Saturday, January 05, 2008

Iowa and Beyond - The Democrats

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.
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.

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.

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.

"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."
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.

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.


crystal said...

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%.) .... that's me, and I wouldn't vote for Edwards unless there was no one else.

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cowboyangel said...

Happy New Year, Crystal.

I know you don't like Edwards. And obviously his discussion about poverty hasn't moved you either. Just found it interesting that the people Edwards most talks about don't respond. He'd be better off concentrating on other topics, it seems. But it's personal for him. He's made that clear. He's not going to be come President, however, caring about the poor and slamming corporations.

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for the kind comments. Don't worry, I'm not going to take down King's speech. I'm just glad you found it.

Do you have a blog I can check out?

crystal said...

He cares about the poor but he's incredibly wealthy. I know that many wealthy people do help the poor but the disparity just bothers me. As an almost poor person, I feel used by him and I find it hard to believe he's sincere. An instance - Edwards charges $55,000 to speak to UC Davis students about poverty

If you want to see what some people think of his poverty tour, check out the comments on this blog post.

Garpu the Fork said...

You know, this is the first election since 2000, where I haven't felt an impending sense of doom. I'm hoping we can avoid the whole "Good Catholics vote for X" rhetoric that we had the past two elections.

cowboyangel said...


You don't like Edwards, so you're going to look for any fault you can find with him. Fine. He is a conflicted person - I think he genuinely cares about poverty as an issue, and I think he likes being wealthy. Probably the result of being nouveau riche.

So what is the alternative? You prefer that our presidential candidates remain silent on poverty? Or only poor candidates can talk about poverty? Oh, wait, there aren't any poor candidates. So who gets to discuss the issue? What's the litmus test?

Actually, I think he should drop the topic - it's not doing him any good politically.

As far as the speech: Martin said UC Davis' Mondavi Center paid Edwards because at the time "he wasn't a (presidential) candidate and from our point of view, he was a speaker of interest that people in the community were clearly interested in ... we feel it's our mission to present those speakers."

Yeah, it would be nice for people like Edwards to talk about poverty for free. Or other issues. But do you think this is the only case where something like this happens?

Do you have any idea how much Bill & Hillary have made on speeches in the last few years? $40 million. Bill charged $300,000 to speak to the Latin American Institute of Education in Mexico. Is it any more just to charge the poor Mexicans $300,000 to talk to them about education?

And are you surprised that comments at Politico would be negative about John Edwards?

cowboyangel said...


Well, give the right-wing Catholics some time to pick their candidate. I'm sure we'll get to the "Good Catholics don't vote for X" before November.

Garpu the Fork said...

I should update my EWTN political drinking game for 2008...

Liam said...

It's interesting about how you perceive personality can affect how seriously you take a candidate's stand on the issues. If Edwards is insincere, his use of poverty as a political issue would be reprehensible. Still, I really do believe he is sincere. I thought he showed real passion about it at the last debate. I also agree with William that the way he spends his money ($400 haircuts, huge house) is nouveau riche -- it's what working class people do when they get rich, unlike the children of privilege (e.g., Bush, Kerry).

I share some of Krugman's worries about Obama. At the same time, I have to admit that his speech after the Iowa primary really moved and excited me. Perhaps I am being superficial, but I think there may be something to Obama.

cowboyangel said...


I think there's definitely something to Obama. And he is definitely inspiring in a way that's great to see in a politician. I really liked what he said during the debate on Saturday about the power of words. I remember telling my mother after watching him at the 2004 convention that he was going to be big. I didn't expect it to happen so soon, however.

There's a lot to like about the guy. I think, however, the questions about his lack of experience and his ability to deal with hardened opposition are legitimate. And I've noticed that these kinds of concerns seem to get deflected by his supporters with easy slogans or weak arguments (Bush/Hillary had experience, so it must not mean anything - JFK was inexperienced, too). In fact, the JFK argument doesn't bring me any comfort at all. Kennedy grew up in a political household with a father who was a longtime Democratic player, not to mention an ambassador. JFK served 3 terms as a U.S. Representative and was on his 2nd term as U.S. Senator. He also served in WWII. And people thought he was inexperienced! But that's much more political background than Obama. Plus, one might argue that JFK's inexperience affected his presidency adversely. Like not listening to his generals about the difficulty of Vietnam. Or getting us into a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union.

I'd like to hear Obama address these issues more directly. Instead of offering the "red, White and Blue America" thing again. However inspiring. Though I don't know what he could say. It's pretty much what kind of risk are we willing to take?

He seems like he has the most potential to do interesting and great things. But also to be unsure and incompetent. After 8 years of Bush II, I think another inept president would really damage the country.

Whatever. It's rather pointless for me to figure out who I like better. I decided in the end that I simply could not register as a Democrat just to vote in the primary. I despise them too much to ever register as one again. My already dirty and damaged soul means more to me than choosing between a bunch of politicians. :-) I'll wind up voting (this time) for whomever the Democrats run - out of sheer spite for Bush and the Republicans.

crystal said...

the way he [Edwards] spends his money ($400 haircuts, huge house) is nouveau riche -- it's what working class people do when they get rich, unlike the children of privilege (e.g., Bush, Kerry).

Edwards was what I'd call middle class, not poor, as he grew up. I think I grew up with the same or less money. Sometimes I imagine what I would do with a lottery win, whch is probably the only way I'd have a lot of money. I'd wish I could spend some on fixing my scar so it wasn't so effing ugly - even that desire makes me feel guilty because I know that that amount of money could probbly support a family for who knows how long in some third world country. Newly rich people don't go insane and lose their moral compass. John edwards doesn't bat an eye about spending loads of cash on STUPID stuff. It's not because he's a newly rich person, it's because he's a jerk. Sorry - end of rant :-)

cowboyangel said...

You know, Crystal, I wrote about a lot of things in this post. I was curious to know what people thought about the high Democratic turnout in Iowa, or how Obama wound up getting more women voters than Hillary, or why Dodd and Biden dropped out so quickly. There was a lot to chew on.

Instead, you keep going on and on about how much you hate Edwards. It's fine that you hate Edwards. More power to you. The great thing is - you don't have to vote for him. But I already knew you hated Edwards. You say the same thing every time I post something about the race.

There are a lot of interesting and important things going on in these primaries. Can we please move beyond Edwards Sucks as political analysis?