Iowans have gone to caucus for their preferred candidates after weeks of electioneering, and here are the some key takeaways from the first state of the union to choose their presidential hopefuls of 2016.
Razor Thin Win for Hillary Promises Real Competition
Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by around 0.2% of the vote, and is set to battle with the Senator from Vermont throughout February and March.
While Clinton was by no means guaranteed to win Iowa, after a disastrous third place in 2008 and given the pockets of far left support in the agrarian state, the strength of Bernie’s challenge is remarkable.
Sanders came into this competition to exert a gravitational pull on Hillary towards the left, forcing her to enter the general election with a more progressive agenda. His was the voice to call attention to too big to fail banks and a ‘billionaire class’ seemingly buying elections. Months later, and Sanders came whisper-close to stealing away Iowa.
Sanders will likely win New Hampshire, a neighbouring state of his Vermont, meaning that the Clinton-Sanders clash will tumble on into March and Super Tuesday.
Goodbye Martin O’Malley
After pulling less than 1% of the vote in Iowa, the former Governor of Maryland has suspended his campaign.
It’s all over for O’Malley, last of the second tier of Democratic candidates desperately attempting to squeeze into the Clinton-Sanders bout. While O’Malley was a perfectly respectable candidate, he failed to garner enough media attention to make his candidacy realistic or exciting to Iowans.
Cruz trumps Trump
It is of little solace to moderate Republicans, given that Ted Cruz is seen as ‘as bad’ as Trump by many, but the collapse of Trump-goliath in Iowa has significant implications for the Republican race.
How did Cruz do it? Post-Iowa analysis points to several explanations:
- Iowa is a deeply religious state, and despite Trump’s public attempts to showcase his spiritual side, he could not beat Cruz on this score, who is quite literally the son of a preacher. Donald Trump polled badly on the question of whether Iowans felt the real estate mogul ‘shared their values’. In Cruz, they could more easily identify.
- In addition, some commentators believe Cruz had a far better organisational apparatus in Iowa. Jumping onto the importance of voter data earlier than Trump, Cruz also demonstrated more willingness to attend small scale events and meet individual Iowans. The billionaire drew large crowds, to be sure, but Cruz nurtured a solid core of support in Iowa.
- Lastly, there is perhaps the chance that by eschewing the recent Fox News debate Trump may have actually damaged his chances. Iowans take their role in selecting presidential candidates seriously, and such flippancy towards a national debate may have harmed Trump.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from the Cruz victory is to treat the polls with a healthy pinch of salt. Trump led in Iowa polls going into February 1st, but almost came in third. The brash businessman may be a little more cautious using poll numbers as his defence in upcoming debates.
Rubio has huge win at third place…
There is a very good chance that the Iowa result was most significant for Marco Rubio.
Despite taking third place among Republicans, Rubio was not battling against Trump or Cruz in Iowa, but against expectations. In that contest, Rubio did brilliantly: at 23%, only one point behind Trump, Rubio far excelled predictions.
…and a path to the nomination
The Republican primary might be about to be turned on its head.
Up until now, the Republican contest has largely been divided between ‘establishment’ candidates (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John Kasich) and ‘outsider’ hopefuls (Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz).
Conventional wisdom has suggested that the rise of Trump, and Cruz to an extent, was due to the failure of the party to rally behind one establishment candidate. With moderate Republicans divided between at least four options the grassroots voters instead drove Trump’s numbers sky high.
Now things may be able to flip entirely.
The combination of Cruz stealing away votes from Trump, and Rubio rising head and shoulders about his establishment competition – at 23% compared to sub 5% numbers for the other three – could completely change the game.
If Rubio has another strong showing in New Hampshire, party pressure for Bush, Kasich and Christie to drop out will only grow. Supporters, endorsements, and funds will channel to Rubio in this instance. Meanwhile, Cruz and Trump will continue to divide their portion of the Republican electorate.
The bitter competition between Cruz and Trump may then wound each other sufficiently for the rising star of Marco Rubio to seize the nomination. He just needs another strong showing in New Hampshire and for Cruz to remain viable.
Carson is virtually done
Ben Carson, the soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon, has had his moment.
Briefly leading the Iowa polls last year, the devoutly religious Carson came in fourth with around 9% of votes. This isn’t terrible in itself, but again, based on expectations, this was a bitter blow to a Carson campaign that has been disintegrating, jettisoning staff and funds as it plummets back down to earth.
Expect Carson to continue in the early states, and depending on how badly he scores, drop out relatively soon.
Jeb is in trouble
It is hard to think that Jeb Bush was once the favourite for the Republican nomination.
In Iowa, Bush came in sixth. He earned 3% of the vote.
Despite the name recognition, the experience, the political endorsements, and the vast campaign war chest the nomination is steadily slipping away from Bush. He will need to rebound particularly strongly in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada if he is to regain his footing.
Onto New Hampshire
On February 9th New Hampshire citizens will go to the polls to cast their primary votes.
On the Democratic side Sanders’ looks ready to seize the Granite State before he tangles with Clinton in South Carolina and Nevada.
The Republican competition is more exciting. New Hampshire may well decide the fortunes of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and Marco Rubio. The Iowa result saw only one candidate drop out, Mike Huckabee. New Hampshire, short of pushing candidates to the curb, may well signal the death rattle of some of these hopefuls’ campaigns.