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Tuesday, January 01, 2008


It begins: Iowa

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, January 01, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
I have largely avoided any end of year introspection, not because 2007 was particularly bad but because in many ways this cycle the distinction between Dec 31st and Jan 1st just didn't carry as much significance. To be honest, Thursday feels more like a transition point, because it marks the beginning of the 11-month long circus wherein we the People select nominees and then a President.

At any rate, Iowa is in 2 days and the general concensus seems to be that it's too close to call on the Democratic side, and that Huckabee will probably win with Romney in second on the Republican side. However, the famed Des Moines Register pre-caucus poll has thrown everyone for a loop. Kevin Drum summarizes the findings for the Dems:

Among Dems, Barack Obama is in the lead with 32% (up from 28% in early December), followed by Clinton with 25% (unchanged), and Edwards with 24% (up from 23%). No other candidate had more than 6% support, and Obama's seven-point lead is the largest any Democrat has enjoyed in any DMR poll this year.

The caveats are that this is the holiday season, and the DMR poll assumes a very large share of independents. The funny thing is that the DMR, by virtue of being so notable and prestigious, is not just a poll but also a precursor to the caucus itself. As Noam Scheiber puts it at TNR,

Now, the Register has a reputation for being the gold standard of caucus polling, so that may well be true. Or the paper could be way off the mark. But the thing is, it may not matter either way. That's because the Register poll isn't just a description of what's going on. More than any other poll, it actually influences what goes on. Iowans will wake up tomorrow to find a headline that says, "Obama Widens Lead Over Clinton." And, human psychology being what it is, that may well push them into the Obama camp Thursday night.

But the expectations generated by the DMR poll cuts both ways, as RCP points out:

Part of that is due to last night's Des Moines Register poll that - thanks to its forecast that independents and even Republicans would flood the Democratic caucuses for Obama - gave him a final poll lead no one else has found. But part of it was happening even before this poll. "Obama campaign predicts Iowa win," reads the headline of this morning's Newsday.
The truth is that on paper, Obama doesn't have to win Iowa. (Edwards with far less money probably does.) January is all about momentum; it's in February when the actual delegate selection begins in earnest. Obama could finish second in Iowa, and then certainly go on to win New Hampshire or then South Carolina. Even an Iowa result with the top three tightly bunched wouldn't have hurt him really - at least before the expectation bar got raised.

Now, anything less than an Iowa victory will look like a defeat.

Lose if you win and win if you lose, it seems! But this double edged sword is nothing new - in fact it is the same dynamic that applies to the primaries themselves. As RCP says, January is all about momentum, and whether its a full-fledged state primary or an important poll that precedes a primary, it's all the same in terms of public perception and the expectations game.

Obama's team is either supremely confident, over-reaching badly, or both. Given that the closing argument for the Obama camp is suspiciously full of right-wing talking points, one has to wonder whether the underlying motive is hubris, or desperation.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.