It has been a big day for American politics. With the Iowa Caucus at a close, there have been winners, losers, and uncertainty regarding the future nominations. What we do know is that several candidates have bowed out, Trump has come second to Cruz, and that Clinton and Sanders are neck and neck. But first let’s step back for a moment and consider what the Iowa State Caucus is and why it is so important.
What the heck is the Iowa Caucus?
The Iowa Caucus is the first election for the Presidential nominations for both the Democrats and the Republicans. So how did a relatively unimportant (come on, try to point it out on a map, I dare you), largely agricultural state, with a population of 3 million become perhaps the biggest media shitstorm in the entire Presidential race? However, this was not always the case. The Iowa Caucus used to be held in June, way down the list of voting which used to begin with the primary in New Hampshire. However in 1972, due to some poor scheduling, the Democratic Convention had to move their Caucus in Iowa to January instead of June, before New Hampshire. Jimmy Carter capitalized on this in 1976, and after conducting a long grassroots campaign in Iowa, and despite finishing second with 27% to the “uncommitted” vote, which garnered 37%, it raised his profile and eventually led to his Presidency. The Washington Post provides a good explanation.
The Republicans noticed the importance of the Iowa Caucus and in 1976 also held it in June in order to stop the Democratic candidates from benefitting from all of the extra media attention. Since 1976, both parties agreed to hold the Iowa Caucus on the same day, and it has become both an American political tradition, and the first real electoral test for hopeful Republican and Democrat presidential nominees.
The Iowa Caucus itself is less about which candidate wins and more about generating attention. It is where candidates who are trailing can make a strong showing and revitalise their bid, or where previous frontrunners begin to lose momentum, and their supporters join different camps. Winners of the Iowa Caucus, after all, do not necessarily end up winning their party’s nomination. For example, in 1992 Iowan Democratic candidate Tom Harkin won 76% of the Democrat vote in Iowa, only to lose the overall presidential nomination to Bill Clinton (who won a measly 3% in Iowa). Additionally, in 2008 John McCain secured just 13% of Iowa’s vote (as opposed to rival Mike Huckabee’s 34%), but still went on to win the nomination.
Ted Cruz’s win today has given his campaign a much-needed boost against long-time front-runner Trump. Mister “let’s carpet-bomb Syrian civilians” Cruz probably isn’t a smarter option than Trump, so lets keep a close eye on him, lest he ‘Cruz’ into the White House and make good on his threats. The interesting note to take from this result is the unexpectedly strong support that Marco Rubio received. Having long been a distant third behind Trump and Cruz, the social conservative from Florida may yet prove to be successful – and he better be. I wrote in the last edition of Pelican last year that he would win. So if he fails I’m going to be right ticked off.
Mike Huckabee’s failure to garner more than 2% of the vote has forced him to bow out from the race. Realistically, Cruz, Trump and Rubio are the only nominees worth paying attention to anymore. Jeb Bush (on less than 3%) seems just as unenthused as anybody else about another four or eight years of Bush in the White House and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, having secured less than 10% of the vote, looks as if his momentum has been well and truly spent. Unsurprisingly, Carson left Iowa early to get some ‘fresh clothes’ – I’m not even surprised. Weirdo. It would take some heavenly intervention to draw voters away from the Big Three to any of the other nominees at this stage. What will be intriguing to see is to whom the failed nominees will throw their support behind. If Carson supports Rubio, we could see a major shift in Republican stakes.
On the Democrat side, the race has come down to 0.2%. I am freaking out. Many expected a close, but clear Clinton victory in Iowa – which is a socially conservative state. How, many would ask, is Sanders, a Socialist Jew from Brooklyn, running neck and neck with the hawkish Clinton? One admires Bernie Sanders for getting this far in the race and for showing so strongly here in Iowa, especially considering his entire campaign has been publicly crowd-funded, and not beholden to big business interests. Sanders’ run will be remembered for a long time for the democratic, anti-plutocratic precedent that it has set. If New Hampshire will be important for the Republicans, it will be even more so for the Democrats. With Clinton and Sanders neck and neck, the first primary, and in the thoroughly blue New Hampshire no less), may tip the scales.
The third (and let’s face it, mostly forgotten) Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley has also suspended his bid for nomination. It would honestly be pretty silly not to at this stage, having secured a mere 0.6% of the Democratic vote in the Caucus. I always had time for O’Malley – he was quiet yet passionate and honest, but utterly, utterly plain – the Presidential equivalent of an episode of 7th Heaven. You’d take him home to meet your mum but you wouldn’t let him run the country.
The Race Begins
Iowa is but the start of a long campaign trail for Democrats and Republicans. One upshot is that with the media utterly focused on who might be the next President, Obama can pretty much do what he likes without being noticed. Claims that he has been strutting around the White House gardens wearing naught but a Confederate Battle Flag singing ‘Karma Chameleon’ have fallen on deaf ears at news stations across the country. They just don’t care.
The next test will be the New Hampshire primary on the 9th of February. It is written in New Hampshire state law that it must be the first state to hold a primary, and as a result of this receives as much attention and analysis as the Iowa State Caucus. Clinton won the New Hampshire primary against Obama back in 2008 – but she’s likely to be a little miffed if she wins it again but then fails to win nomination. It is my firm belief however that she will carry New Hampshire and eventually grind away at Sanders’ support.
American election season is only just beginning, folks. Strap yourselves in and feel the cringe as the most powerful nation in the world elects its leader for the next four to eight years.
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Words by Politics Editor