Iowa Winners And Losers From The 2016 Caucus

The Iowa Caucus is done and over with, but the ramifications of the final results will live long for the national campaign, but also on what happens in Iowa after. Reputations have been made and tarnished during the caucus every cycle, and consequences over who backed who will continue to last into later Iowa elections. Here’s a look at who helped themselves the most over the past year, and who suffered some setbacks:


State Senator Jack Whitver – No one got more of a boost coming out of Iowa than Marco Rubio thanks to his exceptionally strong 3rd place finish. Ankeny’s Jack Whitver was with Rubio the whole time, often traveling all over the state with him and taking in a few football games together along the way. All the early press about his Iowa campaign being awful must have missed its course correction (and what jerks would have said all that anyway?). There’s a good chance Marco Rubio becomes the Republican’s nominee and our next president. I bet he’ll remember his buddy in Iowa.

Bob Vander Plaats – Score one for the social conservatives once again in Iowa. Despite the polls showing Donald Trump would take Iowa in the end, Ted Cruz pulled it out with a record-shattering 51,666 votes. Much of that was thanks to Vander Plaats and allies’ networks mobilizing the evangelical crowd for Cruz. It puts Vander Plaats in a stronger position going forward in Iowa elections, and will make his choice in the 2018 gubernatorial primary all the more important.

Strong Field Operations – Organize, organize, organize. That’s always been the key to Iowa and it was once again. Those who built strong ground games, like Ted Cruz, won. Those who didn’t, like Donald Trump, lost. All three Democrats had exceptional, innovative and professionally-run operations. Clinton’s pushed her over the finish line in a state that was always difficult for her, and Sanders’ brought him so close to a win that it effectively was one. It’s all good news for the Democrats going forward, as their teams far outpaced anything on the Republican side. The innovative tactics they learned and the battle-tested field staff that will deploy throughout the country later on will benefit the Democrats in a big way in November.

Bernie Sanders’ Iowa Team – Everyone knew Clinton had a strong operation in the state. Many were unsure about Sanders. Turns out he did. If you were watching closely it was obvious to see, even if the tight-lipped Sanders operation didn’t want to let on much about it. But they put together an impressive Iowa Caucus campaign that performed the difficult task of turning out tons of new people to caucus. There’s lots of good lessons to be learned from their success.

Drake University – Was there a week where there wasn’t a big, multi-candidate forum or event at Drake? Students got a front row experience to the most amazing political show in the world. Congrats all around on the staff’s work there.

Ben Carson’s Iowa Team – There’s no reason Ben Carson should have gotten 9.3% of the GOP vote on caucus night, even with Ted Cruz’s dirty tricks. His national campaign completely imploded, his money was spent poorly, and he faced nonstop horrendous news coverage that made him look foolish. His Iowa team dealt with the awful tragedy of a volunteer dying a few weeks ago, but kept it together. Most observers thought his support would completely evaporate, but he came in a decent 4th place.  How Carson’s Iowa staff kept so many of his supporters on board through the difficulties is a real organizational feat.

Scenic Route – Every caucus season sees some new coffee shop or restaurant – oh hey, there’s Hillary Clinton – pop up as a frequent destination for candidates and media. The now-closed Baby Boomers from – oh hey, there’s Hillary Clinton – the East Village became a favorite of Barack Obama and his staff in 2008. This time was no different with – oh hey, there’s Hillary Clinton – places like unsuspecting coffee shops becoming major media attractions. Sorry for all the interruptions in this paragraph, it’s just that I’m typing this at Scenic Route in the East Village and Hillary Clinton literally won’t stop swinging by to meet people here.



The Entire Democratic Party Establishment – Barely anyone endorsed Bernie Sanders. He didn’t need it. Aside from some liberal organizations and a handful of unions, Sanders essentially created his movement here on his own and nearly overtook the whole power establishment in Iowa. Every single person and group who endorsed Hillary Clinton should take a long look in the mirror and reconsider why they’re not as effective in their communities as they once were. It also completely opens up the future of Iowa campaigns. Andy McGuire’s reputation took a hit on caucus night, as did the general sense that the party’s establishment knows what it’s doing. So jump on in, upstart progressive challengers, you’ve got as much a chance of winning in Iowa with a new approach as they do.

Team Branstad – Black eyes all around for Branstad and his allies. For one, the three governors in the race didn’t even get a combined 7%. His preferred choice, Chris Christie, came in an embarrassing 10th place behind John Kasich, who hardly even campaigned here. And Branstad himself took a huge swing at Ted Cruz, only to see him come in first. Branstad’s political network may want to watch their backs for the young guns who signed on with Rubio. They’re starting to look like the future of the Iowa Republican Party now.

Steve King – He might have picked the right horse this caucus, but he sure did pay a price for it. Many conservatives in the state are furious with King, long a big proponent of the state’s ethanol industry, for going so forcefully with ethanol’s public enemy number one in the caucus. His tweet right before the caucus about Ben Carson possibly dropping out further infuriated Republicans. There’s already talks of a primary run against King. He’ll certainly win any such challenge, but he lost a lot of important allies in this caucus, and it’s unclear if he picked up any.

Ambitious Iowans – I never get why more people don’t use the huge national spotlight that shines on Iowa as a chance to break out locally and build their brand. A few did, like Trump’s Iowa co-chair Tana Goertz or Cedar Rapids CBS 2’s Kevin Barry. Many others just stayed in their lanes, content to watch the media circus come in and out. You’d think more elected officials might have used the chance to boost their profile. Oh well.

Super PACs – So much money, so little to show for it. The idea that the future of winning campaigns was through the use of unlimited-money Super PACs hit the wall of reality in Iowa this year, with many candidates with the largest PACs doing the worst. Outsourcing your operations to Super PACs also turned out to be a terrible idea, as it worked very poorly for both Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal.

Dave Kochel – The man who turned Joni Ernst into a Republican superstar last cycle should have been set up for great things in 2016. Instead, he got bounced around on the Jeb Bush campaign from the outset, and ended up as a part of the campaign that will go down in history as spending money more ineffectively than perhaps any other. Nothing with Bush ever caught on, and Kochel and his team will have to take responsibility for some of that. Kochel’s rising star this year was badly damaged.

Iowa Democratic Party – For about two hours there on caucus night, the entire national media unloaded on the Democratic caucus process. The outstanding precinct results, the lack of trained volunteers, the overwhelmed locations, etc. Also, how do precincts run out of voter registration forms? Print a lot out beforehand! Way more than you’d ever need! How is that so f-ing hard? Many places ran out in 2008, you’d think we’d have learned a lesson.

Much of the problem came from the closeness of the race, but it exposed many of the problems that have been rumored for months, that the IDP wasn’t prepared enough for caucus night. The Sanders campaign has calmed down its rhetoric recently, but is still pushing for an audit of the results. Had more trust been built up with them beforehand, things may have run smoother. It gives plenty of ammo to those who don’t want to see Andy McGuire run for governor. Hopefully this all gets resolved soon for everyone’s sake, but it’s going to lead to real questions of whether the party staff in charge of organizing the caucus can be trusted to lead Iowa Democrats’ campaigns into November. The Republican Party of Iowa didn’t have these problems.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 2/4/16

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