One of the things I dislike about the Iowa caucuses is the prominence that the circus gives to the state’s big newspaper, the Des Moines Register. For years, I have watched obscure journalists from that paper assume the role of David Broderesque pundit on the political talk shows, or Dan Ratheresque inquisitor during debates, while candidates grovel for the paper’s endorsement. These days, the Iowa oracle is the Register’s political correspondent, David Yepsen. In today’s piece, he offers hackneyed commentary about who has the edge (Dean, because the polls are pretty even and Dean is better organized than the others), but mostly tries to show that we should care about the caucuses that put him on the map. For example, we are told that a good showing by Kerry could boost him in New Hampshire. Well, I suppose it could. But the thing I’ve noticed is that the New Hampshire voters (as egotistical as the Iowa caucus-goers, but at least they participate in a real election) tend to reject the wisdom they receive from Iowa, as if on principle. The first George Bush thought he had “big mo” after he won Iowa in 1980, but was soundly defeated in New Hampshire. In 1988, though, Bush lost Iowa to Dole and then won New Hampshire. Bill Clinton did nothing in Iowa in 1992, then saved his candidacy with a relatively strong showing in New Hampshire, where he finished second to a New Englander.
Yepsen provides a second reason for affirming Iowa’s importance — “if a candidate can put together a good program to turn out supporters in Iowa, then presumably that candidate can also build the sort of operation it takes to run a national campaign.” But a candidate who fails to turn out supporters in Iowa (or, like Clark, doesn’t try to) can also run a pretty good national campaign. Just ask Ronald Reagan, the first Bush, and Bill Clinton.
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