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ON THE TRAIL / WIN & LOSE

As Iowa goes, so goes the nomination?

December 28, 2007|Don Frederick

How likely are the Democratic and Republican winners in Iowa's caucuses Thursday to snare their party's presidential nominations?

The record is mixed. In 1980, George H.W. Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the GOP caucuses and claimed he had "big mo" -- momentum. Reagan quickly crushed him. In 1988, Richard A. Gephardt won the Democratic caucuses and then went nowhere; the third-place finisher, Michael S. Dukakis, stormed to the nomination.

More recently, however, success has greeted those who win in Iowa. That's a key reason why all the major Democratic contenders are traipsing through the state and honing "final" messages (some of which have probably been recalibrated after the assassination of Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto).

The attitude in the Democratic race is influenced by what happened four years ago, when John F. Kerry's caucus victory set a political course that never wavered.

The Republicans, by contrast, sense that the Iowa results will be the start of a wild ride with a hard-to-gauge destination. Thus, whereas Mike Huckabee sought to seal the deal for himself in Iowa this week by going pheasant hunting, Rudolph W. Giuliani was focused on Florida.

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Will it catch on? Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled a new political slogan: "Big Challenges, Real Solutions." Its prospects for joining the likes of "New Deal" and "New Frontier" in the permanent political lexicon did not seem strong.

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No words of support: Republican Mitt Romney, to his chagrin, may have inspired an addition to the political vocabulary: the "anti-endorsement." The label was applied to a scathing editorial in New Hampshire's Concord Monitor that attacked him as a phony. The phrase was recycled when the state's biggest newspaper, the Manchester Union, followed suit with an editorial criticizing Romney.

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Young lungs ready: Republican Duncan Hunter, in a CNN interview, revealed a "secret weapon" he said could help his presidential prospects: a 4-year-old granddaughter who already can sing the national anthem. Given his standing in the polls (virtually nonexistent), it seemed a lot to ask of one so young.

-- Don Frederick

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Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes.com/ topoftheticket.

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