Wednesday :: Aug 13, 2003

Democratic Primary Preview: Iowa and New Hampshire

by CA Pol Junkie

by CA Pol Junkie

This is the first in a series of previews of the Democratic primaries. The previews will be in the order the states vote, up to March 2nd, by which time the eventual nominee will be evident.

The Democrats have no incumbent or pseudo-incumbent this year and will have a wide open race with a variety of candidates offering their visions for the Democratic Party and for America. The Party faced similar circumstances in 1984, 1988, and 1992 as the competing voices within the party offered their governing platforms and general election strategies. Each time, about 5 candidates are taken seriously heading into the first contests. These previews primarily include Dean, Edwards, Gephardt, Kerry, and Lieberman. Most pundits lump Graham in with the serious candidates, but low poll numbers combined with dismal fundraising will keep him from getting out of the starting gate. Clark may yet jump in, but what his candidacy might look like is open to debate. He will be included in these analyses in cases where his entry would have the greatest effect.

Iowa Caucus: 1/19/2004, 45 delegates
Past performance:
1/24/1984: Mondale 48.9%, Hart 16.5%, McGovern 10.3%, Cranston 7.4%, Glenn 3.5%, Askew 2.5%, Jackson 1.5%
1/26/1988: Gephardt 31.3%, Simon 26.7%, Dukakis 22.2%, Jackson 8.8%, Babbitt 6.1%, Hart 0.3%, Gore 0.1%
1/21/1992: Harkin 76.4%, Tsongas 4.1%, Clinton 2.8%, Kerrey 2.4%, Brown 1.6%
Latest polls:
Iowa Poll: Dean 23%, Gephardt 21%, Kerry 14%, Lieberman 10%, Edwards 5%
WHO-TV: Gephardt 32%, Dean 19%, Kerry 12%, Lieberman 10%, Edwards 7%
2004 results based on history:
Gephardt (regional appeal, organization), Dean (organization), Kerry (money)

There's a reason everyone has been saying that Gephardt is the favorite in Iowa: he won it in 1988 and history shows that it favors liberals from neighboring states. The caucus arrangement, where voters meet at 7 PM to discuss and choose their candidates, is a big part of the calculus in figuring out who wins. Since participating in the caucus involves going out after dinner on a cold night for a complex process, turnout is low. Candidates with strong organizations, who can identify their voters and get them off their butts on caucus night, are heavily favored. Many candidates ignore Iowa and its media attention altogether rather than put up the resources to compete. In 1992, the candidates not from Iowa gave it to Harkin to deny him a genuine victory.

Thanks to Gephardt's strength with labor, he has a strong organization to get his supporters out to the caucus. Aside from Missouri, there is no state better suited to Gephardt's strength than Iowa. If he loses here, it would be a death blow to his campaign because it would show fundamental weakness. With no other regional candidates, the caucus arrangement plays into Dean's hands, since his Meetup army will be making the calls, pounding the pavement, and driving his supporters to the caucus sites. Kerry, Lieberman, and Edwards have a double-edged sword in their Iowa strategy: either they can spend resources there in an effort to get a distant third, or ignore Iowa and the media exposure that comes with it. At each of the 2,500 caucus meetings, you need to have support from 15% of the attendees to be considered "viable". The number of supporters of nonviable candidates is never reported, so if you have broad support under 15%, you won't get the delegates and the caucus results will look like an underperformance. Conversely, those candidates with broad support over 15% will appear to overperform as they get the scraps from nonviable candidates. As things stand currently, Kerry looks to be in good shape to get past 15% support and get a respectable third place. Edwards is actually trying to compete here but could look weak if he can't get past 15% support. Lieberman is wisely sitting this one out to avoid falling short of expectations.

New Hampshire Primary: 1/27/2004, 22 delegates
Past performance:
2/28/1984: Hart 37.3%, Mondale 27.9%, Glenn 12.0%, Jackson 5.3%, McGovern 5.2%, Reagan 5.0%, Hollings 3.5%, Cranston 2.1%, Askew 1.0%
2/16/1988: Dukakis 36.4%, Gephardt 20.3%, Simon 17.4%, Jackson 8.0%, Gore 6.9%, Babbitt 4.7%, Hart 4.0%
2/18/1992: Tsongas 33.2%, Clinton 24.8%, Kerrey 11.1%, Harkin 10.2%, Brown 8.0%
Latest polls:
Boston Herald: Dean 28%, Kerry 25%, Lieberman 11%, Gephardt 9%, Edwards 1%
Franklin Pierce College: Dean 22%, Kerry 21%, Gephardt 6%, Lieberman 6%, Edwards 2%
2004 results based on history:
Dean (regional appeal, insurgency), Kerry (regional appeal), Gephardt (past performance)

New Hampshire is famous for kicking conventional wisdom in the teeth. With the primaries open to independents, and independents outnumbering each party, the outcome depends on how many independents get involved. Although regional candidates do well, insurgents become favorites here on the strength of independents, who bear no allegiance to party stalwarts. Without a competitive GOP primary, look for independents to swarm the Democratic side. Between regional appeal, strong organization, and his outsider status, this primary should be Dean's to lose and will be a key measure of his strength. Lieberman is sitting this one out, so the battle for third is between Gephardt and Edwards. Gephardt's strong showing in 1988 was presumably not an accident, and labor backing will give him some organization. Edwards will use his money for TV ads, but that won't cut it here. New Hampshire is retail politics, and there is no substitute for having a candidate on the ground meeting voters.

Tune in for next week's installment in the series: Delaware, Missouri, South Carolina

CA Pol Junkie :: 1:30 PM :: Comments (35) :: Digg It!