Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Iowa in Retrospect

Hmm, how could all the media have gotten it so wrong? Why did Obama soar to such a "crushing" victory in Iowa and then, despite being annointed The Golden One by the entire media (mainstream and otherwise), barely manage to pull within 3 points of her in New Hampshire, falling miserably behind among core Democratic voters and owing all the strength of his showing to anti-partisan Independents?

Fergus and I were emailing earlier this evening and he offered a few really good explanations of why he thought HRC did so well tonight: partisan turn-out, pissed off women, and Dodd and Biden voters going to the Hillary column. I think they are all correct and important, but the last point identifies the key to Obama's Iowa victory.

It's the proximity, stupid.

One, Obama hails from Illinois, next door to Iowa, and was able to mobilize his Chicago Mob to innundate the state. He was able to pack events and create buzz in a way not open to the other candidates, as he did with the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. (Contrast that to Hillary's supporters in Nevada who were all locals.) Garance Franke-Rute reported months ago that Obama has a very aggressive notification system to alert people to events and get them to go and fill out the crowd. In short, it became easy for his headquarters to really work the audience and get the precinct captains trained up.

Two, as I read over the reports of the Iowa caucuses, it became cler that Obama's campaign was using the proximity of the people to excite/intimidate people into supporting him. With Dodd, Biden and Richardson obviously on the losing side of 15% viability, their supporters got "courted" by an in-your-face, loud, and fanatical crowd of Obama supporters. They also faced their own precinct captains who had cut deals with the Obama crew to "deliver" the second round voters. It is very, very hard to say no under such conditions.

The majority of voters in Iowa, on the first round, picked Hillary. Then came the second round and the emotional begging and pleading to "Come over to our side!" The formally correct DMR poll (it got the order of the candidates right, but was wrong on almost every other count), gave the Obama crowd another arrow to fire at her and to convince/bully second rounders - "Be on the winning side!" Toss in John Edwards who seems to have a Matthew's level of pathological hatred of all things Clinton (Maybe because the presumption that he was the next Bill didn't pan out? Poor widdle Johnny...) and who plainly cares more about beating HRC than in salvaging his pathetic "campaign", and you get a very pathological stew.

When you look at a county by county map of Iowa caucus results, you see a pattern appear. The eastern part of the state, that closest to Illinois, went most heavily for Obama. The further west you go, i.e., the further you get away from Obama's Chicago Mob operation, and the further you get from the major freeways connecting Illinois to Iowa, the more support HRC gets. (Edwards has a ring of support around Des Moines, no doubt a hold over from his last has-been campaign.) When Obama loses proximity to the voters and the ability to overwhelm with crowds, the less effective he is. I think Obama would have eked out a narrow Iowa victory if Dodd, Biden and Richardson supporters had been able to come up with their individual preferences and had not been subject to intense pressure, one that looks much more like the HRC victory in New Hampshire.

It's not the man himself. It's the man in front of an adoring backdrop of screaming supporters that has captured our imagination, tapping into the deep longing to belong, to be part of something that makes us happy and feel safe. It is the flip side of the brutal assaults aimed daily at HRC, things that elicit feelings of fear and aversion because it might get aimed at us.

It is proximity.



Anonymous said...

So -- how high up in the respective campaigns did the 'dealing' go? Did the low-level Obama supporters just make it up? It's hard for me to imagine Richarson himself sending people to Obama instead of Hillary, as he seemed to be defending her and 'experience' in the NH debate.

Anglachel said...

It is hard to piece together as I collect clues and reports from many blogs, but the basic story appears to be that Obama, Edwards and Clinton camps *all* courted the Biden, Dodd and Richardson camps to try to get agreements to throw support to them over the other guy/gal. Now, why would candidate X throw support behind this frontrunner vs. another? VP slot comes to mind. Richardson is cruising for a VP slot, that's clear. All reports say that the three second tier camps rebuffed Clinton camp wooing in the last few weeks, despite early polling showing that HRC was the 2nd choice of the *supporters*.

I have read two different comments by Iowa precinct people saying that the Obama precint people really went after the Richardson precinct captains. Proximity, friendships, insider political deals, etc., all the usual tools of the political game would get called into play.

Let me be clear - trying to win over support this way is perfectly legitimate in my opinion. It's not playing dirty. I expect the different camps to size each other up, check each other out, make various offers and skirmish over support. Was it Richardson calling up Obama personally? Nah. All done by the state and local operatives, but clearly approved by the candidates.

My point is more that an individual Richardson supporter who might have had HRC as her second choice when she walked in the door would have had to stand up to some formidable oppostion to have moved over to the HRC corner of the room, particularly if the people there were friends, co-workers, her kid's teacher, etc., all yelling at her to come join them with Obama. This is not something unique to Obama - this is how caucuses run, though perhaps they were more aggressive this year.

My point here is Obama's team effectively exploited a very unique political environment, one that is not going to be repeated in any other primary. Strategically, an excellent move on his part. However, the underlying fundamentals - who supported HRC and why - do not favor him in the majority of the reamining primaries.

Thanks for commenting.