After all the anticipation, it’s finally here—the proper beginning of the 2020 presidential election. The Iowa caucuses kick off tonight, and there’s no telling how it’s all going to shake out (although it looks like Bernie is on track to have a good night).
The Iowa caucuses work differently than the primaries in other States. Scott Rasmussen’s Number of the Day today explains the process succinctly. Essentially, if a candidate does not receive 15% of the votes at a precinct, his or her supporters must recast their votes for one of the remaining candidates. That means that, while a candidate always wants to be a voter’s first choice, being the second choice can still work well. It also makes it possible to see where support will go if a candidate drops out.
But how important is Iowa? Candidates tend to pour money and energy into the State, on the theory that an early win on the prairie will provide momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina.
That assumption doesn’t always translate into the nomination, though. In 2016, Senator Ted Cruz won Iowa, but Trump came in second. Trump ultimately won the nomination of course, but Cruz managed to hang in there a long while.
2012 offers a another illustration. Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses, only to “lose” it later in a recount, which found that Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was the true winner. Of course, one could argue that Romney “won” the caucuses, or at least the benefit of being dubbed, albeit incorrectly, the winner.
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses in a three-way race against then-Senator Hillary Clinton and John Edwards of North Carolina (pre-sex scandal). Clinton finished third, but fought nearly all the way to the Democratic National Convention.
Sometimes, a second-place finish is enough (see also: Trump in 2016): with that boost, a candidate can make a plausible claim to broad support. But Iowa is very different from New Hampshire, and both are different than South Carolina (and Nevada, which is apparently voting the same day as South Carolina this year). Iowa’s Democrats are prairie radicals; South Carolina’s Democrats are mostly blacks. Their interests may align, but they’re quite different. “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg is a possible second-place (or first-place) finish in Iowa, but he’s going to struggle mightily with anti-homosexual black voters.
To that end, I’ve noticed my buddy Tom Steyer is flooding online media with ads featuring lots of black Democrats in South Carolina (one of his ads is a black woman raving about how Steyer got choked up talking about his day in South Carolina and “equality” and “African-Americans”). I’m sure he’s hitting Iowa hard, too, but that’s smart on his part—try to cut into Vice President Joe Biden’s support among black Americans.
Speaking of Biden, he is really struggling. It turns out being senile and rambling still counts against you, even if you were Vice President to the Anointed One. Democrats are crazy, but they aren’t (always) stupid: even they don’t want someone who sounds like he’s suffering from a stroke running the executive branch.
Of course, the DNC doesn’t want Bernie in the drivers’ seat, either. Sanders could drop dead at any moment (I’m not trying to be glib, and I don’t want that to happen, but his heart condition is worrying), and he’s a self-avowed socialist. I have some concerns about him as the nominee, because a lot of young people foolishly believe socialism is a good idea (another failure of our public schools to teach history), but I think Trump would pummel him nonetheless. Democrats worry about that, too, which is why they’re bending the rules to let former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the debate stage.
I will say this: for the first time this election cycle, I’m interested—albeit mildly—in the process. We’ll know much more this time tomorrow about who is looking up, and who is heading down. I’m most curious to see who drops out of the race after tonight, and if there are any unlikely victors.
Otherwise, I don’t think the Iowa caucuses are particularly telling in such a crowded field. They will winnow the field, yes, but I don’t know that the winner of Iowa will go on to clinch the nomination. It didn’t happen in an even more crowded Republican field in 2016.
Who do you think will win the Iowa caucuses? Any dark-horse predictions? Share in the comments below.