The truth of the matter is, based on the numbers, the Democratic party’s Iowa Caucus was basically a tie. Hillary Clinton ultimately ended up with about 3 more delegates than Bernie Sanders, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s fairly insignificant. A few weeks from now hardly anyone is going to be discussing Iowa because, historically speaking, winning Iowa (or New Hampshire, really) doesn’t matter much.
As I’ve pointed out before, of our last four two-term presidents (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama), two of them (Reagan, Clinton) lost Iowa. New Hampshire is even worse considering the last Democrat who won that state’s primary (Clinton in 1996 and Obama in 2012 were uncontested) and ultimately went on to win in the general election was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Neither Clinton or Sanders really “won” or “lost” Iowa, though I’m sure you’ve heard both campaigns (and their supporters) try to claim that they did.
Confused? Well, let me explain. I’ll start out with Hillary Clinton.
Why she “won”: Going into Iowa, Clinton’s lead was an average of 4 points, which was well within the MOE (margin of error) for most polls. So, while she was slightly favored to win Iowa, she wasn’t really an overwhelming favorite. In fact, the demographics of Iowa favored Sanders. By that I mean Iowa has a very white liberal voting base. For the record, so does New Hampshire, Vermont and Wisconsin – states where he performs much better against Clinton. I always viewed Iowa as a state much more important to Sanders because it was one that slightly leaned toward Clinton, but was well within his reach to score a fairly substantial victory based upon the racial makeup of liberals within the state.
So, for Clinton to have performed well in a state that she lost fairly soundly in 2008 is a “victory,” even if her actual victory was much smaller than some had expected. It should also be noted that while she didn’t storm to a huge victory in the Hawkeye State, her poll numbers from the Des Moines Register from January of last year were 57 percent. So, with her getting 50 percent of the vote on Monday night, it’s not as if she really dropped a ton in support over the last year as much as Sanders simply built his up.
Why she “lost”: Just a few weeks ago Clinton had a double-digit lead on Sanders in Iowa. So, for her to have barely edged out a victory against him in a state she had been a favorite for most of the campaign, that can be considered a “loss” as she clearly didn’t seize on her opportunity to keep that sizable lead. Especially when you’ve been the long presumed frontrunner. Also being that almost everything in the media related to Clinton is spun in some sort of negative context, anything short of a 5+ point victory was going to be painted as her being in trouble – and in politics, optics matter. Especially considering there’s almost no chance she beats Sanders in New Hampshire. So she’s going to have to find a way to battle through the image that she barely edged him out in Iowa, then lost to him in New Hampshire, all the way until the Nevada Caucus on February 20th – which isn’t exactly a “slam dunk” for her, either. Since she didn’t get a solid victory in Iowa, and she’s staring at a possible double-digit defeat in New Hampshire, Nevada becomes extremely important. While I wouldn’t call the state “make or break,” if she were to somehow lose both New Hampshire and Nevada – that would be a fairly big blow to her campaign.
Now on to Bernie Sanders:
Why he “won”: When you’re someone going up against an overwhelming favorite like Hillary Clinton, getting 49 percent of the vote in a state that she led by double-digits in just a few weeks ago is a huge accomplishment. For a 74-year-old self-described democratic socialist to even be considered a legitimate candidate is a massive accomplishment in and of itself. It’s a true testament to his message, how he’s been able to resonate with the people and energize voters to his campaign. That’s the core of what his entire campaign is about – a grassroots movement for a “political revolution.” And we saw signs of that Monday night in Iowa.
With a victory in New Hampshire all but assured, and with the incredibly close race in Iowa, the media is undoubtedly going to play it as if Sanders “won two in a row,” which is great for his campaign heading toward the Nevada Caucus. The only thing that can “hurt” him is if Clinton somehow manages to perform much more competitively in New Hampshire than most people – myself included – think that she will. Keep in mind that Barack Obama opened up a rather significant lead on Clinton in New Hampshire polling in the days before the 2008 primary, but Clinton edged him out by 2.6% after the actual vote came in.
Why he “lost”: Despite what many living inside the “Bernie Bubble” think, his odds of winning the nomination are still very slim. As I pointed out earlier, Iowa and New Hampshire are states that demographically favors Sanders. States such as Nevada, South Carolina and most of the “Super Tuesday” states have voting demographics that are more favorable for Clinton (more minorities and conservative white Democrats). In my mind, this was a “win” he needed – but he didn’t technically get. While the difference of a tiny handful of delegates really isn’t statistically significant, he still didn’t win Iowa.
Also the rhetoric had been that if voter turnout was high (which it was) it was going to hand Sanders a victory – which it didn’t. While he did do better than some expected, it still wasn’t enough to give him the outright win in a very favorable state that several polls over the last couple of weeks actually showed him winning. While that’s not a huge deal (again, Iowa has not been a reliable predictor of future success in a presidential race), it does put a bit of a damper on the belief that all Sanders has to do is get a high voter turnout and he’ll win. We saw a high voter turnout Monday night in Iowa… and he lost.
The bottom line is, Democrats have two great candidates that we should all be proud to support if they win the nomination. Once the nominee is picked, we must all unite against a common “enemy,” which is whatever nightmare candidate Republicans will ultimately select to represent the GOP in November. Because if we don’t, next January we’re going to be swearing in a President Trump, President Cruz or President Rubio – and there’s just too much at stake to let that happen.