After a crazy year of ignoring the rules of political science and elections, in which candidates expected to win all the bananas simply flopped around like dead fish, the games have officially begun for real. The Iowa caucuses are now over, and here is my personal assessment of the first votes in America.
The Democratic Assessment
Hilary Clinton was supposed to be the uncontested candidate. As former First Lady, United States Senator, and Secretary of State, not to mention her extensive education, Clinton has an impressive resume by any standard. She has shared access to some of the innermost secrets of the nation she serves, as well as survived some of the most scathing attacks in the history of public office. On top of all of that, she has maintained a political machine that can withstand any insurgency of her dominance of the Democratic Party.
Except, is this 2008 or 2016? For all the talk of her experience and supremacy, so far, we’re having a country-wide case of deja vu while Bernie Sanders mounts an impressive challenge in 2016. Back in 2008, Clinton came in an embarrassing third place. She was able to stage comebacks in other states, and anyone who knows a thing or two will make the point that New Hampshire was a stellar performance for Hilary. Point being, this year Clinton showed improved in Iowa – she invested heavily in political infrastructure and paid staff, and it was supposed to have paid off. It did… sort of.
Hilary Clinton may have won Iowa on paper, but she did not win any hearts or confidence through the results. Bernie Sanders kept the race ridiculously close: Clinton won Iowa by 49.9% to Sanders 49.7%, give or take a few decimals in either direction, depending on who you ask. CNN called it an even 50/50, with the tilt towards Clinton due to the tiny advantage the number showed. Even so, it was declared the closest Iowa primary in history.
Due to the finer details of caucusing and primaries, Clinton and Sanders will each take half of the delegates available in Iowa.
Now, keep in mind that each state has a certain number of delegates. For the Democratic Party, you are awarded delegates proportionally to the amount of votes you won in the primary contest. It takes a majority of delegates attending the Convention over the summer before the election for you to become the candidate.
So sure, Clinton won Iowa, but she left a lot of delegates behind. If she continues this trend, Bernie Sanders can make even deeper in-roads to becoming the Democratic candidate, even in the face of her establishment support (super-delegates, party leaders and funding power).
All in all: Clinton lost this battle, and Sanders was able to really build up steam heading into New Hampshire, a state he is currently polling significantly higher than Clinton. Clinton will downplay the importance of New Hampshire, and Sanders will need to mount aggressive challenges in Nevada and South Carolina, following his likely win in New Hampshire.
The Republican Assessment
The country knew Ted Cruz won Iowa about 14 hours before we figured out how the coin fell in the Democratic race . It was fairly clean cut. The rules finally made sense again, and a seasoned politician was able to put the celebrity anomaly of Donald Trump down a notch. Cruz won Iowa with 28% to Trumps 24%.
Most interestingly, was Rubio’s third place 23%.
Cruz has been riding conservative, especially evangelical voter, anger at the establishment since he came into the national spotlight by shutting down the government in 2013. Those same evangelical voters were a huge boost for his win in Iowa. However, looking ahead to New Hampshire, and more centralized and secular states, Cruz begins to look much more like a fringe candidate, who encourages in-fighting and radical solutions. Additionally, Cruz is well-known to be widely disliked by his colleagues in Washington. That can’t make getting things done easy for a would-be president.
Enter Marco Rubio; a freshmen Senator, relatively untested, yet conservative, good-looking, well-spoken, a family-man and Cuban-American. Perhaps most importantly, Rubio is also able to play nicely with the establishment. The older establishment, especially the Bush dynasty would willingly disown him, but when those candidates are producing results in the single digits… Rubio starts to look like a great investment for those Republican donors.
I have personally had my eye on Rubio for awhile now. When Bush began floundering over the summer, and Trump rose in firework display of scary-rhetoric, Rubio seemed like the likely candidate to fill the void. He seems actually electable in a general election, especially in the super wide field of Republicans, and compared to how strongly both Clinton and Sanders are performing.
All in all: Cruz took an early win, but Rubio has the makings of being a candidate to snatch up real support as the primary season unfolds. Republican donors will be attracted to this, and will only help strengthen the campaign. The fringe candidates will drop quickly, Trump will survive until Rubio gets rolling, and Rubio will do just that.