Good afternoon readers! Starting Line is still slowly getting back into a normal routine after a considerable amount of naps and late mornings this past post-caucus week. This next week I’ll make a return to the Statehouse and do a few reports of what’s driving the discussion there. For today, a few thoughts on the Republicans and the (hopefully) final commentary on the Democratic caucus problems.
The Republican Results
With all the madness on the incredibly close Democratic side this week, I realized I never weighed in on the Republicans, of whose events I attended almost as much as Democrats this past year. I’m glad my prediction that Ted Cruz would win, made a few weeks before he took first in the polls, came true despite his struggles in January. You could see the makings of a Cruz victory way back in the early summer, as his campaign clearly knew how to appeal to right-wing voters and organize the evangelical set. Throw in some shady tricks with their clearly duplicitous Carson-is-dropping-out maneuver, and it was easy to upend Donald Trump, whose Iowa ground game was amateur at best.
The real winner long-term, however, was Marco Rubio. His exceptionally strong 23.1% finish in 3rd place defied Ann Selzer’s last prediction, but was also noticeable if you were out at the events. It seems every center-right/establishment-leaning voter in Iowa abandoned Bush, Kasich and Christie to go with who they saw as a winner and perhaps who could take down Trump. The three governors totaling only 7% may have been the biggest shocker on caucus night. Rand Paul should’ve had a stronger 5th place, but young people switched over to Rubio, and Paul’s libertarian movement never got off the ground.
So there you have it, right? Rubio uses a strong Iowa finish to leapfrog to second or even first in New Hampshire, dispatches the other establishment candidates and knocks out Cruz and Trump down the stretch? Well…
Marco Roboto 3000
We haven’t had many prime time “moments” during 2016, where a big gaffe or zinger changes the dynamics of the race, but oh boy, did we have one last night. Rubio repeated a bizarre talking point of how Barack Obama is intentionally remaking America four different times, even after Christie devastatingly called him out on it. The problem for Rubio is that this goes straight to the heart of the criticism that he’s a too-polished orator who has no depth.
Will it make an impact in New Hampshire? Hopefully, if for no other reason to extend the contest some. Right now we’re looking at the possibility of Kasich, Christie and Bush all getting wiped out if Rubio surpasses them all. Maybe Rubio’s weird stumble will cause voters to rethink and give one of the governors a better try.
Iowa Democrats Circle The Wagons
After a week’s worth of withering negative press, the Iowa Democratic Party released its final totals after slight adjustments were made in five precincts that had minor reporting errors. Sanders gained 0.1053 state delegate equivalents (SDEs), Clinton lost 0.122 SDEs and O’Malley gained 0.0167 SDEs. Three precinct changes favored Sanders, one apiece favored Clinton and O’Malley. The final result changed little, with Clinton winning 49.84% (700.47 SDEs) to Sanders’ 49.59% (696.92 SDEs). There will likely never be an Iowa Caucus closer than that.
Iowa Democrats’ social media this week was on fire with accusations thrown around over who was at fault for the mayhem and media criticism that resulted from that extremely close result. Much of the national media’s focus was misplaced with minor issues or misreported information. There was a lot of frustration with delegate math, and even though those were the rules in place, it’s still a legitimate discussion on whether they should be changed moving forward.
What I found most interesting was the discussion centering around whether the party was ill-prepared for the caucus. Many party insiders leaped to the defense of those in charge and the volunteers who did their best to maintain control in precincts with huge turnout. I saw a lot of excuses, many of them reasonable. But I saw little acceptance of blame or answers on how it could have gone better. The caucus will always be chaotic, it seemed the conclusion was.
For all my friends involved in the running of party machinery, either in official capacities or volunteer ones, consider looking through the caucus night experience of a Bernie Sanders supporter. Many of them came out for Sanders because they were sick of the party’s “establishment,” which they view as ineffective on progressive priorities in recent years. Many were first-time voters. And what did they find when they got to many of their precinct locations? Chaos, locations that were too small, extremely long lines, late start times, poorly trained volunteers, an insufficient amount of voter registration forms. These were things that actually happened, and what served to many frustrated with the party as their introduction to it.
At the end of the day, that will be the biggest impact for Iowa Democrats going forward: how first-time voters saw their party when they first got involved. It has to get better. It just has to if Democrats hope to win in November or retain any of this new enthusiasm. There are plenty of very legitimate reasons as to why caucus night turned out how it did, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t things to improve or that it still could have run better. Hopefully the party takes a serious look at why certain aspects of the caucus got out of control, and whether decisions that were made are going to get any better for the general election.
by Pat Rynard