From their exuberant victory speeches Monday night, one would never know that the Democrats lost big time in Iowa. First, the presumed standard-bearer Hillary Clinton failed to beat a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont spouting fairy tale economics, despite having almost unlimited resources and an excellent organization. Second, the strong showing by Marco Rubio helps the Florida senator emerge from the pack of moderate Republicans angling to win the nomination, strengthening his chances of beating Clinton in November.
Six months ago, Senator Sanders polled at only 26 percent of the Iowa vote to Hillary’s 54 percent; word is that the former first lady’s entourage was shell-shocked by her close brush with (another) defeat in Iowa. Clinton’s margin over Sanders was only a handful of delegates; apparently 6 delegates ended up in Hillary’s column by virtue of fortuitous coin tosses.
On the Republican side, Monday night saw voters shake off Trump mania and give Ted Cruz the win and Marco Rubio a solid 23 percent of the vote. Ted Cruz’ ground game – including a huge calling and get-out-the-vote effort – boosted his results while Trump’s arrogance led him to be careless – a misstep he won’t repeat. Skipping the Fox News debate was not smart, especially since it gave Cruz and Rubio air time out of the Trump shadow.
The New York developer is likely to beef up his campaign going into New Hampshire, especially since under that state’s rules, the large number of independents are allowed to vote in either party’s primary. That could help Trump since he’s especially popular with white older males that historically might have voted Democrat; he could do well in the Granite State. Still, having cast himself as nothing but a winner, the air may begin to leak out of the billionaire’s balloon.
Though Rubio placed only third, he performed much better than expected and only one point behind Mr. Trump. Polling right before the caucuses had Rubio at 17 percent; he appears to have captured votes from Trump and from some of the moderate candidates like Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, all of whom came in below their recent standings in the polls.
Rubio is the candidate the Clinton camp fears most, since polls have consistently showed him beating Clinton in the general election. The Florida senator’s surprise showing in Iowa should give him a bounce in the New Hampshire primary next week, where polls show him trailing slightly behind Bush and Kasich. Supporters have been waiting for him to emerge from the moderate pack, and he finally has.
Bernie Sanders did not win in Iowa, but he came close, revealing some of Hillary’s vulnerabilities. He scored particularly well with young voters, including young women, who were critical to the make-up of Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012 and badly needed by Clinton. Ahead of the caucuses, Sanders was shown to have a sizeable advantage with voters under the age of 45, leading with 60 percent of the vote to Clinton's 31 percent. In 2000, only about 9 percent of caucus goers were under the age of 30. In 2008, that soared to 19 percent as Obama’s campaign attracted enthusiastic young people, two-thirds of whom voted for Obama. Sanders’ focus on free college and income inequality apparently inspired a significant turnout this year, too.
According to exit polling from Fox News, he also did well with voters concerned about trustworthiness; Clinton’s numerous legal problems and long history of scandal continues to plague the former first lady.
Sanders’ improbable success in Iowa where he drew huge crowds of first-time voters by advocating a political “revolution” means that at best Clinton faces a long slog to the nomination. Her camp had sounded increasingly optimistic in recent days, convinced that her advantage in the polls, her army of volunteers and huge organization were likely to prove unstoppable in Iowa. Her husband and numerous surrogates had turned out to help stump for the former Secretary of State, furthering the optimism. Few expected the Sanders team to translate his large, enthusiastic crowds into actual voters, especially since there was no sign of the kind of voter registration surge that marked President Obama’s upset of Hillary Clinton in 2008.
The strong showing by Sanders will help solidify his already sizeable lead in New Hampshire, where he is ahead 55 percent to 37 percent and enjoying neighbor-state good will. For Clinton, the next test will be South Carolina. Hillary has been touting her close alliance with President Obama and his policies in hopes of motivating black voters in South Carolina, who account for about half of primary voters. It’s not a given that blacks, who still give Obama high approval ratings, will turn out for Clinton.
Blacks failed to show up in 2014, even taking into account the lower turnout expected in a non-presidential election. The Clinton camp is assuming that husband Bill’s popularity and Sanders’ relatively low approval ratings from African-Americans will do the trick. However, blacks are just getting to know Bernie -- they may find his message of income inequality compelling. Also, Bill Clinton is not as energized as in the past -- some say the magic is gone.
After New Hampshire, Marco Rubio will focus on South Carolina. In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, he secured the endorsement of Senator Tim Scott, an African-American and one of the most popular political leaders in the state. Scott and Trey Gowdy, another popular South Carolinian in Congress, will both campaign for Rubio in the state, and should boost his prospects for a win.
There is a long way to go before November, and elections take many unexpected turns. But, Iowa’s outcome could well point to the eventual outcome.