Why Iowa?

Reprinted from Mullings.com

We are now inside of a week until the waiting-with-baited-breath Iowa Caucuses.

Every four years everyone looks at who has won in Iowa and who ended up as the nominee and makes the very persuasive case that the Caucuses are not predictive of the ultimate primary process outcome. I said on Anderson Cooper last night that Iowa caucus voters don’t pick winners, but they do a great job of identifying losers.

The reasons are: There are 49 more primaries and caucuses to go after Iowa – more if you include delegates from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the District of Columbia. So, a victory in Iowa punches a candidate’s ticket at least through South Carolina, but there are no guarantees after that.

Second, this only happens once every four years and there is almost always an incumbent running in one of the party caucuses so they don’t count.

For those who are trying to remember, the answer to the question: Who are the last two contenders to win their Iowa Caucus race and become their party’s nominee? George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008.

But, looking back, Iowa’s record in picking winners who go on to be their party’s nominee isn’t awful.

Among non-incumbent Democrats the winners have been: John Kerry won Iowa in 2004 and was the nominee; Al Gore won in 2000, Walter Mondale won in 1984; Jimmy Carter came in first among actual candidates in 1976 but lost to “Uncommitted”.

Iowa has been less successful in picking winners in a contested GOP race. Prior to George W., Bob Dole won in1996, and Gerald Ford beat Ronald Reagan in 1976 which counts because Ford had not previously run for election to the Presidency.

Having been on the bus with Fred Thompson four years ago, I have vivid memories of the final week of the campaign.

Cold and cranky pretty much sum it up, which is why Fred and I got along so well.

One of the biggest problems in trying to divine not just the winner, but the order of finish is the very small number of people who participate. In 2008, under 120,000 Iowa Republicans attended a caucus. Because of that, the winner of the Iowa Caucuses can get there with a relatively small percentage of the total votes. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee had a late surge and won with just over 34 percent of the votes.

As we have discussed before, Barack Obama won with the support of only about 38 percent of Iowa Democrats.

So next Tuesday night when some genius on some cable network tries to sound insightful by saying that the winner of the Republican Caucuses can take scant pleasure because he (or, improbably, she) only got 30-something percent of the votes, meaning 60-something percent of Iowa Republicans wanted someone else you can say at the coffee machine Wednesday morning that Barack Obama won four years ago with 38 percent. So, 62 percent of Iowa Democrats wanted someone else.

By a week from today the Republican field will likely be smaller. As I wrote in my Daily Beast column yesterday, “It is not unlikely to that two of these three candidates: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Santorum will bow out between the announcement of the results Tuesday night and midday Thursday. A combination of finishing at the bottom, a look at their campaign’s bank account, and an examination of fund-raising trends will provide the necessary guidance.”

Which of those three will drop out; who will win; who will come in third or fourth are all part of the excitement of Iowa. So, for all the sighs and eye-rolls from the ultra-sophisticated political establishment, Iowa counts and hundreds of political reporters will be there to cover it.

I’ll be in Des Moines starting on the night of January 1st.

Can’t miss it.

Editor’s Note: Rich Galen is former communications director for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Dan Quayle. In 2003-2004, he did a six-month tour of duty in Iraq at the request of the White House engaging in public affairs with the Department of Defense. He also served as executive director of GOPAC and served in the private sector with Electronic Data Systems. Rich is a frequent lecturer and appears often as a political expert on ABC, CNN, Fox and other news outlets.