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                                       politics + culture

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama's win in Iowa

There are two big stories coming out of Iowa on the Democratic side.

First, Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus will almost 40% support with Edwards and Clinton both held to under 30% support. Whatever you think of the wisdom of giving Iowa their "first decider" status, Iowa is the proving ground where campaigns wrestle for the first big prize of the primary season and that result represents a big win for Senator Obama. You can rest assured that had Clinton won Iowa with those numbers the story today would be about her march to the nomination. That's not the story today.

That's big news. All Clinton had to do was win Iowa, confirm her presumptive nominee status and the media train would have been rolling towards New Hampshire and South Carolina primed to give her the nomination. You can be very sure that the Clinton campaign knew this full well going in. They spent the time and money and gave Iowa their best shot. President Bill Clinton even took a number of jabs at Senator Obama to no avail. (I was surprised how little this was viewed as unseemly for an ex-President; it was and is.)

At the end of the night, however, Barack Obama won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses going away and despite Senator Clinton giving it everything she had. The Clinton machine was well-organized, well-connected, and well-run. Senator Clinton had the crucial endorsements and inside support. She did not win Iowa.

Further, the other big news was that Senator Clinton came in third. That's huge. That speaks not simply to the hard work of the Edwards campaign (2nd twice in Iowa.) it speaks to a huge downside for Senator Clinton.

There is no fall back plan. The Clinton campaign was and is in a "must win" "must preserve the presumptive nominee" status conundrum. Large swaths of Clinton's support is based on the fact that she was perceived to be the nominee in a walk, the perception of inevitability. Powerful movers and shakers cynically put their chips and donations in her camp. Others followed suit.

If the Clinton campaign fails to deliver with primary wins and momentum, large swaths of that support will dry up. Anything less than a mirror image of Obama's convincing Iowa win for Clinton in New Hampshire is not enough. This is a big deal. It is fairly clear that the Clinton campaign does not have an effective back up plan, nor are they suited to running an underdog campaign.

Clinton's message has always been about power and the perception of inevitability. For that perception to hold, you have to win. It's that simple. Further, to prevent a collapse of your support, you must do better than come in third.

Barack Obama's speech was entirely appropriate. Something huge happened in Iowa last night.


  • Agreed.

    By Blogger John Leek, at 1:51 PM  

  • Good post. But what I can't figure out is: what does this do for Edwards.

    A win would have catapulted him into a *real* three-way race (despite the numbers, the media have been treating this as a two-horse race for quite a while).

    But he beat Clinton. Will he now get the same (or more!) coverage than she does? I somehow doubt it.

    By Anonymous Oaklander, at 4:57 PM  

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