be punished by Iowans for her hardball politics and the unseemliness of some of her campaign acts. Issues like the rumors about Obama's religion, citing quotes from his kindergarten teacher, and dredging up his past drug use probably left a sour taste in the minds of many voters. The real consequences of this are likely to be observed when it comes time for second choice voting. Obama may reap a windfall of sympathy votes or votes from people who want to punish Clinton for the way she ran her campaign. Voters may also decide that they simply want to make a break from the Bush-Clinton infighting and start over with something fresh. Clinton's biggest problem is that she stands to lose support faster than she can gain it because of her high negatives. Also, because she has universal name recognition, if a voter is not in her camp by now, that voter probably never will be. Voters looking for "experience" without the polarization may drift over to Richardson, Dodd, or Biden. Voters looking for "a first" would probably go to Obama.

Obama could also be the candidate for whom the clock strikes midnight. He has galvanized Democrats with his rhetoric about "change." However, Clinton has warned voters about the risks of nominating someone with so little "experience." Clinton also does not have a bevy of experience either, but she does present a credible and potentially potent argument that strikes at one of the weaknesses that has plagued Obama since he entered the race. The turmoil in Pakistan also reminded voters of how the person they are voting for should be someone who is competent and strong. Obama may represent "change," but does he also represent strength? If voters decide they can't vote for Obama even though they like him, I would expect his support to go to Biden, Richardson, or Dodd because Obama supporters probably view Clinton as a last resort and they may be turned off from Edwards' confrontational tone and similar lack of experience.

One of Edwards' greatest strengths in Iowa is that voters there know who he is. Unfortunately, that's also one of his greatest weaknesses. Voters may decide that he had his chance in 2004. Dick Cheney mopped the floor with him in the vice presidential debate and he was not able to deliver his home state of North Carolina (or Iowa) in the general election. Edwards has run an angry and often negative campaign which may remind Iowans of Dick Gephardt's doomed 2004 presidential bid. Voters who like Edwards' message of "change" but don't like his negativity may decide to defect to Obama.

3. Who will perform better than expected?

This is where Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden enter the equation. While these candidates don't get a lot of attention in the press, I strongly believe one of these candidates will supplant one of the "Big Three." Clinton and Obama have too much money to fold up their tents after a failure in Iowa, so this leaves Edwards as the most vulnerable "major" candidate.

I would not be surprised if these three candidates told their supporters to pool their support and throw it to the most viable of the three candidates when it comes to second choice voting. Richardson has the best resume, but also has had the worst debate performances. Biden has a good resume and has had the best debate performances, but he still has lingering doubts about his message discipline. Dodd has been the steadiest campaigner and has a good record, but he has the worst polling.

Taking all of this into consideration, I believe Joe Biden is the best positioned to vault from obscurity into contention. People who support these three candidates are probably more inclined not to support Clinton, Obama, or Edwards because those candidates' resumes pale in comparison to those of Richardson, Dodd, and Biden and these hefty resumes are likely why they are supporting these candidates in the first place. I would expect them to stress the importance of these credentials when it comes to wooing other voters during the negotiation period of the caucuses, especially supporters of candidates who far exceed the 15% threshold of viability.

Final prediction: Obama 27%, Edwards 20%, Biden 18%, Clinton 17%, Richardson 10%


Schenck said...

Nice analysis, Palmer. I like your predictions; I hope they are true. I'm surprised you put Biden over Hillary (we can only hope). My predictions:

Obama 29%, Clinton 24%, Edwards 23%, Biden 16%

I think Richardson and Dodd votes will be pretty evenly split between the big 3. If I'm right (I doubt it), it's adios Edwards, hello Obama.

Anthony Palmer said...


Your predictions look very realistic. I based mine on the enthusiasm gap between Obama and Clinton. Anyway, one of us is going to have egg on our faces come tomorrow! I know this blog is generally a serious one, but sometimes it's nice to have a little bit of fun with the numbers too. Who cares about the Sugar Bowl and the BCS stuff? This is our BCS championship game right here!

Schenck said...

Yes! This is down and dirty American competition at its finest; screw football.

Nikki said...

Hey there guys you are a getting a little too crazy for me, let's tone it down a bit. Hahaha.....get some junk food and watch the returns!! That's what I will be doing. it's a tight horse race and would you have it any other way Anthony? looking forward to post caucus analysis!! :)

piktor said...

Hey, Big Ton,

Read your post at WaPo.

There is a generalized expectation that Obama will win, which is amazing. He's got MAJOR momentum, at least from the blogging masses.

This caucus is not predictable but a guessing game.

2007 was Hillary's year of expectations. Will Obama be the 08 expected winner? That, my friend, would be amazing.

Anonymous said...

So long, Joe. :(

Schenck said...

Hey what happened to Joe Biden? I thought he'd have something...

Schenck said...

Also, why'd it take the repubs so much longer to report? I thought, like everyone else, it'd be the other way around.