A few hundred thousand Iowans have voted and — along with the national news media — they have anointed Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee as the strong frontrunners for their parties’ presidential nominations. So is it all over, as one would guess from reading the morning papers? This year’s campaign is especially hard to call, but here’s where things seem to stand:
On the Republican side it’s curtains for Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are in deep, deep trouble. Despite his long lead in national polls it was always hard to see Rudy Giuliani securing the GOP nomination. The only thing he ever had going for him was that the field was so weak, which gave him an opening. But Giuliani is going to get trounced in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and should be toast before the Florida primary rolls around.
Mitt Romney is a phony and Iowa shows that no matter how much money he spends, most GOP voters aren’t buying his story. The only reason he’s not dead already is that he can keep writing checks to finance his campaign, but if he loses New Hampshire he’s finished. Given the thumping he got yesterday I wouldn’t bet much on his prospects there, and he’s facing bigger problems in South Carolina (I wrote about Romney’s campaign in South Carolina last November and his “authenticity” problem, which now looks to be fatal. PBS Now will be covering some of the same ground in a report tonight on political dirty tricks and the South Carolina campaign.)
Which leaves McCain and Huckabee (sorry Ron Paul fans, but he’s not going to get the nomination.) I’ll say one thing for that pair: of the five top GOP candidates, they are the most interesting and the only two who actually seem to have some core principles, whether I share those principles or not. What’s especially interesting is that at the end of the third quarter, Huckabee had raised only $1 million total and had just $650,000 in cash on hand. McCain had $1.7 million in his treasury at that point, versus $16.6 million in cash on hand for Giuliani (who had raised a total of $47 million).
If McCain wins New Hampshire, he definitively knocks Romney out. Then it’s a two-man race with Huckabee, and McCain would be the slight favorite at that point – though very slight given the enormous antipathy towards him among a good slice of Christian evangelicals. If Romney manages to win New Hampshire, he’s back in, bye-bye McCain, and Huckabee is in great shape in a two-man race with Romney.
On the Democratic side, Edwards is finished. His only chance, remote even if he’d been successful, was winning Iowa. He didn’t and his campaign is done.
I’m not a big fan of either Obama or Hillary. The former is charismatic and intelligent, and that certainly counts for something. But if you look at his voting record, his campaign donors and his key advisors, he certainly doesn’t have the profile of a politician who intends to be a force for “change.” It was easy for him to make his famous anti-war speech in 2002 from Illinois, but would he have opposed the invasion if he’d been in the U.S. Senate at the time? I seriously doubt it. The only reason I can find to feel positive about Hillary (and it’s not a bad one) is that I have a 13-year-old daughter who is rooting for her.
As for the race, I don’t think Hillary Clinton is dead yet. In fact, the strongest thing in her favor may be that the same collective media wisdom that for so long decreed her the nominee has now decided that Obama is all but a shoo-in. Hillary has too much money and too much support from the Democratic political establishment to crash and burn just because of yesterday’s vote. And while Obama will get his “bump” from winning Iowa, I suspect there are also large numbers of voters in New Hampshire (and elsewhere) who don’t like the idea of Iowa deciding the whole race.
All of that said, if Obama wins New Hampshire Hillary really starts smelling like a loser. If Hillary wins next week, I’d bet that she’s the Democratic nominee.
Meanwhile, a lot of analysts expect that the Democratic nomination won’t be decided until the February 5th Super Tuesday voting. A Los Angeles Times piece this morning describes the GOP race as still wide open, with Giuliani and Romney both being strong contenders. Needless to say, I’m speculating like everyone else.
Note: Tim Dickinson has a particularly smart post about the Iowa vote at Rolling Stone.