Iowa’s Fifteen Percent Scenario

In the season of peace on Earth and goodwill to men, politics in Iowa is getting ugly.

The sniping between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is becoming more heated, although his advantage over her appears to be solidifying. John Edwards’s comportment as a partisan firebrand is a far cry from his upbeat and positive campaign style in 2004. Polling suggests the winner will be one of these three candidates, all of whom are consistently garnering the support of more than 20% of those queried.

Yet the unique dynamics of Iowa’s caucus creates space for one of the three second-tier candidates—Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, or Governor Richardson — to shake up the race.

In 2004, negative television advertising dominated the lead-up to the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. House Minority Leader Gephardt of neighboring Missouri, was the early favorite in the race, until Governor Dean of Vermont caught fire in Iowa.

As the weeks leading to the caucuses approached Messrs. Dean and Gephardt directed their fire on each other in what became known to political operatives as the “murder-suicide pact.”

Each candidate was able to successfully destroy the other but they also destroyed themselves. By caucus day, weary Iowa voters were eager to look elsewhere and selected Senator Kerry as their choice.

Unlike a traditional vote, where every ballot counts, candidates who fail to receive the support of 15% of those present at a caucus hall are deemed unviable; if only 14 people show up at a caucus with 100 participants present for a given candidate, those voters are up for grabs. A second headcount then takes place.

A secondary candidate can decide to boost another politician or bury a rival by suggesting their supporters go elsewhere. Again, four years ago, Messrs. Kerry and Edwards ended up splitting up the support from Mr. Gephardt’s backers. Mr. Edwards, in particular, was a popular second choice thanks to his sunny demeanor, a quality he has ventured from this election cycle.

Read more here.

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