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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Clout of the Iowa Caucuses

After an increasingly long Presidential campaign calendar, the Iowa caucuses are now only two weeks away. For many voters the attention now is on the holiday season and their families. However, for the staff of the candidates, they realize this is the make it or break it time for their campaigns.

For Democrats, former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter came from obscurity and after winning in Iowa was elected President. Former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont had his campaign implode after the Iowa vote and he would soon drop out of the race for President.

Interestingly, it has been reported that only about 10% of the registered voters in Iowa actually participate in the caucuses. So campaigns try to focus on identifying and targeting the most likely caucus goer and work to make sure their supporters attend the caucuses.

The caucus vote in Iowa is unique and it has been explained to me that the caucus occurs in a living room of one of the voters. The vote is very open and has some very interesting nuances to it. House Captains are assigned to each house and this is one area campaigns work on early as they try to get their supporters assigned as House Captains by the state. A House Captain records the vote and can also be influential as discussion takes place concerning which candidate people are voting for.

People actually go to one corner of the room to indicate their vote for a candidate. Discussion and lobbying follows as people can try to influence others to change their vote. Supposedly, people are then actually able to change their vote prior to recordation of the vote by the House Captain.

Due to this unique manner of voting it takes a dedicated voter to participate for it can take some time before a vote is actually cast and recorded. Campaigns staff realize they must concentrate on voters who are most likely to attend the caucuses.

This also opens up the possibility of campaign staff or supporters of a candidate developing strategy to share with their supporters who attend the caucuses. The House captains and certainly the more experienced voter will know what percentage of the vote a candidate must receive to qualify in their state for the all important delegate.

Voters who are supporting lower tier candidates who are not receiving enough votes to be competitive and be eligible for delegates could determine that by looking to see as to where people are standing in the room. They could then encourage their supporters to change and cast their vote for another candidate who is receiving enough votes to qualify for delegates.

It has been said that typically it is the older and more experienced voter who participates in the Iowa caucuses so Democratic Senator Barack Obama's strategy of appealing to students and younger voters may not work. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean who had the support of many younger voters was leading the national and Iowa Polls leading up to the caucuses four years ago and finished third. Dean had gambled all of his campaign funds, estimated to be 50 million at the time, on Iowa (which may have led to his now famous scream) and was unable to recover.

The outcome of 10 % of the registered voters in Iowa and the unique manner in which the vote occurs in Iowa does not necessarily demonstrate true national support. However, due to media and campaign press releases and the condensed primary schedule, Iowa has tremendous clout in the outcome of many campaigns for President.

All of this shows why the Polls in Iowa are good indications of trends but they do not necessarily indicate the outcome of the vote. Campaign organization and the ground game is the all important area for the candidates at this point leading up to the caucuses.

It is not at all unlikely that former Democratic Senator and Vice-President candidate John Edwards could do well.

Stay tuned for the Presidential primary schedule will be on the fast track after Iowa. Either the nominee of the Democratic Party will be determined by super Tuesday in February 2008 or they will be heading toward a brokered convention.

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