Last night’s Iowa caucuses didn’t hold a lot of big surprises. On the Democratic side, it clearly showed that it’s still a three candidate race (and only a three candidate race). Hillary Clinton was clearly the loser of the night for the Democrats, with both Barack Obama and John Edwards finishing stronger than expected. Edwards and Clinton finished in essentially a dead heat for second with Obama clearly the winner.
This should clear things up for the other Democrats, some of whom may officially drop out while the others may limp along for a couple more weeks before doing so. Interestingly, almost all of the lower candidates appear to be throwing their support to Obama. Kucinich, Richardson and Biden all encouraged their supporters to mark Obama as their second choice. Clearly, Hillary is not the one they want to give their support to.
For the Democrats, I really believe that nominating Hillary Clinton would be a big mistake; she’s the one candidate they’ve got who could lose one of the least losable elections in history because of her high negatives. And last night’s Iowa results bore that out. Among registered Democrats, Hillary and Obama were tied in support. But among independents, Obama got 41% while Hillary only got 17%.
Now, general elections are decided by independent voters without a clear party affiliation. About 40% is going to vote Republican almost no matter what, and about 40% are going to vote Democratic almost no matter what; it’s that 20% that goes back and forth that decides the winner. And among those voters, it is clear that Obama is a far more attractive candidate than Hillary Clinton. That makes him a much better general election candidate than her.
The Iowa results really put the focus on New Hampshire for the Democrats. Hillary needs to win New Hampshire, I think; anything less than a win and her once seemingly inevitable nomination may be out the window. Another convincing win for Obama in NH will really solidify his campaign. And Edwards needs a strong showing in New Hampshire. I don’t think he necessarily needs to win it, but he can’t take a big step back like only getting 10% while Hillary and Obama finished in the 40% range. If the results are similar to Iowa, it may be a 3-way race for quite some time.
For the Republicans, obviously the big winner is Huckabee. Given the amount of money Romney spent in Iowa, the huge organization he had there, and the polling numbers up until just the last 3 weeks or so, this was really a remarkable surge for Huckabee. Of course, let’s bear in mind that Iowa Republicans are very heavily weighted toward the religious right; they were the ones who gave Pat Robertson a 2nd place finish in 1988, ahead of Bush the Elder.
Everyone other than Huckabee comes out of Iowa clearly weaker. Romney finished a strong second, but outspent and out-organized everyone else to do so. Clearly, they were expecting to win and didn’t. Giuliani took a huge nose dive, getting only 4% of the vote. Ron Paul, who was hoping to really surprise people with a stronger finish, got 10% and finished in 5th place. Interestingly, McCain finished one spot higher than he did in 2000, when he finished 2nd behind Bush the Lesser.
I don’t expect any of the top 6 candidates to drop out on the Republican side. Thompson finished 3rd, which is probably good enough for him to continue. McCain barely ran in Iowa and should finish much stronger in New Hampshire (he needs to; if he doesn’t finish in the top 3, perhaps top 2, in New Hampshire, his campaign is done). Giuliani still has a fair amount of cash, but he needs a strong finish in New Hampshire as well or he’ll be gone by Super Tuesday.