An Iowa primer

Dateline: 26 December 2008

Iowa chooses losers. Iowa usually eliminates one or more of the candidates, thinning the field for future states. It is a knockout round.

In the Republican field the early states, especially Iowa on 03 January and New Hampshire on 08 January, will help decide who goes on to challenge Rudy Giuliani. On the Democrat side they will help decide who – if anyone – goes on to challenge Hillary Clinton. Iowa’s vote is just a week away, so here is the Common Sense tip sheet.

Rudy Giuliani is not expected to win Iowa. It is a rural state with big time farming interests, and Giuliani is as urban as anyone. A bad result is discounted in the market. A good result would be unexpected, would boost his campaign, and could even make him unstoppable. Across the early states as a whole, Giuliani wants a confused result. He is the only candidate with name recognition and money. He is very competitive in the big states, such as Florida on 29 Jan and New York and California on 05 Feb. If the early states winnow the field to Giuliani and one other he has a fight on his hands. If the field remains split Giuliani remains the favorite. If his challenger is Mitt Romney – the only candidate with more money and a better organization than Giuliani – count Giuliani as the underdog.

Mitt Romney is very strong in all the early states. A few weeks ago he was expected to win Iowa and New Hampshire easily. Now he trails Mike Huckabee in Iowa, which means expectations for Romney are lower. Iowa is notoriously hard to poll. If he wins, or even gets a good second, it could help him in New Hampshire, where he already leads, as well as Nevada, Wyoming, South Carolina and Michigan. He wants a virtual sweep of the early states and a one-on-one fight with Giuliani on Super-Tuesday.

Mike Huckabee is now the favorite in Iowa and is polling credibly in other states. He is the only candidate apart from Romney who seems able achieve a sweep of the early states and a title fight with Giuliani. But, unlike Romney, he lacks money and organization in the bigger states. If he qualifies for a place in the final, he is likely to lose. Things move fast, but at the time of writing Common Sense suspects Huckabee has already peaked. As his left-wing views on taxes, crime, national security, healthcare, trade and education become known his star is likely to fade, though there is no sign of this in polling just yet.

John McCain skipped Iowa in 2000 and has paid it little more attention this time. However, he has just earned the endorsement of the Des Moines Register to add to New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader. A top three result could help him win New Hampshire, which could eliminate Romney.

Fred Thompson’s expectations are low, but he could benefit from a collapse in the Huckabee boom. Any credible finish could launch his campaign.

Hillary Clinton is far ahead of her rivals nationwide. An Iowa win could seal the nomination. If she doesn’t win, third place is better than second. She wants to keep the rivalry between Obama and Edwards alive.

Barack Obama and John Edwards have the same strategy – eliminate the other early on and fight Clinton. A clear win with the other trailing is essential.

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