Iowa takeaways - and what's next

Well, the Iowa caucuses are over, and...

A woman has won the Iowa caucuses!

That's a remarkable - and historic - achievement!

Delegate counts count

It's important to remember that a nomination isn't won by the person who gets the most primaries or caucuses, but by the one who gets the majority of delegates. Each party's delegate selection and allocation rules are different, but in either party you must get the majority of delegate votes at the Convention.

Iowa Republicans allocate their delegates proportionally based on the statewide vote. Based on the numbers, it appears that Cruz has 9 delegates, Rubio and Trump 8 each, Carson 3, and Paul 2. (Paul, by the way, underperformed his dad's 21% in 2012.)

On the Democratic side, the closeness of the race means that Clinton and Sanders split eight delegates in each of the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, as well as six delegates in the 4th district and 6 PLEO delegates. Clinton's victory statewide gives her a 5-4 win in at-large delegates, while she wins 4-3 in the 3rd District. That gives her a 23-21 lead in pledged delegates so far.

Michigan will matter!

In the name of getting more influence, Michigan lost its influence on the 2008 nominating process. That won't happen this time - not only because it's too late for any of that monkey business, but because both sides may well have a strong contest going on by the time Michigan votes on March 8.

Because Michigan will matter for both Democrats and Republicans, we are likely to see at least three outcomes: (1) Visits from many campaigns; (2) decent turnout on March 8; and (3) *lots* of good data on who's a Democrat and who's a Republican - as much data as you can get for a state that doesn't register voters by party. That data will prove valuable not only to the parties this year, but it will also help with GOTV in 2018 and beyond (not to mention targeting communications to voters in non-partisan elections).

In addition, the fact that Ohio and Illinois are just a week after Michigan could give many campaigns reason to make a Great Lakes tour of sorts, with at least a couple of stops in Michigan.

Iowa might not matter much longer

Iowa is credited with propelling Carter and Obama to the White House and Kerry to the nomination. But Iowa has as much a history of picking losers as it does winners. Past Iowa winners include:

  • Dick Gephardt, 1988 (Dukakis finished 3rd)
  • Tom Harkin, 1992 (Clinton finished 4th with 3%)
  • Bob Dole (1988 - Bush Sr., then the sitting VP, came in 3rd with just 19%)
  • Mike Huckabee (2008 - John McCain finished 4th)
It's possible that Clinton and Cruz will both be nominated. In fact, given that the demographics (after New Hampshire) favor her, Clinton is still likely to win the nomination, and conservatives are likely looking at Cruz as an alternative to Trump (with all the same views but more likability than The Donald). But Republican establishment folks are lining up behind Rubio, meaning that as other establishment candidates (think Bush and Christie) drop out in coming weeks, he might (might) do better elsewhere than his 3rd place finish in Iowa.

If Cruz doesn't win the Republican nomination, this would mark the third consecutive time that the winner of the Iowa Republican caucuses didn't win the nomination.

For Democrats, Iowa's reputation as a "must-win" may be in jeopardy for different reasons. Despite the lack of diversity, sparse population, and the general confusion over having Iowa and New Hampshire go first, DNC leadership has been reluctant to challenge their standing as the first contests in the nation. With Bernie's string performance in Iowa and expected win in New Hampshire, DNC officials (many of whom support Hillary) have reason to adjust the rules going into 2020 and 2024. A more diverse caucus state (I'm thinking Colorado, Nevada, or Washington) might be moved up to go ahead of Iowa, or at least New Hampshire (whose primary by state law must be held before any other state's primary).

Democrats may also opt to allow Iowa to go first with some conditions - perhaps that the state's delegates be allocated according to the "raw vote" in each precinct, or that coin flips no longer be used. Much of the criticism surrounding Iowa's first-in-the-nation status involves the complexity of their delegate selection process; the more simple it can be made, the better for Iowa and for the Party as a whole.

What's next?

Well, New Hampshire, of course. That's where Sanders (from neighboring Vermont) has been leading in the polls. Should his lead hold, look for him to win that state's PLEO delegates 2-1 and at-large delegates 3-2, which would tie him among pledged delegates. He may also win one or both districts by getting at least 56.25% of the Clinton-Sanders vote in that district; if he does that, he'd take a small lead in the pledged count. (Note: In the last 40 years, only one non-incumbent - Al Gore - has won every single state en route to the nomination, so a Clinton loss wouldn't hurt. )

A lot of establishment Iowa Republicans rallied around Rubio. In New Hampshire, the establishment is going to be more split, with Bush, Christie, and Kasich competing with Rubio for establishment support. That could help Cruz.

Beyond New Hampshire

Nevada (35 delegates) votes on February 23, and South Carolina (53 delegates) weighs in on the 27th. Clinton has double-digit leads in both states, so unless Sanders can really capitalize on New Hampshire, Clinton will likely go into March 1 with a lead among the 156 delegates that will have been claimed by then.

South Carolina will be an early test of the candidates' strength in the South. In addition, Rubio - whom many Republicans think can win Latino voters to their party - faces a key test in Nevada's Republican caucuses on February 23.

Then comes March 1. More on that in a later post.

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