As political sage David Bowie once said: "Ch-ch-ch-changes. . . ." Obviously, Barack Obama listened to early Bowie more than Hillary Clinton did. (That's not so hard to imagine, is it?) After a year of waiting and wondering, Iowa Democrats took the first concrete step in choosing a candidate for the 2008 Presidential Election, deciding that Change was more important than Experience. Obama won a stunning victory, with 38% of the complicated caucus vote. Clinton, the front-runner for all of 2007, wound up with a humbling third place finish, at 29%, just behind John Edwards, who pulled in 30%.
"Can Bring Change" was the Top Candidate Quality chosen by Iowa Democrats - 52% of them - according to CNN's survey of people entering the caucus on Thursday. That was far ahead of "Experience," which was most important for only 20%. Obama completely dominated the first quality, while Hillary dominated the second. In fact, Obama only got 5% of the vote among the latter group.
"Cares About People" was third most important quality, at 19%. Edwards dominated that quality and also did best among those who thought "Electability" was most important - but only 8% of the voters did.
Obama also won overwhelmingly among 17-29 year olds, receiving 57% of their vote, compared to 14% for Edwards, 11% for Hillary and 10% for Richardson. That's not really surprising, as Obama has been leading among younger voters for a long time; the biggest surprise was that the 17-29 year-olds actually got out and voted this time. They accounted for the same percentage of voters (22%) as the 65+ age group, a highly unusual result. One wonders if this portends another effect of the internet on political campaigns. Can MySpace and Second Life really get young people to hit the voting booths? Maybe more than I thought.
One of the most interesting aspects of Iowa was that voter turnout for Democrats was the highest ever recorded, and most of the new voters went for Obama. It will be interesting to see if new voters and younger voters continue to turn out in other states. If so, Obama will probably be the main beneficiary.
Interestingly, support by age for Obama and Clinton was directly converse: Obama's numbers went down as the voters got older - 57% of 17-29 year-olds, 42% for 30-44, 27% for 45-64, and only 18% for the 65+ group; whereas Hillary's numbers went up - 11% for 17-29, 23% for 30-44, 28% for 45-64, and 45% for 65+. Traditionally, this would be an advantage for Clinton, as voters have tended to be old white people, but this election might be different.
Then again, it might not be, and Obama may face trouble in the long run.
On the other hand, at least Barack has the rich folks behind him. In Iowa, he easily topped the other candidates among people with incomes of $100,000 or more, with 41% of their votes, compared to Edwards, who got 28%, and Clinton, who only received 19%.
And while John Edwards may care about the poor, the poor, it seems, don't really care about John Edwards. In fact, if I'm John Edwards, and I'm looking at the results from Iowa on Friday morning, I've got to wonder about the American Electorate. At least the folks in Iowa. (Or about my own ability to communicate my message.) As many commentators have pointed out, it has probably been decades since a major Democratic candidate has run a campaign as economically leftist as John Edwards. He has been the only candidate to talk consistently about poverty. He has attacked greedy corporations so much that the Des Moines Register refused to endorse him (after doing so in 2004) because of his "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric." He worked hard to court Labor Unions. His Health Care Plan has been touted by several left-leaning commentators. And Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, in her post-Iowa editorial, "Keep Edwards's Hope Alive, offered the following:
Some have compared Iowa's winner Barack Obama to JFK, and his elegant, broad-gauged and inspiring words of change and hope brought home the historic moment he embodies. Yet Edwards, in these last months, has reminded me of another Kennedy--Bobby--whose political and intellectual odyssey was linked to the passion and, yes, anger he felt as he witnessed grinding poverty in Appalachia and racist inequality in the barrios of the richest country in the world.So how did Iowans respond? Among people who earn less than $15,000, Edwards did terribly, only getting 17% of the vote. (Obama got 37% of their vote and Clinton got 30%.) Edwards' best numbers, in fact, were among those making over %100,000. In terms of political ideology, Edwards did poorly among the most Liberal, only getting 16% support, compared to 40% for Obama and 24% for Clinton. Instead, he dominated among Democrats who consider themselves Conservative, getting 42% of their vote, compared to 22% for Clinton and 21% for Obama. This, of course, may simply mean that terms like "liberal" and conservative" now primarily mean "socially liberal" and "socially conservative," rather than having anything to do with economics.
But results from Union households were also bad for Edwards. Back in 1992, when Clinton I was just a governor from Arkansas, he promised Labor that he wouldn't support NAFTA, only to shove it through over their objections once he was president. So, naturally, Clinton II did well among Union households, receiving 30% of their support. Obama got 30%. Edwards, whose "anti-corporate rhetoric" was so harsh, only got 24%. Health Care? Edwards came in third again.
And despite taking an early and vocal stand against the war in Iraq, after his initial vote to support it, Edwards could only manage 17% among voters who thought Iraq was the most important issue. Hillary Clinton, who continued to support Bush and his war long after the rest of her party, received 26% of this vote.
Of course, these results are only for Iowa. There will probably be some differences from state-to-state as the primary season continues.
But there are definitely some interesting numbers to note. For example, Obama did better among women (35%) than Clinton did (30%). He also received the same percentage among male voters, whereas Clinton only received 23% from men. Edwards did equally well among both sexes.
Among African-American voters, Obama received 5 out 7 votes. The other two, Janice Jefferson and Trudy Vaughan of Des Moines, voted for Hillary.
(That was a joke. There were no results in CNN's Entrance Poll by race. Iowa is 91% white.)
While we can speculate a lot about what the Iowa results mean to the rest of the campaign, there was one concrete effect: Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd both dropped out of the race.
Who will their supporters go for now? Though their numbers aren't great - maybe 4% combined - a shift over to one candidate more than another could be important in a tight race, as New Hampshire is shaping up to be.
Richardson might also benefit from a smaller field. In New Hampshire, ABC is only including Obama, Edwards, Clinton and Richardson in their televised debate this weekend. Will Bill be able to stand out more now that he's only on stage with the other three? While he doesn't figure to do well in New Hampshire, he has said he hopes to last until the primaries move west, where he feels like he can be more competitive. My guess is that some of Biden's supporters might go towards Richardson because of his experience. Richardson actually came in second in Iowa among those who said Experience was their most important factor, and Biden also did well in that area, coming in third.
But again, there's the Bowie factor - Changes. People want a change.
Or at least the appearance of Change.
While Obama has, politically speaking, done the most to capitalize on the desire for change, is he really the candidate who could best accomplish the changes needed? Certainly being the first African-American President would be a huge and welcome change. But in terms of actually transforming policies that affect all of us, there are legitimate questions about Obama. Paul Krugman, in his December 17 New York Times column, "Big Table Fantasies," brought up the issue:
[T]here are large differences among the candidates in their beliefs about what it will take to turn a progressive agenda into reality.After reading Obama's Audacity of Hope and following his campaign to this point, I think Krugman is right to be concerned. Obama does come off at times as being a bit too precious and naive. I'd love to see everyone getting along more in this country - the lions lying down with the lambs and all that - but I think history points to conflict in accomplishing things politically. And after eight years of the Bush II administration, we need to bring about many real and consequential changes.
At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”
At the opposite extreme, John Edwards blames the power of the wealthy and corporate interests for our problems, and says, in effect, that America needs another F.D.R. — a polarizing figure, the object of much hatred from the right, who nonetheless succeeded in making big changes.
I have to say that Mr. Obama comes off looking, well, naïve.
Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world.
Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has in effect become the anti-change candidate.
I would argue that Edwards would represent the biggest change in terms of economic policies, which ultimately affect so many aspects of our lives. And Richardson has consistently been the strongest - by far - about ending the war in Iraq and re-focusing our efforts in a new strategy against terrorism. And ending the war quickly would have dramatic changes on economic issues. Obama seems the most willing to change attitudes. Or at least to try. But do right-wing Evangelicals or Corporate CEOs want to change their attitudes?
Confronting Obama's rhetoric of change will now be one of the main strategies of the other Democratic candidates. In fact, the Edwards campaign started the day after Iowa, as Sam Stein pointed out on Huffington Post:
In an appearance on MSNBC, David Bonior, Edwards' campaign manager, ripped into Obama's record on health care from the time when he served in the Illinois State Senate.While Edwards and Richardson might have some luck in taking on the mantle of CHANGE, Hillary Clinton has positioned herself in such a way that it's going to be hard for her to make the same move. She also has the additional baggage of Clinton I, who - despite his popularity with many Democratic voters - doesn't exactly represent CHANGE to new and younger voters.
"Barack Obama's kind of change is where you sit down and you cut a deal with the corporate world," Bonior said. "If you look at his record in Illinois when he had a major -- sponsored a major health bill that's what he did. He watered down with the help of the corporate lobbyist and they got a weak product out of that.". . . [A]s the Boston Globe reported on September 23, 2007, in the process of crafting the legislation, Obama consulted with "insurers and their lobbyists" and amended the bill "more to their liking."
Still, there's a long way to go in this race. Clinton has the money and the political machine, and an expert strategist in Clinton I, to become the nominee, though Iowa was definitely a big blow. Obama can't afford to make any mistakes, especially against the Clintons. We'll see how he does as a campaign strategist over the long haul. He has the early momentum, but the race is going to remain close for a while, and momentum can change.
Edwards is going to need a substantial finish in South Carolina, along with a lot of other help. I'm not sure he has the money or the infrastructure to compete in the long run. He gambled almost everything on Iowa, and coming in second, eight points behind Obama, was a disappointing result. Richardson may stay in the race a while, though I'm not convinced that he'll suddenly win in the west, as he seems to think. But if some big story brings down one of the other candidates, it's possible he could start to compete more, but that's a long shot.
Meanwhile, as I write this . . . Andrew Sullivan tells me that Barack Obama has jumped out to a 10-point lead in New Hampshire.
My, my. Looks like we have a genuine race on our hands.