The US Elections: Why Iowa and New Hampshire Do and Do Not Matter

I have been having a good discussion with an old high school friend through his blog “Pressing the Flesh” (the name comes, so I am told, from a play he produced a year or so ago). In that post he muses on the dramatic turn of events, post Iowa, that showed Obama in such a commanding lead. Hillary, the presumptive nominee, had been displaced by the new presumptive nominee. He concluded,

True… it’s still too early to crown a victor for the Democratic party primary race. But here are a few interesting facts. In 2004, John Kerry won the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, and went on to win the Democratic nomination. In 2000, Al Gore won the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary and went on to win the Democratic nomination. We’ll see what happens in 2008 if Barack Obama wins both Iowa and New Hampshire.

I pointed out that if we look back just a wee bit further we would see that Bill Clinton LOST both IA and NH and still went on to win the nomination and the White House. Gore and Kerry won IA and NH and the nomination, but lost the White House.

My conclusion was and is that IA and NH are simply not good indicators of whether or not a candidate will get their party’s nomination. A quick look at the Wiki article that has the facts (yes, facts Jim W) on the past winners of IA and how they did over all shows that the Caucus is a crap shoot. If politicians are willing and able to stay in the race after NH they stand just as good a chance as ever.

So, why DO these two early elections matter? Because they force the candidates to spend time getting their message out, meeting with real voters (albeit by now a kind of professional class of voters), and opening themselves up to scrutiny. When the stage is the nation we end up with contrived and controlled televised debates rather than coffee houses and diners with people asking the questions they really want answers to without being pre-screened. That’s why Hillary’s eyes welled up (and some are now saying that that is why she won, showing her “human side”). Because the candidates have to work hard, long hours and cannot control the venue or the audience. I like that.

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