Iowa Caucuses On Tap Tomorrow; Primary Season To Follow
Tomorrow's long awaited Iowa caucuses- the first official balloting for this year's would-be crop of presidential candidates- will set off a parade of primaries spread out over the next five months and ending June 3, which will set the stage for this summer's nominating conventions and the ensuing party sanctioned campaigns culminating in the November elections.
Except for a brief respite on Christmas day, the candidates have gone at it hammer and tongs in the Hawkeye State for about a year.
But despite the seemingly endless campaigning, the Democratic candidates- Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards- are so tightly bunched that only tomorrow's voting will pry them apart to reveal the winner of the state's 45 delegates.
The second tier of candidates, including Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd and Bill Richardson, may also get some attention in the balloting.
On the Republican side, Iowa GOPers will select 41 delegates. According to the most recent unofficial polls, the favorite is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who came from nowhere two months ago to overtake former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the leader of the pack.
Trailing those two are Senator John McCain, former Senator Fred Thompson and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani, who's back on the campaign trail after a brief illness just before Christmas, has practically conceded the Iowa caucuses and the first of several primaries in New Hampshire (January 8), Michigan (January 15) and South Carolina (January 19).
Instead, Giuliani is looking ahead to Super Tuesday on February 5 when Republicans will vie for 1,026 delegates in 19 primaries.
For Giuliani, who has lost the comfortable lead he had long held in national polls, and has Romney and Huckabee nipping at his heels, Super Tuesday may turn out to be a do-or-die day.
Many states with large delegations are on the primary schedule that day and Giuliani has set his strategy to capture many of them in order to regain his frontrunner position among the GOP contenders.
On February 5, Democrats will be involved in 22 primaries, with 1,678 delegates at stake. Clinton, who's locked in very tight races with Obama in the primaries preceding February 5, also has mapped plans to separate herself from the field in those 22 contests. However, if Obama is able to win the very first tests and establishes some momentum, it could make Clinton's task on Super Tuesday more difficult than she originally planned. This accounts for the importance assigned to the primaries.
For a time early in 2007, Edwards led the polls in Iowa, where he had won the 2000 caucuses. Then Clinton took the lead in the October Des Moines Register poll, overtaking Edwards, while Obama took third.
But the following month, Obama forged into the top spot in the Register poll, taking a short 28-to-25 percent lead over Clinton, who's bungled explanation of her immigration position in an October Democratic debate in Philadelphia reduced her lead in national polls, as well.
Clinton started to bounce back in recent weeks after the Register, one of the most respectable newspapers in the state, endorsed her.
Through all these changes, Edwards has also made his presence felt, so much so that Obama has started to attack him as well as Clinton in the late stages of this race.
Edwards, since his prior success in the state, has maintained the nucleus of a campaign organization here which he hopes will galvanize his still lingering victory hopes when the caucuses are held tomorrow.
The caucus meetings will be held in almost 2,000 precincts throughout the state of Iowa in schools, churches, libraries and community meeting halls. There candidates and issues will be discussed and members of county committees will be chosen.
At the Democratic party meetings, people backing each candidate will gather in separate groups. If a given group does not add up to a certain percentage of the total number at the caucus (about 15 percent), the candidate it represents is disqualified. However, the disqualified group is allowed to realign behind another candi- date, so the disqualified group will still have an important role in the process of choosing the eventual winner.
At the Republican caucuses, attendees receive open ballots on which they mark their choice of candidates'. However, unlike the Democrat practice, supporters of a losing candidate do not have a second chance to participate.
Since Huckabee vaulted to the lead over Romney in November, he has maintained his position while being attacked by Romney on issues that include voting for tax increases and pardoning a large number of prison convicts.
Meanwhile, McCain's strategists are boosting Huckabee here to create more pressure on Romney. This latest move is designed to force Romney to stay concentrated on Huckabee in the Iowa race, diverting his attention from McCain, who's been moving up in the polls in New Hampshire and threatening Romney's lead there.
McCain defeated George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary, benefitting from votes from independents. The Arizona Senator hopes he can attract those votes again on January 8 to pull an upset on Romney.
As for Giuliani and Fred Thompson, neither appears to have a significant role in New Hampshire, just as they don't have much chance of winning in Iowa.
Just as the Democrats have been tightly bunched in Iowa, they are also in a fierce and close contest in New Hampshire. Clinton led the polls in that state, as she did in Iowa, only to be overtaken by Obama. However, in the USA Today Gallup poll released just before Christmas, Clinton moved up to tie Obama at 32 percent for each candidate, with Edwards at 18 percent.
Those surveyed in that poll indicated they felt that Clinton's chances of defeating the eventual GOP candidate are considerably better than Obama's.