Caucus Morning Roundup
Democrat Barack Obama continued his upward momentum through the evening before the Iowa caucuses, capturing the lead ahead of rivals John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.. Meanwhile, Republican Mike Hucakbee widened his lead over Mitt Romney down the stretch, the newest and last Reuters/C–SPAN/Zogby daily telephone tracking poll in Iowa shows.
Obama broke through the 30% barrier for the first time, gaining 31% support after another strong day leading up to the caucuses. But more dramatic was Clinton’s four-point drop in this last day of tracking. Edwards moved into second place by himself after another day where he steadily gained ground. This fifth and final daily tracking poll was conducted using live telephone operators in the Zogby call center in Upstate New York. Edwards finished this Zogby daily tracking in Iowa in the same place as four years ago, when Zogby correctly identified the finishing order of the candidates in that caucus.
Obama's surge seems to be for real. So does Hillary's collapse.
Zogby also has Ron Paul tied with McCain for fourth, just a point behind Thompson. The story of the night could actually turn out to be Paul finishing third- and wouldn't that be fun for the Republicans!
Politico's Roger Simon wonders if there are three tickets out of Iowa, and gets one strong opinion:
“There aren’t three tickets out of Iowa for Democrats,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and strategist who worked for Kerry in 2004 and is unaligned now. “If Hillary Clinton wins, I think the race is over.”
But what if she doesn’t win?
“If Barack Obama wins and Hillary Clinton is second or third, she could still win the nomination, but it would be a tough fight for her,” he said. “And Edwards has to win Iowa. If he comes in third in Iowa — or even second — he is dead.”
Chuck Todd gives a fairly good roundup of what's at stake for the Big Three.
Marie Cocco on populism:
The campaign trail is ablaze now with fiery populism, with just about every Democrat -- and Edwards in particular -- railing against the forces they say have eroded the economic well-being of the middle class, diminished Americans' access to health care and threatened the roofs over their heads as the subprime mortgage crisis is transformed into a foreclosure calamity and credit crunch. Even Republican Mike Huckabee, breaking from his party's orthodoxy that there's nothing really wrong with the economy, has been chanting the populist mantra, to the chagrin of the party's pro-business wing.
Has something changed since Gore delivered his populist manifesto during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles -- and was ridiculed by much of the political class and the media as a phony making a fraudulent argument?
Well, yes. Much of what Gore warned would happen if George W. Bush won the presidency has come to pass.
Also worth noting: when Gore gave that speech, and was ridiculed for it, the wise elders told us it would fire up his base, but fail to give him the boost in the polls necessary to overcome Bush's strong pre-convention lead. They were wrong. Again.
The Kool Kidz don't get it, but populism is popular with the voting public. Outside the Beltway, people understand who is working for them, and who is not.
Ahhh, the election markets -- very volatile tonight. As of right now, at Intrade, John McCain has just moved ahead of Romney and Rudy as the most likely GOP nominee.
With Rudy tanking, Republican insiders are increasingly frightened by the prospect of the lunacy and ineptitude of Huckabee or Romney. McCain's the known quantity. He's also tied at the hip to the ever-popular Bush.
Several Republican officials close to Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign said they expect the candidate will drop out of the race within days if he finishes poorly in Thursday’s Iowa caucus.
Remember when the Beltway consensus was that Thompson was going to turn the race upside down? So much for the Beltway consensus. Again.
Republican hack Dan Schnur says the Republicans have been crippled by the absence of George Allen. Seriously.
David Broder, of all people, gets something right:
One final reminder: When you're reading the returns from the Iowa caucuses, you are viewing them through a double distortion mirror.
The outcome of Iowa's first-in-the-nation voting is skewed by two big factors. The turnout is ridiculously small, barely 20 percent of the eligible voters. And those who choose to caucus are hardly representative of the population as a whole.
This is not said in disparagement of Iowans, whose overall civic spirit and political acumen are as outstanding as those of any voters I know. But their traditional way of expressing their early choice for president and the disproportionate influence it exerts in winnowing the field leave a lot to be desired.
And finally, in the Los Angeles Times, Patt Morrison nails it:
When it comes to its hallowed Oscar nominations, Hollywood sensibly waits until a whole year's worth of eligible films has been released before it chooses the nominees for the Academy Award for best picture. But that's not how the Beltway handles its own exalted presidential nominations. It's not the way the Democratic or the Republican parties operate either.
This evening in Iowa, perhaps as many as 200,000 party loyalists will caucus for presidential candidates. The TV wiseacres, the ones Calvin Trillin calls the "Sabbath gasbags," assure us that those votes will shape the win, place and show rankings for the rest of the nation. Five days later, about 400,000 voters in New Hampshire will seal the deal. This, the same pundits tell us, creates momentum, even inevitability for a nominee; the rest of the country is welcome to second the motion.
And boom -- almost as soon as Groundhog Day, it's all over but the general election. (By amazing happenstance, there are about 200,000 people in the city of Glendale, and more than 400,000 in Long Beach. So the primary system is like letting Glendale and Long Beach choose the two presidential candidates for the entire country -- more than seven months before the actual nominating conventions.)