One can legitimately question the fairness and undue influence that the state of Iowa has grabbed for itself in the Presidential primary process but the impact is undoubtedly profound. As the demographic statistics show, Iowa is not reflective of America, 94% of Iowans are white, the state’s corn-based farming and industries receives massive amounts of subsidies, over 1/3 of the population is evangelical and the state’s total population (in a country of 320 million) is less than 3 million (less than 1% of the US population).
Despite all of those unrepresentative factors, Iowa gets to play a deciding role (along with New Hampshire) for all of America in which candidates may be eliminated or elevated before the rest of the country gets to vote. In a more representative democracy, as much as it would make those in small states howl, it would seem far more fair for a larger state with a diverse and larger voter base, more reflective of America’s actual population, to be the first state to vote (New York or California for example).
Instead, we and the candidates are stuck with a skewed state making such a massive impact on who could become our next President.
And for two candidates in particular, it could be make or break.
The first candidate whose campaign could be mortally wounded by a loss in Iowa is Ted Cruz. Cruz and his family have been part of the extremist evangelistic community for decades so with Iowa being so over-representative of fundamentalist evangelicals, a loss here would be devastating.
If Cruz is going to win anywhere, he would win in Iowa. There are no polls in the upcoming states showing Cruz with the same opportunity to win. A win in Iowa could shift polls in other states more his way and provide for a more competitive back and forth race between Cruz and Trump. If Trump wins Iowa then goes on to win NH as appears probable, there is no big game changer for Cruz that would do anything to change the growing Trump momentum.
Cruz is more likely to fade in the polls in such a scenario as voters abandon him as a lost cause. That could help someone like Marco Rubio gain “the next best hope to beat Trump” status but from that point, Trump will have an avalanche of wins that, especially with the Super Tuesday votes in Southern states in March, would be hard for Rubio or any other candidate to derail Trump’s path to the nomination.
So, the proposition is, if Cruz loses in Iowa, Trump’s winning of the GOP nomination becomes far more likely.
The second candidate who needs to win Iowa, even though he claims he doesn’t, is Bernie Sanders. Bernie does have passionate supporters all across America so while his campaign could sustain itself despite a loss in Iowa, it will be hard (but not impossible) for Bernie to withstand the Southern voting on Super Tuesday and still look like he can win this thing.
Winning in Iowa would create a powerful argument for Bernie to take to the South and elsewhere, that he has the wins and the momentum, in Iowa and New Hampshire (the latter being a bit of a slam dunk for Bernie, especially if he wins in Iowa), to insist that he can and will win the primary.
Many pudnuts (intentional spelling) have noted the far bigger support Hillary Clinton has with the African American community but many of these alleged professionals forget that this was the case even when Barack Obama was running against her in 2008. Many will remember the meme at the time, “Is Obama black enough?” for the black community to support, that is. Hillary led Obama among African Americans for quite a while but after he won in Iowa, he proved that he could beat Hillary and be viable which changed that dynamic to his favor.
Could the same happen for Bernie if he wins Iowa? It’s possible. There are those in many different communities that harbor doubts about Bernie really being able to win the nomination and Presidency. Back to back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire could move voters towards him.
If Bernie loses in Iowa, he loses that momentum argument which is key for a challenger against an established and formidable opponent (who was supposed to be the massive favorite). If Bernie splits Iowa and New Hampshire with Hillary, going into South Carolina where Hillary is polling far ahead of him, it is unlikely to change the outcome in that state. After that loss and the many losses in Southern states that would follow in March, the question of Bernie having sufficient momentum and support to end up winning the nomination would be huge and problematic.
While Bernie is competitive with Hillary in some states that follow, he isn’t beating her in any of the polls for those states. So even a status quo situation would be trouble for Bernie’s candidacy, let alone mounting losses.
An insurgent campaign like Bernie’s needs to make people believe in the possibility of victory, without a validation of that belief, Hillary is more likely to prevail.
Hillary already has many Superdelegates committed to her. Those remembering her attempt to use them in 2008 to override Obama’s winning the nomination by beating her in the primaries should recognize how she uses this undemocratic aspect of the system to advantage herself. So even if at the end of primary season, Bernie was close to Hillary, her Superdelegates would hand her the victory. Bernie would need to win and win decisively to overcome the Superdelegates advantage Hillary already has and he would need Iowa and New Hampshire to make that statement.
Meanwhile, losing in Iowa while being at the bottom of polls in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada could be enough for a few candidates to drop out. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee each need to retain the evangelical vote to have “a prayer” of being competitive and if they lose as big as expected in Iowa, that hope should be extinguished so they could drop out. Martin O’Malley would also have very little reason to stay in the race if crushed in Iowa so he could quit too (though he may be gambling that Hillary’s email problems could derail her and give him an opening if he stays in long enough).
The Iowa Caucuses close their doors at 5:00pm PST tonight to start their caucusing process. We shall see if they also close the doors on some of the candidates’ campaigns when they announce their results.
UPDATE – 9:23pm PST:
Ted Cruz did win the GOP Iowa Caucus and Trump came in 2nd, just one point ahead of Rubio who took 3rd. So Cruz did what he needed to do to retain his top tier status, Rubio overperformed which helped him and Trump underperformed against expectations so he comes out the biggest loser…so funny for someone whose whole campaign is based on him being a winner.
Hillary and Bernie end the night in a virtual tie which is as good as a win for Bernie and a disappointing performance for Hillary who had so much behind her and was so far ahead in IA for so long. It isn’t likely to really matter which of them wins by 1%, it will remain a virtual tie to all but the candidate who claims the win (and their supporters).