The Iowa Caucuses
The first in the nation primary contest in the midwestern state of Iowa ended months of riveting debate-stage standoffs, speculation and a republican race packed to the brim. After having seen their state descended on by media outlets from across the globe and nationwide campaign operatives, caucus-goers turned out in nearly record-breaking numbers to be the first to choose their party nominee. Ever since Iowa became the default launch of the primary season in the 1970’s retail politics has been the name of the game, much like the second state in the primary order, New Hampshire. The popular truism of “I won’t vote for someone I haven’t had a cup of coffee with” rings true when republican Senator Ted Cruz echoed Rick Santorum’s feat of visiting all 99 counties, earning him the victory in the same manner as Santorum did four years ago. Cruz’ impressive ground game and sophisticated voter-targeting technology stood in contrast to the lackluster campaign apparatus of chief rival Donald Trump. With 27,7% of the overall vote and 8 uncommitted delegates, Cruz bested Trump’s 24,3% and Rubio’s 23,1% (each at 7 delegates). According to Politico, the Cruz campaign spent 3,6 million dollars on voter-targeting and profiling-services and technology, dwarfing the Trump campaign’s meager 235,000 dollars. What Trump spurned as too pricey may have become the rule in modern presidential politics. Behind the rousing oratory and inspiring message of the 2008 Obama-wave lay a comprehensive team of data-analysts which helped him gain maximum dividends from his donor windfall. Trump’s populist appeal is what propelled him to the frontrunnership and an outsized media coverage but last night’s results hinted that a large following may not automatically spell victory. As opposed to Cruz’s massive voter-turnout efforts, Trump failed to translate his support into actual votes. Also damaging for the real estate tycoon is the marginal distance he drew to the third-placed Florida Senator Marco Rubio. More decisive than actually scoring well in multi-tiered races is to beat expectations. Rubio’s poll numbers were trailing Trump prior to the caucus night but his impressive showing in relation to Trump’s underperformance, threw Trump’s “I’m a winner message” into contention.
The result, however, did not spell doom for Trump. As the primary season turns to New Hampshire and South Carolina, whose primaries are described by a Trump operative as “New Hampshire and South Carolina are less of an organization driven effort and more of a message driven-effort. I actually think that Trump closed the gap some at the end,”. The New Hampshire primary of February 9th will thus be a trial Trump will be compelled to pass.
On the Democratic side former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton narrowly beat Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The frontrunner was able to declare victory late on caucus night by edging Sanders by just 0,3% earning her 28 delegates to Sanders’ 21. In a contest that relegated her from frontrunnership in 2008 the meticulous Clinton campaign was able to capitalize on a large campaign war chest and a thorough ground game. Despite the first-place showing this was actually Bernie Sanders’ night. Just a few months ago Clinton sported a 50% lead over Sanders in most polls. With Sanders nearly toppling Clinton, his aura of being unelectable and a long-shot goes a long way to question her inevitability much like Barack Obama did eight years ago. Sanders’ groundswell of support from the grassroots and younger voters helped him eclipse the large-scale Clinton machinery and her name recognition. Along with Trump, however, Clinton’s hopes are with the states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. Constructing a national campaign is costly and requires experienced operatives. During the careers of both Clinton spouses they have locked up the talents of many skilled campaign operatives and curried favor with series of donors with deep pockets, which will serve to keep her afloat through the spring contests (and Super Tuesday in particular). Sanders’ commitment to only raising money from small donors, though successful in garnering support, will be a significant disadvantage heading into the later and bigger states where a comprehensive operation will require sizable cash-injections.
Finally, as always the first primary night never comes without its casualties. For the republicans, the result saw the exit of 2008 victor, evangelical preacher and former governor of Arkansas Micke Huckabee. Being relegated to the second-tier debate stage and with a precarious personal financial situation, the oxygen just was not enough for him as his message failed to gain traction despite Iowa’s significant evangelical population. The Democrats witnessed the withdrawal of former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. After unsuccessfully lobbing half-hearted attacks at Clinton he failed to draw attention from Sanders and Clinton. Although featuring executive experience and a satisfactory record his failure to distinguish himself left him a meager 1% of the overall vote(though this is not completely forthright since the Democratic version of the caucuses is conducted in several rounds where supporters are forced to recommit to a different candidate if the original candidate fails to reach a certain threshold).