Iowa’s first-in-the-nation votes in the presidential
nomination contests are now in.
The biggest stories of the night were about those those
candidates who failed to meet expectations, Hillary Clinton
(who seems to have barely won over Bernie Sanders by the
narrowest of margins) and Donald Trump (who came in
second to Ted Cruz, but only slightly ahead of a surging
Marco Rubio). The winners, as sometimes happens, were
those who did not have the most votes, but exceeded
expectations. In this case, it was Bernie Sanders who
actually turned out young voters, and Marco Rubio whose
surge was perhaps the first step in rallying mainstream
Republican voters to his side.
Nonetheless, both Mr. Sanders and Mr. Rubio face serious
challenges ahead. Vermont Senator Sanders will now
probably win New Hampshire easily, but faces tough odds
in states beyond that. Florida Senator Rubio faces an
immediate test in New Hampshire where rivals Chris
Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush will compete with him
for the mainstream mantle.
The biggest story of the pre-primary/caucus stage of the
2016 cycle was the headline domination of businessman
Donald Trump, and of his subsequent huge lead in most
national polls. Mr. Trump’s political inexperience, however,
led him to compete in Iowa without a real political
organization. Iowa voters live in a farm state, and when it
came to actual voters, they seem to have preferred the
workhorses over the showhorse. If there was a fear in the
Republican mainstream of Mr. Trump’s inevitability prior
to Iowa, that has been significantly dampened. Should
Donald Trump now fail to win New Hampshire, his
campaign could be in trouble.
Candidates Christie, Kasich, Bush, Fiorina, Carson and
Paul will now presumably go on to New Hampshire, but each
of them will need to do better than expected there, or in the
states immediately following, to remain viable. Already, Mike
Huckabee has withdrawn; Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gilmore
are likely to follow soon after.
With the first votes now in, much of the ballyhoo of Stage 1
evaporates, including the foam that came from less-than-
instructive national polling. Campaigns will need funds and
organizations in place if they are survive the grueling process
which will now take place.
The advantage of winning all or some of the first four
primary and caucus states is almost purely psychological.
None of these contests are winner-take-all, nor do any of
them have a large number of total delegates to the national
convention where the presidential nomination is formally
In fact, it will not be until the March 1 Super Tuesday when
13 states, most of them in the South, choose a substantial
number of delegates, again proportional to the vote. Then,
on successive weeks, one by one, the rest of the states,
including big ones such as New York, Florida, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois and California will hold their
elections. Many of these will be winner-take-all, others will
be proportional, and others such as Pennsylvania will be by
In addition, each party has created a large number of at-large
(or super-) delegates which are not chosen by the voters, but
by the party organization. These include ex-officio delegates,
many of whom hold federal or state office, and most of
whom are expected to vote with their party establishments.
They act as a partial firewall to protect Hillary Clinton on the
Democratic side, and anyone-but-Trump-or-Cruz on the
Even when all the delegates are known, state rules vary as to
whether they must vote for whomever won that state, and if
they must, for how many ballots they must do so. It’s a very
uneven, often clumsy, usually messy arrangement ---
something which has endured principally because in most
prior cycles, the nominee was determined relatively early in
the primary/caucus process.
Then at the national conventions, the party’s rules will
dominate, possibly further complicating the outcome.
Iowa was always intended only to be a beginning, albeit one
often with interesting surprises. In 2016, that has been the
case once again. But the most intense competition lies ahead.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.