Could Clinton or Edwards have beaten Obama in Iowa?

On January 3, 2008, roughly 240,000 Iowans attended Democratic precinct caucuses, and at least 90,000 of them ended up in Barack Obama's corner.

However we felt about Obama during the primaries or the general election campaign, whatever we think about his substantive and symbolic actions since the election, we can all agree that he would not be taking the oath of office tomorrow if Iowa caucus-goers had put him in third place, or even a distant second.

I started writing this diary several times last year. I kept abandoning it because emotions were so raw on Democratic blogs that I felt the piece would only ignite a flamewar. Since more than a year has passed, I decided to try one more time.

I do not mean to start an argument or pretend that I have all the answers. I just enjoy thinking about counterfactual history (such as this or this).

After the jump I will try to figure out whether Hillary Clinton or John Edwards could have beaten Obama in Iowa.

There are three ground rules for this thread.

1. This diary accepts that Obama legitimately won the Iowa caucuses.

I know some people out there still think the "Chicago machine" stole the caucuses by busing thousands of people into Iowa to caucus for Obama. I don't like the caucus system any more than you do, but given the rules of the game, I am absolutely convinced that the Obama campaign won it fair and square.

In preparing this piece, I talked (off the record) to many former staffers and volunteers for Clinton and Edwards, as well as Iowa political insiders who were not directly involved in any of the presidential campaigns. None of them suggested that Obama won because of cheating. My many friends who volunteered for Clinton or Edwards in Iowa also agree that the Obama campaign simply out-organized its competitors.

No doubt some out-of-state residents sneaked in to caucus for Obama. However, the Des Moines Register reviewed voter records and concluded that very few ineligible voters participated in the Iowa caucuses. I do not believe the Obama campaign could have orchestrated dozens of fraudulent caucus-goers in each of a hundred or more precincts without being found out. Keep in mind that many precinct chairs (the people who run the proceedings) were backing either Clinton or Edwards.

I have heard that in certain precincts, Obama organizers were overly aggressive in bringing supporters of non-viable candidates to the Obama corner during realignment. But even this Edwards supporter, who complained after seeing it happen, accepted that Obama won the caucuses because of a superior message and "monumental" organization to turn out first-time caucus-goers.

I also heard some grumbling about Obama groups dragging out the counting process in the hope that less-committed supporters of other candidates would get fed up and go home before the final count. But the counting took a long time almost everywhere because of the high turnout and how difficult it was in some packed rooms to keep the preference groups separate. Add this annoyance to the list of problems with the caucus system, but don't blame it on Obama.

The bottom line is that these unfortunate incidents are unlikely to have changed the outcome of the caucuses. The Iowa Democratic Party does not release raw numbers indicating the level of support for each candidate, but Obama had approximately 20,000 more voters stand up for him than either Clinton or Edwards (this includes people who initially backed non-viable candidates but went to Obama, Edwards or Clinton as a second choice).

As for busing college students from other states back to their Iowa campuses on January 3, that was fair, because students enrolled at Iowa colleges are allowed to caucus in Iowa. Qualitatively, there is no difference between the Obama campaign helping students get back to Iowa City from Chicago and my giving an elderly neighbor a ride to our precinct caucus. The caucuses never should have been scheduled so soon after New Year's anyway.

What about all those students who grew up in Iowa but were enrolled at out-of-state colleges? Many were home visiting parents and consequently were able to caucus for Obama. Again, this is permitted by the Iowa Democratic Party. My brother and I attended an out-of-state university in 1988 but came home to caucus for Senator Paul Simon.

What about the independents and Republicans who changed their party registration on caucus night to support Obama? We can debate whether primaries and caucuses should be "open" or "closed," but the Iowa Democratic Party's rules clearly allow party-switchers to participate in precinct caucuses. If Obama's campaign did a better job of turning out non-Democrats, so be it.

What about all those people no one seemed to know at their precinct caucuses? The turnout was astonishing, but it would be wrong to assume that all those first-timers were for Obama, or that they didn't really live in the neighborhoods where they caucused. The number of people who ended up in the Clinton and Edwards corners exceeded 140,000, which would have set a record for Iowa Democratic caucus turnout even if everyone else had stayed home.

The Clinton campaign mobilized huge numbers of people who had never attended a caucus before (more on that below). Even without any new voter strategy to speak of, Edwards ended up with a lot of supporters his campaign had never directly contacted. I had been working my precinct for months and still had people in our Edwards group whom I'd never met before January 3. The blogger fladem volunteered in a West Des Moines precinct on caucus night. He told me later that the Edwards campaign gave him a list of 34 supporters it had identified in the precinct (only 15 of whom showed up), but even before realignment 77 people joined the Edwards group.

My point is that a lot of Iowans came out of the woodwork to participate in the caucuses. Evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority of them were eligible voters. Political activists didn't recognize a lot of people in the caucus rooms, but that does not mean cheating was widespread.

If you happen to believe that Obama didn't really win Iowa, I probably haven't changed your mind, but I ask you not to hijack this thread with your conspiracy theories.

On to my next ground rule:

2. This diary is about what Clinton or Edwards could have done (if anything) to achieve a better outcome last January 3, assuming the Obama campaign executed its strategy as well as it did.

Obviously, Obama could have lost Iowa in any number of ways we could spend all day imagining. What if he hadn't raised enough money to open all those Iowa field offices? What if he'd flubbed his speeches at the Harkin Steak Fry and Jefferson-Jackson dinner? What if he'd been caught with a hooker at the Hotel Fort Des Moines? This kind of speculation doesn't interest me.

For the purposes of this diary, I assume that Obama would have run an equally effective campaign, raising a ton of money, hiring highly capable staff, adopting the same strategy of targeting Iowans who had never attended a caucus, giving the same well-received speeches, not making any huge gaffes in the debates. Under those conditions, I am exploring what the Clinton and Edwards campaigns could have done to win Iowa.

3. This diary is about things Clinton or Edwards could have done differently in 2007, not about factors that affected the outcome but were beyond their control by the time the campaign heated up in Iowa.

For example, Hillary's vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq created the opening for a candidate like Obama, but by 2007 there was no way for her to change that vote. I'm less interested in speculation like, "Hillary would have won if she'd voted against the war in 2002" and more interested in speculation like, "Hillary would have gained more credibility with anti-war Iowa Democrats if she had apologized for her war vote and lobbied for a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq."

Elizabeth Edwards' cancer recurrence unquestionably created problems for Edwards in Iowa, which is why his first major television ad emphasized his commitment to the campaign despite her illness. But there was nothing Edwards could do about that.

With those parameters in mind, I'll discuss the key mistakes and miscalculations made by the Clinton and Edwards campaigns and then consider some specific counterfactual questions.


When I asked former staffers and volunteers an open-ended question about what might have changed the outcome in Iowa, nine times out of ten the first thing people brought up was the failure to anticipate how large the voter universe would be. Howard Dean's new-voter strategy had flopped, and most experienced hands assumed that Obama's would fail too.

Throughout 2007, the Edwards campaign assumed that about 135,000 people would caucus in Iowa. That would have been about 10 percent higher than the previous record turnout. Many former Edwards supporters believe that this strategic error doomed the campaign. Precinct captains and field organizers called through and canvassed the same voter lists again and again. In the final weeks, we were irritating people by contacting the same group who had heard from us many times and had mostly made up their minds.

Field organizers who expressed concern about apparently growing support for Obama were told not to worry, because most of those people would never come out on a cold night in January. The Edwards' campaign's internal numbers showed he was winning. He probably did win among Iowans who had caucused before, and in many areas he exceeded his campaign's "vote goals," but it wasn't enough. In my precinct, the campaign estimated Edwards would need 110 supporters to win four out of the six delegates. We ended up with more than that, but it was only enough for two delegates.

Several former Edwards staffers I spoke with were surprised that he did as well as he did (ending up with more than 70,000 supporters after realignment), given how little his campaign did to reach out to new voters. I heard many comments along the lines of, "Finishing second was a major victory." I also thought Edwards would be blown out of the water in the unlikely event of turnout over 200,000.

Clinton's problem was different. Her top supporters and staff realized early on that she was behind in Iowa and needed to change the equation. Consequently, her strategy did not rely so heavily on experienced caucus-goers. On the contrary, the Clinton campaign implemented some ingenious strategies for mobilizing first-timers, which worked fairly well.

A common refrain from shell-shocked Clinton volunteers I spoke to in the weeks after the caucuses was, "We thought we had enough." If you had told me in advance that Hillary would end up with more than 70,000 people in her corner, I would also have expected her to win. The achievement is even more impressive given that Clinton did far worse than Obama and Edwards in terms of second choices. If the Iowa Democratic Party did not have a 15 percent threshold rule, forcing supporters of minor candidates to realign, Hillary probably would have finished ahead of Edwards and not very far behind Obama.

Why did Clinton's new-voter strategy fall short? A few volunteers I spoke with felt the campaign had focused too much on the demographic groups that strongly supported Hillary: voters over 50, especially women. One person from a different part of the state told me she had suggested some outreach ideas for young professionals, only to be told by staff that "Our people are older."

The failure to appreciate Obama's potential to expand the electorate led to another major error: both the Clinton and Edwards campaigns were too quick to write off Obama's chances in Iowa.

In June and July 2007, all three campaigns conducted statewide canvassing. The door-knockers for Clinton and Edwards were mostly working from a list of previous caucus-goers, perhaps including some primary voters too. If I heard it once, I heard it twenty times, from Clinton volunteers as well as fellow Edwards supporters: Obama was way behind, especially once you got outside major cities. My field organizer told me in July that Clinton was Edwards' only competition in Iowa: "We know it, they know it, and the Obama people know it."

Staff from other campaigns knew that Obama field organizers and volunteers were canvassing lots of people who had never attended a caucus, as well as people who had never been registered Democrats. But again, experienced hands assumed that relying on new voters was never going to be a winning strategy for the Iowa caucuses.

Some Clinton volunteers were frustrated that Hillary did not spend much time in Iowa during the summer of 2007, aside from a swing through the state with her husband in early July. Later, some interpreted this to mean that Hillary was never serious about winning Iowa. I was not privy to high-level discussions within the Clinton campaign, but my hunch is that they simply weren't worried about Obama and figured losing to Edwards wouldn't be a big problem, if it came to that. In any event, Clinton moved into the lead in some Iowa polls during the summer.

The Clinton and Edwards campaigns also had poor outreach to key Democratic-leaning interest groups, with the exception of organized labor. I am involved with many environmental non-profits and am acquainted with lots of people from other progressive advocacy organizations. Time and again, Obama's field organizers would be the only campaign staff represented at events hosted by these groups.

A friend and fellow Edwards precinct captain continually complained that Obama had much better outreach to the peace community. Staffers reassured her, "We have Ed Fallon." Fallon has great connections among Iowa peaceniks going back to the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, but his endorsement of Edwards wasn't going to single-handedly bring all those people along.

Representatives of progressive advocacy groups found it easy to meet with Obama's senior staff in Iowa. The campaign seemed receptive to their input about policy. When the same people tried to meet with the Clinton campaign, they sometimes had their scheduled meetings postponed at the last minute, or they would show up and end up meeting with junior staffers because the senior staff had more important business at hand. Some of the Clinton staff who had not worked in Iowa before came across as condescending. One sustainable farming activist told me that the Clinton staff from the east coast "would look at you like you had sh*t on your shoes."

Because the Clinton and Edwards campaigns were slow to realize Obama was a threat in Iowa, they gave their volunteers virtually no talking points to use with voters considering Obama. So, the week after the caucuses I talked with a politically active member of the LGBT community in Des Moines who had never heard of the Donnie McClurkin fiasco. Some board members of an environmental non-profit caucused for Obama, not knowing that he was open to expanding nuclear power had voted for George Bush's energy bill in 2005. Some people in the peace community were unaware that Obama had voted for Iraq War supplemental funding bills with no strings attached.

Whatever your pet issue was, the Obama campaign probably had a staffer working to show you he would do something you liked. The Clinton and Edwards campaigns had less personal contact with activists and gave their staff and volunteers little specific guidance on how to persuade voters that Clinton or Edwards was better than Obama on this or that issue.

Obama's large paid campaign staff presumably made it easier to reach out to interest groups. I know I wasn't the only volunteer who encouraged the Edwards campaign to send staff to certain events being hosted by non-profit groups. Unfortunately, the field organizers had so many other required tasks that taking a few hours to attend one of these events was usually not feasible.

I learned months later that the Edwards field organizers spent untold hours searching for supporters who fit into certain categories: doctors for Edwards, veterans for Edwards, rural firefighters for Edwards, hog farmers for Edwards. Unfortunately, those lists seem to have been compiled solely for the purpose of sending out a press release and generating some favorable media coverage and material for the campaign website.

Outreach on college campuses was not very strong either. Granted, Clinton or Edwards were never going to win among college students, because Obama's branding as the young voters' choice was phenomenally successful. Still, the other candidates could have done more to keep Obama's margins down with this demographic. One Edwards field organizer in a different part of the state told me his office mostly ignored the local community college campus, on the assumption that Edwards wasn't the youth candidate and none of those kids would show up on caucus night anyway.

The Clinton campaign disastrously suggested that Obama was trying to "manipulate" the process by encouraging out-of-state students to come back to campus on January 3. Clinton ended up not even reaching the 15 percent viability threshold in a number of college-town precincts.

The Clinton and Edwards campaigns also were out-hustled when it came to recruiting opinion leaders.

Nothing illustrates the Obama campaign's determined pursuit of prominent Iowa Democrats better than this passage in a New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza:

Obama, who had sometimes seemed to eschew the details of campaigning which Clinton appears to revel in, has become more enmeshed in the state's idiosyncratic politics. Consider the conquest of Gordon Fischer, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. Every campaign wanted Fischer's endorsement, but the Obama campaign pursued him relentlessly. At a recent lunch at the Des Moines Embassy Club, a restaurant on the forty-first floor of the tallest building in the state, Fischer explained how Obama's Iowa operatives used his closest friends to persuade him to back Obama. One, Lola Velázquez-Aguilú, managed to decorate part of Fischer's house with photographs of Obama that featured thought bubbles asking for Fischer's endorsement. ("Has anyone told you how great you look today?" an image of Obama taped to a mirror said. "So, are you ready to sign a supporter card?") When Obama staffers learned that the late Illinois senator Paul Simon was a hero of Fischer's, they asked Simon's son-in-law, Perry Knop, to call Fischer and make the case for Obama. At one point, Obama himself invited Fischer onto his campaign bus and told him that he had to stay aboard until he agreed to an endorsement. When Fischer insisted that he had to make the decision with his wife, Monica, Obama demanded Monica's cell-phone number, and he called her at once. "Monica, this is Barack Obama," he said when her voice mail came on. "I'm with your husband here, and I'm trying to go ahead and close the deal for him to support my candidacy. . . . Discuss it over with your man. Hopefully we can have you on board." The Fischers were sufficiently impressed to endorse him, two weeks later. "I think the Iowa campaign has been run better than the national campaign," Fischer said.

When I showed that paragraph to my husband a year ago, his first reaction was that Fischer had inadvertently made a really strong argument for scrapping the Iowa caucuses. No doubt many of you are nodding your heads.

The Obama campaign just worked harder to win over those who could influence others, and not only well-known people like Fischer, state legislators, city and county officials. Iowa blogger John Deeth posted this remarkable anecdote the day before the caucuses:

After the Clinton rally last night in Iowa City, a Clinton precinct captain sighed in frustration and, insisting on anonymity, shared this story.  The precinct captain's friend, a school principal, had said he was trying to choose between Clinton and Barack Obama.  He was on his way into the rally when his cell phone rang.  It was Obama.

Not a campaign staffer, a volunteer, or a robo-call.  It was Barack Obama himself.

The personal request proved to be sufficient, as the principal pledged his support directly to the candidate, turned on his heels, and walked out of the Clinton event.

Now, we all know Iowans are spoiled, and I've heard some stories of Clinton calling individual Iowans, albeit Iowans of the elected official rank.  But the Clinton precinct captain told this tale as an example of frustration with the top-down organization of the Clinton campaign.  An Obama precinct captain was able to get the word up through the county and state structure that this principal, not a party activist but certainly a neighborhood leader who'd look really persuasive standing in the Obama corner at his precinct, could be persuaded by a few words from the candidate.

The Obama campaign also kept after some opinion leaders who had endorsed other candidates. A well-known surrogate for another candidate told me that people representing the Obama campaign were still calling as late as two weeks before caucus night, trying to get this person to switch sides. I assume similar lobbying was going on all over the state. Late conversions created good publicity, such as when a Lee County supervisor who had been a county chairman for Edwards endorsed Obama in November.

While the Clinton and Edwards campaigns had some common problems, each campaign also made some unique mistakes. Here are some complaints I heard from Hillary's former volunteers, precinct captains or low-level staff.

As I've mentioned above, Clinton was perceived not to be spending enough time in Iowa during the summer and early fall. She didn't hold many rallies outside the cities and opened most of her small-town field offices two months after Obama had offices up and running in the same communities. (Edwards also opened many of his field offices late in the game, but that was due to scarce resources, not strategy.)

Clinton's campaign was less of a grassroots operation than Obama's. Several people independently used the word "top-down" to describe it to me. Staff at smaller field offices had little flexibility when it came to outreach or publicity and often felt out of the loop. One person told me about the day when staff found out at 8 am that Bill Clinton was doing a rally in the town at 1 pm that day. They sent volunteers to hand out fliers at grocery store parking lots in the freezing cold, in a desperate attempt to build a crowd on such short notice.

The setup of the typical Clinton rally put a lot of distance between her and the voters. I assume the Secret Service had a lot to do with this practice, so I wouldn't blame the Clinton staff. Nevertheless, it made Hillary seem remote to caucus-goers who were used to seeing the various candidates in person.

Compounding this problem, Clinton rarely took questions from the audience at her Iowa events. The cautious strategy made sense on one level; why risk making a gaffe when Clinton was so far ahead in so many other states? On the other hand, not answering questions from the public goes against Iowa's "political culture." When Clinton started to draw some negative attention for this habit, her staff planted questions at a Grinnell College event, leading to a devastating national media cycle or two.

Adding to the sense of remoteness at Clinton events, the candidate was almost always introduced by either former Governor Tom Vilsack or former First Lady Christie Vilsack. Some volunteers felt it would have helped to give a more prominent role to local officials or hometown state legislators at these venues, since they were personally acquainted with more of the audience members.

As for the Edwards campaign, I mentioned the most important problems above, but a couple of other glitches repeatedly frustrated volunteers.

The field organizers did an excellent job for the most part, but there was a disconnect between people who signed up online to volunteer and the field offices that could have used their help. This Edwards supporter from tiny Strawberry Point articulated the problem well:

I know just from other comments on DKos that I'm not the only one that experienced frustration due to inept organization and/or coordination between the national and local effort in the Edwards camp.  After filling out a ton of forms on the website I wasn't contacted once over the phone and only had one email to show for my efforts about a week later.  I never got any details about canvassing nor did I even get directions to the phone banking site.  Contrast this to the Obama campaign touching base every few days through a LOCAL organizer inviting me to meetings, asking if I would caucus, etc.  Then on caucus night the Edwards campaign was the only one without a clear organization while Obama had a group of at least 4 20-somethings that were obviously well-trained by the campaign and had made the 1+ hour trek to a town of 1200 people in northeast Iowa  from Illinois.

Nothing irritated me more than the way Edwards ran excessively late to almost all of his campaign events. Even committed supporters didn't appreciate it when the first introductory speaker wasn't on stage nearly an hour after an event's scheduled start time. A lot of undecided voters got fed up and left before hearing the candidate speak.

I remember other precinct captains bringing this up during conference calls with senior Edwards staff in Iowa. They were hearing complaints from friends and neighbors.

Why was Edwards so late all the time? If you compared the candidates' public schedules, Edwards almost always had more events packed into each day. It was great for communicating with voters, but if a media availability in the morning ran late, he was behind all day. Edwards also fielded lots of questions from the audience, which generally made a good impression, but it made it hard to catch up once he fell behind.

Someone high up on the chain of command should have put a stop to the overscheduling. The Edwards campaign placed a lot of importance on holding events in all 99 Iowa counties. Retail politics in small towns is great, but as we saw, Obama was able to win Iowa without visiting all 99 counties. (I'm not even sure he hit 70 counties.)

Now, on to the fun part--the questions no one can answer. I look forward to reading your take on these in the comments, no matter which presidential candidate was your first choice.


What if Clinton or Edwards had done more to target first-time caucus-goers?

Many former Edwards supporters believe underestimating the potential turnout by 100,000 people fatally flawed his campaign. What if he'd realized early on that the voter universe would be much larger than in 2004? I suspect he would have done better on caucus night, but lack of money would have been a problem. Obama and Clinton in effect had unlimited funds to spend in Iowa, and Edwards would have had trouble matching their outreach to people who had never caucused before. That's an enormous pool of voters.

Also, the Edwards core message (the system is rigged because corporations have too much power in Washington, and we need to fight to take that power away from them) was in my opinion much more appealing to the Democratic party faithful than to no-party voters or Democrats who hadn't previously gotten involved in the caucuses.

As I wrote earlier, the Clinton campaign did a lot to identify and mobilize supporters who had never attended a caucus. Perhaps her staff could have reached out to voters under 50 a little better, but I think they were working this angle as hard as they could.

What if Clinton or Edwards had done more to target independents and Republicans?

All the candidates had some supporters who were registered Republicans and independents, but Obama unquestionably did the best among those groups.

I think Clinton's potential to expand her support among Republicans and independents was limited. Lots of Republicans have practically an allergic reaction to the Clintons. Multiple polls indicated that Iowa's independents didn't like Hillary as much as they liked Obama. I can't imagine that it would have been a wise use of her campaign's resources to focus more on non-Democrats.

Edwards probably could have improved his showing with independents if his campaign had reached out to them more, but again, lack of resources was a problem. Going after Democrats who hadn't caucused before would have spread his organization very thin, to say nothing of independents. Also, the Edwards rhetoric about fighting corporate power and supporting organized labor was tailored to the Democratic base. It was never likely to appeal much to independents or Republicans. Obama's appeals to post-partisanship and empowering rhetoric ("we are the change we've been waiting for") was much better suited to voters who were not partisan Democrats.

What if someone had gone negative on Obama before Iowa?

As Obama picked up momentum in the fall of 2007, no one was making any kind of case against him with Iowans. Conventional wisdom says you don't go negative in a multiple-candidate environment, because the support candidate A drives away from candidate B is likely to flow toward candidate C. On the other hand, if you're Hillary, losing Iowa to Edwards would not do nearly as much damage as losing to Obama. Should her campaign have done more to get negative information on Obama out there?

Interestingly, only one political insider told me Clinton's biggest mistake was not going hard negative on Obama before the caucuses. This person didn't work on any of the 2008 presidential campaigns but has extensive experience working on other campaigns. Most people I spoke with said going negative on Obama would only have backfired.

Howard Dean hit his high-water mark in Iowa about six weeks before the 2004 caucuses, but in that case the national media amplified and lent credibility to rival candidates' attacks. In all likelihood the national media would have responded very differently to attacks on Obama. Clinton would have been called "desperate" and hypocritical.

Since Edwards had no path forward but to win Iowa, I can't see how it would have helped him to go after Obama before the caucuses. The national media already disliked Edwards and would have ripped him to shreds. I remember people accusing the Edwards campaign of racism just for saying that Edwards would be the Democrats' strongest general-election candidate.

As I wrote earlier, I do think both campaigns needed to get their volunteers more "talking points" about why Clinton or Edwards would be better than Obama on this or that issue. Those would have been useful during direct voter contacts like canvassing and house parties, not as part of either campaign's message through the media.

What if Reverend Jeremiah Wright's comments had been widely publicized before the Iowa caucuses?

When "God damn America" was all over television last March, I talked with a lot of Iowans about how that level of publicity for Wright might have affected the caucuses. I didn't find any consensus. I believe that if the national media had wanted to bring down Obama the way they wanted to bring down Dean, they could have hurt him badly by making Reverend Wright a big story in November and December 2007. It wouldn't have put off the Iowans who strongly supported Obama, but there were plenty of people who drifted toward Obama because they thought he was more electable than Clinton or Edwards. The Wright clips would have made those people think twice. Few Democrats actually care what Obama's pastor said, but lots of Democrats worried about other voters being offended by these comments.

Many of my politically active acquaintances think Iowans wouldn't have cared much about Reverend Wright, and Obama could have brushed it off as a personal attack or an attempt to distract from the important issues.

What if Clinton had apologized for her Iraq War vote?

I thought it was a mistake for Hillary not to follow Edwards' example and apologize for voting to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. However, opposition to Clinton among Iowa Democrats was rooted in a lot more than her stand on Iraq. I don't think she would have changed the equation by apologizing. Remember, John Kerry and John Edwards beat Howard Dean in the 2004 caucuses without expressing regret for their AUMF votes.

What if Clinton had skipped Iowa?

In May 2007, when early polling showed Hillary behind in Iowa and with high negatives, Clinton's deputy campaign manager Mike Henry wrote a memo recommending that the campaign

pull completely out of Iowa and spend the money and Senator Clinton's time on other states [...] If she walks away from Iowa she will devalue Iowa -- our consistently weakest state.

John McCain in effect pulled out of Iowa and was able to win the Republican nomination. What about Hillary?

I find this question particularly difficult to answer. If Hillary admitted that she could not win among Democrats in a swing state, how could she make the case that she could win across the country? During the summer of 2007, Clinton's aura of inevitability was an asset to her, and admitting weakness in Iowa would have undercut that.

Some former Edwards staffers believe he might have beaten Obama if Hillary had not seriously contested Iowa. Both Clinton and Edwards did much better among voters over 60 than Obama. However, thousands of the people who caucused for Hillary would never have shown up on January 3 if her campaign had not been active in Iowa.

Among the Clinton supporters who would have caucused anyway, some would have preferred Edwards, but I don't think he would have dominated this group--not enough to overtake Obama. A lot of older voters were attracted to Clinton's experience and would have gone to Bill Richardson or Joe Biden as a second choice. Maybe those candidates would have been viable in a lot more precincts without a strong effort from Clinton.

If Edwards had realized early on that Obama, not Clinton, was his main competition in Iowa, his strategy might have changed significantly in unpredictable ways. But I still think his campaign would have underestimated Obama's ability to turn out new voters.

What if Bill Clinton had campaigned more in Iowa?

Clinton surged in Iowa polls after her first major tour around the state with her husband in July. Should she have traveled with the former president more in Iowa, or should she have had him do more events in Iowa during the weeks that she was tied up in Washington on Senate business?

For what it's worth, very few Clinton supporters I know believe her campaign should have used Bill Clinton more. A lot of people did support Hillary because they liked the idea of "two presidents for the price of one," but she needed to demonstrate her own leadership potential. She couldn't afford to be seen as running for her husband's third term. Also, her campaign benefited from the strong desire of many to see a woman elected president, and giving Bill Clinton too prominent a role in the campaign would have undercut that message.

What if we'd never heard about Edwards' $400 haircut?

Ask any former Edwards volunteer or staffer how many voters immediately brought up the $400 haircut the second you mentioned the candidate's name. It was a nightmare that no amount of self-deprecating humor or clever YouTubes could end.

In November 2007 I attended a big rally in Des Moines. Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne played a few songs to get the crowd going, then Edwards gave a great stump speech. When he opened it up to Q and A, the second question from the audience was basically, "Why should I believe you're authentic when I hear about things like the $400 haircut?"

What if Edwards had never gotten that haircut, or at least had not listed it on his FEC disclosure form?

I take a contrarian view on this question. Marc Ambinder famously admitted that when the haircut story broke at the end of the first quarter of 2007, it took off because "the press was trying to bury Edwards." In the same piece, Ambinder observed, "fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn't like John Edwards."

If not the haircut, some other conspicuous consumption by Edwards would have been flogged to death by journalists seeking to "bury" the candidate. In fact, they already had all the ammunition they needed in Edwards' huge North Carolina home.

I don't know when the Edwards home was completed, but it first started making national news about two months before anyone heard of the haircut. A lot of politically-active Iowans were turned off. This is an excerpt from an e-mail I received in February 2007 from an acquaintance who has volunteered for various political and environmental causes in Iowa:

It would be very hard, if not impossible, for me to vote for him now.  I was hedging before (the alternative of Hillary was helping him more than anything), but that house is exactly the over-consumptive lifestyle that constitutes my #1 pet peeve.  He could  have built a 5000 sf home that was 100% energy and carbon neutral with that money and set a desperately needed example :(

Energy efficient or not, 6,000 sf per current resident is ridiculous.  It's just plain symbolic of the worst habits of American wealth  :(  For me, it's not necessarily the fact that he built it now, but that he would consider building it EVER that I find most disappointing.

If you never liked Edwards, the big house confirmed your belief that he was just a rich phony talking a good game about helping the poor. But from my perspective, the house did more harm with the Iowans who liked Edwards. I have no data to back this up, but my impression was that early in 2007, the people who had caucused for Edwards in 2004 tended to lean toward supporting him again, while being open to hear what other candidates had to say. After the house story broke, and was reinforced by the $400 haircut, a significant number of those people started leaning toward finding a different candidate.

What if Edwards had raised more money?

Edwards raised a respectable amount of money in the first quarter of 2007, but he was well behind Obama and Clinton. The haircut story severely damaged his second-quarter fundraising, which compounded his problem getting journalists to take him seriously as a contender. Redeploying some staff from Nevada to Iowa was not enough to solve the campaign's money problem. In September, Edwards reversed course and opted into the public financing system. Taking public financing was not a salient issue with many Iowa voters, as far as I could tell, but it was a huge deal to the journalists and bloggers who followed the campaign closely. I know that Obama volunteers were telling undecided voters that Edwards would never have enough money to beat Hillary or a Republican because of the spending limits that came with public financing.

What if Edwards had raised enough money to compete with the others without taking public matching funds? I asked quite a few former Edwards staffers whether they though lack of resources was a major problem. Of course everyone would have liked to have as many field offices as Obama, and there was enough work to keep a much larger paid campaign staff busy. However, the consensus seems to be that even if the Edwards campaign had had significantly more money to spend, the money would have gone toward targeting the same narrow voter universe, or running more advertising on airwaves that were already oversaturated. I tend to agree.

What if Edwards' extramarital affair had been exposed during 2007?

Clinton's former communications director, Howard Wolfson, made a big splash in August by suggesting that Edwards' cover-up of his affair with Rielle Hunter cost Hillary the Iowa caucuses and therefore the Democratic nomination. I don't think so.

If the affair had become public knowledge, the Edwards campaign would certainly have imploded. But having talked to hundreds of people who caucused for Edwards, I am convinced that more of them would have switched to Obama than Clinton. Probably Obama would have won Iowa by a larger margin.

A significant number of Edwards supporters didn't like either of the front-runners, so maybe Biden, Richardson or Dodd would have been able to reach the 15 percent threshold in a lot more precincts. Clinton would still have been in second place.

(Note: for those who are wondering, yes, I was angry and disappointed upon learning about this affair.)

Thanks to everyone who made it to the end of this very long diary. I hope we can keep it civil in the comments.

Tags: 2008 elections, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Iowa, Iowa Caucuses, John Edwards, president, Primaries (all tags)



Re: Clinton or Edwards have beaten Obama in Iowa?

I don't think there was anything Edwards could do to improve his standing in Iowa.  And based on the absolute disaster it would have been to nominate him, I think we Democrats should be thankful that was the case.  

He had campaigned in the state for years, he had a definite following among those who supported him over Kerry in 2004, and his message was known by most Iowans.. but it didn't resonate.  I believe this was primarily due to his authenticity problem; his message was concern for the 'little guy', spoken by the mouth of a lifelong 'big guy'.  

Hillary, on the other hand, could easily have won Iowa.. upsets happen because the favorite underestimates the underdog.  Once she began taking him seriously, she did win just about every state with a Democratic machine and a low African-American population.  She really had two options..

1.  She could have started the opposition research on Obama very early, and those sharp drops in his popularity after some of the more interesting associations came to light would have been at a time that would have sent Obama's campaign straight to the bottom of the primary ocean.  In reality, she started this assault at a time when her gains didn't really help her regain the type of commanding lead she was given at the beginning.  If her attacks had been made very close to the start of the Iowa caucus.. he might never have recovered.

2.  Another option, more Clintonian.. subtly prop up Edwards behind the scenes, helping him win Iowa where he was 'expected' to do well.  In a caucus setting, this would not have been difficult to do.  An Edwards win in Iowa would send Obama in search of a victory without anything resembling momentum.. Edwards would have been eating up the news cycle.  When the primary shifted east.. Clinton would have destroyed Edwards, Obama would be the 'unlikely' candidate, and the coronation would be complete.

by Wayward Son 2009-01-19 10:32AM | 0 recs
I don't agree

I don't know how Clinton could have competed in Iowa while also propping up Edwards behind the scenes. If she wanted to prop up Edwards, she should have skipped Iowa, but that would have created other problems for her, and I think Obama would have won anyway.

I don't think it's right to say that Edwards' message "didn't resonate." Somewhere between 30K and 40K Iowans caucused for Edwards in 2004, and he basically doubled that number in 2008 despite doing very little outreach to new voters. So his message resonated with a lot of people, but it wasn't enough to overcome the incredible Obama campaign machine.

One thing working against Clinton was that everyone knew the nominating contest would be over if she won Iowa. I think a lot of Iowans like the idea of giving the underdog a chance and letting the primaries go forward.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 10:59AM | 0 recs

Hillary could have "propped up" Edwards by not attacking him and focusing on Barack like a laser beam. But alas, that would have meant her campaign team actually paying attention to what was happening on the ground in Iowa and realizing that Obama was the main attraction.

I swear, Hillary's Iowa campaign was the worst of all her state operations!

by atdleft 2009-01-19 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Perhaps...

Don't forget "winner take all" california.

by lojasmo 2009-01-19 02:03PM | 0 recs
You can't know what could have been.

I understand the appeal of counterfactuals, but I just don't believe one can play what-if.

Yes, as the underdog, if Obama had lost, it would have logically made it that much harder for him to win a narrow primary.

But in an alternate time line, the front runner (Clinton) could have just as easily made an unrecoverable gaffe, etc.

You just don't know.

I am not saying you support this notion, but there is a meme amongst the bitter few that Obama won because of "luck" (or just plain cheated).

I feel examining counterfactuals in any circumstance (for anybody) reinforce a meme of luck.

Luck had nothing to do with this. To believe in luck by default undermines skill. This had everything to do with political perception of the Nation's mood.

Those who still claim to support him but do not understand his victory are the hapless, political tone deaf.

by iohs2008 2009-01-19 10:38AM | 0 recs
how does it reinforce the idea of luck?

I went over in (too much) detail how Obama ran a superior campaign, and in most of the what-if scenarios, I conclude that Obama would have won anyway.

How does looking at the counterfactual reinforce the idea that he just got lucky?

Clinton could have made a big gaffe later, but given that Obama only barely defeated her even with a big Iowa victory, I think it's highly unlikely he could have won the nomination without Iowa.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 10:55AM | 0 recs
Re: how does it reinforce the idea of luck?

This is an interesting post. Obama was very lucky in so many ways. What if Edwards hadn't been in the race? What if Florida and Michigan hadn't moved up their primaries? I don't think he could have won the nomination if Florida and Michigan had counted.

Iraq was an issue when he needed it to be an issue and then it disappeared off the radar as the economy took hold. The Jeremiah Wright debacle came in the middle of a six week hiatus in the primary calendar. Had it come earlier in the cycle or even on the eve of PA primary, he might not have had the opportunity to recover.

Still when all is said and done Obama I think won Iowa due to his stand on ethanol. Maybe I am wrong but it seems that his support for ethanol, misguided as it is, was one the deciding factors.

by Charles Lemos 2009-01-19 02:51PM | 0 recs
What I thought

There's no way to tell of course, but I think Clinton COULD have won but she had some disadvantes here. Edwards had made the state his second home for close to 4 year and Obama was from right next door. Richardson threw his non viable support to Obama as well. My own belief at the time was that Edwards win Iowa, but not by a large enough margin to propel him past Clinton and Obama. I then though Clinton would win NH and that would mark the beginning of the end for Obama. How wrong I was!

by Mayor McCheese 2009-01-19 10:49AM | 0 recs
Clinton couldn't have changed it

There were plenty of reasons to expect a big turnout for Obama before the caucuses. He attracted large and enthusiastic crowds with crossover appeal to independents and moderate Republicans. He was helped by the proximity of his Chicago headquarters, which deployed along with the multitude of volunteers to practically drag supporters out of their homes and make sure they got to the caucuses.  Caucuses reward the best organization and the Obama campaign clearly was the best organized and best motivated.

by jcullen 2009-01-19 11:09AM | 0 recs
Thorough analysis

Thanks for the diary, it was informative and thorough.  It's hard to see how either Clinton or Edwards could have won Iowa given Obama's well-designed and brilliantly implemented strategy.  I think Edwards could only have won if we combine several of your what-ifs:  no haircut (and media not harping on some other elitist attack); stronger fundraising; expansion of Edwards' voter universe.  In other words, if Edwards was running with Obama's campaign.  Even then, I think Edwards would have had trouble overcoming the "newness" of the Obama campaign.

by bottl4 2009-01-19 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Could Clinton or Edwards

As always, your diaries leave me both fascinated and exhausted.  I remember being in Iowa the evening the DMR endorsement was announced (symbolic, I think, of the Clinton campaign's belief that caucuses are low-turnout affairs where getting a few key opinion leaders on your side is all you need to win) and I remember visiting Des Moines again just a couple days after the caucuses - what a total ghost town it was, all of a sudden.  Just a couple quick thoughts.

It was always my assumption that Edwards pretty much "maxed out" in Iowa, having set up his campaign operation so far in advance of everyone else.  After reading your diary, I'm persuaded that there were definitely significant improvements he could have made.  But at the end of the day, I just don't think he had the resources to play on the same level as the two other campaigns, and certainly not enough to keep up on a national level.  The idea that he was going to win Iowa and then quickly bar the door was never going to play out with the degree of star power and fundraising potential the two other candidates brought to the table.  If Edwards wins Iowa, Clinton still wins New Hampshire... and knowing what we know today, is there any doubt she remains in it for the long haul at that point?

I think the really interesting question is whether anything changes if Clinton skips Iowa.  Without having any insidery knowledge, I suspect that decision came straight from the top - you couldn't help but notice that Clinton accepted every debate, even back when she was the prohibitive favorite, and she decided to jump into Iowa even though she arguably didn't have to.  I suspect it just wasn't in her nature to sit one out for strategic reasons.

I think Obama's win in Iowa would have been a lot less earth-shattering, and gained him less momentum as a result, had Clinton not even been contesting the state.  On the other hand, he would have received more delegates out of the deal than he did in the real world, and I'm pretty sure his campaign would have kept going about its business, setting up shop in the other states, methodically building an organization and sticking to the game plan.  By the time it swung around to Super Tuesday I'm not sure how much momentum made a difference any more, so maybe things would have played out just as they did.

Clinton wouldn't have had as solid a built-in excuse for skipping Iowa as Bill did in 1992, of course, but even accounting for the media's determination to pierce the inevitability aura, I bet she could have gotten away with it.  Heck, Rudy skipped all the early states for no better reason than he was getting clobbered in all of them, his campaign made up some total BS story about how it was really just part of an awesome "Florida strategy," and to this day people believe that strategy was for real.  They think it was a horrible strategy, of course, but they believe it was an actual plan, when obviously it wasn't.  So I think Hillary's campaign could have made something up and it would have retained at least a fig leaf of credibility, which is really all you need in politics.

by Steve M 2009-01-19 11:24AM | 0 recs
The problem

with this logic is that Obama was pretty well set-up in New Hampshire as well.  

There was no way Clinton could skip Iowa - which the Clinton people increasingly realized over time - and why they spent 26 Million in Iowa.

by fladem 2009-01-19 06:50PM | 0 recs
Re: The problem

But he lost NH, regardless of how well he was set up.  He only did so well in NH because of all the momentum he grabbed from Iowa.  If Iowa is less interesting because Clinton didn't even compete there, he gets less momentum, and I certainly don't see how he improves on his performance in NH as a result.

by Steve M 2009-01-19 07:31PM | 0 recs
Iraq mistake recognition

First, really great piece!

I think admitting Iraq was a mistake would have made a difference if not by itself, but by what it would have reflected about the thinking inside the campaign. It would have signaled a rejection of the DLC hawkishness and an embrace of the reality based community; a humble ask for forgiveness instead of a forced air of inevitability.

I think most of the ridiculousness we saw from Clinton's campaign after she lost but insisted on staying in was the inevitable conclusion of a campaign so detached from reality.

Also, I believe the name Mark Penn belongs in any such piece.

As for Edwards, I'm still not at the point where I even want to consider the possibility he would have become the nominee.

by Bob Brigham 2009-01-19 11:32AM | 0 recs
true, Mark Penn was a problem for her

I don't know how involved he was in the Iowa strategy, but shifting gears to a general election strategy in the fall of 2007 was dumb.

People have very high regard for Teresa Vilmain, who directed Clinton's campaign in Iowa. Really, they turned out an incredible number of new voters.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Could Clinton or Edwards have beaten Obama in

I honestly believe Hillary underestimated Obama's organization and appeal to left-wing progressives.    She made the same mistake in essence as Rudy Giuliani did.    Too much focus on the general election before securing the actual nomination.

I also though the Clintons were a victim of the un-American and un-democratic aspects of the caucus.  Not necessary the Iowa factor, but the numerous other caucus that created a deep hole after Super Tuesday.  15& thresolds doesn't seem like the American way.    Participation in caucus are also INCREDIBLY small.  As it require considerable organization and time.   Whereas primary voting at the polls only requires a few minutes of one's time/effort. Thus the caucus representation was far from a mandate of the electorate

It was obvious Hillary Clinton secured more popular votes and if the Democratic Party counted votes and states like the GOP did during their nomination process or even at a medium like we did on the General Election on Nov5th......which was much more representative of the electorate in a more fair one person-one vote manner....the results would be have different.    

I am optimistic of the next 4yrs.   I hope the 2012 primaries are radically changed and perhaps we can fully appreciate the ideals of a representive democracy.

by newmexicodem 2009-01-19 11:40AM | 0 recs

Obama won the nomination thanks to the caucus states. If all states had used the primary process and the DNC hadn't screwed up on Florida-Michigan, Hillary could very well have sewn up the nomination before June 2008. But because Barack's team knew how to work the caucus system, a string of wins in a number of smaller states ended up meaning more than two larger state wins.

But no matter what would have happened last year under a different system, I just can't stand how undemocratic the caucus system is! I witnessed it firsthand in Nevada. People who should have been able to participate couldn't because they didn't have the right job or the right healthy body or the right kind of household. Caucuses are discriminatory, and they should be abolished in favor of universal primaries with early voting.

by atdleft 2009-01-19 12:12PM | 0 recs
Clinton could have won an Iowa primary

I firmly believe that. I don't know that she definitely would have won, but she would have had a much better chance.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 04:14PM | 0 recs
this is a great piece

I can't say I can contribute anything to answering the question, but I wanted to say "great job!"

by John DE 2009-01-19 12:01PM | 0 recs
Re: this is a great piece

Thanks for hanging in there with such a long diary!

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 04:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Could Clinton or Edwards

As usual, an excellent diary and analysis.  After the fact, many things look inevitable, but in mid 2007, Clinton looked inevitable to many.

Now, I wonder if Edwards ever really had a chance.  He started in Jan 2007 as the antiwar candidate, but this war never created the level of opposition that Vietnam did, perhaps because there was no draft.

Edwards never caught Clinton and Obama in the polls.  Money was a big factor, as as I said on Dkos, the "haircut" destroyed his momentum in spring 2007, affecting his fundraising.  There always was the "trial lawyer" narrative that Edwards was a "phony" and the haircut unfortunately validated it for many.  Until Iowa, I believed, perhaps because I wanted to, that Edwards had a chance.  

Clinton could have won, had she run more populist. She never articulated reasons for voting for her, beyond inevitability, I'm a Clinton, or gender in 2007 and into Iowa.  The Clinton of April and May 2008 might have won Iowa, or finished a strong second.

Both Edwards and Clinton underestimated Obama.

Without Edwards in the race, would Clinton have moved left on economics, or would Obama and Clinton both moved right.  Obama often placed himself between Edwards and Clinton.

An interesting race, and we may not see another for a while.  Regardless how Obama does, he will run for relecton and be nominated.  So, not until 2016.  

by TomP 2009-01-19 12:12PM | 0 recs
I agree, Edwards never had a chance

Even if he'd won Iowa, he would have been wiped out on February 5.

I agree with your analysis about Clinton too.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 04:13PM | 0 recs
You last paragraph is a killer

The day after the Iowa Caucus, a friend and I were driving from Des Moines to Omaha (We couldn't get a flight out of Des Moines).  We were both pumped up by the experience of working in Iowa.

And then it hit.  It would probably be 8 years before another Iowa caucus would be contested.

I have to say the thought was and is profoundly depressing.  

by fladem 2009-01-19 06:56PM | 0 recs
If it weren't...

For Michael Whouley and the other whiz kids on Hillary's New Hampshire team, she would have been finished after Iowa. It frustrated me how inept her Iowa team was! If they had followed the lead of Hill's Nevada team, they would have been prepared for extremely high turnout and a slew of Obama endorsements.

by atdleft 2009-01-19 12:22PM | 0 recs
Michael Whouley

also helped save Kerry before the 2004 Iowa caucuses.

For Hillary to come back and win NH like that was something else.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 04:10PM | 0 recs
It shocked me

And I will believe to my dying day that Hillary won becauseof a backlash against the media in the last 36 hours.  

by fladem 2009-01-19 06:58PM | 0 recs

I am almost positive remembering that in that tight 3-way contest H. Clinton always surged ahead of Obama significantly when Edwards was taken out of the equation or when 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices were asked.  That tells me that had Edwards been forced to bow out due to the extramarital affair coming to light early on it would have most likely resulted in a Clinton win in Iowa.

It is all academic at this point.

by devilrays 2009-01-19 12:38PM | 0 recs

That's not how I remember it, although I could be the one who's mistaken.  I recall that Hillary was always way, way behind in terms of being the 2nd choice.

by Steve M 2009-01-19 12:51PM | 0 recs
but I was was her weakest state

She started out way behind in Iowa, and many activists Democrats never even considered her. It was the main reason I was always convinced she would finish no better than third--I figured that when the undecideds made up their minds, she would fall behind again.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 04:11PM | 0 recs

and Edwards always did better among second choices than Clinton did.

The truth was that Clinton had a very low ceiling in Iowa.  

by fladem 2009-01-19 06:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

Actually, that is not quite true: torylink_1231_103.aspx      - ahead of Obama DemCaucus.pdf     - Clinton exact equal of Edwards

and a few more polls where Obama, Edwards and Clinton played musical chairs as leaders and in 2nd choices.  The quetion here is not so much the raw top 2nd choice number, as that included the quite sizeable Richardson and Biden portion of votes - combined for about 7% to 10% in most polls - but where Edwards voters would have gone had he been forced to bow out because of his infidelity.  Not only were Edwards' and Clinton's voters the most closely matched in terms of age and economic circumstances, wich should have benefitted her had Edwards left the campaign, it also stands to reason that a major infidelity blowup of the Edwards candidacy would have helped the candidate perceived to be the most experienced, perceived to present the least risk.  

by devilrays 2009-01-19 07:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

Oh hell no. Edwards voters were mainly Edwards voters BECAUSE HE WASN'T CLINTON.

by Skex 2009-01-20 03:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama

Actually, Edwards started out with the biggest advantage of the three, having built a strong Iowa foundation just a few years earlier. There were several polls that showed a particularly strong overlap of Edwards and Clinton supporters and a strong affinity for Clinton especially amongst Edwards supporters due to the same type of demographics both attracted.  And, again, it is quite probable that Iowans would have chosen the candidate perceived to be the most experienced, least risky, had Edwards gone up in flames with an infidelity scandal.   As I said before, it is all academic, but Clinton would have probably won Iowa had Edwards found himself humiliated by scandal prior to the caucus.  

by devilrays 2009-01-20 06:14PM | 0 recs

Excellent work and thanks for the links. The article you cited sums up most of my thoughts about the badly-botched, imperial Clinton campaign in Iowa: she ran a wholesale campaign in a retail state. It had the FORM of a caucus campaign but not the SUBSTANCE. In retrospect, as much as I hate to say it, she probably WOULD have been better off pulling out of Iowa.

My county, Johnson (Iowa City) was number one in the state for Obama in both the caucus and general, so that's my filter. But here's my thoughts:

Crossover vote was a factor, but not in the "Democrat for a day" way we see in local primaries around here (where primaries are the de facto general elections for courthouse offices). The new Democrats have by and large stayed Democrats.

Hillary not apologizing on the war was huge. Many folks crossed her off the list for that alone.

The "students shouldn't caucus" thing hurt too, not just with students but with longtime party types who count on those student votes in November. (Chelsea no-commenting a nine year old kid with a Weekly Reader kind of newspaper column was p form, too.)

Had Hillary pulled out, Edwards might have had a shot. But if Edwards had been knocked out by the affair breaking pre-caucus, Obama would have won even bigger. There was a sizable "anyone but Hillary" vote. We saw that at county and district conventions when, in places where Edwards was no longer viable, his support moved en masse to Obama.

by jdeeth 2009-01-19 12:42PM | 0 recs
but even if she had apologized

for the AUMF, do you think those people would have given her serious consideration?

The hard-core activists for whom Iraq was a key issue were never going to be for Hillary, in my opinion.

If you're in the lefty wing of the Democratic party, you probably have very mixed memories of the Clinton presidency and were looking for a more progressive option.

by desmoinesdem 2009-01-19 02:29PM | 0 recs
Hillary could have won...

My personal observation is that Hillary could have won Iowa with a different strategy or campaign manager in place.

The fact that they chose to ignore caucuses was a BIG mistake. I believe she (her campaign) never expected to win Iowa and only when they realized just HOW BIG a deal the media was making of it, did they 'quickly' refocus efforts there (too late). Bill Clinton didn't bother with it and I think they were running a campaign similar to his at the time.

Remember the scene of her standing on the podium with all the "old" Clinton people behind her? (Albright, etc) and  there was Obama standing there with all young, new fresh faces? That made an impact.

Hillary was "distant", acted as a presumed frontrunner when she was operating in Iowa - it was not until she lost there that the strategy changed and her more empathetic, real side came out in NH (no, not the tears - the "likeable enough" and "Words are not action"). She blew both Obama and Edwards out of the water on that debate.

Had this side of Hillary been more accessible, seen in Iowa, and had she had a better ground operation in Iowa (and other caucus states) then the picture could have been different.

Even David Axelrod acknowledged that if FL had ever counted fully, then we would probably be seeing a President Hillary Clinton sworn in tomorrow.

Whatever. No point re-living the primary wars - it is what it is and once it went into the hands of the super delegates who began to switch from Hillary to Obama - it really didn't matter what happened in Iowa, NH or Super Tuesday.

But - hands down the BIGGEST surprise BEGAN with Iowa. Then NH was the next BIGGEST surprise. And the roller coaster ride went on from Jan through June, really. I say that because even tho' the mantra was "Hillary can't win" - the fact that she did keep winning individual elections from March forward says alot. I don't think it meant that people didn't want Obama, they just didn't know him and her kind of states were lined up towards the end (PA, OH, WV, KT).

I have thought alot about this over the past months and the bottom line is I believe that the democratic leadership jumped on board with Obama (once they realized he could win) and left Hillary in the dirt because they saw an opportunity to go with a brand new face, family, person and leave behind the perceived bitterness that would come with another Clinton presidency.

by nikkid 2009-01-19 05:59PM | 0 recs
Edwards' Staff Didn't Get It

I gave the Edwards campaign almost a $1000 and called them three times before he came to Missoula, Montana ans was not even invited to the fundraiser he held after his public speech--to which I brought seven people.

by Hoomai29 2009-01-19 08:30PM | 0 recs
Very interesting analysis

1.  Edwards started off with a commanding lead in Iowa polls early in the process and steadily declined right on through caucus night.  Edwards's big public image problem was apparently a personal flaw--an unwillingness to sacrifice any of his own personal luxuries to benefit his run as a populist.  Should a big home discredit his economic ideas?  Of course not.  But, the big home, the cushy hedge fund 'job' and the actress/mistress all bespeak a lack of discipline and sense of entitlement.  The big home shouldn't matter, but any politician worth their salt could see that it would, and acted accordingly.  

2.  Clinton should have run as an anti-establishment candidate from the beginning.  "Strength and experience" was a TERRIBLE theme to run on in a Democratic primary--it's a general election and Republican tag line.  Running as the candidate of safety and security in what would have been an obvious change election was a tough one to figure.  Mark Penn deserves to get stiffed for the campaign's remaining debt.

3.  Jeremiah Wright would have made it a lot closer.  He probably cost Obama an outright win in Indiana.  (I don't think the first Jeremiah Wright wave would have hurt that much, but his loathsome display in front of the DC press sure as hell did/would have).

4.  I don't think Clinton or Edwards could have gotten much more mileage out of first-time caucus goers.  Both of their messages were oriented towards the traditional Democratic base--Edwards looking for the labor/activists while Clinton was looking for party loyalists who had deep affection for her from the 90's.   Obama's themes of postpartisanship appealed to Indies and Republicans--people who hadn't attended caucuses as Dems--and his change and general cultural savviness increased his appeal to young, first-time caucus goers.  

5.  Clinton had a no-win situation in Iowa--you can't run while stressing your toughness and strength and then chicken out of the first contested election rather than duke it out.  She should have did what McCain did--make the appearances there, but make it obvious that NH was the real jump off.  And she should have spent a lot less money there.

6.   At the end of the day, Obama was able to tap into an energy that the other two couldn't.  

by Geekesque 2009-01-19 09:28PM | 0 recs
I agree with you about Edwards.

He showed some political tone deafness about his house, the job with a hedge fund, and the hair cut thing.  It may not have made any difference in the long run (Edwards was no longer "new"), but it hurt him.

It really always was down to Obama and Clinton. The more progressive candidate won.

by TomP 2009-01-20 05:14AM | 0 recs
You can't skip Iowa

This has been tried several times and hasn't work. The only time I can think of that a successful (eventual) nominee skipped Iowa was in 92 with Bill Clinton and that was only because of Harkin's presence and EVERYONE skipped it.

by Mayor McCheese 2009-01-20 10:21AM | 0 recs


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