Monday, February 01, 2016

Charlie Cook: On The Iowa Caucus And Beyond

Respected political analyst Charlie Cook (pictured) has written an interesting piece on the Iowa caucuses and the race beyond that for the party presidential nominations. Here is some of what he said in his article for the National Journal:

The Iowa Caucuses on Monday night can be ex­pec­ted to provide some clar­ity in the con­tests for the Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tions, but don’t ex­pect too much. One way to look at the res­ults is to think of what out­comes would sur­prise you, and change your as­sump­tions about the state of each con­test and where each is headed. Any­thing con­trary to your ex­pect­a­tions should be con­sidered po­ten­tially sig­ni­fic­ant.

In the Re­pub­lic­an race, the fight between front-run­ner Don­ald Trump and Ted Cruz is ex­pec­ted to be very close, though most as­sume that Trump has an edge. If either won by, say, five or more points, that would be sig­ni­fic­ant. If Trump won by a healthy mar­gin, many (though not me) think that giv­en his big lead in New Hamp­shire polling, he would be un­stop­pable.

Con­versely, if Cruz wins by a hand­ful of points, Trump’s big Gran­ite State ad­vant­age could ser­i­ously erode. Part of Trump’s ap­peal is that he is seen by his sup­port­ers as a win­ner, a guy who can do any­thing. A loss by more than a few points, be­sides pos­sibly caus­ing Trump’s head to ex­plode, could peel back a lay­er or two of his aura of in­vin­cib­il­ity.

Cruz clearly has the su­per­i­or or­gan­iz­a­tion, and that might well mat­ter, though the ar­gu­ment for Trump is that he can mo­tiv­ate voters, even those without a his­tory of polit­ic­al in­volve­ment, to turn out on their own as they have for his ral­lies. Should an­oth­er can­did­ate—say, Marco Ru­bio—squeeze in­to a second-place show­ing, that would be a de­vel­op­ment of some sig­ni­fic­ance.

One of the most im­port­ant ques­tions in this race is which one of the four es­tab­lish­ment-ori­ented, con­ven­tion­al can­did­ates—Ru­bio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or John Kasich—will emerge as the win­ner of this brack­et and how long it will take. The worst thing that could hap­pen for the es­tab­lish­ment is for three or four of these con­ven­tion­al can­did­ates to sur­vive past New Hamp­shire. The best-case scen­ario is for three to drop out be­fore the South Car­o­lina primary.

Among the most ideo­lo­gic­ally con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ates, any res­ults that give Ben Car­son, Carly Fior­ina, Mike Hucka­bee, Rand Paul, or Rick San­tor­um a new lease on life, pro­long­ing their can­did­a­cies, would be sig­ni­fic­ant and not a great sign for Cruz, who’s on the cusp of ef­fect­ively shut­ting down this brack­et.

For Demo­crats, any­thing dif­fer­ent from a close out­come between Hil­lary Clin­ton and Bernie Sanders would be worth your at­ten­tion. This is a con­test between Clin­ton’s care­fully con­struc­ted or­gan­iz­a­tion and the ideal­ist­ic and pas­sion­ate band be­hind Sanders. Sanders is gen­er­at­ing more en­thu­si­asm, an al­most cult-like feel, but can emo­tion trump or­gan­iz­a­tion? Sanders’s en­tire cam­paign is pre­dic­ated on do­ing ex­tremely well in Iowa and the 14 oth­er caucus states, as well as New Hamp­shire and the five oth­er New Eng­land states, which com­prise the most lib­er­al re­gion in the coun­try. If he man­ages to dom­in­ate the caucus states and New Eng­land, he will need to ex­pand his sup­port bey­ond the young as well as soy-latte-drink­ing, Birken­stock-wear­ing, Subaru- and Volvo-driv­ing white lib­er­als. Los­ing Iowa by more than a few points would put in jeop­ardy his big lead in New Hamp­shire.

Keep in mind two things. First, don’t put all your eggs in the mo­mentum bas­ket. New Hamp­shire voters have demon­strated a tempta­tion or even will­ing­ness to re­peal the Iowa out­come, re­in­for­cing their claim as the pick­er of pres­id­ents. Second, nom­in­a­tions are about del­eg­ates, and very, very few are se­lec­ted in Iowa, New Hamp­shire, or, for that mat­ter, South Car­o­lina and Nevada, the oth­er two Feb­ru­ary con­tests. March is the month that is the moth­er lode of del­eg­ates; then the pro­cess ex­tends at a more muted level un­til the Cali­for­nia primary on June 7.

At this point, my gut sug­gests that by the time we get deep in­to the pro­cess, Trump will ap­pear to have the sup­port of the pop­u­list, less ideo­lo­gic­al third of the GOP, roughly where he is now; Cruz will have con­sol­id­ated con­ser­vat­ives and roughly one third of the party; a con­ven­tion­al can­did­ate (Bush, Christie, Kasich, or Ru­bio) will be pulling about a quarter, with the re­main­ing fifth up in the air. That spells a con­tested con­ven­tion.

On the Demo­crat­ic side, Clin­ton may well have a chal­len­ging first two weeks of March, maybe a little longer. But keep in mind that the caucus states are re­l­at­ively small—the largest are Min­nesota, Wash­ing­ton, and Iowa—as are the New Eng­land states, with Mas­sachu­setts by far the largest. Caucus and New Eng­land states are re­l­at­ively front-loaded in the pro­cess, so things should get friend­li­er for Clin­ton as we get deep­er in­to the cal­en­dar.

I think he's generally right. The Democrats will have a nominee by convention time. It will be close between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders early, but Clinton will start to separate herself in the Super Tuesday primaries, and I believe, will be the eventual nominee.

The interesting part of what he says is in what will happen with the Republicans. He believes they could  go to their convention without a nominee having a majority of delegates, and that would make for one of the most interesting (at least for us political junkies) conventions in many years. I believe it could happen, but it will depend on whether Republicans decide they can stomach a Trump candidacy or not. A recent Gallup Poll showed him with a 60% unfavorable rating with Americans (the highest of any nominee in recent history).

Whoever gets the nominations of the major parties, this is already shaping up as a very interesting campaign season.

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