Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Winners and losers from Iowa caucuses

(Originally published 1/5/08)

Compliments of the good people of Iowa, who serve as crash-test dummies of sorts for all manner of presidential primary poppycock, we now have 2008’s first list of winners and losers from the campaign trail.

(Cue jingle: "Iowa! We watch the candidates with our Hawkeyes.")

Winners from Thursday night’s first-in-the-nation-but-curious caucuses include:

  • Democratic candidate and Sen. Barack Obama, who delicately balanced his message of hope with end around attacks on frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton designed to chip away at her inevitability. As Oprah Winfrey stumped for Obama in the campaign’s waning weeks, he took advantage of the large crowds by speaking passionately, consistently and convincingly about change. It was a masterful strategy: His eight-point victory, especially in a state with an African-American population of two percent, demonstrated his electibility while showing Clinton to be vulnerable.
  • GOP candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who came out of nowhere to win. Mercilessly attacked by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and nearly a victim of his own missteps, Huckabee managed to stay mostly positive down the stretch. Outspent as much as 15-to-1, his barebones campaign counted on Huckabee’s Everyman quality to resonate with Iowans.
  • GOP candidate and Sen. John McCain, whose endorsement by four newspapers in the Northeast so far have contributed to his increasing momentum. After being maligned for his work on last year’s immigration reform bill and placing his campaign on life support last fall, he is looking like this cycle’s "comeback kid." McCain even convinced the media that his third-place finish in Iowa left him perfectly positioned for the race to come to him in New Hampshire - and he may be right.

Losers include:

  • GOP runner-up Romney, who unloaded millions in Iowa and led the polls until late November. His efforts, including his well-financed attacks on Huckabee and McCain in the final days before the caucuses, enabled Huckabee to say Thursday night, "People really are more important than the purse." Ouch. Unless Romney wins New Hampshire on Tuesday - a prospect made even tougher by McCain’s growing strength there - most observers see it as the end of the road for him.
  • Clinton, the former frontrunner who placed an inexplicable third behind Edwards. Entrance polls indicated she didn’t even win among women, a finding longtime political adviser David Gergen called "remarkable." CNN political analyst Gloria Bolger resurrected the criticism Clinton has drawn for being a chameleon of sorts, asking whether Clinton can "change herself yet again," adding, "She’s running against inspiration. That’s a hard thing to compete against right now."
  • GOP candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who all but skipped Iowa, knowing that he was polling in the single digits. He may be showing well in national polls, but for two whole days, his name was hardly mentioned. In a presidential campaign, that’s anything but good.
  • Democratic candidate and former Sen. John Edwards. Although Edwards tried to spin his runner-up finish as evidence that he and Obama are in a two-man race to the nomination, Des Moines Register political guru David Yepsen said he believes Obama’s strong showing means that the "anti-Hillary vote will start to coalesce around Obama."

Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace is this week’s loser-at-large. Wallace has always come off to me as a condescending elitist, but his testy, browbeating exchange with Huckabee adviser Ed Rollins is among the least professional interviews I’ve seen.

With the circus now in full swing in New Hampshire, Feb. 5 - Super-Duper Tuesday, I guess we’ll call it - is looking like the day of reckoning it was created to be.

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