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On the Trail / LEARNING CURVE

Things we discovered in Iowa this year

January 05, 2008|Don Frederick | Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www .latimes.com/topoftheticket.

Lessons from the 2008 Iowa caucuses (subject to change in four years, given the imponderables of politics):

Formative years: Relying on younger voters, less partisan ones and those who have not caucused before can be a winning formula, as Barack Obama's triumph in the Democratic presidential race illustrated. In previous campaigns, even broaching this scenario probably would have gotten a consultant fired.

But as the Illinois senator's win also showed, it helps to have an enormous treasure chest and skilled operatives savvy in the ways of the Hawkeye State.

Money for nothin': Money and organization alone can't buy a candidate love, as Mitt Romney learned in the Republican race.

Although the money figures won't be known for a while, Mike Huckabee has estimated the Romney camp outspent his crew 20 to 1. But Huckabee -- drawing on his penchant for quips, his musical talents and, most important, his background as a Southern Baptist preacher -- connected with a sizable number of Iowa Republicans.

Trendsetters: Candidates ignore Iowa at their own risk.

Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani and his staff knew he would be a tough sell in Iowa, and they wrote it off. One result was that over the last month, as the political universe increasingly centered on the state, Giuliani and his message dropped off the map. Another result: He not only ran poorly against the GOP front-runners, he got walloped by also-ran Ron Paul. The former New York mayor now needs a respectable finish in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary to regain some momentum.

Power of the press: Iowa's leading newspaper lived up to its reputation for knowing how to predict a caucus outcome (after taking heat for sponsoring debates that discouraged vigorous exchanges).

When the Des Moines Register released its final pre-caucus poll on New Year's Eve, those who didn't like the results -- notably the camps of Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards -- dismissed it. But the newspaper's polling unit was on the money, predicting solid wins for Obama and Huckabee, along with Edwards and Clinton in a virtual tie for second place.

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