Let The Caucus Begin

This story was written by Dean Treftz, The Daily Iowan
One thing is certain, Iowans have never seen a race like this.

This year's caucus campaign has already been the longest, most expensive, most covered race with the least amount of time afterwards before New Hampshire's primaries since Iowa became politically prominent. Add in deadlocked polls and the political possibilities increase exponentially.

"Before the 2004 caucuses ... it wasn't entirely clear what was going to happen, until you actually had people show up to the caucuses," UI political science professor Tim Hagle said. "Well, this time it's even closer."

And that was just one party.

Democratic presidential nomination hopefuls Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., have each held a respectable advantage at one point.

First was Edwards, who was helped by his strong showing in 2004's caucuses and his repeat visits to the state long before Obama and Rodham Clinton.

During the summer, Rodham Clinton surpassed Edwards, taking the leading position she's held nationally the entire race.

Keeping with the fluid nature of the race, Obama slowly gained on Rodham Clinton, eventually overtaking her in late November, only to be overtaken by Rodham Clinton at the beginning of the holiday season.

With a late-breaking Edwards surge and Obama regaining his footing, they are now virtually tied.

With that tie erasing any pre-caucus expectations, Edwards and Obama may need to do well in Iowa more than Rodham Clinton, whose national dominance gives her more room for a slip here.

"If Clinton wins the democratic caucus by a safe enough margin ... then the story is going to be Clinton, and the nomination may, in fact, on the Democratic side, be over," Drake political science professor Arthur Sanders said.

Edwards has the most riding on Iowa, Sanders added. He can survive a close second-place to Obama but not much else, Sanders predicted.

Like the Democrats, the two leading candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have each held a strong lead, ending up with gridlock.

Romney had led the Republican field solidly for most of the campaign until Huckabee's populist, conservative platform boosted him into first in the polls under a month ago.

Huckabee's climb started back in August aided by a strong second-place showing in the Republican Straw Poll in Ames, which helped distinguish him from the other second-tier candidates.

Unlike the Democrats, the Iowa leaders are not the only likely nominees.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., are also considered front-tier, but have concentrated on later states, such as New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

But Huckabee's lack of national organization and money, and the long-held expectation that Romney should win Iowa make the caucuses crucial for the two.

"If either one wins a pretty definitive victory, the other one's probably in pretty bad shape," Sanders said of Huckabee and Romney.

However, the more open field has made staying strong in Iowa important to the others and could put a big emphasis on who finishes third, Sanders said.

Thompson must survive to South Carolina and Florida, states he has focused on, and McCain must continue his recent, possibly fragile, momentum that has recently revived front-runner status.

On the Republican side, "the one person who's going to go forward certainly is Giuliani, no matter how poorly he does here" thanks to solid support in national polls, he said.
© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE