Iowa caucus results
“I’m not a member of any organized political party.... I’m a Democrat.” –Will Rogers
US presidential campaigns are long distance endurance contests, where prospective nominees must garner support for their candidacies well in advance of the national election. The current campaign cycle has been underway for more than a year and eleven candidates are still competing for the privilege of challenging Donald Trump as the Democratic Party nominee for president.
The first major test of the candidates’ popularity occurred on 3 February in Iowa. The state has a mediocre record of choosing national party nominees. However, its position as the first official contest prompts extraordinary media coverage and candidates usually spend huge amounts of time and money in the state. Candidates that exceed expectations in Iowa often gain some momentum in subsequent contests, while those that fail to do so can encounter subsequent fund-raising challenges. The Iowa results were expected to help clarify the outlook for the still-crowded field.
However, Iowa appears to have raised more questions than answers. Severe technical problems caused delays in both the voting process and in reporting the results. The media has focused as much on what one reporter called an “epic breakdown” as on the results, which could blunt the normal impact of Iowa on subsequent contests.
As of this writing, we have results from 71% of the voting precincts. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in the lead with 26.8% of the “state delegate equivalents”, followed closely by US Senator Bernie Sanders at 25.2%. However, Sanders is ahead of Buttigieg in the raw vote count. Since the nomination will be decided by delegates rather than vote count, most pundits are declaring Buttigieg the winner, but Sanders can claim victory by at least one measure. Senator Elizabeth Warren trailed the leaders with 18.4% and former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been leading in national polls, was fourth at 15.5%.
Polling has consistently shown that, rather than making a choice based on policy positions, Democratic voters are focused on finding the candidate with the best chance of beating President Trump in November’s general election. In his stump speeches, Biden has emphasized his appeal to a broad range of voters, which he claims makes him the best positioned to win against Trump. His failure to meet expectations levels the playing field and increases the probability of a lengthy nomination fight.
Sanders cemented his position as the leading contender, which may result in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party coalescing around him as their standard bearer. He has been catching up to Biden in national polls and is well positioned to win in New Hampshire, which borders his home state of Vermont, next week.
Buttigieg’s prospects certainly have improved but his campaign strategy of interacting personally with voters will be impossible to replicate as the campaign season accelerates. With only single-digit support in national polls, his hope is to use this early victory as a springboard.
Warren’s third place finish matches her standing in national polls. Her campaign appears to be well organized and she has raised a lot of money, so she should be able to compete in multiple states for the foreseeable future. However, as a progressive she has the most to lose from Sanders’ success.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a late entrant, was not on the ballot and did not campaign in Iowa. Instead, having already spent a fortune on mass media advertisements in states that hold primaries in March, he has increased staffing and doubled ad spending in the wake of the Iowa results.
We expect greater clarity regarding the likely Democratic nominee after 10 March, by which time the state parties in 25 separate US jurisdictions will have awarded delegates to the national convention.
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A combative State of the Union address
Last night, President Trump gave the State of the Union (SOTU) address in front of Congress. The speech offers a preview of Trump’s likely campaign strategy. He started with the economy, undoubtedly an area of strength for him. He touched on many of the other issues normally covered in any SOTU, including education, national security, and healthcare. However, he also clearly played to his base on issues such as building a border wall, gun rights, and school prayer.
With the impeachment process expected to end today with acquittal in the Senate and the election process heating up, there was never a reason to expect an enthusiastic reception from Democrats. Some boycotted the speech and others walked out. When Trump finished, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who formally invited him for the SOTU, tore her copy of the speech in half. It appears likely that the November election will be the most bitterly fought in modern history.