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Old 01-19-2004, 10:21 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Why was the Iowa Caucus So Important?

What is the political importance of this thing? What is the history of it?

And why Iowa? Why not, say, Nebraska?
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Old 01-19-2004, 10:36 PM   #2 (permalink)
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The political importance of the early caucuses is, as I understand it, to show that you are a winner and to build the momentum of your campaign.

Consider the story of Dennis Kuchinich.

Many dems who really like him would never vote for him just because they think he can't win. It becomes a catch 22.

So you need those early wins to help get the later ones.
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Old 01-20-2004, 02:57 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Go Kerry!

G'Bye, Gephardt!
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Old 01-20-2004, 04:42 AM   #4 (permalink)
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It's basically the first **real** gauge of how a candidate's message(s) have played and what the voters are actually concerned enough about to get out and vote.

Polls are inaccurate for several reasons, not the least of which is that they are non-binding. The answers you give to pollsters have little effect beyond the pollster's report out. A caucus shows that there is a core group of people within the population of voters who will get out and support candidate x or y.

I'm not sure about the reason for Iowa, but many states have pushed up their caucuses so they can be a bigger player in the national election process. The question could also be "Why New Hampshire?" as they're a very small state with little real sway in the national election but they play a pretty big role in picking the candidates who will be on the ballot.
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Old 01-20-2004, 06:26 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally posted by Lebell
Many dems who really like him would never vote for him just because they think he can't win. It becomes a catch 22.
A catch-22 is where you lose either way. This is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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Old 01-20-2004, 07:19 AM   #6 (permalink)
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It wasn't.

NH tends to be the real indicator, and a strong finish there is important.

About the only one it ment something to was Gephardt.
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Old 01-20-2004, 08:30 AM   #7 (permalink)
Location: VA
Originally posted by Ustwo
It wasn't.

NH tends to be the real indicator, and a strong finish there is important.

About the only one it ment something to was Gephardt.
Neither by themselves means anything, but together some meaning can be gleaned. Gephardt won Iowa in 88, McCain won New Hampshire in 2000, so *shrug*
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Old 01-20-2004, 09:16 AM   #8 (permalink)
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interesting...thanks for your replies.

my god, what happened to howard dean last night?

new thread re: Dean

Last edited by powerclown; 01-20-2004 at 09:37 AM..
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Old 01-20-2004, 12:19 PM   #9 (permalink)
Location: Wandering in the Desert of Life
Here is a history of the Iowa Caucuses, but essentially it is a way for Iowa to get some attention and it requires a long, steady campaign to win. New Hapshire is the "First Primary" and will be important, but after the February 3rd group of primaries in South Carolina, Arizona etc... we should have a better picture. But who knows, if the Dems are lucky, this could go right up to the Convention.


Iowa's caucuses: An introduction and history

Register Political Columnist

Editor's note: David Yepsen covered the Iowa caucuses for some 25 years before becoming a full-time columnist at The Des Moines Register. Perhaps nobody knows more about the caucuses than Yepsen.

Iowa's precinct caucuses became an early, if controversial, test of strength for major party presidential candidates during the 1970s and 1980s. Other states and critics seek to limit their significance, and Iowa works to resist those efforts.

Early in each presidential election year, Iowa Democrats and Republicans gather in each of Iowa's approximately 2,500 precincts to conduct party business and express an early preference for a presidential candidate.

Since it is the first test of strength for candidates in both parties, national party leaders and reporters pay close attention to the results. Iowans seem to enjoy the extensive courting, media attention and spending by candidates and reporters that come with the caucuses.

Since they become nationally significant in 1972, the Iowa caucuses have provided important early boosts to George McGovern in 1972; Jimmy Carter in 1976; George Bush in 1980; and Gary Hart in 1984. Caucus losses have slowed many other candidates. Iowa political leaders often say Iowans have the job of reducing the field of presidential candidates for the rest of the nation.

In the 1988 campaign cycle, perhaps the largest caucus event in history, 13 presidential candidates in competition on caucus night spent an estimated 846 days and deployed 596 staffers in the state during the two years that preceded the February 8, 1988, caucus-night balloting. In addition, about a half dozen potential candidates also spent time in the state, driving the total "days spent" figure to nearly 1,000 days. An estimated 3,000 reporters from around the country and the world were credentialed to cover the events.

Critics of the caucuses said too much attention was paid to those results because Iowa was not a microcosm of the nation. Supporters, particularly Iowa politicians, argued that no state was reflective of the entire country and that Iowa was only the beginning of the process.

Doing well in the caucuses required candidates to build extensive organizations to get out their supporters on caucus night. To do that, candidates devoted large amounts of campaign time to the state.

The caucuses weren't always an early test of presidential candidate strength. They became important because, in 1968, the Democratic Party was torn apart by controversies over the Vietnam War. Iowa Gov. Harold Hughes was selected to chair a national Democratic Party commission to open up the party to more people and minority groups who felt left out of the party affairs. The Democrats adopted a series of rules requiring that plenty of notice be given about meetings and that party members be given plenty of time to discuss platform resolutions.

To accomplish this and still hold their state convention in June, state Democratic leaders decided to hold their caucuses in late January. A young campaign manager for an obscure presidential candidate that year was Gary Hart and he decided to exploit that decision. He was the leader of South Dakota Sen. George McGovern's presidential campaign. Hart was looking for a way for his candidate to get some media attention before the important New Hampshire primary and thought the vote taken at the Iowa caucuses in 1972 would provide him with that attention. McGovern organized in Iowa and finished close behind Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie. That result surprised political reporters and McGovern received his boost of media attention.

This was also an example of the "expectations game" played by candidates in the caucuses. They hope to do better than reporters and politicians expect in order to garner extensive media attention. A finish that was expected, or that was worse than expected, has sometimes proved harmful to a candidate.

In 1975-1976, an unknown former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, expanded McGovern's strategy and campaigned extensively in Iowa and won. After he won the presidency, his Iowa strategy was quickly adopted by other candidates. Carter attributed some of his success to his favorable finish in Iowa.

Also in 1976, Iowa Republicans agreed to hold their caucuses on the same night as the Democrats, primarily to capture some of the media attention. President Gerald Ford's narrow victory over Ronald Reagan in a straw poll in sample precincts was taken as an early sign of Ford's weakness as a candidate.

In 1980, Republican George Bush upset front runner Ronald Reagan for the nomination in Iowa. Reagan and Bush fought a long battle for the GOP nomination. After Reagan won, he turned to Bush as his running mate to heal the party. The two later defeated Carter in the November election. Once again, Iowa was credited with giving Bush an early boost.

On the Democratic side in 1980, President Carter used the contest to fight off a challenge from Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. By now, many national politicians were saying too much emphasis was placed on Iowa.

For the 1984 cycle, Iowa state Democratic party leaders, and New Hampshire Democratic officials, reached an agreement that called for Iowa to hold the first caucus in the nation and New Hampshire to hold the first primary eight days later.

In 1984, it was the Democrats who were looking for a candidate. Walter Mondale, from neighboring Minnesota, was a heavy favorite and won Iowa. A question facing the Democrats was whether any of the other candidates would emerge to challenge him for the nomination. Gary Hart, then a Colorado senator, finished second and the surge from that finish helped him win the New Hampshire primary eight days later. Mondale narrowly won the nomination that year.

In 1988, both parties were looking for nominees and the parade of candidates to Iowa began in earnest shortly after the 1984 election. After the 1986 midterm election, a presidential candidate was a regular feature somewhere in Iowa during 1987.

The 1980s saw hard economic times in rural America and that played heavily on the outcome of the 1988 race. In both parties, caucus-goers went for candidates from neighboring states. Republicans chose Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas. Democrats gave the nod to Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt. The number two Democratic finisher was another neighbor, Illinois Sen. Paul Simon.

The 1988 campaign also saw the growth of conservative and evangelical strength inside the Iowa GOP. Former Christian broadcasting executive Pat Robertson mounted an extensive grassroots campaign in Iowa among Republican conservative and evangelical voters and beat George Bush for second place.

But Gephardt and Dole didn't last long. Both were defeated in the New Hampshire primary and ultimately lost their parties' nomination. Their defeat took some of the sheen off the caucuses and many political observers predicted the 1992 caucuses would not be as important as they had once been.

The 1992 caucuses were less important, but for a different reason. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin sought the Democratic presidential nomination. Harkin had hoped a big win in his home-state caucuses would give him a big boost of media attention and financial contributions. Instead, Harkin's candidacy prompted the other Democratic contenders to bypass the February 10 caucuses in favor of the February 18 New Hampshire primary. While Harkin got 77 percent of the caucus vote, few observers were impressed and his candidacy faltered with a fourth-place showing in New Hampshire.
In 1996, the Iowa caucuses rebounded in significance. Shortly after the 1992 election, Republican presidential candidates began campaigning in Iowa. Eventually, eight GOP contenders campaigned hard in Iowa. While caucuses in Alaska and Louisiana were held ahead of Iowa's, those had much smaller turnouts and the nation's political limelight was still on Iowa in February.

Kansas Sen. Dole was the early frontrunner but won a narrow victory. Total turnout for the GOP caucuses was an estimated 96,451. The caucuses played their traditional role of narrowing the field of candidates. Only the top three finishers in Iowa - Dole, former commentator Patrick Buchanan and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander were viable contenders in the New Hampshire primary.

On the Democratic side in Iowa, President Bill Clinton was unopposed for his party's nomination and party leaders estimated their caucus turnout at about 50,000.

Iowa's role in the 2000 caucuses again put the state on the national political stage. With President Clinton constitutionally unable to run for re-election, both parties had vigorous contests for their presidential nominations. Two Democratic candidates and six Republicans vied for votes in their respective caucuses.

Vice President Al Gore won a strong, 2-to-1 victory over former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley in the Democratic caucuses. Texas Gov. George W. Bush bested all his challengers on the Republican side. Both victories helped the two front-runners cement their standings in their respective parties. As the 2004 caucus season opened, President George W. Bush was unchallenged in the GOP caucuses while a field of almost a dozen Democrats were seeking votes or testing the waters. Since the 1972 start of the early Iowa caucuses, no candidate that has finished worse than third in Iowa has ever gone on to win a major party presidential nomination. In other words, only the top three finishers remain viable contenders after caucus night. Iowa has moved from the 1976 position as a springboard to the White House to a contest that, as Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker put it, "winnows the field" for the rest of the country. The 2004 Democratic caucuses appear likely to provide that same culling.

As always, other states are are demanding more attention from candidates and have moved their primaries and caucuses closer to Iowa's and to the New Hampshire primary that follows eight days later. This "compression" of the national political calendar has drawn criticism from those who say the nomination contests are starting too early and will end before many Americans have a say in selecting the nominee. Yet the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary appear likely to retain their early roles because critics and other states can't agree on an alternative system. It is also true that party leaders like the early contest because it helps resolve the nomination fights quickly and helps prepare the party for the main event earlier.

One pattern that appears to be developing in the Iowa caucuses is a preference for Midwestern, or at least rural-oriented candidates. George McGovern of South Dakota, Walter Mondale of Minnesota, Richard Gephardt of Missouri have all done well in Iowa Democratic caucuses. But so did that Georgia peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter.

Leaders in both parties have said that caucuses are a vital party-building asset. While the media attention and money is important to Iowa, party leaders believe the caucus campaigning helped Iowa become a highly competitive two-party state. In 1980, estimates were some 115,000 Republicans and 100,000 Democrats turned out for the caucuses. The record for attendance was set in 1988 when 125,000 Democrats and 109,000 Republicans were said to have participated. Years later, party officials say those 1988 numbers on the Democratic side
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Old 01-21-2004, 09:29 AM   #10 (permalink)
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The reason the caucus is particularly important is two-fold. First, it is the earliest actual gauge of how America feels about the candidates. Second, it is a caucus style forum so people just don't show up and cast a vote. They actually discuss and barter and this teaches candidates more precisely how their campaign is perceived and also teaches them what issues make people switch camps and stand with them. An early win in Iowa means that you are winning the perception battle, a loss means you need to fix your campaign and quick.
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Old 01-21-2004, 02:32 PM   #11 (permalink)
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The Iowa caucus is also important as a test of how well a campaign is at actually turning out voters. Polls show general opinions, but Iowa has showed both the level of conviction of the voters in the various camps and the organizational ability of the campaigns.
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Old 01-21-2004, 02:36 PM   #12 (permalink)
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It was important for a few reasons:

1. It knocked off Gephardt, who was a contender up to this point.

2. It revitalized the lagging campaigns of Kerry and Edwards.

3. It took the aura of invincibility and inevitability off of Dean.

In other words, it did have a lot of impact, especially since the results were so strong and unexpected.
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caucus, important, iowa

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