The Iowa caucuses are the first step in the long presidential nomination process, and with that distinction comes an abundance of interest. Rutgers political science professor David Redlawsk spent the past six months in Iowa following some 20 candidates (since winnowed to 14) as they traveled around the state, chasing their presidential dreams. Redlawsk is the director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University-New Brunswick. He is the co-author of Why Iowa? How caucuses and sequential elections improve the presidential nominating process.Rutgers Today asked about his impressions, now that the caucuses are in his rearview mirror.
So Why Iowa? Why does everyone flock to the state every four years? How did Iowa get to be first?
Why Iowa is because it is the first place voters weigh in after all that campaigning. It's that simple. And when voters vote, they often tip the conventional apple cart. Iowa got its head start in 1972 when rules changes in the Democratic Party pushed what was then a little known, somewhat arcane process, ahead of the traditional first in the nation New Hampshire primary. But it wasn't until 1976, when an unknown southern governor rode a “victory” in Iowa to the presidency. Although, forgotten by most is that Jimmy Carter actually finished second to “uncommitted.” Regardless, Iowans knew a good thing when they saw one, and both parties decided to go whole hog into ensuring the leadoff role for Iowa.
Who just won and lost? More important, perhaps, who beat expectations?
Strictly speaking, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won on the Republican side, while Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were locked in a dead heat late Monday night when these questions were answered. [Clinton’s campaign declared victory early Tuesday, but Democratic party officials had not.] But more interesting for the GOP is that Donald Trump did NOT win. Trump, who has campaigned on the theme of being a winner, found himself in second by some 6,000 out of the more than 180,000 votes cast. And that's the first big story. Now that real voters have cast real votes, will the media finally stop obsessing over Trump? If they do, I predict Iowa will be the beginning of a move toward another candidate. Will that be Cruz? Maybe not. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finished third, beating expectations by nearly pushing Trump into third. If history is a guide, Rubio should benefit and Trump should lose out.
Winner or not, Sanders certainly beat expectations. But in his case, it may not make a lot of difference. While expected to win New Hampshire (he lives in Vermont, after all), Sanders is likely to find rough going in future primaries, especially in South Carolina, where Clinton is well ahead in polls, and in the mostly southern March 1 Super Tuesday states. But if there is one truth this year, it is that there have been lots of twists and turns, with probably more to come.
What about Gov. Chris Christie? How did he do in Iowa?
In a word, badly. While Christie never expected to be in the top tier, he expected to at least beat the remaining governors still in the race, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. But Iowans had different ideas, placing Gov. Christie ahead of only former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who hardly campaigned. This is a miserable showing for a candidate who made an effort – and the effort made no difference. Oddly, to me, he had potential to catch on. His town halls were well attended and people seemed impressed. But he showed little evidence of actually caring about results there, and Iowans responded accordingly. Does it matter for him? Maybe not, but then again no one has ever finished lower than fourth in Iowa and won their party's nomination. Only John McCain managed that.
It's on to New Hampshire, where the first primary is Feb 8. Candidates already have been there, nearly as long as they've been in Iowa. Christie’s prospects may be better. He certainly has committed to the state. But the polling doesn't look so good, and the strong Rubio showing in Iowa may end up blocking any potential Christie rise. But the nomination process is a long slog, including South Carolina and Nevada, before we jump into a southern-state oriented Super Tuesday, which would seem to be tailored for Rubio or Cruz, and not so much for Christie. The bottom line? Stay tuned for more twists and turns.
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