Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Obligatory Iowa Caucus Post-Mortem

Okay my predictions were way off. I thought that Dean would pull out a victory in the Iowa cacuses despite the fact that his poll numbers were trailing off in the last two weeks. But I was wrong. Kerry prevailed with Edwards coming in a close second and Howard Dean a distant third, CNN reports.

Two things stand out in my mind now that the Iowa caucuses are over and the 2004 presidential campaign has begun officially. First, unions are not coming out of the Iowa caucuses as losers despite what some pundits would have you to believe. Second, Howard Dean may have lost this battle but he won the war (and it’s not the one you think).

Okay my predictions were way off. I thought that Dean would pull out a victory in the Iowa cacuses despite the fact that his poll numbers were trailing off in the last two weeks. Dean has a strong campaign infrastructure and a financial advantage over the rest of his competitors. Those two factors alone, I believed, would help him get out his supporters in large enough droves to overcome Kerry's late surge. I thought Gephardt would benefit from the strength of his on-the-ground operation as well.

But I was wrong on both counts. Kerry prevailed with Edwards coming in a close second and Howard Dean a distant third, CNN reports.

Two things stand out in my mind now that the Iowa caucuses are over and the 2004 presidential campaign has begun officially. First, unions are not coming out of the Iowa caucuses as losers despite what some pundits would have you to believe. Second, Howard Dean may have lost this battle but he won the war (and it's not the one you think).

Unions endorsed both Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt and pledged their political muscle to their campaigns. In the past, the person-power that comes along with a union's stamp of approvoal could propel a good campaign into a winning one. That was not the case in this Iowa caucus.

But why? Some may say that unions were unable to get out their base. Others may claim that voters repudiated the union agenda in not supporting Dean and Gephardt. I don't think that either argument is valid in this case.

Iowans, I believe, looked at a field of very qualified candidates who would fight for the issues they hold near and dear. Let's be honest here: Kerry and Edwards would be as beholden to unions as either Dean or Gephardt should they become president. The field of Democratic presidential hopefuls had much more in common than they would like to admit. Support for the political agenda of unions is one of the areas that bely this point.

In casting their lot for Kerry and Edwards, Iowans were thinking about who they believed would stand the best chance at defeating Bush in the general election and be able to fight for their causes in the White House. Dean had been dogged by claims that he was unelectable since being annointed the frontrunner. Those critiques appeared to have had an affect. Even if Gephardt won Iowa his campaign would be crippled financially and face a tough uphill battle in other states.

In short, Dean and Gephardt may have been endorsed by a bevy of unions but individual workers had enough reasons to questions their viability in a head-to-head match against Bush and they opted not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Said a different way, Iowans voted for "anybody-but-Bush."

The back and forth attack ads between Gephardt and Dean couldn't have helped either. Rather than being reminded of Dean's message of taking America back from the special interests running the Bush White House, universal health care, a multi-lateralist approach to the quamire in Iraq, etc., voters saw an angry Dean lashing back. All this at the same time he was being criticized for not having a positive message and for running a campaign rooted in anger.

That said, I believe that the good doctor won the war though he lost the battle in Iowa. His campaign may try to spin it otherwise but this was not good for them. Much of his success was based on the idea that he'd bring new voters into the fold. That did not pan out. Pundits prognosticated that colder weather would benefit Dean because they were the most committed. It was cold but the good doctor squeaked out a distant third finish. Opposition to the Iraq war propelled Dean's campaign to the fore but voters who listed that as a primary issue chose Kerry moreso than him. Basically, the pillars of the Dean campaign were called into question.

I now do not believe Howard Dean will win the Democractic party's nomination and part of me questions whether or not he should after watching his speech tonight.

But that's not the war I'm talking about. I'm referring to the war he waged against the Democratic establishment at the beginning of his bid for the White House. If Dean had not received such a positive reaction for being so vocal in his opposition to the war in Iraq, does anyone really think that the Democractic party would have begun to challenge Bush on this issue? I don't. I think Howard Dean made the party realize that it had to stand its ground, coalesce around its core values, and fight.

Michael Dukakis -- a great American and an alum of my alma mater -- was criticized for not fighting back and lost the election for that and other reasons. One could argue that the Democrats took a beating in the 2002 mid-term elections for similiar reaons. The PATRIOT Act passed Congress with little debate and even less opposition from the Democratic party. George W. Bush was able to push an Iraq war resolution through Congress despite the fact that the American public was divided on the issue and most of our traditional allies wanted no part of a pre-emptive strike. On these a host of other issues, the Democrats rolled over and let the Republicans and George W. Bush have their way without putting up any fight. Voters began to wonder what voting for a Democrat would get them and chose not to do so in 2002 despite the fact that my party should have picked up seats in the off-year election.

So Dr. Dean woke the Democratic party up by channeling the anger of thousands willing to contribute their money and donate their time. Just like the Green Party made the Democrats reassess themselves in San Francisco. Now, the Democratic party is in a position to mount a serious challenge against George W. Bush in the general election thanks in large part to the efforts of the peope-powered-Howard. And that's why I think he's won the war.

Dean may not get the Democratic party nomination but whomever does will be primed to win and thus take the country back.

Posted by at January 20, 2004 3:50 AM